THE public rift between Labor and the Greens has escalated, with senior cabinet ministers accusing the Gillard government's alliance partner of being economically irresponsible.
After a senior ALP official's description of the Greens as "extremists", Resources Minister Martin Ferguson yesterday joined in the attack, saying they "don't stand for a strong business sector, with a focus on jobs".
"Every project they succeed in knocking over, they regard as a victory irrespective of the consequences, especially in regional Australia," Mr Ferguson told The Age. "My position's well known I've got no truck with the Greens."
Earlier, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the Greens "can't be trusted on questions of economic management or national security" and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the two parties "have different values and different policies".
The row prompted former leader Bob Brown to emerge from retirement to defend the Greens and turn the heat on Labor. "We are the progressive party, Labor's now mired in this break-up caused by the right wing in New South Wales, but it's Labor's problem," he told the ABC.
The move to distance itself from the Greens comes as Labor's NSW branch prepares to debate whether the party should direct preferences against them when it suits.
Labor's NSW secretary, Sam Dastyari, said he would move a motion at the weekend state conference calling on the ALP to "no longer provide the Greens party automatic preferential treatment in any future preference negotiations". He described the Greens as "extremists not unlike One Nation".
The Labor Left, which reluctantly had to accept Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Malaysia solution on asylum seekers, is angry at the Greens' refusal to compromise on the issue.
A Left convener, Stephen Jones, said the Greens had hung out Labor to dry on the issue. "They behave more like a protest movement than a political party, and that makes it very hard to work with them," he said.
Labor has had to work closely with the Greens and independent MPs since it failed to win a majority of seats at the 2010 election and formed a minority government.
Chief government whip Joel Fitzgibbon said the Labor criticism of the Greens was "a manifestation of a lot of pent-up pressure over the last couple of years". It had come to a head in Parliament "when the Greens stifled any opportunity we had to finding a workable solution to the very serious asylum seeker issue". Labor's targeting of the Greens for the asylum seeker impasse is a change from earlier this year, when it focused only on the opposition.
Mr Fitzgibbon told the ABC: "It wasn't only the major parties that were prepared to give a bit. People as diverse as Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie were all prepared to give ground."
But Mr Brown said: "The Greens are our own party. We are willing to work with the other parties to get good outcomes but not at the expense of the law, not at the expense of humanity, not at the expense of doing the right thing."
While Labor figures mostly believe the party should take a tougher public stand on the Greens, there are differences over whether preferences should be raised so far out from an election and some criticism of Mr Dastyari. "It's not appropriate for a secretary to to making this call," one senior Labor figure said.
The Greens' Adam Bandt hit back at Labor claims that the Greens were cannibalising the progressive vote. "I think they're cannibalising themselves," he said. "They've been white-anting the Prime Minister for some time, these Labor factional heavyweights including people like Joel Fitzgibbon."