“Labor, please don’t join the Libs (sic) tax cuts arms race,” came a plaintive tweet from Adam Bandt on budget night. “The welfare state as we know it is at stake.” It was the perfect demonstration of the definitional issues that confuse the Greens. Take that “welfare state”. What the Greens see as a safety net most others regard as a feather bed – a feather bed complete with a turn-down service and complimentary mints left on freshly-plumped pillows every night.
And then there’s internal confusion over the matter of just who is the enemy. Adam Bandt, of course, holds the seat of Melbourne, Labor from those long-ago days when it was wrested from Alfred Deakin’s protectionists at Australia’s second federal election until he came along in 2010. Labor, for him, is the enemy.
His leader and fellow Victorian, Richard Di Natale, appears to be fighting on another front. His missive to the faithful yesterday began, “As promised, we’ve had a closer look at the budget papers overnight. This is a budget that Tony Abbott could get behind.” Di Natale took a more inclusive approach. He set out shoring up the support of his own party’s footloose faithful, pitched for support from the Labor left, and went a’wooing what might be called delwets — that possibly mythical band of small-l liberals who convinced themselves that Malcolm Turnbull shares the values of Fairfax editorialists and ABC mornings hosts.
Di Natale actual budget address in reply rather gave the game away. If not red in tooth and claw – that’s not very Green – it was certainly red in content.
Small-business tax cuts, it insisted, were actually business welfare (yes, it’s a bizarre world when the hardest left party ever represented in the Parliament outside Communist Fred Paterson’s five years in the Forties borrows the language of economic rationalism). In fact, Di Natale insisted, we needed more taxes. More taxes and much, much more spending.
In a final demonstration of definitional confusion he closed by describing all this as a “coherent “ and “responsible approach to economic management”.
Again, the detail – or rather, the detail provided – was revealing:
“Raise the revenue we need so that everyone can get world-class public health care, education and services and so we can grow the new economy; increase GDP by growing the new, clean economy; get money moving from unproductive areas, like unfair tax breaks, fossil fuel subsidies, and put it to work to build the new economy and grow the new economy and restore revenue before returning to surplus.”
It was all like the cycle of life described by Neil the hippie 30 years ago in the comedy The Young Ones: “We sow the seed, right. Nature grows the seed, and then, we eat the seed. And then, after that, we sow the seed, nature grows the seed, and then, we eat the seed. And then, after that again, we sow the seed, nature grows the seed…”
Yet the Press Gallery lovingly reported Di Natale’s nonsense, without any indication it was acting out of a sense of obligation. What was also missing – as is always missing from any analysis or reporting on the Greens – is a sense of what they are all about.
They’re no longer shrub-huggers from the Tasmanian wilderness. The party is both far more and far less than that. It is effectively a flag of convenience for a disparate band of groups from the far left, their agendas deputised to people ranging from icy-cold and calculating Communists, such as Lee Rhiannon, through the emotionally incontinent and incoherent Sarah Hanson-Young.
The Greens’ folly is well known. Di Natale demonstrated it yet again last night. But definitional confusion outside the party has stopped others seeing the Greens for what they really are: both a danger and a menace. If both the Liberals and the ALP fail to fix that confusion we could see our politics pulled inexorably to the left.