Change of leader

Even Adam Bandt’s staunch critics, and there is no shortage of them, would be hard-pressed to describe the newly elected Greens leader as one to shy from a fight.

He’s been called the party’s “attack dog”. Drawn ire for going after Senator Jim Molan’s war record.

He’s battled alone in the lower house for years, since his 2010 election to the seat of Melbourne, increasing his margin in the inner-city seat with each passing election.

“Scott Morrison is a threat to life,” he tweeted, in the wake of the summer’s bushfires.

With his elevation this week to the Greens leadership, it is clear that an era has come to an end. The Greens’ great middle-of-the-road experiment is over.

Bandt’s predecessor, Richard Di Natale, believed the party’s path to electoral viability was contingent upon steering it towards the centre.

The former GP – soft-spoken, professorial – at times seemed like he might succeed in the task he set himself: to make the Greens “the natural home of progressive mainstream voters”.

“I am not an ideologue,” Di Natale said after winning the party leadership in 2015. “I just want decent government that looks after people … My view is pretty straightforward.”

In the end, though, Di Natale’s project was one of respectability politics in a political system that shows very little respect to anyone.

Whether Bandt will prove the leader who can stitch together the Greens’ infamous splits to form a genuinely radical left-wing party remains to be seen. In Larissa Waters, he has a formidable leader in the senate, one who has proved herself committed to pushing against the sexism of our politics.

At the same time, their election without input from the party’s rank and file grates. It feels out of step with the professed commitment to democratic values.

But there is no mistaking that our moment in history has provided Adam Bandt with a considerable opportunity.

Where once the Greens’ dual intuitions – addressing wealth inequality and environmental crises – were seen as disparate, conflicting even, public consciousness of their interconnectedness is growing.

United States politics has mainstreamed the concept of a “Green New Deal”, a term the Greens have been using since at least 2009; the need for radical intervention in the economy to save the planet is no longer relegated to the fringes.

And the deadly toll of the summer’s bushfires has brought that realisation home.

“We are in the middle of a climate emergency and long-running jobs and inequality crises,” Bandt said this week, after winning the Greens leadership.

“A Green New Deal means government leading the country in transforming our economy, creating new jobs and industries powered by clean energy and delivering universal services like dental into Medicare, and genuinely free education.

“This is what I will be fighting for.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 8, 2020 as "Change of leader".

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