We welcome the following submission to GreensBlog from Giz Watson - WA Greens MLC in Western Australia
The WA Greens have been in the balance of power in the Legislative Council (Upper House) since May 1997 to the present day. For the first 4 years that balance was shared with the Democrats. In the last 6 years we have exercised it in our own right. I have been a Member of the Legislative Council for the Greens continuously over this period and have both seen and been a part of the outcomes of this balance of power.
1997 was the first time in the history of the Legislative Council (over 100 years) that the Council became a fully functional house of review - neither a rubber stamp for the Government of the day nor a block on progressive legislation. Despite claims that the Greens would stop Bills, be disruptive, promote extreme policies and that we would use our position irresponsibly - this hasn't happened.
In fact the combined Greens/Labor numbers has resulted in a period of unprecedented law reform. WA now has some of the best laws providing equality to gays and lesbians; we have legalised abortion and provided choice to women; supported vote equity in the lower house; and significantly improved workplace laws. Another impact has been to block negative proposals - e.g. the inappropriate development of the heritage listed Sunset Hospital site, selling off part of Whitman Park for housing and threats to close the Drug and Alcohol Authority.
Similarly we have used our position to insist on thorough scrutiny of legislation via the Standing Committees of the Parliament (often despite Government opposition) and significantly improved numerous Bills. For example with Greens in the balance of power, social justice provisions were inserted into the School Education Act. We continue to support small, local businesses and played a vital role in the referendum that rejected de-regulation of retail trading hours.
There have been marked improvements in Parliamentary processes. Having a third party in the balance of power has meant, instead of the feared chaos predicted by conservative commentators, there has been a significant change to increased negotiation and sharing of information between all parties. Our emphasise on consensus, participation, respect for other members and restraint from personal attacks has greatly affected the business of the Council. Similarly we are respected (even if sometimes it is grudgingly!) for our integrity and the fact that we don't cross trade across issues but consider each matter on its own merits.
On environmental issues the Greens have been key to the protection of significant areas of forest and the ending of old growth logging. WA remains free of GM crops largely as a result of a Greens led inquiry by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Public Affairs and significant community opposition. Ningaloo reef was protected from a massive marina development. The Government has backed away from supplying Perth's water from the Yaragadee aquifer. The Greens now are driving the debate with Bills in the Parliament on a mandated renewable energy target for WA, water conservation targets and a ban on uranium mining.
The Greens MPs have played by the rules. At the same time we have not been afraid to challenge some of the antiquated procedures and pushed for more family friendly sitting times, shorter speaking times and greater accessibility for the community to Parliament and its processes.
Giz Watson MLC- WA Greens Member for North Metropolitan Region, Western Australia