After the election their was a sharp and somewhat bitter exchange between Greens legend Bob Brown, and a rejoinder from NSW Green Mehreen Faruqi. She joined the Greens because of Bob Brown, she said, and now he had broken her heart.
This incident was a symptom of a deeper cleavage. Perhaps the Greens need to decide whether they will chase votes, or will stick to principles and try to bring voters with them. Has the sainted Bob Brown moved from the first camp to the second?
Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt were getting ahead of themselves when talking about the possibility of being in government and a possible coalition with Labor. After the experiment during the Gillard years, Labor was totally averse to going down that track again, and could never do it while the Greens were trying to unseat Albanese and Plibersek.
What Bandt and Di Natale did do was lend credibility to Turnbull’s scare campaign about a coalition with the Greens and starting up the boats again.
After the NSW kerfuffle leader Di Natale urged Greens to keep their comments in house. There would be a careful and rational review based on evidence, he said.
Others have had a bit of a field day.
Melissa Davey looks at the tension at the heart of the Greens, Osman Faruqi says that without serious soul-searching, the Greens will never move beyond the 10% plateau. Liam Byrne at Overland takes a look and Paul Keating, always helpful, had earlier called them self-serving Trots and opportunists.
Geoff Davies has perhaps the most cogent critique. He says:
- The Greens, in origin, and still in name and mainstream image, are an environmental protest party, with minority social causes added more recently. They’re trying to look safe and serious, but if you try too hard you just show your insecurity.
The Greens have developed the broad policies of a mainstream party, but their strategy seems still to be that of a fringe party. Gaining a few per cent and a few seats per election might be the strategy for less critical times, but there are much bigger changes brewing. They’re paddling hard but don’t seem to notice the looming wave.
What is lacking is a simple narrative that cuts through. Sanders and Corbyn have found themes that resonate, now we need themes that resonate in Australia.
He says many have had a gutful of “the neoliberal program of free trade, trickle-down economics and privatisation”. But many are attracted to the reactionary right, rather than the social democratic left. He says:
The Xenophon Team are reasonably sensible as far as they go but there is no broader vision of Australia’s direction.
He cites a study by Richard Eckersley which asked people to choose between two scenarios.
- The first was a fast paced, competitive, individualist society focusing on wealth generation and the good life. The second was a greener, more stable society emphasising cooperation, community, family, less inequality and greater economic self-sufficiency. 75% of people expected the first scenario, but fully 93% preferred the second.
For themes that resonate in Australia, he says:
- Jobs and job security have to be front and centre and that means, all you lovely tree-huggers, talking up front about a clean, smart, caring economy. Other potential themes are fairer flows of wealth, accessibly-priced housing, education and health care, sovereignty over land and money flows, and a liveable planet with a live Reef.
Clean energy, energy efficiency and healthy food create more jobs than mining and agribusiness, so the jobs message is there to be used. Job security will come not only from returning some power to employees but also from protecting small business and farmers from corporate depredations (think ColesWorth), and from cultivating a thriving (clean) industrial ecosystem, a concept largely absent from mainstream thinking.
Fairer flows of wealth can be assured not only through minimum wage and tax policies, but also by slowing the mechanisms that unfairly pump wealth to the wealthy, like financial market speculation, developer capture of rising land values, unnecessarily concentrated ownership, and more.
We need a caring economy where rules can be changed to “share wealth more fairly and to promote quality of life instead of more and more stuff.”
- Offer a healthy society. People want more time with family and community, they want government ownership of major services and Aussie icons, and they want healthy cultural institutions — all things our parents could afford but we allegedly can’t. The present wave of intolerance is fed by job and income insecurity, so addressing those concerns can take oxygen from the xenophobes and ranters.
Davies sees the future in somewhat apocalyptic terms:
- Politics – and the world – are likely to be transformed within the next five to ten years through financial and political collapses, global warming, resource shortages and tides of displaced people. We will move towards either a police-state corporate colony or a greener, fair-go, resilient society. Which way we go will depend on the leadership we have.
The Liberals have been captured by IPA extremists, Labor trots along behind.
The Greens run on their so-called four pillars: ecological sustainability, grassroots democracy, social justice and peace and non-violence.
That’s broad enough, but if they want to appeal to those left behind in where society is heading, perhaps they should re-brand, putting social justice up front and de-emphasise the link with green groups in the public mind, without sacrificing green values. Too much they seem limited demographically to socio-economically comfortable urban seats. Perhaps a name change would help.
I don’t think Labor can be written off, as Davies does. Shorten has moved the party to the left. Before the election there was a worry that if Labor lost then the Labor Right would take control. Shorten seems to have won enough to avoid this. Quiggin says there should be a loose cooperation between the Greens and Labor on issues, but no deal.
David Hetherington, last year, wondered whether the Greens could “recapture their standing as political outsiders driven by values” when they seem to have morphed into just another political party.
Di Natale’s review should run deep.