Greens find growing up is hard to do

It’s pretty certain the Greens will hold the balance of power in the Senate.

But the prime position the Greens are about to hold in our democracy will be a big change for the party. It’s going to be a very steep learning curve. The Greens are still a niche party, with niche party idiosyncrasies.

They’re about more than climate change and fast trains. Niche parties are easily captured by interests within their membership that insist their peculiar obsessions get aired and adopted.

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So the Greens are the only party with an ”animals” policy. With 24 points, it includes things like a plan to ”foster community education about the needs of animals and our responsibilities to them”. Not even the Nationals have an animals policy, and you’d think they know a little more about animals than the Greens do.

Nevertheless, the Greens’ policy approaches have matured a lot from even a few years ago. Take information technology. In 2004, they were calling for ”democratic, egalitarian operation” of the internet – as if a citizens’ assembly should determine the internet’s architecture – but in 2010 they merely want the government to renationalise telecommunications.

They’ve been burnt in the past. The Greens are now quick to argue they don’t support drug legalisation. But the case for drug legalisation is a lot more sensible than the case for, say, putting a tax on global currency transactions, or abandoning free trade agreements, or forcing corporate boards to be more ”diverse”, or reducing foreign investment in Australia.

It’s always going to be messy when a party with a lot of members with radical views tries to refine itself for mainstream consumption.

Many commentators have said that with the balance of power, the Greens could fall into the Democrats’ trap – haggling over legislative process undermines niche party brands. But that has already happened.

The Greens’ brand was seriously devalued when its parliamentarians voted against emissions trading. We have heard their reasoning: the government’s plan was ineffective. Of course it was. Any Australian plan would be ineffective without global action.

Yet there is no question that the emissions trading scheme, if implemented, would have evolved. Subsidies to polluters could have been phased out over time and emissions reduction targets could have increased.

Now the Greens are, quite rightly, blamed for blocking any climate change action. Sceptics like Barnaby Joyce couldn’t have been more effective than the Greens.