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Byron Shire
December 4, 2023

Don’t give up on politics, says Richard Di Natale

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Local MP Tamara Smith with Federal leader of The Greens, Richard di Natale and hopeful Michael Lyon at the Byron School of Arts inMullumbimby. Photo Jeff Dawson

The federal leader of The Greens, Richard di Natale, was in town this week endeavouring to spread the message that some people in federal parliament are more concerned with values than revenge.

He took time out for a quick cuppa at Lulu’s cafe in Mullumbimby to talk politics – local and federal.

Q: We’ve had some big changes at the federal level in the past couple of weeks. How do you think this will affect the cause of taking action on climate change?

A: I don’t hold out any hope at all that we’re going to see any action on climate change. I think the only way we’re going to see action is if we turf this government out and get a new government, and we have Greens in the parliament to hold the new government to account.

You can’t expect to see action on climate change when the prime minister brings a lump of coal into the parliament and treats it like some precious jewel.

Q: A lot of people have switched off from federal politics, particularly in this community. There’s a general feeling that we’re in a bit of a bubble and we’re quite happy to stay there. Why should we bother to engage with what’s going on in federal politics, particularly when they behave the way they do?

A: I think it’s great that people here focus on what’s going on in their communities. But you do have to connect with the global debate. Climate change is a global issue, asylum seekers are a global issue, the drug trade, the spread of illnesses and disease. It’s really important to engage. I don’t blame anyone for being pissed off with politics right now – I’m pissed off with it. The answer isn’t just to get angry and give up; the answer is to get angry, to get organised and change it.

Q: There have been serious ructions within your own party in the past year. Are you confident that won’t rear its ugly head again and damage your chances in the next election?

A: I’m really confident that the party right across the country and certainly the federal room is absolutely committed to working together to turf out the Liberals and to make sure we get more Greens into the parliament. There’s a sense of renewal and reinvigoration in the party room. There’s a very strong sense that we’ve got one job to do, which is to get more Greens elected so that we can hold the new government to account.

Q: Traditionally the Greens have struggled to get beyond nine to 12 per cent of the federal vote. Are you forever destined to be a distant third to the major parties?

A: I think you’ve got to have a look at how far we’ve come over a short period. When I joined the party in 2000 we had one federal representative in my home state of Victoria, we had no state representation and one local councillor. 17 years on we’ve got MPs right across state parliaments, balance of power in the senate, and representation in the lower house. We’ve also got council representation across the country and lots of Greens mayors so we’ve actually come a hell of a long way.

What comes with that is that you’ve got the two old parties clinging on to power, and corporate media who are there to further their own interests rather than those of the community. What you are seeing though is The Greens growing in lots of different areas of the country. If you look at the next decade I think you’ll see The Greens being a much bigger part of the political landscape.

Q: The Greens-dominated Byron Shire Council have come in for quite a lot of criticism in the past couple of years with some sections of the community saying they are too pro-development or simply incompetent. Is it actually possible for a Greens-dominated council to do the job of running a council and stick to its ideals?

A: Absolutely it is. We’re not just there to keep the bastards honest, we’re there to replace them. We’re a party that aspires to government and what comes with that is the responsibility of making decisions that might not always be popular but are the right thing to do.

At a local level often that centres around issues of development and it’s always a challenge to balance the competing needs of housing against other competing demands. My experience has been that when people see The Greens in operation at a local level it’s actually been the biggest factor in growing our representation in state and federal parliament. In Victoria we’ve seen that success has been based on the great work being done by Greens councils in inner-city Melbourne, and that has transferred on to the state and even federal level. It’s not just possible, it’s critical that we’re able to balance the needs of day-to-day governing with our values.

Q: One of the biggest fights in this community is against the West Byron mega development. Given your experience of seeing how coalition governments behave is there any realistic chance that we can win that fight? And what advice do you have?

A: The one thing that makes politicians sit up and take notice is the prospect of losing their seats. We have a political culture that is completely dominated by vested interests. The one thing that politicians in marginal seats listen to is the voters because they want to keep their jobs.

This is a marginal seat surrounded by other marginal seats, and the best way to have your voice heard is to make sure that you support parties that represent your views. We believe it’s the wrong development in the wrong place. So if you’ve got parties who support the plan don’t vote for them.

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  1. “We’re not just there to keep the bastards honest, we’re there to replace them.” – This is my biggest issue with the Greens and I’m sad but not surprised to see Di Natale repeat it word for word.

    The left-wing movement as a whole would benefit so much more if they put a bit more emphasis on keeping the bastards honest, and holding the balance of power in the Senate, than trying to mount a complete political takeover and become a major party through realpolitik. This would prevent deepening the wounds within our already fractured left movement, as well as potentially open pathways to co-operation, rather than animosity, with the ALP in the future

    The Greens are an interesting case study for Michel’s Iron Law of Oligarchy, where organisations naturally form elites and hierarchies as they grow regardless of how democratic their foundations due the necessary development bureaucracies. Consensus decision-making can barely tolerate the factionalism inherent to any pluralistic society as it is so it will be interesting to see where the outer limits lie and what happens beyond.

  2. “wrong development in the wrong place”, perhaps Richard could consider making that statement at next years proposed up to 60,000 attendees Splendour, if he and the other elected Greens (and partners) get more free tickets and attend again, as he did last year and Greens every previous years (2019 Splendour – proposed 50,000 tickets and now proposed unlimited amount of uncounted extra free tickets). Splendour would be considerably bigger than the totally inappropriate west Byron’ aprox 2,500 person occupants of probably tourist holiday lets, and the Splendour site is on a far more environmentally sensitive and ecological important site, and carries a far higher social impact, and a big fat Greenhouse Gas carbon pollution from 60,000 peoples travel. Or is a handful of $1000 VIP tickets, with a splash of ego building big noting, what it costs to buy a Greens politicians silence on that particular massive and environmentally damaging development. Or are we down to voting for the least worst? Or the only other option, like the last Byron Shire Council election where 30.7% of those on the Shires Electoral Roll refused to even cast a vote?

  3. Never ceases to astound and disappoint me that people will continually find fault with the Greens, no matter how small (or imaginary) those faults may be in the scheme of things.
    If you want real action to combat climate catastrophe; if you agree that corporate donations and lobbyists must be stopped from corrupting our democracy; if you value human life and a healthy planet at least as much as money; if you believe that all Australians should be afforded equal chances to live decent and fulfilling lives; then the Greens are the ONLY current political party that you could vote for.
    The Greens are far from perfect. But nitpicking criticism of them, while the LibLabNat party lead us all down the garden path to hell? Simply astounding and really disappointing.

    • Bruce, I’ll just remind everyone of a couple of things because you make interesting points that hold a lot of nuance worth very briefly unpacking:

      1. The current state of climate policy and the rise of Abbott can actually be directly traced back to the Greens voting down Rudd’s CPRS, which enabled the emergence of Abbott and his successful anti-carbon tax campaign. In this case the Greens placed purity over pragmatism, forgetting a useful political lesson that the perfect is the enemy of the good, particularly for pluralist liberal democracies I might add.

      ALP climate policy is also drastically different to the LNPs, which I still don’t think anybody is even sure about after their years in government. Just check their websites. Too many to list.

      2. On multinational tax avoidance the Greens voted with the LNP to water down disclosure thresholds years ago, backflipping on their position and agreement with Labor, who were pushing hard and, together, had the LNP on the ropes. The Greens’ lack of brinkmanship skills was on full display this time and, ironically, under Di Natale they chose pragmatism and realpolitik over purity. More bad timing imo.

      And, again, when you consider the LNP’s climate policies against the ALP’s there is just no contest. All the information is freely available on their websites.

      3. Finally, all parties value human life (others not so much the environment….) and equality of opportunity. That’s just ideological really. And I personally thought the Greens tended to support equality of outcome (e,g: affirmative action initiatives) than the more liberal equality of opportunity? Guess it varies as with any large group. Either way, thinking those that don’t agree with your personal views on those issues must not care about them at all is wrong.

      That’s all.


    • The Greens when they have power provide ample examples that demonstrate they are not capable of delivering good governemnt. While they show fine ideals they appear unable to follow qualified technical advice in achieving objectives.

      A classic case is in the ACT where they hold the balance of power and managed to persuade Canberrans they needed a light rail running on renewable power, that will serve its core voting area – the inner suburbs which have some of the highest income households in Australia.. Canberra is already running electric buses that can just as easily run on renewable power and can for far less cost can provide a more extensive and much more equitable public transport system. The planned light rail has been panned by the Productivity Commission, the Gratton Institute and the ACT Auditor-General which all concluded rapid buses would be better value.

      Closer to home you see the same lack of capacity among many Northern Rivers Greens to read and understand the repeated advice expert advice from the 1994 Sinclair Knight Kearney report in the nineties, the expert advice given to the 2004 Legislative Council Inquiry and the Arup corridor study, that rail will not meet our transport needs. Their costed policy would spend $50m to bring a train from Casino to Lismore, but is mute on meeting the transport needs of the areas in our region were public transport dependent households are concentrated – the Ballina and Tweed Coastal areas. This is unsurprising when their transport spokesperson supports rail, but demonstrates that she and her advisors has never read the Arup report (she refers to “contingencies” in the costings in it that are not in the report, and her reference has been repeated by rail supporters). The Green Mayor of the Tweed appears to have never read her own Shire’s well thought through transport strategy and advocates polices that cut across it. In the Byron Shore they are proceeding with an expensive investigation into the Byron Line, without a Shire transport policy that identifies any transport need for it, without any pre-feasibility work, and a terms of reference that ignores the relationship between any propsoed rail service and existing or alternative public transport. In the recent council elections the Greens had no specific polices to improve public transport or cycling in Ballina Shire.

      I draw on my hobby-horse to demonstrate how in just one policy area where the Greens do not have the capacity to follow expert advice, form sound policies, and to implement them in ways that deliver good value. This appears to be because they are beholden to the prejudices and beliefs of their members even if qualified advice tells them otherwise. That is not a nit picking criticism – it goes to the heart of why the Greens are not yet able to deliver good government.


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