With recent success in the Federal by-election of Cunningham, now is the time for the Australian Green party to seize the opportunity to broaden their popular appeal and support base.

The formerly safe Labor seat of Cunningham is now in Green hands. Michael Organ MP, now the first elected Green candidate in the House of Representatives, has a big job ahead of him. Securing electoral success is just the first hurdle he’ll need to overcome. Proving to the people of Wollongong and Port Kembla that the Australian Green party can bring prosperity and growth to an industrial heartland appears like an almost paradoxically Herculean task. Further wins at the ballot box in other parts of Australia may well depend upon how Mr Organ and the Green party perform in Cunningham over the next two years.

An investigation of the Greens’ website (http://www.greens.org.au) reveals that the modern party is clearly more than simply a one issue organisation. While the environment, an important macro issue for voters, clearly remains integral to their platform a general leftist socialist agenda is also a policy cornerstone. “We seek to eradicate poverty, oppression and discrimination and to build a society that is underpinned by the values of participatory democracy, social justice, and respect for cultural and ecological diversity.” Anyone who is disgusted about Woomera, disgruntled about the Howard Government’s duplicity regarding Tampa or outraged over mandatory sentencing on the Northern Territory should find appeal and encouragement in these aims.

“We aim to transform the political, social and economic structures that oppress people and to develop a rich, participatory cultural life that enables the flourishing of a new democratic movement for progressive change.” For those who believe in the essential soundness of a multicultural Australia, dream of a locally based value added manufacturing economy and disagree with the current neo-liberal budgetary practices such words should be positive encouragement.

How many ordinary Australians, disgruntled with the current two parties strangle hold on the political landscape, are aware that there may be an alternative? In many people’s minds the Australian Green party is still only associated with saving the Franklin, hugging trees and preventing farmers from getting on with the job. The aforementioned policies would provide benefit to a broad range of Australian society.

Workers, concerned about losing jobs as more manufacturing plants are closed to be moved offshore, take heart and think Green. Small and medium scale farmers, already using conservation practices to keep their land productive, read about the Green challenge to large scale agribusiness. Unemployed, underprivileged and indigenous Australians look to the Greens for a better deal. Immigrants and asylum seekers can expect fair and humane treatment with a stronger Green presence in parliament. Australians, hoping for a just, truly egalitarian society are all strengthened by the Green’s commitment.

Educating voters and proving that a difference can be made in Cunningham is the best way to secure long term success. However, doing this may well be a mouthful more than the Greens can currently chew. In a culture where money talks through marketing, Labor spent almost ten times as much as the Greens during the Cunningham campaign.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission (http://www.aec.gov.au) political donations for the financial year 2000/2001 were over $6 million to the Labor Party’s National branch and $3 million to the Liberals while the Greens received only $660,000. The bulk of these donations came from the Commonwealth Bank ($90,000) and Avant card ($66,000). Yet these are pitifully small when considered against the $200,000 donated by Coca-Cola Amatil to both the Australian Labor and Liberal parties. With the present funding disparity the Greens can ill afford national television and large scale print campaigns.

Therefore grassroots and community education programmes are truly viable options. Such activities do not yield results overnight and need to increase in scale and scope now, not merely in the run-up to the next Federal election. That’s not to say the Greens do not already operate along these lines, only that the programmes need to be extended beyond the traditional comfort zones of Tasmania and University campuses.

An opportunity now exists for the Australian Green party, after their first Federal lower house success, to mature into a serious political force. After the euphoria of Cunningham has passed, the hard work must begin in earnest.

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