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World's first green party takes root

THE REST OF THE WORLD IS WATCHING: TASMANIA AND THE GREENS Edited by Cassandra Pybus and Richard Flanagan Publisher Pan Macmillan Publishers, Australia Price: (Australian) $14.99

 
By Seema Kalra
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- THE ISLAND state of Tasmania, with its relative abundance of natural resources and wild countryside, is the home of the world's first Green party, the United Tasmania Group (UTG), which elbowed its way into Parliament with an 18 per cent vote in 1989. It was a victory that came after a long, bruising fight to protect the environment, but not before a lake had been destroyed and some precious lives lost.

The world is still watching the growth of the Green movement in this remote state of Australia. How did this far-flung state, with a population of just half a million, take on the traditional, powermongering political parties? Has being part of the government helped in pushing Green issues through? In which direction should Green movements the world over move so that they can bring about a radical change?

Green activism first started in south-west Tasmania during a campaign to stop the construction of a dam on Lake Pedder. People came forward en masse to save the lake and ran a petition bearing 10,000 signatures opposing the construction of the dam. Two members of the Lake Pedder Action Committee even went missing.

The state government, however, barged ahead with the project. This obduracy was a major disappointment, but it also motivated many people to take a stand against the subsequent onslaughts of the government and the multinationals. The opposition to hydro-electric developments continued in south-west Tasmania, building up to a crusade to protect the Franklin river. The river was saved.

Tasmania's Green activists defend natural resources simply because "it is there, because it has survived relatively undisturbed for millennia and because they believe it has a right to exist without destructive human intervention". In another campaign, Concerned Residents Opposed to Pulp Mill Siting (CROPS) mobilised doctors, scientists, farmers, fishermen, conservationists, economists, tour operators and unionists to speak on the deleterious effects of pulp mills.

To sell their messages to laypersons, environmentalists used the weapons of the marketplace: they hit out with market research, sophisticated advertising techniques, catalogues and photographs. In the '80s, with Tasmania confronted with a dim future that sneered "Tasmania can't", what the Greens did was base their campaigns on the war cry, "Tasmania Can"

. To provide a stable government, the Green Independents had to sign an accord with the Australian Labour Party, an accord which nibbled subversively at the Green support base. This book discusses in detail the accord's repercussions.

With people's participation in the environment movement ensured, the Tasmanian Greens will now have to articulate an environment-philosophy that has long-term populist appeal

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