Australia’s Greens Distance Party From Gillard as Election Nears

Australia’s Greens party, which helped Prime Minister Julia Gillard form a minority government, sought to distance itself from the ruling Labor party whose popularity is slumping ahead of elections due Sept. 14.

Greens leader Christine Milne said Labor had breached its agreement with the party through its support for the mining industry. While the Greens won’t side with the opposition and seek to end the government’s current term, she said the alliance was over.

“By choosing the big miners, the Labor government is no longer honoring our agreement to work together to promote transparent and accountable government and the public interest or to address climate change,” Milne told reporters in Canberra today. “Labor has effectively ended its agreement with the Greens. Well, so be it.”

Relations between Labor and the Greens, which hold the balance of power in the upper house of parliament, have become increasingly strained in recent months amid a disagreement over how to stem the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia, and the government refusing Milne’s demand to strengthen its tax on iron ore and coal profits. Labor has slipped further behind the Liberal-National opposition coalition, according to an opinion poll published yesterday, as Gillard faces speculation former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd may make another challenge for the leadership.

Cut Ties

“Milne sees which way the wind is blowing and it doesn’t look good for Labor, so she’s trying to cut those ties and redefine the Greens as a separate entity,” said Zareh Ghazarian, a politics lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne. “She’s reminding voters that even though the party’s role in the current minority government will probably end, it will probably remain important after the next election because it should keep the balance of power in the Senate.”

Milne said the Greens would continue to vote against any no-confidence motions in the government and ensure passage of legislation necessary for the day-to-day running of the country.

“We will see this parliament through to its full term,” she said. “We are moving beyond the agreement as the key debates and outcomes left in this 43rd parliament fall outside it.”

Mining Tax

The government’s economic credibility was dented by the announcement Feb. 8 that its iron ore and coal profits tax raised A$126 million ($130 million) in its first six months, less than 10 percent of the A$2 billion the Treasury forecast for the year to June 30.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition led Labor 56 percent to 44 percent on a two-party preferred basis, versus 52 to 48 in the opposition’s favor in the previous survey, according to the Australian Financial Review/Nielsen poll published yesterday.

The same poll, conducted Feb. 14-16, showed that 11 percent of those surveyed intended to vote for the Greens, up from 10 percent on Dec. 13-15.

Gillard turned to the Greens to help form a government in 2010 after the closest election in seven decades. To secure their support, Gillard introduced a price on carbon emissions, which came into force on July 1 at the same time as the levy on mining profits.

Milne, who became leader of Australia’s third-biggest party in April, is trying to broaden support for the Greens to ensure it maintains its hold on the balance of power in the Senate, where it has nine of the 76 seats.