Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is Australia's Dead Centre About To Turn Green?

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.