Milne Focuses on Australian Productivity as Greens Woo Business

Australia’s Greens leader Christine Milne, whose party holds the balance of power in parliament’s upper house, reached out to business leaders with a pledge to increase the nation’s productivity and prosperity.

“We want the country to be prosperous as well and lifting productivity is key to that,” Milne said in a speech today in Melbourne to delegates at the National Small Business Summit. “We have to make sure we create the best policy framework within which” small businesses can operate, she said.

Milne’s comments reflect a change in focus from that adopted by the party’s previous leader Bob Brown, who concentrated largely on social and environmental issues. With Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s popularity near a record low, some Labor members have said the ruling party should distance itself from the Greens, on whom they rely for a majority in parliament along with indepenents.

“Milne is attempting to reach out to the business community and the party’s more moderate voters with a message that she’s not an extremist,” said Andrew Hughes, who conducts political-marketing research at the Australian National University in Canberra. “If the Greens are to win more votes, they need to prove they have a wider interest than just protecting the environment.”

Gillard reneged on an election promise not to implement a price on carbon emissions in exchange for Greens support to form a government. She has relied on Greens lawmakers to pass tax legislation on carbon as well as profits of iron-ore and coal producers. The laws went into effect July 1.

Helping Business

“What I want to hear from small business is ways in which the Greens can assist,” Milne said. The Greens want to help smaller companies reduce compliance costs and regulatory hurdles where possible, she said.

The pro-environment party has one elected member in the House of Representatives, Milne’s deputy Adam Bandt, and nine in the Senate.

A Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper July 24, showed Labor was favored by 28 percent of voters, down 3 percentage points from two weeks earlier, compared with 46 percent for the opposition Liberal-National coalition. The Greens attracted 11 percent, down from the party’s record high of 16 percent in May 2010.

The Greens leader did fire a shot at the mining industry.

“We know the power of big business in this country,” Milne said. “We have seen the mining industry bully governments and we fully recognize that small business just doesn’t have the financial firepower that the mining industry has to intimidate government and force them to make changes.”

Mill Protester

Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan has said tycoons at Australian resource companies are threatening the nation’s democratic process by attempting to use their wealth to shape policy.

Milne, 59, led a campaign to halt the construction of a paper pulp mill near her home in rural Tasmania before being elected to the state’s parliament in 1989, according to a biography e-mailed by the Greens. She was elected to the federal Senate in 2004.

Her comments today come after she said she would focus on bolstering the Greens’ economic credentials when she won the party’s leadership in April, following Brown’s retirement.

“I’m hoping that perhaps under my leadership, we can go out with a stronger articulation, not only of our vision for the country, but how our economic strategy would support it,” she told reporters at the time. “The Greens want to look at economic tools as a way of facilitating outcomes for the community.”

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