‘Confected’ stoush with Greens is helping Coalition, says Labor MP

A federal Western Australian Labor MP has called on her colleagues to stop attacking the Greens, saying the outrage was “a confected non-issue” that was playing into the hands of the Coalition.
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Melissa Parke stepped up her calls this morning after saying yesterday the NSW Right, which has led the attack on the Greens, had more to do with Labor’s current woes than anyone else.

Ms Parke, who belongs to the Left faction, told the National Times today that the “Greens bashing must stop”.

“It’s a confected non-issue. The Greens have, along with the independents, helped Labor pass an enormous amount of legislation through the Parliament,” she said.

“This sniping within the progressive side of politics is a gift to Tony Abbott. It is mutually assured destruction.”

Ms Parke said if she were from NSW, she would not be supporting a motion to be put to this weekend’s NSW state Labor conference, which enables party officials to “no longer provide the Greens party automatic preferential treatment in any future preference negotiations”.

If the threat were carried out and adopted nationally, the Greens could lose their balance of power in the Senate.

But the move has sparked a much wider debate. The floodgates have opened and Labor MPs and ministers are lining up to attack the Greens, making Ms Parke a lone voice among colleagues.

In speech last night, Finance Minister Penny Wong took issue with the Greens for blocking the original emissions trading scheme in the Senate.

Senator Wong, who was the climate change minister at the time, said that if the Greens had passed the scheme, it would now be embedded, rather that at the risk of being repealed by Tony Abbott.

“We would be debating new progressive challenges and causes, rather than continuing to fight on this one,” she said.

“Where the Greens claim to share our values, their inability to compromise, their unwillingness to take on board evidence and their refusal to accept that politics inevitably involves trade-offs, means they cannot deliver policy outcomes to reflect these values.

“The experience with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is an example, but it is only one.”

Members of the NSW left are certain to back the motion by the NSW Labor general-secretary, Sam Dastyari, so long as the assault does not mean a policy shift to the right.

“My only concern is someone using this to go further to the right,” said the NSW Senator Doug Cameron. “I don’t support that but I do have real criticism of the Greens. It’s all care and no responsibility for those guys.”

Left convener Stephen Jones concurs.

There is significant anger within Labor that the government has suffered politically because of its alliance with the Greens while the minor party has not helped in return. For example, it refused to help Labor with asylum seeker policy.

The party’s refusal two weeks ago to allow offshore processing, even on an interim basis, while a more lasting solution could be pursued was especially irksome to the ALP Left, which has had to bend its own principles to accommodate a policy change.

Senator Cameron said the Green’s adherence to the “purist approach” prevented an interim solution to the surge in asylum boats.

The ministers Martin Ferguson, Wayne Swan, Stephen Smith, Greg Combet and Bob Carr are among those who have attacked the Greens in recent days.

Ms Parke maintains that the NSW Right – the faction which led the ousting of Kevin Rudd and brought spin-driven politics to Canberra – is the real villain.

“The Mark Arbib/Karl Bitar model of doing business is what caused our problems,” she said.

“Where Labor has suffered in the polls is when it has equivocated on its principles. I’ve got no interest in taking advice from the NSW Right.”

Labor tends to automatically preference the Greens first but the Greens do not always respond in kind, at both a state and federal level.

Labor now reasons that the Greens need Labor’s preferences more than it needs theirs and Mr Dastyari’s motion, if adopted, will give him and other party officials greater power when negotiating preferences.

The Greens have nine senators, three of whom will be up for re-election at the next ballot. At least two will struggle to be returned without Labor support, raising the possibility of the Coalition or independents having the balance of power.

The Greens have warned that Mr Abbott could then easily revoke the carbon and mining taxes and bring back WorkChoices.

Many in Labor see the government’s climate change woes linked to the alliance partner and are angry at intransigence by the Greens on such policies as asylum seekers. They refuse to allow offshore processing, leaving Labor powerless to act.

Some in Labor suspect the assault is to prepare the ground for a return of Kevin Rudd, who would demand support from the Greens to soften the carbon tax by moving quickly to a floating price.

Mr Dastyari said his motion would not lead to a policy shift to the right but was more about Labor taking back ownership of progressive issues.

“Its not about abandoning that space,” Mr Dastyari said of the Left. “You can only do this in conjunction with winning over those voters.”

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