The global rise of Green politics


Stephen Bates (Brisbane)


Max Chandler-Mather (Griffith)


Elizabeth Watson-Brown (Ryan)


Penny Allman-Payne (Senate for Queensland)







From grass roots beginnings as an anti-war/anti-nuclear movement in the 1960s and 1970s, the Green party has grown to be a global force in politics. Our 2022 election clearly shows the rise of the Australian Greens, which traces its origins to Tasmania in 1972. From just one Federal member in 1992, the Greens now have 22 State MPs, 4 Federal MPs, up to 12 seats in the Senate and 134 councillors in local government.

Photos L-R: Stephen Bates (Brisbane), Max Chandler-Mather (Griffith), Elizabeth Watson-Brown (Ryan), Penny Allman-Payne (Senate for Queensland).

Just over 12% of eligible voters gave The Australian Greens their primary vote in the May 21 Federal election, the party’s best result since formation in 1992. The Australian Greens went from holding one seat in Federal Parliament in 2019 to four seats this time around. While the polls show that 2.2 million people gave their primary vote to the Greens, preferences made by Green voters also helped oust the Liberal party. If current trends continue, the Greens could hold as many as 12 Senate seats, double its 2019 tally.

What Greens leader Adam Bandt dubbed a ‘Greenslide’ on May 21 resulted in key Brisbane suburbs with Green MPs in both State and Federal Parliament.

This is quite a growth path from a grass roots Tasmanian organisation which first ran for Parliament in 1972 and won its first Senate seat in 1990. The Greens now have 16 MPs in State governments and six in the ACT Government. The Greens are also a force in local government, with 94 councillors in New South Wales and Victoria and another 40 in other States and Territories, including two in the Northern Territory.

Despite their influence in local politics, the Greens will be seen to best effect whenever the Senate is asked to approve bills which go against the party’s environmental and sustainability policies.

Despite Labor this week winning two extra seats (77 in total), they will still have to work with up to 12 independents, as well as the four Green MPs.

The conservative forces that ruled this country for almost a decade would say the swing to Greens and Independents will make Australia ‘ungovernable’. What’s needed (as one can now hear as a faint echo from the days of Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison), is a strong government with a clear mandate (and a strong border, all 59,681 kms of it). This time, more Australian voters have said no to being ruled by major parties, even if, as it turns out, we’ll end up governed by a Labor party with a two-seat majority in the lower house.

We should have seen this coming. Political parties have been falling out of favour with the public for decades. The Pew Research Centre concluded from a survey of voters in 14 European countries that few express positive sentiments towards political parties.

Only six parties (of the 59 tested) were viewed favourably by half or more of the population. Populist parties across Europe also received largely poor reviews. The Pew research found that of the 21 populist parties it asked about in the survey, only six received positive reviews. (all were part of the government in their respective countries).

There are at least 80 Green parties around the world and all subscribe to much the same principles and aims espoused by the Australian Greens.

The philosophy is anchored in what Greens call the four pillars – peace and non-violence, ecological sustainability, participatory democracy, and economic and social justice.

Council for Foreign Relations writer James McBride says the climate change debate has enhanced the rise of the Greens from a one-issue party to a group with the ability to hold key positions in government.

But he adds that the movement remains divided over issues such as nuclear energy, military force, foreign policy, and co-operation with right-wing and populist parties.

For example, the Alliance 90/Greens members of Germany’s government have advocated for stronger Western support for Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

According to the Global Green Network, some party members hold key positions in European governments. For example, Germany’s Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is chair of the Alliance 90/Greens party.

Like so many Green parties around the world, Alliance 90/Greens grew out of student protests and anti-war/anti-nuclear movements in the 1960s and 1970s. The present-day German party is a merger between two Green parties and Alliance 90, which describes itself as ‘Centre-Left’. Having finished in third place with 14.8% of the votes, the party entered coalition talks with the centre-right FDP and socialist SPD, eventually joining a coalition under Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The Greens have five ministers in the Cabinet.

This insight into European politics does, to some extent, predict the future for Australia’s newbie Green politicians, taking their lead from veteran Adam Bandt. But there is more trenchant opposition to Greens here than there is in cosmopolitan Europe. In Australia, the Greens are seen by conservative forces as anti-farming, anti-coal and anti-development. At times, the more ardently left Greens have given the establishment cause to think so.

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, interviewed on ABC Breakfast this week, reiterated (his view of) the conservative country party’s positions on coal. He advocated nuclear energy (so coal production workers can keep their jobs) and stressed that Australia should hold firm to a 2050 zero emissions deadline.

Two things about this interview: hello, he’s not leader any more. So why did the ABC interview Barnaby rather than the incoming leader, David Littleproud? Secondly, has the National Party learned anything from the relatively huge swing to Greens and independents on May 21? Or is it just that Barnaby is (still) allowed to speak for them, enhanced by the media’s constant quest for ‘colour’ and controversy.

As James McBride observes, Green parties all tend to share the same four principles, but more broadly include opposition to war and weapons industries, especially nuclear weapons. The Greens are sceptical about global trade arrangements and consumerist industrial society.

“They have a preference for decentralised decision-making and localism, a commitment to social justice, racial and economic equality, and women’s empowerment.”

Underpinning this story is the Global Green New Deal, an initiative launched in 2021 to accelerate the pace of cleaning up industry and reducing CO2 emissions.

As you’d expect, the G7 spends proportionately more on clean industry initiatives. The GGND states that high-income OECD countries spend at least 1% of their GDP over two years aimed at reducing carbon dependency. Developing economies should also spend at least 1% of GDP on improving clean water and sanitation for the poor and reducing carbon dependency.

The Guardian reported last year that while many government leaders had promised to “build back better” from the pandemic, few countries were investing in the new infrastructure needed. Research by Vivid Economics found that about a tenth of the $17 trillion being spent globally to rescue stricken economies was going on projects that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions or restore nature.

Incoming Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in his victory speech on election night that Australia could become “a renewable energy superpower”. Australians who voted Green 1/Labor 2 after enduring the trauma from climate change storms, bushfires and floods will probably hold him to that.

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