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.