When a political party names itself after a colour you already know they have run out of ideas.
Earlier this week, Greens leader Christine Milne passed the leadership baton to Richard Di Natale in what was described as a seamless and bloodless changeover the like of which the major parties could only dream of. But by the time the shock announcement had been made, the cleaners had been in to wash the blood, hair and teeth off the walls.
Di Natale is a GP and a former VFA footballer who now lives on “a working farm” in Victoria’s Otway Ranges, which is Greens code for a petting zoo.
Like all political parties of any substance, the Greens have a national structure but it was not always so. The evolution of the Greens is deeply rooted in grassroots inner city and environmental politics and rose from there to form state parties, which coincidentally remain deeply rooted to this day.
The Greens’ National Council sits to paper over the vast, yawning maw that arises from raging state party animosities that are never clearly reported in the national media.
It pretty much works like this: the Tasmanian Greens despise the WA Greens who in turn hate the Victorian Greens who loathe the Queensland Greens who have no choice but to round their enmity upon the South Australian Greens who point accusing fingers at the ACT Greens. Tragically for the ACT Greens, there are no Greens in the Northern Territory and their mistrust and contempt goes largely unsated.
The only occasions when these bitter, undying hatreds are cast aside is when they all gang up on the NSW Greens — who they hate more than anything.
When normal Australians think of the Greens, they think of sandal-wearing hippies in bespoke tie-dyed T-shirts and careworn hand-knitted jumpers but this is a long way off the mark. This confusion has arisen from the fact that many Greens are also Tasmanians and sandals, bespoke tie-dyed T-shirts and careworn hand-knitted jumpers form the traditional costume of Tasmania.
Many Greens took the short ideological step from the Socialist Workers’ Party when the SWP was forced to close due to lack of interest in the 1980s. They are the type of people you may have chanced across at parties and engaged in conversation which quickly revealed they suffer a weird kind of fetishistic national self-loathing which makes them interesting as occasional sexual partners but the post-coital conversation would send you searching for the nearest brick wall to casually dash your brains out.
Others strayed from nuclear disarmament movements and found themselves elected as local councillors because they were the only ones who cared enough to vote in council elections.
Readers of a certain vintage will remember signs decked around Australia’s inner cities in the 1980s. “You are now entering Marrickville — A Nuclear Free Zone”, “You are now entering Collingwood — a Nuclear Free Zone” et cetera etc. For the budding movement, these simple gestures proved to be a masterstroke.
Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev was devastated to discover he couldn’t turn Collingwood into a radioactive puddle. Thwarted by powers beyond his ken, he wondered what the point of anything was and when the Americans came calling, he got to work with a Phillips-head screwdriver to remove the weapons-grade plutonium from the ICBMs and gently handed the heavy metal to Vladimir Putin who promised to dispose of it thoughtfully.
The Cold War was over.
It was the Greens’ first major victory, not counting the pedestrian overpass in Hoddle Street that they were all prepared to lie down and die for. The overpass is still there although the onset of concrete cancer means pedestrians are not permitted to use it.
The Greens remained politically predisposed to avoid the creation of any hierarchical party structure until the founder of the German Greens and member of the Bundestag, Petra Kelly, lobbed in Australia on a whistlestop tour in 1984. Kelly urged the disparate, ragbag groups to form a national political party.
Thinking, ‘When has a German politician ever put a foot wrong?’ the Greens did as they were told and assembled in Tasmania to form the Australian Greens.
Defying convention from the outset, the first Australian Green was actually a Brown; Bob Brown, to be precise. A Tasmanian, he despised the NSW Greens more than most and this made him a perfect choice for the national leadership. His environmental credentials were second to none and he’d been to jail which would harden him up for the cut and thrust of Canberra.
But Brown wasn’t the first Green to be elected to the federal parliament. That honour fell to Christabel Chamarette, who became a senator in 1992 and was joined by Dee Margetts, the following year. The two senators were from the WA Greens who despised the Victorian Greens who in turn ... well, you catch my drift.
Chamarette and Margetts stood defiant in the face of Paul Keating’s Native Title (Mabo) bill, claiming the legislation was not in the interests of indigenous Australians until they were forced to concede they had never actually met an indigenous Australian.
After holding up the vote for days, Chamarette and Margetts folded when they learned Keating was on his way down to their offices for a quiet word. The Native Title (Mabo) bill was enacted several minutes later.
Bob Brown remained the unmarried father of the Greens until he was replaced by Christine Milne in 2012. Milne has managed the difficult task of bringing the officiousness and pedantry of a schoolteacher into national politics and was happy to continue doing so until she realised that at 62 years of age, the parliamentary classroom was throwing spitballs in her direction and had put sugar in her Comm car’s petrol tank. It was time to go.
The Greens still dabble in environmental politics when they find the time but mostly they spend their spare hours tweaking their death duties tax policy. A climate change response is described as critical by the Greens — which is why they continue to demand utterly perfect policy even if it takes decades to hit their desks.