It’s always good to go to a political launch with very low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised to find yesterday’s NSW Greens party launch not nearly as bad as I expected. Real policies were announced, Bob Brown was eloquent and passionate, and there were only a couple of the sort of cultish, quasi-religious moments that irritate the crap out of me.

The launch was held at Balmain Town Hall because Balmain candidate and local Mayor Jamie Parker is the party’s best chance of winning a seat in the Lower House; Labor’s Verity Firth is on a slender margin of 3.7%. It wouldn’t be first time that the suburb that founded the Labor Party has rejected it — Dawn Fraser was the independent member from 1988-1991. The Balmain locals have been saying for months that they can no longer vote Labor, but can’t bring themselves to vote Liberal. Parker’s mail-outs have cleverly exploited this, presenting him as a safe path between Scylla and Charybdis.

Three new policies were announced; a $102.5 million increase in funding for dental care, a plan to give all NSW children two years of publicly-funded pre-school education, and an initiative to build three solar base-load thermal power plants in the state’s Central West, to be funded by Green Infrastructure Bonds.

The other key message from yesterday was to vote Green in the upper and lower houses. The Greens are now very concerned at the likely prospect of the conservatives holding the balance of power in the Upper House, giving a greater say to fringe-dwellers like Fred Nile and the Shooters and Fishers Party, and this warning was hammered home by every speaker.

The other lower house candidate with a chance of victory is Fiona Byrne, the current Mayor of Marrickville, who could overturn Carmel Tebbutt’s margin of 7.5%. I’ve been suspicions about Fiona Byrne ever since she publicly supported Marrickville Council’s boycott of Israel. For a start, local councils should focus on the things they are paid to do, like pick up garbage and fill in potholes, not indulge in pointless politicking. And what exactly does it mean — Marrickville Council should stop buying diamonds? Gimme a break.

The Greens have also released a policy on the intended replacement for the controversial Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, which gives the Minister sweeping powers over the approval of large projects. In their Planning, Building and Infrastructure Policy they have said they want to replace it with an Independent State Planning Commission (ISPC) comprised of nominees of community and professional organisations:

“The composition of the ISPC (would be) subject to the approval of members of both the NSW Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council and supported by legislation to ensure its independence. The IPC’s task will be to assess major infrastructure and utility projects with a construction value greater than $100 million against objective criteria with no role for the Minister for Planning to exercise discretionary power.”

There’s not much detail on how this will work in practice — who in Gaia’s name would possibly win the approval of 75% of the NSW Parliament? Aung San Suu Kyi? The concept has merit, but it’s never going to happen because they are not going to win office in their own right. And Barry O’Farrell is going to win such a huge mandate he will be able to do what he likes.

Actually, the most sense I heard all week came from AWU national secretary Paul Howes, who was launching Nick Dyrenfurth’s very readable book, Heroes and Villains: the Rise and Fall of the Early Australian Labor Party.

Howes was saying that the ALP was doing a bad job of selling the carbon tax, and needed to change tactics. In his launch speech, he quoted veteran trade unionist and Labor politician William Guthrie Spence, who said in 1910 that “Labor …is a political as well as a propagandist movement. Its leaders realise that before we can have social reforms the people must be educated to demand and carry out …reforms.”

The PM should not be selling the carbon tax as an economic reform, but as a way of saving the planet, Howes said. Amongst all the rhetoric about carbon prices, broken promises and poor polling, such simple logic was refreshing.

In the end, the best part of yesterday’s launch by the Greens was the lashings of delicious, home-made, gluten-free food. I have no idea where you buy Israeli wine — I’m guessing eastern suburbs —but come election night, I’m heading back to Greens HQ for a decent meal, and taking a bottle with me. It’s going in the punch.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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