The Greens ... a minority party with a left-wing philosophy. Photo: Natalie Grono
THE mere mention of the Greens excites all manner of claims and counter-claims. They are not green but as red as the inside of a watermelon comes the lashing from one side; they are defenceless red rags to media bulls and attack dogs hell-bent on destroying the party comes the defence from the other. They are also, some allege, the favoured party of Fairfax Media where "green-tinted" reporting raises eyebrows.
None of that is true.
The Greens are a minority party with a left-wing philosophy that appeals to a minority of mainly younger Australians. Their performance in elections reflects that - 11.76 per cent of the primary vote in the federal lower house in 2010 and 13.11 per cent in the Senate.
While those results were an increase of about 4 percentage points on the previous election in 2007, the government Leader of the House, Anthony Albanese, reckons that if the Greens ''stood on their real platform, they would be struggling to get to 3 per cent of the electorate''.
Opinion polls suggest the voter trend since 2010 is downward. Some of that decline may be linked to the retirement of the founder Bob Brown and the rise of his fellow Tasmanian Christine Milne.
Yet the Greens retain the crucial balance of power in the upper house until the election next year. If that is to be retained, the party will need to shift away from the extremes and become more open about its policies and costings.
The party claims to be moving in that direction. Milne has made overtures to business and moderate community leaders. The party's policy platform has been amended in the past two months to encompass more aims and principles rather than specifics in what is claimed to allow more negotiation with the main centrist parties. Gone, among other specifics, are death duties and the freezing of public funding for private schools.
The fear is, though, that fewer specifics means the Greens will be harder to scrutinise. That concern is understandable, given the party's record in having stalled on releasing Treasury costings of its policies in the first half of this year. Australia is less than a year away from a federal election. Any partisan claims of sneakiness need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
The Greens have one lower house MP - Adam Bandt in Melbourne - plus nine senators. One Senate seat in each of Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia will be up for re-election next year. Should the Coalition win those from the Greens and gain a seat from Labor in Queensland, it may well control the Senate with the help of John Madigan from the Democratic Labor Party.
It is easy to see why Liberal MPs such as Eric Abetz try to paint the Greens red.
Labor is worried too. Knowing the ALP environmental and industrial heartland has been taken over or soon will be, the NSW party boss, Sam Dastyari, proposed this year that alliances with the Greens be severed. That would be a welcome move because Labor has been too ready to ditch its policies to secure Green support.
The Greens should be judged purely on performance and policy. The platform is still detailed enough to raise questions. It includes what some people would regard as boutique positions - some might say extreme. They range from "the legalisation of marriage between two consenting adults regardless of sex, sexuality or gender identity"; "removing fossil fuel subsidies", and increasing the mineral resources rent tax to the aim that "the individual use of illegal drugs should not fall within the criminal framework".
Then there is "all Australian citizens over the age of 16, including those who are incarcerated, to be eligible to vote" and "an end to training and joint exercises by the ADF with armed forces known to have committed human rights abuses".
More progressive taxes are there, too, including an increase in the marginal rate on incomes of more than $1 million from 45 per cent to 50 per cent. That policy, costed by federal Treasury and released by the Greens on Friday, would generate at least $790 million over the next three years.
It was the second Greens policy to be costed by Treasury's Parliamentary Budget Office, established by the Gillard government as a price of securing the Greens' support in Parliament.
Bandt promises the Greens will go to the next election with a clear set of at least two dozen policies costed by the budget office. He claims the new policy platform aims to give the party's federal MPs greater flexibility to haggle.
The party will need to deliver on that promise lest they be left marginalised. Green should be in the centre of the Australian political spectrum, not at the red to orange end.