THE success of the Australian Greens depends on perceptions of the party and the calibre of its leadership.
The ascendancy of Milne following the resignation of long-term Senator Bob Brown puts her in a very different role. She can no longer be the head-kicker that she was as deputy leader and has to assume a much more stateswoman-like role.
The Christine Milne that appeared on the ABC TV’s “Lateline” on the day that Brown announced his resignation was very different from the one that has taken such uncompromising, hard-line positions on a range of Greens issues. Perhaps she can make a successful transition from head-kicker to leader.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has been unable to make the transition completely. Mostly he allows others within the party, such as Christopher Pyne, to play the role he and Nick Minchin played so successfully under the leadership of John Howard.
Part of Abbott’s problem is that his deputy, Julie Bishop, does not have the stuff that makes a good political bully – she comes across as petty and bickering and seems unable to command the same level of antagonism as he does.
It is not a gender issue. Milne was able to play the deputy role and antagonist successfully.
In the past, Brown had to play a similar role when he was the lone Green in the Senate. But at that time he did not have the responsibility that comes with the balance-of-power position and the requirement to negotiate seriously with government for better outcomes for the people of Australia.
Milne started her parliamentary career by being driven to the Senate on a tractor. She is of the fifth generation off the land and relates closely to farmers.
When Milne entered the Senate the election had been framed in John Howard’s notion of “family values”.
The new Senator challenged what it meant front on: “Where I grew up, honesty, kindness, respect, justice, fairness, tolerance, love and forgiveness were family values.
“Discrimination against and vilification of minorities, lying, misrepresentation and meanness of spirit were not family values.”
The speech, her first in the Senate, was steeped in such issues as the environment, climate change, social justice, respect, empowerment and hope for the future.
As leader of the Australian Greens, she can remain pure to Green philosophy, feel good and achieve very little. Or, on the other hand, she can grab the nettle that is the balance of power and make a real difference.
Both approaches have a place. However, she will have to apply significant wisdom to achieve the best short, medium and long-term gains for the people of Australia and for her own party.
The Australian Greens now have a powerful role to play and need appropriate leadership. For Milne, for her party and for all Australians, this will be a greater test than any she has faced.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.