In the wake of Bob Brown’s announcement that he will retire there has been much speculation about the future of the Greens. For those who don’t like the Greens (e.g. anyone who writes for News Ltd) it’s another chance to excitedly declare the imminent demise of their sworn enemy.
From the perspective of a Greens member the idea that the party cannot survive without Brown is quite ridiculous. A key feature of the greens is commitment to grassroots democracy, the interior structure of the party is highly democratic. While there is a great deal of well-deserved respect for Brown, it isn’t as if he’s the party dictator. His position was as parliamentary leader, as elected by the 10 elected representatives in federal parliament. There is much more to the Greens than the federal parliamentarians, there are numerous Greens representatives in state and local government all over the country. The overall structure of the party is based on the states, and big decisions are made at conferences where representatives of the state parties meet. At times people have disagreed with Bob Brown on big decisions and he didn’t always get his way, and was happy to recognise the will of the party through its representatives.
Furthermore there is much more to the Greens that just Bob Brown. They are a party based on a set of principles (described in the charter), and are part of an international movement. While he has done a good job of attracting people to the party, they are ultimately there because of what it stands for, and that does not change with his retirement.
The Greens have consistently been growing in support for some time and that growth isn’t guaranteed to continue indefinitely, but an imminent collapse seems highly unlikely.
One more thing, I’ve seen a number of comments from people making some fairly bizarre insinuations about the timing of Brown’s retirement – basically that he knows that something is going to go horribly wrong (usually involving the carbon tax) and he’s getting out to avoid it. For a start this sort of behaviour would go against everything we know from about Brown’s past record, but it’s quite silly to even go looking for an ulterior motive. He has to decide now whether to recontest the senate. That means staying for another 6 years, and he’s in his late 60’s now. He’s been in state and federal parliament since the mid-80’s, it’s not unreasonable that he might want to retire now rather than commit to another 6 years. With the party now having elected representatives from all states in federal parliament, including one in the house of representatives, and an obvious successor in Milne, now seems like an ideal chance for him to finally have a break.
Update: an article about Milne’s good start as leader at The Global Mail.