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To better understand the role of policy actors, I have analysed the Australian Greens (AG) party. In conducting my analysis, I begin with an examination of the dominant environmental problematisation of AG policies, along with the AG values and ideology. Subsequently, I assess the participation of the AG in the policy process, explicitly, the formation of the party with the intention of impacting policy from within the political arena, the context in which such a political player emerged, and the pathway to influence within the Australian Parliamentary system. Finally, I examine how the AG have used their power to shape the policy-making process, both within and external to the State arena.
As non-government politicians that form a minor political party, the AG wield less power to shape and implement policy directly, than say, the government, or the opposition (Maddison & Denniss 2014). The AG are both insiders (holding seats and access to the decision-making process) and outsiders (a minority party emerging from a social activist background). As an elected party the AG can influence policy by introducing and voting on legislation, making amendments to legislation, initiating and participating in parliamentary committees and inquiries, and through shaping public opinion (Maddison & Denniss 2014; The Greens 2016). Thus, the AG party is considered a policy researcher, promoter, designer, and gatekeeper, with their power to affect policy dependent on the make-up of both houses of the Parliament, and by association, the Australian public (Maddison & Denniss 2014).
AG environmental policies like all other policies are intended to change something and are therefore implicit representations of the problem (Bacchi 2009). The problematisation at the heart of AG environmental policies is anthropocentric ecological degradation (Caldwell 1993; The Greens n.d.a.). AG believes that “Good economic management means taking care of our earth” (The Greens n.d.b.) and that effective ecological sustainability will achieve a prosperous future for Australia “if we build our economy on green principles rather than short-term self-interest” (The Greens n.d.b.). Thus, AG social construction of environmental policy is not founded entirely on intrinsic motivations, as it does not wholly reject ‘statist developmentalism’ (Colebatch 2006; Walker 2012). The primary assumption and framing of AG ecological sustainability are that it is necessary to find a balance between resource exploitation and environmental conservation and that such a balance is achievable (Colebatch 2006).
The values underpinning the AG include ecological sustainability, grassroots democracy, social justice and peace and non-violence (The Greens n.d.b). The AG believe that integrity, decency and fairness should govern our interests, including the environment, our people and the collective future (The Greens, n.d.c.). As ecological sustainability abuts against the economic values of the two major parties and Australia’s dependency on natural resources, the grassroots democracy and social justice principles of the AG aim to democratise environmental policy through policy networks and actors external to government (Fenna 2013; The Greens, 2016; The Greens n.d.a.; Walker 2012).
Participation in the process
The formation of the AG national party in 1992 was a direct attempt to raise the power and voice of environmental advocacy within the political system (Miragliotta 2006). Created through the unification of different state-based green parties throughout Australia; the AG attempted to align and strengthen ecological messages and policies under one national party (Bennett 2008). The national AG party was a later edition in modern environmentalism, which had arrived on the political agenda in response to the counterculture of the 60’s and 70’s, resulting in a re-emergence of environmental concerns domestically and internationally (Carter 2007; Miragliotta 2006).
The AG like other minority parties has suffered the disadvantage inherent within the Preferential voting system used to secure seats within the House of Representatives, drawn from the Westminster system (Althaus, Bridgman & Davis 2013). However, the AG party has found greater success within the federal Senate modelled on the U.S. system, which employs proportional voting (Althaus, Bridgman & Davis 2013). It is through the Senate that the AG has seen their most significant success regarding seats and influence (Bennett 2008). Therefore, the AG have been privileged to influence agendas, shape discourse (mainly when holding the balance of power) and attempt to go beyond the greening of the policy margins (Miragliotta 2006).
Influence over the policy-making process (and thus the substantive aspect of policy) is most evident in the 2010 federal election. The 2010 government was in part, achieved through an agreement between the AG and Labour incumbent leader Julia Gillard (McCann 2012). The agreement facilitated influence over the institutional design and decision-making process, including the establishment of a climate change committee, a Parliamentary budget committee, and two-and-a-half hours of allocated debate for private members’ bills. The agreement also increased AG resources, including access for the AG to various Treasury documents and services (Australian Labor Party & The Australian Greens 2010). We can thus assess the role of the AG through a critical model of policy-making (McCelland & Marston 2010). The AG has utilised their power as policy entrepreneurs within a highly contested space, dominated by neo-liberal ideology, state complicity (or capture) with major industries, and vested interests that have consequently relegated environmental policy to the margins in favour of economic benefits (Colebatch 2006; Dovers 2013; Walker 2012).
The size and structure of the AG confound their role as change agents (Miragliotta 2006). An interpretive model, therefore, provides a useful lens through which to analyse AG incremental environmental policy change (McCelland & Marston 2010). The AG maximises limited political power and resources through the utilisation of diverse policy networks and policy communities (Maddison & Denniss, 2014). For example, community consultation, local-level environmental groups/activists (some of which are party members) and grassroots movements are closely linked to local AG branches, to facilitate environmental democracy (Jackson 2012; Miragliotta 2006; Ward & Randal 2010). Additionally, epistemic communities are essential to the AG, with the use of organisations such as the CSIRO and Inter-governmental organisations, generating legitimacy for evidence-based AG policies (predominantly regulatory), when such policies run contrary to dominant interests (Miragliotta 2006; The Australian Greens, 2015).
In conclusion, although limited, the AG wield a political power that is beyond most environmental non-government agencies. Their role within ecological policy networks sees the AG directly participating in the political arena, and in prime position to take advantage of policy windows (Colebatch 2006). This position allows the AG to exert pragmatic influence, resulting in incremental change, as demonstrated in the history of coalition agreements. However, the domination of neo-liberal ideology, preferential voting, vested interests, and intellectual timidity within the political arena limits the achievement of AG policy ambitions (Caldwell 1993; Kishore 2016). Therefore, the AG, while in a political position to influence policy, are still bound by the context in which they operate.
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