The Possum Box

Thoughts of the Pollytics Community

Is Australia’s Dead Centre About To Turn Green?

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 10, 2008


The latest embarrassing shennanigans in NSW politics perfectly illustrate how the Left in Australia has now moved so far to the “centre” (i.e. centre right) that the Right can barely distinguish itself. The Right has only itself to blame, of course, having moved so far towards the Ultra Right over the past decade that there is nowhere left for them to go but Pauline Hanson country.

So now we have weak Liberal and National oppositions in the states and at the federal level. That’s not a good look for a democracy, is it? It creates the strong impression of a virtual one-party state. But this is what 21st Century Western democracy looks like: it’s the same thing in Britain and the USA. The corporate elite pull the levers, the lobbyists push the deals, the media hypes the message, and the politicians face the cameras to catapult the propaganda. Voters get to choose between Big Business or Big Business Lite, and any other option is ridiculed.

Of course the whole country has moved a long way to the right since John Howard first took power. And of course Howard’s friends in the media had a lot to do with engineering that social change. Just look how Alan Jones cheered on the Cronulla beach race riots, for example, or how Big Media (yes, it’s globalised now) hyped the illegal invasion of Iraq. We Australians have embraced the privatisation of everything that used to be publicly owned, including the rocks and minerals beneath our feet. Nobody asks why we still pay just as much (or more) tax, despite the government off-loading all these responsibilities. It’s not politically correct nowadays to make such observations, or to ask why tertiary eduction is now unaffordable to so many, etc. etc.

In this political environment, there is only one Australian party which retains the socialist ideals of “the Left” and that is the Greens. So why haven’t the Greens been getting more public support, particularly given the growing prominence of climate issues? Aside from some valid criticism of internal Greens politics over the years, I think there is only one clear explanation – the Australian corporate media has marginalised and ridiculed the Greens for so long that most people still do not take them seriously. That could be about to change.

In all the widespread applause for Kevin Rudd’s decision to embrace the Garnaut findings, nobody has noticed that our new PM had little choice. The Greens now share the balance of power in the Upper House, and any failure by Rudd to set ambitious targets for reducing our carbon footprint would have created a major stumbling block. It’s an issue the Greens would gladly use to force another election, because they know the weight of public opinion is behind them. Bob Brown is still threatening to force changes to legislation if Rudd does not commit to deep cuts.

Will the media recognise the important contribution the Greens have made, and continue to make, to our nation? Don’t hold your breath. But people can judge the facts for themselves, and the media will not be able to ignore the important role the Greens are going to play in coming months.

This is from Bob Brown’s speech to the National Press club today (pdf here):

“While the worst polluters clamour about the costs of addressing climate, the Greens, like the population at large, know the enormous benefits of early action. Besides the new industries and long-term jobs that will be created in the sunrise businesses of the future, climate change remediation generates deep satisfaction in people’s hearts. They know that we are re-creating our society and economy in a way that will protect the planet and its wildlife and provide a secure lifestyle for future generations…

Last year Australian voters changed the government and prime minister and, logically, ended the Coalition’s majority in the Senate.

So, when the Senate resumes next month it will have neither Labor nor Coalition nor Greens control. No party has the necessary 39 seats for a majority.

There are 76 seats in the Senate. Half plus one – 39 – is required for legislation to pass.

The Coalition, with 37 seats, will need two extra votes to pass its own measures or will need just one extra vote to have 38 – that’s enough to block government bills.

Labor, which has 32 Senate seats, will need an extra seven votes to get its way.

There are five Greens and two independents. That makes seven. Bingo! Mr Rudd.

After the election last October I wrote to our new Prime Minister, not just to say ‘Bingo!’, but to congratulate him.

Being a restrained fellow, I did not mention that Greens preferences had made sure Labor won 10 seats, including Bennelong, and helped Labor win in another 15.
With the fine exception of the Member for Solomon, Damian Hale, no Labor bouquets have ever come our way in recognition of this fact. Labor’s love was lost. Or maybe it never existed.

Mr Rudd replied to my letter, saying, and I quote “We have a great job of work ahead of us, and I am looking forward so much to seizing the great opportunities that Australia has. I will greatly value your continued support as the work now begins.”

Well, steady on a minute, mate.

The Greens Senate vote was 1.17 million people.

We are Australia’s third political party. The Greens have more than 100 local government representatives, 15 state parliamentarians and now, with five Senators, we qualify as an official party in the national parliament.

With true democracy, that is, proportional representation, Australian voters would have elected ten Greens to the House of Representatives in 2007. Far from being the unrepresentative swill in the Senate, the Greens are the unrepresented will of Australian voters in the House of Representatives.

So we too share the claim of a modest mandate. We Greens look forward to Labor’s support for our policy initiatives in the Senate, as we move to make it a house of innovation…

Labor and the Coalition, products of the 20th century, have more in common with each other than either has with the Greens, who are the innovative thinkers for this 21st century…

Australians will back leaders who, explaining themselves well, appeal to the decency we all harbour to change direction and to ensure that our children, and theirs, inherit a safer, saner, happier world…

As Labor was the right party to emerge at the start of the past century, the Greens are the right party now.

In a world where indifference to the challenges confronting humanity edges towards political culpability, I am honoured and deeply privileged to lead this new and, for these unprecedented times, most responsible of parties in our Australian Parliament.



This article was first published at Riding the Juggernaut. Ghandi can be contacted through that site.


29 Responses to “Is Australia’s Dead Centre About To Turn Green?”

  1. Firemaker said

    John Howard’s skill was to take the Australian people as a whole in the wrong direction – thats why I hated him so much. Not as far as he’d like but he still took them some way. It was slow but effective.

    Hopefully Rudd will take us back in the right direction it will be slow and hopefully effective. If Rudd tries to move the nation too fast he risks failure.

  2. gandhi said

    If Rudd tries to move the nation too fast he risks failure.

    Sure. OTOH if the world does not move fast enough on climate change issues, we all risk annihilation.

    And it’s not just climate change either: the economic “tsunami” is now upon us. Of course, the two issues are closely linked: the politics of rampant corporate greed which gave us the Enron scandal and Alan Bond also gave us Exxon Valdez. We cannot seriously expect corporate-controlled governments to solve either problem.

    As Ad astra noted previously here, Rudd’s leadership style is under attack in the media. The Libs are now picking up that meme too, hoping they can pressure Rudd into “courageous” political decisions which will dent his popularity. But leadership is most certainly what is needed right now, and Rudd has to be bold or he is ****ed anyway (and so are we).

    It’s also worth contemplating the value of those the media might brand heroic failures:

    In the space of a little less than three years, the Whitlam Government established formal diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China; assumed responsibility for tertiary education from the states and abolished tertiary fees; cut tariffs across the board by 25% and abolished the Tariff Board; established the Schools Commission to distribute federal funds to assist non-government schools on a needs basis; introduced a supporting benefit for single-parent families; abolished the death penalty for federal crimes. It also reduced the voting age to 18 years; abolished the last vestiges of the White Australia Policy; introduced language programs for non-English speaking Australians; mandated equal opportunities for women in Federal Government employment; appointed women to judicial and administrative positions; abolished conscription; set up the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee; amalgamated the five separate defence departments; instituted direct federal grants to local governments, and established the Order of Australia (Australia’s own honours system), as well as improved access to justice for Indigenous Australians; introduced the policy of Self-determination for Indigenous Australians; advocated land rights for Indigenous Australians; increased funding for Indigenous Australian’s welfare; introduced the Multiculturalism policy for all new migrants; established Legal Aid, and increased funding for the arts.

    Did anyone else read Martin Feil’s column yesterday?

    Our foreign debt has been increasing by $50 billion a year for the past three years, despite the mining boom. We owe $600 billion to the rest of the world. We owed $180 billion 12 years ago. We owed nothing in the ’70s.

    The grand experiment hasn’t worked.

  3. Possum Comitatus said

    Apologies Gandhi – you went in the moderation bin for a bit.

  4. gandhi said

    No worries, Possum. At least I came out of it this time.

  5. Firemaker said


    I don’t disagree with the scale of the problem and the urgency but unless the leader can take the nation with him, nothing will happen and the “denialists” will win.

    Your right about Whitlam, he made some important reforms but the pace was way too fast and it scared the good folk of OZ – he was gone in 3 years and we got 7 divisive Fraser years.

  6. You left out Whitlam’s main reform: legalising homebrewing of beer & wine of any strength 🙂

    Also, before Whitlam sewerage would occasionally run down the street of capital city suburbs

  7. Howard C said

    And if PR was introduced in the HofR, we would have an unworkable parliament.

  8. fred said

    In the area of issues relating to climate change and the environment and ignoring other valid areas for the moment, such as IR, the Greens are the real opposition to the ALP because the Coalition is still stuck in its obsolete vested interest mode.
    Apart from the usual cheer squad of big business and the media [really the same thing] very few people are taking the incoherent babblings of yesterdays’ mantras from the right wing Coalition seriously.
    As Possum says, people know that ‘something’ has to be done, they may not have the details at their fingertips but the way forward is clear. Drastic change is required.
    And they know, or a substantial chunk of the populace do, that the Coalition are looking backwards and dragging their feet.
    The Coalition [I prefer not to refer to Nelson or Turnbull or whomever individually because I think its obvious that they are only the frontspersons for the groups and interests that constitute the rightist parties as such, the puppets at the front can change overnight but the ethics and values of the parties are far more constant] is caught in a time warp where its policies and statements are going to be seen as increasingly irrelevant.
    The Greens will slowly take over as the only clear alternative to to the ALP.
    Perhaps not too dramatically so nor to the extent that they become the second party, but surely there will be a greater awareness of their policies in the medium term [pre next election].

  9. gandhi said

    Here’s another issue where the Greens are seizing the initiative while everybody else stares into their teacups: Afghanistan.

    The Coalition won’t admit they botched the whole thing (because they just did whatever Cheney said: go and invade Iraq) and Rudd wants to keep a hardon for the US military machine. So it’s left to the Greens to point out that we are going to keep watching Aussie soldiers die (never mind the poor Afghan civilians) for no good reason.

    Just think of the “soft power” gains if all the money and effort wasted in Iraq had been spent on building roads, schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure in Afghanistan. The pro-democracy oppositions in Iran, Iraq (if they hadn’t been invaded) and other ME countries would have been hugely lifted and emboldened to demand change.

    But of course the real goal was never to bring these people democracy. It was to steal their oil and build pipelines. Which brings me back on topic: the Coalition will do what Big Oil demands and Labor are just playing games, leaving the Greens as the only major party in line with mainstream public opinion.

  10. David Gould said

    I think you are stretching the point a tad with your suggestion that the Greens are in line with mainstream public opinion. As a Greens voter, most people I know do not agree with the Greens on much of anything at all. That is one big reason why they only get around 10 per cent of the vote at election time. Basically, no-one trusts the Greens on economic issues. And economic issues are what people vote on – personal economic issues, at any rate.

  11. Ad astra said

    We can only hope Gandhi that of all the forces pulling the Rudd Government in different directions, the most influential will be the Greens position on global warming and an ETS. It seems to have a well-reasoned grasp of the issues and the solutions.

    Big business, particularly the big emitters and energy intensive industries are already into special pleading and dire threats. Pressure groups, including some States (Victoria, NSW) and State politicians (Michael Costa) are pushing for special consideration for their vested interests and an unhurried timetable. The media, while urging Rudd to be bold, will continue to issue ominous warnings about the grim consequences of his version of an ETS. Brendan Nelson looks like opposing outright a Rudd ETS by 2010, although support for this extreme position among Coalition members seems to be wavering. It seems unlikely though that he will be able to discard his opportunistic adversarial posture in favour of a more bipartisan approach in the national interest. Only party pressure could persuade him otherwise, and it just might.

    The Greens position is more radical than Labor’s, so it is improbable that all its elements will prevail. Since public opinion does influence political decisions, the Greens need to sell its compelling message to the electorate in straightforward persuasive bite-sized offerings. If that can be achieved in the coming weeks without alienating public opinion with statements too ‘extreme’ for the people to assimilate, we may yet get a good outcome – an ETS that is timely, well fashioned, tough but fair, and above all effective.

  12. gandhi said

    David, I am not suggesting that the Greens are “in line with mainstream public opinion” on ALL major issues and I’m sorry if I gave that impression. What I am saying is that they are taking the lead on critically important issues where I expect hard facts will prove them right (if they have not already done so).

    Rudd was shadowing Howard through the election campaign, and it worked for him. But now he needs to shift back towards the Greens or he will be left defending Howard’s pro-corporate legacy.

    Climate change and economics are going to be tied at the hip for the next few years, and I think the Greens’ economic credentials will improve as people accept their climate change arguments (like ’em or not).

    For the time being, I accept that most Australians are probably more in tune with Crikey’s expectations of the Greens than mine. And of course the media will make things hard for them:

    The best the Greens might do is negotiate a scheme whereby green-minded households can elect to take a solar heater instead of cash.

    And if the Government’s emissions targets are too high under the ETS, will the Greens join the Coalition in knocking it back? That’d be a good look.

  13. fred said

    According to Newspoll in Feb. ’08, Australians rank the top 6 most important political issues as:

    1. Health and Medicare……..82%
    2. Education………………81%

    3. Water Planning……………73%
    4. the Economy………………72%

    5. The Environment…………..68%
    6. Welfare/Social issues……..62%

    Plus leadership, National Security and Industrial Relations.

    Now, AFAIK, the Greens are the main party offering alternatives to the ALP in the top 2 categories with their strong positive emphases on priority for public health [as opposed to the Coalition’s continued support for private health] and strong priority for public education [as opposed to the conservative parties’ continued support for private education].

  14. gandhi said

    Where are all your Howard-loving commentators, Possum?

    I’ve boldly asserted that the Libs are so far to the right that they have nowhere left to go, and nobody is even arguing the point. It’s curious…

    Have they all lost their mojo (such as it ever was) or should we take this silence as a de facto acknowledgement of agreement?

  15. Rum Rebellion said

    Jovial Monk Says:
    You left out Whitlam’s main reform: legalising homebrewing of beer & wine of any strength.

    Yeah, but he left out home distilling of spirits. 😦

  16. David Gould said

    People rank health and education high, because they feel like good little citizens when doing so. But if better health and education would actually cost them money, then forget about it. Voters in general vote for the party that they think will give them personally a better financial deal.

  17. gandhi said

    By the way, everybody – where is Peter Garret in all this climate change discussion lately???

    I’ll tell you where – deep, deep undercover.

    Exactly where he wants to be. Only the vainglorious poppy-cocks seek the camera-facing positions these days.

    Except Kevin Rudd, of course, who realised it had to be done and threw himself upon the mercy of the Press Pack for the good of teh Party.

    Hollowed be his name! 🙂

  18. janice said

    Penny Wong is the Minister taking the flak Ghandhi. Garret, I think, has been ‘cotton-wooled’ while he learns to deal with journalist hacks without putting his big foot in his mouth. Some people are instinctively wary of the media but Garret isn’t one of them.

    For the Greens to emerge as an alternative government party, they need to broaden their base and formulate alternative economic, health, education and social policies. They need to be less rigid in their ‘green’ views and work to achieve the best outcomes possible given that a government has to govern for all people. The Greens also need to find candidates who can prove to voters that they have a grasp (or savvy if you like) of all the major issues that concern voters. If they cannot do this they will always remain a minor party because, IMO, the perception is that they are a one issue party.

  19. Gandhi said

    They need to be less rigid in their ‘green’ views…

    Why? What if those views are scientifically sound, and actually aimed at saving this planet? You think they are “rigid” only because you have been trained to accept political lies and manouevering as standard.

    People think they are a one-issue party because the media rarely cover their other announcements.

    There is another road to power and it lies in staying true to your principles, and waiting for the public to wake up to some harsh realities on the environment, the economy, and the sordid state of our political system. My argument here is that we face potentially catastophic times, and these times should suit the Greens.

    OTOH you should never underestimate the stupidity of the average voter, or the elitist bias of the corporate media.

  20. janice said

    Gandhi, what I mean by being ‘less rigid’ in their green views is that they need to be more willing to compromise and so gain more little by little. I do think it is possible to compromise without ditching fundamental principles.

    Personally, I am not guilty of accepting political lies and manouevering, nor could I ever be accused of swallowing media propaganda. What I said was that the perception is out there that the greens are a one-issue party and they need to find themselves candidates who are able to argue rationally and credibly on issues across the board. It is time, IMO that the Greens moved from minor party status and began an earnest campaign to show the electorate their credentials in their ability for across the board governance.

  21. gandhi said


    I have see a few blog threads where these allegations of the Greens supposedly being “unwilling to compromise” were thrashed out, and it’s never been a convincing argument as far as I can see. As you say, “the perception is out there” – but where did that perception come from?

    I think you will see lots of reasonable efforts at compromise over the coming years from the Greens, but I don’t think they will compromise their core beliefs and nor should they. I notice that Rudd’s popularity today has not been dented by his hard stance (so far) on climate change, and I think that’s a sign that Australians don’t want political compromises now, we want to confront the hard facts and see some solid results.

  22. gandhi said

    And I note that the US Greens have just chosen Cynthia McKinney as their candidate, running on a platform that includes impeachment for Bush, getting out of Iraq, and reforming the US voting system.

    Again, the times should suit the Greens in the USA – they got less than 1% of the vote last time around, when people were still blaming Nader for getting 2.7% of the vote that “belonged” to Al Gore. But a lot of people who bit their tongues in 2004 and voted for Kerry are not gonna do the same for Obama this time around. McKinney has six terms as a House Democrat under her belt and will have a lot of interesting things to say – IF the US media give her a fair go.

  23. gandhi said

    On the eve of the emissions trading scheme announcement, Senator Milne is pissed:

    “I think it is very arrogant of the Government to invite the stakeholders in for three hours of briefings but only allow the Opposition and the Greens half an hour at the end,” she said.


  24. gandhi said

    … and now we know why.

  25. Deathridesahorse said

    [declares to world:_]”I love Christine Milne with all my heart!”

  26. Deathridesahorse said

    janice Says:
    July 14, 2008 at 7:06 am
    Gandhi, what I mean by being ‘less rigid’ in their green views is that they need to be more willing to compromise and so gain more little by little. I do think it is possible to compromise without ditching fundamental principles.

    Personally, I am not guilty of accepting political lies and manouevering, nor could I ever be accused of swallowing media propaganda. What I said was that the perception is out there that the greens are a one-issue party and they need to find themselves candidates who are able to argue rationally and credibly on issues across the board. It is time, IMO that the Greens moved from minor party status and began an earnest campaign to show the electorate their credentials in their ability for across the board governance.

    Propaganda is to a democracy what violence is to a dictatorship.

    Attack is invisible. Awareness is no escape.

    Vote Greens #1!!!!!!!!!!!

    (“oi-oi-oi”, lol)

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