Forget the Greens – Keep the grass roots ‘in sight, in mind’

St Patrick’s Day 2018 was meant to be an historic day in Australian politics. Nick Xenophon’s SA Best party would be “kingmaker” in the South Australian election, and the Australian Greens would steal a by-election in the century-old Victorian Labor stronghold of Batman. To seasoned political commentators, it was no surprise when Xenophon and the Greens were sent reeling from (to paraphrase the 1960s Batman TV series) great comic book-style “KAPOWs!”

As a Batman resident, I experienced the Greens’ campaign first hand. The repeated robocalling was aggravating enough but the Greens and their allies completely overestimated the importance of federal environmental issues to Batman voters. They failed to keep their story local.

We were more interested in immediate matters such as health, education and the cost of living – especially in an electorate that barely registers the presence of local quarries only 25 to 30km away, let alone the Adani coal mine!

As valid as Adani and the Great Barrier Reef may be as issues, they were so far “out of sight, out of mind” for residents that the Greens could have been talking about the moon – or Mars!

{{quote-A:R-W:300-Q:"The Greens aren’t the danger to quarries now, it’s the power of grass roots campaigners."}}The Greens party has long aspired to be the “third force” of federal politics but appears to have lost its way in its quest to win inner capital city seats in the House of Representatives – electorates that couldn’t be more removed from the natural environment they champion. Indeed, as legislators, the Greens will always enjoy more influence in the Senate.

The Greens’ decline is ironic because they’ve ignored their own history. Green political parties the world over often derive from activist grass roots groups – for the Greens, it was the protests of the damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania in the early 1980s.

Grass roots groups often mobilise over highly emotive local issues. Their supporters often have a stake – whether it’s a dam, logging, a mine or a quarry – and make themselves heard resoundingly.

Where in the past, grass roots campaigners would slug it out in the open to make their point, these days they can be effective keyboard warriors on social media.

The Greens aren’t the danger to quarries now, it’s the power of grass roots campaigners. As some sites can attest, local residents (aka NIMBYs) can rally to a cause and inflict damage on an aggregate producer’s reputation virtually overnight.

Further, grass roots campaigners are bona fide people – they’re not party apparatchiks with skewered ideological viewpoints. They’re members of a community – professionals, tradespeople, small business people, landowners, retirees, stay-at-home parents, students and young people, etc.

Their political affiliations can be diverse – but well organised and united for a cause, they can be a force to be reckoned with.

Grass roots groups deserve their due – and shouldn’t be underestimated. If you’re planning an application for a greenfield or brownfield development, engage and consult with your community. Always have the grass roots on your side and treat your community with decency and transparency, don’t take them for mugs.

The more honest the approach, the likelier your project will receive local and state government backing. Adani may not rile up passions outside of Queensland, particularly in Batman, but it doesn’t take much to mobilise people if they feel “threatened” by quarries on their own turf. “In sight, in mind” indeed! Tread carefully!

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