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One of the more colourful epithets hurled at the Greens by their enemies on the political right is that they are watermelons: green on the outside and red on the inside. However, accusations that the Greens are closet socialists may be harder to substantiate after the party's decision to re-fashion some of the more doctrinaire planks in their platform, or indeed to drop them altogether. Gone, for example, is the party's support for the introduction of death duties, while the goal of abolishing the 30 per cent private health rebate has been replaced by assurances about ''redirecting funding from subsidising private health insurance towards direct public provision''. Gone, too, is the call for a freeze on Commonwealth funding to private schools, an increase in the company tax rate to 33 per cent, and a marginal tax rate of 50 per cent for those people earning more than $1 million a year. Instead, the new party platform states that school funding should be based on need, and that money not provided to the wealthiest public schools under this model be redirected to public schools. The party still advocates an increase in the marginal tax rate for high-income earners, but the figure of 50 per cent has been airbrushed out of the manifesto.

The Greens have, on the basis of their environmental activism and their support of small ''l'' liberal issues such as euthanasia, gay marriage and abortion, clearly established themselves as Australia's third major party - aided by the demise of the Australian Democrats and the Labor Party's drift to the right on social issues.

Having captured about 12 per cent of the vote in the 2010 federal election (winning nine Senate spots and one seat in the House of Representatives in the process), the Greens clearly want to broaden their appeal before next year's election. Cynics would doubtless suggest that a desire to extract more donations from the private sector is also a factor in the platform changes.

Broadening the Greens's appeal, particularly to voters outside the inner cities, makes strategic sense, especially with Bob Brown having passed the leadership baton to Christine Milne last April. The fact that the party suffered a significant setback in October's ACT election has probably also weighed on the minds of senior party officials.

A ''dilution'' of policy may alienate existing Greens supporters, but that is a risk party strategists appear happy to take. After all, there are few other parties to which advocates of greater income redistribution would be likely to drift if they forsook the Greens. Of more immediate concern is that the efforts to take the Greens ''mainstream'' will be seen by many potential voters as window-dressing. Critics will doubtless reinforce this perception by asserting that a leopard cannot change its spots.

This policy shift is significant in that heralds a move out of ideologically pure (and safe) waters into much trickier seas - where the rewards are potentially greater but where compromise, deal-making and artifice are de rigueur. Greens politicians will no doubt adapt, but will voters?

Highway tragedy

The steady procession of accidents on Australian highways over the Christmas-New Year holiday period is a sad testament to the occasional perils involved in travelling long distances by car. Any accident resulting in serious injury or death is catastrophic, but the single-vehicle accident on the Hume Highway on Boxing Day, which involved seven members of the one Canberra family, was particularly tragic.

Respected Fijian community leaders Ram and Padmawati Deo - visiting Australia for the Christmas holidays - died after the four-wheel-drive vehicle they were travelling in left the highway and rolled over just north of Holbrook.

Their 14-year-old grandson, Anav Deo of Chisholm, was critically injured. The St Edmund's College student remains in the Canberra Hospital.

The tragedy is heartbreaking for Canberra's tightly-knit Fijian community. But the hearts of all Canberrans with loved ones visiting, or on the road home, this Christmas will go out to the crash survivors. Their emotional recovery will be long and painful, underlining yet again the need for great care and caution when driving during the holidays.