A puff piece written by the most unlikely of authors appeared in Sundayâ€™s Guardian-upon-Yarra and Sydneyâ€™s reverse Herald Sun. Sunday Fairfax scribe Paul Daley opined therein that a new era of co-operation is likely to emerge between the Government and the party of Kermit the Frog. For a variety of reasons, I think patriot Paul is wrong for once. The exceptionalism or manifest destiny the Greens ascribed to the Greens by themselves, and some in the gallery is remarkably ill-informed, coming as it does hot on the heels of the demise of the previously immovable â€˜third forceâ€™ of Australian politics.
Prior to reading the paper of last resort, Iâ€™d been mindful of the overt absence of Bob Brown and his band of merry harpies from the media of late. Unusual for a single-issue party that nevertheless tries, usually unsuccessfully, to appear as though it has a broad-based policy platform that encompasses the legion issues a serious party such as the Coalition or Labor needs to tackle in order to be worthy of taking the executive reigns. Daleyâ€™s piece speaks of a hyped return to the fold of Brownâ€™s â€˜respectedâ€™ COS svengali, Ben Oquist. At a time when this country is faced by what is variously described as the greatest economic challenge since the Depression, a global economic downturn, a possible recession, or all of the above, the Greens have strangely gone walkabout.
On one level this isnâ€™t surprising. Bob Brown is quite a decent and indeed pleasant chap, as his friends and foes alike will attest to. The success of the party of which he is so emblematic is linked to not just that fairly narrow positive image around key personnel, but also to the environment and generally trying to sell their own good news. As a minor party, this often means selling the â€˜newsâ€™ or initiatives of one or more of the major parties as â€˜badâ€™, with the Greens coming to the rescue in uber-expensive hybrids with environmentally unfriendly nickel-cadmium batteries. Youâ€™d be forgiven for thinking that it would be wise for them to keep their heads down at a time like this, in the absence of any â€˜goodâ€™ news to sell.
Itâ€™s a time like this, though, where the big kids-little kids table divide starts to emerge. Brown, Oquist or any member of their party bar former NSW Senator Kerry Nettle, taken from the red leather in her prime (sniffle), know full well that in decidedly uncertain economic times, an emissions trading scheme is liable to become non-core. It is particularly vulnerable in this climate to assault by the Coalition, who might be buoyed by a shift in voter sentiment supporting such a scheme in general terms while economic conditions were more favourable, but leaving it hanging out to dry when the economy hits a speed bump or five. My main disagreement with Paul comes here- I think thereâ€™s every chance the Greensâ€™ constituency is anything but as solid as they hope it is, calling into question their inexorably ascendant trajectory.
Thereâ€™s a few reasons for this, I think. First and foremost, the performance of the Greens in number of seats- by no means a consistent measure (compare the Grayndler result to Melbourne and youâ€™ll see what I mean), was not anywhere near where theyâ€™d have liked to have been this time around. After the 2004 result in the smaller eponymous state district and result in neighbouring Richmond, Brown, Darth Barber, Di Natale, Bandt & co. were known to tell anyone that wanted to listen that Tannerâ€™s goose was cooked. Instead, that most golden of geese himself feasts at the table they call Cabinet.
The Rudd factor, however strong amongst younger voters in electorates such as the above with high numbers of transient, student voters, is less likely to come to the fore in such seats where the Greens in fact enjoy the bulk of their support amongst this demographic. While the partial exodus from the ALP to the Greens has been a problem in these inner-city seats, the Greens by and large spectacularly failed to do as well as they wanted. How many Senate seats, I ask you, did they win in the three most populous states of the Commonwealth? How many Cunninghams have they had since, well, Cunningham? Itâ€™s here I must digress with Nilsson, and observe that zero is infinitely lonelier than the number one.
Rudd replacing Beazley led to a perceptible shift amongst the significant number, anecdotal or not, of traditionally Labor, nominally Greens supporters being willing to return to Labor fold either in part or in total. Similarly, doctors wives or â€˜Liberals for forestâ€™ types- from â€˜wetsâ€™ to the more cerebral types concerned by trotskyist measures such as workplace legislation thicker than Ted Baillieuâ€™s â€˜brainâ€™ trapped in the body of Fran â€˜how to win friends and influence peopleâ€™ Bailey- were less concerned about the ramifications of not voting for Howard. In 2004, Latham, instead of convincing such groups that it was safe to register a protest vote, scared them away in droves. Ruddâ€™s impeccable cyclical timing, hard work, and assumption of the non-threatening mantle and much of the Tony Blair â€˜Idiotâ€™s Guide to knocking off crusty Tory Governmentsâ€™ playbook hit the Greens, even if some observers think this isnâ€™t overly quantifiable.
Thereâ€™s every chance that the Greens are about to find out that their porous support among some of their â€˜constituencyâ€™ is quantifiable. All societies function, at the most basic level, in the same way. Core, non-discretionary functions are the ones that wonâ€™t be dispensed with. Once food surpluses were regular occurrences, there was time for people in days of yore to develop writing, religion, science, medicine, and so on. Today, once youâ€™ve got a job and are doing okay financially, you can worry about the footy, beers (or chardonnays- still thinking of you, Simon) with mates, watching TV, going to the gym, politics, the imminent end of the world owing to global warming, and the like. Iâ€™m going to bet my insubstantial fortune on the likelihood that not too many people who might be well-disposed towards an emissions trading scheme are going to be campaigning for it if their job no longer exists. Nor are people likely to be concerned about the energy efficiency of their house if they canâ€™t afford their mortgage, and someone else starts living in it. Iâ€™m not even going to contemplate the prospect of living in a Prius (like federal politicians, Iâ€™d prefer a Statesman or LTD). Iâ€™m going to double up that bet on those same people not liking then being told that some politicians donâ€™t much care talking about their plight, and would rather talk about economic architecture such as an ETS. Itâ€™d make for great reality TV. Freshman Greens Senators Ludlam (just because Bob doesnâ€™t wear a tie doesnâ€™t mean you donâ€™t have to Scott- canâ€™t afford a decent tie on your salary mate?) and Hanson-Young (no relation) being confronted by angry, unemployed financial consultants asking them to do their jobs and represent their interests. Sigh. Channel 10 can start up a 24 hour sports channel and I canâ€™t get a show like that optioned.
In the past fortnight, how many times have you heard the consecutive conservationist words â€˜emissions trading?â€™ Assuming what youâ€™ve heard is a positive number, subtract this from the number of times youâ€™ve
heard any of the following- â€˜economy, crisis, meltdown, recession, Depression, interest ratesâ€™. The question is, how many times more important is the economy going to be overwhelming majority of people, even some of the moneyed inner-city elites the Greens pander to, compared to the emissions trading, carbon shibboleth? The answer, the number of times youâ€™ve heard economic words minus however many times youâ€™ve heard emissions trading. Assuming that you watch the news once every couple of days, youâ€™ve probably identified, correctly, that to most voters the economy is a minimum of about 50 times more important. For that effort, you get a lollipop.
All successful fringe groups in the past couple of centuries have realised that a constant of mastering politics and power is providing food, shelter, and jobs. All other considerations are after the fact. In this context, the Government hopes to encourage further housing construction and the continued growth of the market. It also hopes to spend billions upon billions on mostly unidentified infrastructure projects and various other endeavours to stimulate the economy. The emissions trading scheme is on life support somewhere, having been robbed of oxygen in Governmental rhetoric back in the halcyon days when AIG wasnâ€™t owned by Uncle Sam, and US investment banks were investment banks.
The Greens, increasingly likely to be Laborâ€™s preferred minor party partner according to Daley, have several options at the present time. They can do what no one is completely willing to do, by openly speaking out against what they must surely see as an ill-conceived handout of Howard proportions, and actually articulate their own economic policy or at least evince some sympathy for the many Australians adversely affected by this international imbroglio. The Opposition has partially criticised this Keynesian initiative, but with considerable nuance that is tantamount to bullshit anywhere Age circulation is less than that of the Herald Sun. The second option is for them to simply anticipate the likely long term play for both parties (to varying extents) in the event that the economic climate remains unstable for a prolonged period of time- that of a possible rollback or delayed implementation of an emissions trading scheme and related programs. This scenario involves them running with the economic bulls, telling voters in the outer suburbs that Parliamentarians from WA, SA and Tasmania with six figure salaries, free cars, virtually unlimited business domestic class flights (question to Greens- have you asked the Department of Finance to pay for carbon offsets on your flights?) , chauffeured limousines, staff, phones, offices, occasional first class overseas trips, and Chairmanâ€™s Lounge membership, believe that they should do their best to get over a possible economic meltdown of untold proportions and, like, care about the environment more. The option theyâ€™re presently pursuing isnâ€™t on that list. Itâ€™s because itâ€™s what theyâ€™re doing now. Precisely nothing, or at the very least, itâ€™s an uncanny likeness.
Itâ€™s for that very reason that I canâ€™t help but feel the Greens- while very much a genuine threat to Labor in particular and one that must be guarded against at all times, notwithstanding the invertebrate nature of the Socialist Left when it comes to combating their ideological fellow-travellers out there in the ether- might be at their zenith. Most Green parties, like many minority outfits, have gotten involved in Governments overseas to some extent, and rarely done well out of it. They excel at the legislative equivalent of childish pointing and laughing- they observe that something someone else is doing is, to their mind, worthy of derision, but are generally not given to offering constructive alternatives. I canâ€™t remember the last time I heard the Greens talk about foreign affairs other than their obvious dislike for flawed but free friends of Australia such as the United States or Israel, or Japan and whaling. What of defence policy? What of education? What of health? What of the most important area of all, management of the economy? Itâ€™s one thing to be elected to represent an electorateâ€™s interests. Thatâ€™s the nature of the lower house. But for a bunch of Senators to represent their states and only genuinely pursue a handful of issues they feel comfortable with talking about is insulting.
All of this sort of thing wouldâ€™ve seemed relatively academic a year ago. The economy was yet to be subject to the sub-prime shock. As things seemed okay economically and Labor had been elected on a promise to improve our climate change policies, it was obvious that a consensus on the need for change existed. That Howard was turfed out was no doubt a bonus. Now Bob Brown, who to generations of voters personifies the Greens and their cause, finds himself between two leaders at least as charismatic as he is, one of whom, the PM, might be forced to scale back the emissions trading scheme as circumstances have drastically changed, and another, Malcolm Turnbull, who may well sniff the wind of political opportunity and pledge to delay it even further.
This is the most obvious, fundamental flaw of the Greens. Where both major parties have leaders the electorate likes, albeit to varying extents, they are in trouble. Particularly where the current leaders have dispensed with hitherto unpopular stances. Plenty of people like Bob Brown, but they donâ€™t think heâ€™s going to manage the economy overly well. Nor does Bob, I expect. Their legitimacy is substantially vested in him, and he isnâ€™t going to be around forever. Fair weather political tactics donâ€™t work amidst an economic storm. Itâ€™s at times like these that the Greens, like the Democrats before them, are measured, and found wanting. The biggest insult to the average bloke on the street is, they probably donâ€™t mind, so long as theyâ€™re seen as the most responsible managers of the environment. They seem destined to remain at the little kids table for quite a while.