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Issue 574, 5 October 2007 - All unions should back the Greens

Greens Melbourne campaign to put IR centrestage

Adam Bandt is standing at the federal election for the Greens in the seat of Melbourne. He spoke with Socialist Worker's Judy McVey.

What is the key policy for the Greens in the federal election and your electorate and why?

There are two key policies for me in this federal election, of equal importance. Firstly, climate change is an issue because, while there is an awareness of the problems, there is not an understanding of how critical and urgent the issue is.

The fight against WorkChoices is the second but equally important issue. As an industrial relations lawyer, I have seen many workers forced to sign on to agreements and lose conditions we would have taken for granted 20 years ago.

The Greens are emerging as the only parliamentary party that understands the importance of the collective agreements. We have decided to emphasise industrial relations by launching a "Protect Your Rights at Work" campaign and a Greens' Charter of Work Rights which we hope will be taken up in every state.

How are the Greens different from Labor on industrial relations?

The two key elements of WorkChoices that have been retained by Labor will mean that the cancer of individual agreements is preserved, and that ordinary union activity can be made difficult, if not criminalised. Striking will by and large remain unlawful and the "secret police" on building sites, the ABCC, remains until at least 2010.

The ALP's WorkChoices-Lite retains the situation where individual agreements can undermine collective agreements and legislated minimum conditions. Workers on AWAs will be able to go through the whole period of a Rudd government under a Howard government AWA.

Currently, AWAs can last five years and Kevin Rudd has said they can continue until their end date, even if he is elected.

As well, all new awards and agreements will be required to contain a provision whereby they can be varied to allow for trading off of conditions for money. This means the rot that the Liberals' WorkChoices introduced will continue under an ALP government.

Labor's IR proposals will make ordinary union activity difficult and possibly a criminal offence. Labor has not restored the right of entry provisions, so the situation remains with union members being unable to meet effectively and confidentially with their union at work.

Our campaign will attempt to put centre stage the collective elements that have been ignored in the coverage of IR so far. As far as the Greens are concerned there is not a limitation on our will to abolish WorkChoices, but only a limitation of resources. We would love to be able to run an advertising campaign like the ACTU's campaign.

How does this fit into the general strategy for the Greens?

Our number one priority in Victoria is to win a Senate seat. We missed out because of the preference deal between Labor and Family First last time.

This was despite the first preference results that saw Family First win 1.8 per cent and The Greens 8.8 per cent.

However, it is difficult to run a Senate campaign and we need a strong lower house campaign to facilitate the campaign for a senator. We are running candidates in every seat in Victoria. In [the seat of] Melbourne, we are running to win. That's where we have the best chance after the Senate.

Is it possible to win votes from people disenchanted with Labor's IR policy?

Two things present a challenge even though we have the best policies for progressive voters: firstly, resources. In the recent by-election in Melbourne's Albert Park, the ALP spending of $200-250,000 was 20 times what The Greens spent. A small party cannot match that.

Secondly, despite the reality, Labor is still regarded as having the best position on IR. There is widespread dissatisfaction among unions but only a tiny minority will speak out. The more that workers' representatives speak out, the more we are likely to win Labor voters.

This is a problem for the movement because I can't imagine that Rudd will improve his position after the election. Rather it is likely to get worse.

Do the Greens have a principled stand on preferences?

We have made an offer to the ALP which they rebuffed. Our position was that because a change of government is necessary, the Greens would preference the ALP in every key marginal seat, in return for their preference for the Victorian Senate. The ALP are negotiating with Family First.

But shouldn't the Greens be sending a message to working people that the Greens would preference Labor in all seats? Surely that would be principled, rather than giving any credibility to the Liberals. And it could attract more support for your policies.

There is a contrary argument. There is a strong conservative tendency in the ALP who wouldn't mind having a Family First-dominated Senate, a conservative Senate, rather than a progressive Senate. So, there is a battle between the right and left of the [Labor] party's supporters, which we are engaging with.

Sections of the ALP support a preference arrangement with the Greens, such as Unions NSW and construction industry shop stewards in Victoria.

Where do you see the Greens in two years? Are the Greens trying to build a major left-wing party that challenges Labor as the party of workers and the progressive left, or is it looking to be a third party similar to the role previously played by the Democrats?

If we get one more parliamentarian elected, we get official party status and the resources that flow from that. The Greens have a bright future but it is essential to retain what makes us different. We come out of the social movements-our name comes from the Green Bans campaign of the 1970s in Sydney and Melbourne. The key to our ongoing growth is in retaining a linkage to the social movements. Our strength is linked to the strength of activism and activists.

If the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate we can help reshape the country. For example we can move amendments to improve Labor's IR policy.

A lot will depend on how well we go in the election, but I am optimistic that the relationships we have built upon during this election, especially around IR, with strengthen progressive forces in this country over the coming years.