Home > Oz Politics > In the name of God, go!

In the name of God, go!

July 14th, 2012

Back around 1970, the Labor Party was unelectable because its biggest branches, in NSW and Victoria, were controlled by factional machines of the right and left respectively, who were still refighting the battles of the 1950s Split. The eventual response was Federal intervention to restructure both branches. The intervention was more successful in Victoria than in NSW, but overall the results were good enough to produce a revitalised Labor party. The election of the Whitlam government was one result, as was the strength of the early Hawke ministries, almost any member of which would outperform the great majority of both frontbenches today.

I doubt that an intervention would produce a similar result in NSW today, but the situation is now so dire that it could scarcely make matters worse. It’s hard to imagine a political party with less justification for its continued existence than NSW Labor. It sold out its stated principles with repeated attempts to privatise the electricity industry, then made a botch of the job anyway> It has made itself look stupid with repeated changes of leaders (the only one who tried any resistance to the machine was Nathan Rees, and he was promptly squashed). Its members are enmeshed in every kind of corruption, financial, ethical and sexual, above and beyond the routine corruption of political processes that turned the word “rort” from Sussex Street slang into an Australian byword for sharp practice. Electorally, it’s a disaster area, having gone down to the worst defeat in its modern history, under the sock-puppet leadership of Kristina Keneally. Even though the NSW Libs are, as they always have been, appallingly bad, the O’Farrell government is riding high.

And now, these geniuses have decided that it’s smart politics to make war on the party that’s keeping Federal Labor in office, and with which they will need to deal for the indefinite future if they ever want to pass legislation through the Parliament. Looking at this appalling crew, I can only quote Oliver Cromwell “You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”

Update My friends at the Oz take a keen interest in all my thoughts, so I wasn’t too surprised to see this post linked in their “Cut and Paste” section. However, the headline All the Climate Change Authority member would like now is to get rid of the NSW Right seemed both unwieldy and obtuse, in a fish-meets-bicycle kind of way. Why should my (widely shared and longstanding) views on the NSW Labor Right machine be of any more interest by virtue of my membership of the Climate Change Authority? And why should my enthusiasm about the election of the Rudd government (also linked by Cut and Paste) be relevant to either?

The answer, I would imagine, is this post by Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy who (in a quite strange misreading) took the imprecation “In the name of God, go” to be directed, not at the Sussex Street machine repeatedly criticised in the post, but at the Federal Labor government. Terje Peterson tried to set him straight in comments (thanks, Terje), but I had to spell the point out before he added a correction on Sunday evening, which made the entire post rather pointless. By that time, I imagine, the cutter and paster had already set the story up and gone home, leaving the unfortunate sub-editor to do a salvage job with the headline (not the first time!).

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  1. Jim Rose
    July 14th, 2012 at 16:06 | #1

    How the NSW state ALP faction leaders changed the premier at will mystifies me. What do they have over the rest of caucus to make them bend to their will?

    Most of the NSW Labor caucus were going to lose their seats anyway so the only issue was how many. The faction leaders were no help in this regard: savings labor seats .

    Richo helped Labor win! The NSW faction leaders do the opposite. The only reason NSW Labor kept 20 seats was that they have more super-safe seats than in Qld.

    The country party and the Liberals also took decades to work out their relationship. There were three corner contests and separate Senate tickets for a long time.

    The country party were agrarian socialists while the Liberals were pro-business but mercantilist. Both were anti-union.

    The country party forced the resignation of Billy Hughes, refused to serve under Menzies, and slowed down McMahon’s ascent to PM. Menzies ended up in Fadden’s cabinet in 1941.

    The resurgent WA Nats see themselves as outside the Liberal tent pissing in.

    Labour and the Greens have just started down that road of working out their true relationship. The Greens cannot complain that a party that they refuse to always preference seeks to pay them back. Tit-for-tat breeds co-operation.

  2. pablo
    July 14th, 2012 at 16:31 | #2

    Loved the ridicule from former WA Labor premier Geoff Gallop over the local NSW Labor heavy claiming that the Greens had “stolen” ALP votes in 2010.

  3. Ken_L
    July 14th, 2012 at 16:47 | #3

    Richo might have helped Labor win an election or two, but his contempt for Labor principles and values was part of the sickness that has destroyed the ALP. An approach based on the philosophy that “it doesn’t matter if they hate us we’ll still get their preferences eventually” was a recipe to cook cynicism and corruption into Labor as core ingredients.

    Like John, I just wish they would all go away, fast. Rudd should resign and found a new party that is prepared to work constructively with the Greens, while acknowledging that they will disagree about some important policy issues. At least then progressives will have something positive to engage with.

  4. July 14th, 2012 at 17:10 | #4

    I find this part curious:

    “And now, these geniuses have decided that it’s smart politics to make war on the party that’s keeping Federal Labor in office, and with which they will need to deal for the indefinite future if they ever want to pass legislation through the Parliament.”

    I don’t know (apart from checking Hansard for each and every vote in the Senate where a division was called) a simple way to check the exact numbers, but every time I listen to proceedings in the senate it seems like ALP/LNP join together to slam through legislation far more often than it passes by virtue of the Green’s vote.

    Does anyone know if there is a simple way to confirm this anecdotal evidence?

    E.g.: according to the ‘comlaw’ site 103 Acts have come into law so far in 2012, I’d bet that a minority of these depended on Green votes – glancing down the list I can see a few that I know the Greens opposed.

    To listen to the media/commentariat you’d think LNP vote against everything and we only get any laws passed if the Greens agree to it.

  5. Freelander
    July 14th, 2012 at 17:24 | #5

    Can the Labor party be reformed? If so,would it be worth the effort and would it be the best use of that effort?

  6. Ikonoclast
    July 14th, 2012 at 17:38 | #6

    Give up on Labor. Support the Greens and International Socialists.

  7. Moz
    July 14th, 2012 at 18:35 | #7


    Last I recall it’s something like 80% agreement between the coalition and the other coalition.

    Which, incidentally, continues to amuse me. The Situation goes on and on about how the minor party in the coalition has disproportionate power and the whole thing just doesn’t work. Because obviously a coalition of any sort has never worked, and can never work, in Australian federal politics.

  8. Robert (not from UK)
    July 14th, 2012 at 21:07 | #8

    Professor Quiggin says: “Even though the NSW Libs are, as they always have been, appallingly bad …”

    I’m not so sure about “always”. Nick Greiner wasn’t too bad in his first term (1988-91), during which I was living in Sydney. After 12 years of Labor sleaze, Greiner had only to be moderately competent and intelligent in order to shine.

    Of course his cabinet went all wobbly after the 1991 election campaign, when Greiner insanely decided – like Tom Dewey in 1948, Harold Wilson in 1970, and Jeff Kennett in 1999 – that he hardly even needed to campaign adequately since he would romp home anyhow. And of course, like Dewey, like Wilson, and like Kennett, Greiner ended up with egg on his face, though unlike them, he did actually cling on to office. His big mistake was not reckoning with that two-cent Savonarola Ian Temby at ICAC.

  9. John Quiggin
    July 14th, 2012 at 21:20 | #9

    Megan, you’re right. Still, it’s true, in normal political terms, that the important bills are likely to divide the major parties and for these bills, Labor needs the support of the Greens.

  10. rog
    July 14th, 2012 at 22:01 | #10

    One of the reasons BOF is doing OK is that he isn’t devoting resources into actively feeding the media – I think this started with Wran. This could all change with eventual policy hiccups.

  11. Michael
    July 14th, 2012 at 22:10 | #11

    Something has irrevocably changed in Australian politics. The old “two party” system isn’t the main game anymore, even if it never really was only a two party system. It seems much of the media and the libs/labor haven’t woken up to that fact yet. The electoral laws might be written to favour the large parties, but neither of them represent large electoral bases anymore and the voting public is increasingly fickle. This isn’t the 70′s anymore.
    The broad left needs another party as well as labor and the greens in order to re-engage with the public. Labor hasn’t got a clue and the Greens are probably a little too narrowly focused.

  12. Patrickb
    July 14th, 2012 at 23:05 | #12

    ” these geniuses”
    My ironic sentiments exactly. When will be be free of these meddling careerists who think that gaming everything is a substitute for policy and vision?

  13. July 14th, 2012 at 23:22 | #13

    I’ll no doubt be accused of having a tin foil hat, but…

    Keane had a piece in Crikey 9/7/12 about the ALP Right and this whole Greens bashing exercise.

    His analysis of the numbers etc.. was quite interesting and appears to bear out the idea that the Greens aren’t stealing ALP votes, rather there is a substantial block of the electorate who are against ALP/LNP (at least as they currently behave).

    Keane wrote:

    “What halts the Greens are strong swings against governments. The Greens’ federal vote went backwards in NSW in 2007 in the House of Representatives. It only rose by 0.7 percentage points in Victoria. The NSW and Queensland state elections show that the Greens struggle when the electorate is gunning for the incumbent. To amend the cliché, when the swing’s on, it’s on against minor parties. On that score, maybe the Labor Right will achieve its goal of halting the Greens momentum at the next election by handing Tony Abbott a landslide.”

    This is where the tin hat comes in: What if there is a large cohort in the ALP Right who are fully aware of this fact and their goal REALLY IS to ‘halt’ any progressive politics in Australia, regardless of whether ALP/LNP wins any particular election?

    Seems perfectly plausible to me. You get to sit in Canberra regardless, and you ensure Australia slides further and further to the ‘right’.

  14. Freelander
    July 14th, 2012 at 23:31 | #14

    The current two party system choice is between worse and worser, with dumb and dumber describing ma incumbents.. When the Greens become less flakey and larger we may have a choice.

  15. Daniel
    July 15th, 2012 at 00:18 | #15

    Sorry but I do not know how bad Labor has become in NSW, however in SA the Rann Labor government started to change its tendenz with the introduction of ‘superschools’ and cuts to government services. Hopefully there is no epidemic going on here?
    P.S. Like in sports, Labor seems to be playing to the level of its opponents, instead of keeping to its ‘own’ system and convictions

  16. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    July 15th, 2012 at 07:28 | #16

    Megan @13:

    “This is where the tin hat comes in: What if there is a large cohort in the ALP Right who are fully aware of this fact and their goal REALLY IS to ‘halt’ any progressive politics in Australia, regardless of whether ALP/LNP wins any particular election?

    “Seems perfectly plausible to me. You get to sit in Canberra regardless, and you ensure Australia slides further and further to the ‘right’.”

    There are two such cohorts. There is the Catholic Right such as Don Farrell, John Hogg, Caroline Polley, Joe De Bruyn and John Murphy who are the lineal heirs of the DLP/NCC legacy and who see the Greens as both a manifestation of the general threat of secular modernity and as a new avatar of the communist menace. Then there are the anti-communist social democrats such as Michael Danby who, under the influence of the late Frank Knopfelmacher, see the fundamental conflict in politics as being between the “democrats of all persuasions” (social democrats, liberals and conservatives) and the totalitarians (communists and fascists), and who also regard the Greens as an avatar of communism. Hence the obsession with Senator Lee Rhiannon.

    Of course, there are also people who want to live off the cause rather than living for the cause, but who find it convenient to be able to justify their stances in terms of defence of freedom against the Attack of the Killer Watermelons.

  17. Nathan
    July 15th, 2012 at 13:58 | #17

    One hears this sentiment a fair bit. I’m not so sure. What would you say was the most ‘flaky’ Greens policy position?

  18. July 15th, 2012 at 14:06 | #18

    Indeed, Nathan. I’ve pulled a couple of people up on this as well recently, and they can never point to an actual flaky Greens policy. (I’ll concede that pushing for an inheritance tax was ill-advised, but I believe we’ve lost that one recently.)

  19. Freelander
    July 15th, 2012 at 14:27 | #19


    If you haven’t come across an elected green or a green policy that you feel would be fair to describe as flakey, then we will simply have to agree to disagree.

  20. July 15th, 2012 at 16:59 | #20

    Nathan & David,

    Q.E.D., apparently!

  21. Freelander
    July 15th, 2012 at 17:24 | #21

    Yes. Clearly flakey is not agreed on by all, otherwise they wouldn’t get any votes.

  22. Moz
    July 15th, 2012 at 18:07 | #22

    @Freedlander, it’s more that “name one flakey policy” and “I can’t” seem to go together like Abbot and Costello.

  23. Katz
    July 15th, 2012 at 18:29 | #23

    Despite or because of the Libs’ and ALP Right’s and Murdoch Press’ hysterical invective against the Greens, it is highly likely that the Greens will get at least 10% of the popular vote for the foreseeable future. Numbers like that give the Greens a powerful role in parliamentary politics.

    One interesting outcome is that the Greens induce the ALP and the Tories have begun to co-operate over certain issues against the Greens. This new phenomenon helps to explain the rhetorical violence of both sides against the Greens.

    Christopher Pyne has bragged that the Libs destroyed One Nation and that the ALP has failed to do the same to the Greens. Pyne would be loath to admit that the Libs destroyed One Nation by becoming One Nation. The ALP cannot become the Greens because the Greens agenda is inimical to the agenda of large swathes of the ALP. But more significant is that the Greens are a properly constituted party with a viable branch structure led by intelligent, articulate political professionals, not a pack of opportunists attempting to ride the coat-tails of an egocentric publicity addict bereft of insight and expertise.

    If the ALP wants to form government they have no choice but to come to an arrangement with the Greens. Meantime, the Greens can play both major parties with promises of preferences in return for policy concessions. Time is on the side of the Greens.

  24. Salient Green
    July 15th, 2012 at 18:57 | #24

    “Pyne would be loath to admit that the Libs destroyed One Nation by becoming One Nation.”
    Gold, with Platinum inlay.

  25. paul walter
    July 16th, 2012 at 06:05 | #25

    Wot Megan says, and Michael.
    With #16′s comment, am wondering what significant differences exist between the Catholic right and the Knofflemacher right. Is it that the first category is religious and the second secular and from there, the first soc-con and the second neolib?
    I think both would be happy to collude, with the help of offshore interests, to see what remains of “settlement” democracy crashed, down to smashing the Labor party itself to oblivion, beyond recall.
    Thirty odd seats in Qld and NSW out of about a hundred and seventy, are all that remain of Labor in the state parliaments there. Victoria and WA have seen once secure ALP governments drummed out also but less severely, while in SA a Labor government that just survived a massive swing against it continues to antagonise voters in much the same way as the former NSW and QLD governments did, with that putrid mix of soc-con and opportunist politics and zombie neolib economics, the later often only portrayed as “economics”only to justify further plunder of the “commons”.
    Nor is zombie economics an exclusively local phenomena, the same thing is happening right across the western world, while dire poverty has increased across the developing world.
    I’d add the attempt to identify the split between the ALP and Greens as down to asylum seeker policy fails completely for me.
    Although it is true that ALL parties argue from rigid positions- no reasonable person is going to tolerate the continuing suffering and deaths of asylum-seekers from war zones selectively denied access to safety; the sado-Abbottist position. Yet the Greens are unrealistic to openly propose “open slather”, for want of a better word, as to numbers. Although you dare say, if the Greens were reported more accurately their ideas on asylum seekers would seem less extreme than tabloid media and politics portrays them, as in most other things. There is a fair way of doing things re population, but it won’t happen because it has become a political football, rationality has been banished and the opportunists and Abbottists won’t back off.
    The (almost buried) underlying issue concerns “development”, globalisation, privatisation and dumbing down, following the initial success of the Greens in highlighting scientific concerns from about the late ‘seventies of last century..
    Another poster mentioned Richo and it is really from the early nineties and its recession and financial problems, that Labor repudiates environmentalism, starting with forestry.
    This speeds up as progressive Laborites become disenchanted, joining progressive small l liberals driven out by the Howard dries in the eighties in voting Democrat or swinging to the Greens, accelerating the neolib, opportunist and parallel soc-con tendencies in the big parties.
    But what can you say, given the bad scenario?
    The QLD state massacre, six seats left in that parliament and far from being the bitch-slap that got Labor out of its complacency and obstinacy, seems to have had an opposite affect, as the last fortnight has demonstrated.
    Much more of this and I will be knocking on the door of the Ecuadorian embassy, unless I can score a ticket to Heard Island beforehand.

  26. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    July 16th, 2012 at 10:40 | #26

    paul walter @25:

    “With #16′s comment, am wondering what significant differences exist between the Catholic right and the Knofflemacher right. Is it that the first category is religious and the second secular and from there, the first soc-con and the second neolib?”

    The first category is Catholic and much more likely to be anti-feminist, anti-queer, anti-abortion and generally socially conservative. The second category is usually either secular or Jewish and in either case much more socially liberal, although not necessarily neo-liberal. Knopfelmacher himself conducted a polemic against the Catholic Right in the mid-1980s in which he argued for the basic justice of feminism and the need for anti-communists to recognise this.

    Within the Knopfelmacherian anti-communist social democratic current there is also an important difference between those, like Robert Manne, who think the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and recognise that “new politics” issues championed by the Greens aren’t reducible to Cold War polarities, and those who find it difficult to see the Greens as something other than Killer Watermelons.

  27. paul walter
    July 16th, 2012 at 13:29 | #27

    More and more I think, “learn Spanish” or “pack long johns.”
    @26, how is it both factions miss so easily what Prof Quiggin et al, seem to recognise?
    It just seems so contradictory in the light of basic realities as to false oppositions re development and ecology and economics and rational economics/ecology and population policy. There is no reason why helping refugees would damage the economy if the government would only accept its role as points-person and direct capital toward providing a social dividend as well as a dividend for capitalists.
    But they’d rather kill the goose that lays the golden egg; society is already pomo dead and the most civilised thing we can do is to hop in to dismember the corpse, because the Wall St dealsters and City bowler hat zombies don’t like even reasonable orderly direction or rational constraint.
    Its a very schizoid thing #26 decribes. We have a sense of the old Australia’s good points with the Catholic right, that it shared with the old industrial left, once there was social solidarity and the mission of creating a future for the masses, but its turned “laager”with the banishment of the left critique, the enemy has become asylum seekers, science and rationality, gay people, intellectuals etc, rather than unrestrained and materially destructive capitalism and arbitrary authority.
    I think Australia is a suburb not a country and the real masses now reside across the sea, out of sight out of mind. Things haven’t really changed since the time of Dickens and Marx.

  28. sillyoldbugger
    July 16th, 2012 at 13:34 | #28

    I thought the Greens were/are the international socialists.

  29. Fran Barlow
    July 16th, 2012 at 16:27 | #29


    We’ve recently beend described as “neoliberals on bikes” by some to our left.

  30. Alan
    July 16th, 2012 at 16:58 | #30

    On election night in 2010 Gillard thanked people who had kept faith with the party. I would have thought parties kept faith their electors, not the other way round, but that feeds in to the whole attitude of entitlement that the NSW Right embodies. So does the nonsense about stolen votes.

    I don’t think the vat creatures of Sussex St are attacking the greens because of any dark conspiracy. They either blame the Greens or they blame themselves. And they are not capable of understanding that is their own ignorance and incompetence that has put the ALP on the path to electoral oblivion.

  31. paul walter
    July 16th, 2012 at 17:18 | #31

    Well said, Alan!

  32. paul walter
    July 16th, 2012 at 17:41 | #32

    I guess what Fran Barlow is trying to tell me is that, effectively, I am disenfranchised.
    Capitalists on bikes…
    And here was me thinking the Greens were about rationality and seeking to move beyond the bourgeois individuation to egocentric, introspection-free self on behalf of a deeper, decentering vision that has us as stewards for others and fellows engaged in a search for value and meaning beyond consumerism.

  33. Donald Oats
    July 16th, 2012 at 17:51 | #33

    Nathan you nailed it on pyne.
    As for whether the greens have flaky policies, the real question is how many flaky policies the other major parties have by way of comparison.

  34. Freelander
    July 16th, 2012 at 18:29 | #34

    The flakey policies are one thing. Flakey people is perhaps more important. To be taken seriously, the greens have to convince that they can do the ordinary stuff of administration. They need to lose the flakey reputation. And the reputation for shallowness, and trendiness.

  35. Jim Rose
    July 16th, 2012 at 19:10 | #35

    the greens are a broad church. they have a wide range of policies to avoid platform fights in an organisation ruled by consensus.

    anyone know of a policy the greens rejected? I think the boycott and disinvestment policy was a recent inclusion maybe after several tries.

  36. Alan
    July 16th, 2012 at 19:32 | #36

    Where does the Greens’ reputation for flakiness come from? Is it flaky to decide that stopping the boats justifies suspending all human rights when the immigration minister deports someone? Is it flaky to decide that the the ALP’s electoral peril comes exclusively from ‘stolen votes’? Is it flaky to answer the UN Human Rights Council’s criticism of the Intervention by stating that Australia ‘respectfully disagrees’? Is it flaky to pay various sects and churches to proselytise in schools?

  37. paul of albury
    July 16th, 2012 at 20:14 | #37

    I think the Greens are considered flaky because they don’t think big money *always* has to be appeased. If they did what they were told, a lot of the people referring to them as flaky would relax. But actually trying to implement policies their members want? Imagine if everyone did that! Quelle horreur!

  38. July 16th, 2012 at 20:56 | #38

    So a desperate family comes to the front gate seeking help.

    Tony wants to blow them away with a shotgun, Julia insists they be dispatched with a rifle.

    The Greens say we should bring them inside, see what the problem is and whether we can help.

    The Greens are flaky purists who refuse to compromise.

  39. Alan
    July 16th, 2012 at 20:57 | #39

    The weirdness about Greenbashing as a political art form is, like a lot of nauseating stuff that bubbles out the Sussex St vats, it is utterly ineffectual. For every former Labor voter ‘stolen’ by the evil Greens roughly 10 have been stolen by the good Coalition. Let us assume that Greenbashing will cause the stolen voters deluded into voting Green to see the error of their ways and go back to Labor begging forgiveness. That would still leave the ALP with a deficit of almost 10% to make up.

    The real solution is for Sam Dastyari to make a relatively short speech along the lines of ‘Well, sacking Rudd may not have been a terrific idea. Come to think of it sacking Nathan Rees, where I was a prime mover, was equally stupid. Actually now that you mention it, I don’t really know what we were thinking.

    Government by moral panic over the people-smugglers doesn’t seem to be working out. In fact the Greens seem to be doing a lot better than we are at generating ideas.

    What we need is a radical rethink and to start listening to our members instead of focus groups and the Murdoch press. The best way to start would be for me to step down as general secretary and ask the party to elect someone with half a brain. I know that qualification will knock out all my friends from the NSW Right, but whatever it takes.’

  40. Fran Barlow
    July 16th, 2012 at 21:14 | #40

    @Jim Rose

    anyone know of a policy the greens rejected? I think the boycott and disinvestment policy was a recent inclusion maybe after several tries.

    Well we rejected the Carbon Polluter Rewards Scheme (CPRS) of 2009. We also rejected involuntary rendition and punitive detention in Malaysia (otherwise known as Refugee Capture & Storage and Refugee Trading).

    FTR, BDS in relation to Israel is not national policy though is it is supported in NSW.

  41. Fran Barlow
    July 16th, 2012 at 21:26 | #41


    The Greens are flaky purists who refuse to compromise.

    Indeed. The Greens are so uncompromising that our MPs

    a) supported confidence in the ALP regime
    b) voted with the ALP on almost every bill the Liberals opposed and on pretty much every motion, with the result that the ALP got, by its own boast, 336 bills through, which puts every past parliamentary three year period under Howard or even under Rudd in the shade.

    We objected to one bill at the same time as the Liberals — one we had never hinted we might support — and now the pragmatic non-purists who lecture us that something is alsways better than nothing are saying the alliance with us was a terrible mistake, and perhaps they should preference Liberals who have sworn to tear down their achievements — ahead of us, who have sworn to defend them. And as we know, this heartfelt angst isn’t even directed at us but at Gillard, whom these spivs are summoning the courage to ditch because she’s not “cutting through”.

    Doesn’t this show that junking principles, far from being an advantage, is the road to ruin? Now they have neither integrity nor the poll numbers on their side and if they lose, they won’t even have the intellectual tools to rebuild post-catastrophe.

  42. Katz
    July 16th, 2012 at 21:32 | #42

    The Greens threaten to disrupt the habitual lines of patronage and influence so assiduously nurtured by corporate interests (read media, gambling and mining) and their clients in the major parties.

    This disruption represents the most serious peril to the political culture of Australia since Whitlam rid Australian politics of religious sectarianism in the early 1970s.

    State governments are heavily reliant on gambling taxes for their financial viability. Moreover, employment by the gambling sector is a well trodden road for retired pollies.

    The Greens thus threaten to derail some lucrative gravy trains. This is very flaky behaviour by the lights of our established pollies. What pollie in her right mind derails a gravy train?

  43. Alan
    July 16th, 2012 at 21:50 | #43

    @Fran Barlow

    Of course they have the intellectual tools to rebuild after the catastrophe. They will loudly proclaim: ‘The Greens ate my homework!’ and continue with business as usual.

  44. Freelander
    July 16th, 2012 at 22:06 | #44

    The greens rejection of the ghg bill that turnbill supported must have been their flakiest hour.

  45. Freelander
    July 16th, 2012 at 22:12 | #45

    There was no scheme to reward pollution. Currently CO2 emmissions are being rewarded every day much as they have for hundreds of years. The scheme as with the current scheme is to penalize not reward. When it comes to the greens flakey is as flakey does.

  46. Fran Barlow
    July 16th, 2012 at 22:50 | #46

    Last I heard of that scheme there free permits to “EITEs” and others were up around the $14bn mark. There was no provision even for review of subsidies. There was a tiny target that was based on the success of CC&S — in turn heavily funded by the Commonwealth, largely because the polluters knew that putting their own money in was a waste.

    The bottom line of course had nothing to do with the efficacy of the scheme. The ALP deliberately debauched their own scheme so that we would rejectit (and therefore take no credit for it) and that nearly half the Liberals would use it to fatally weaken Turnbull.

    The CPRS was designed to fail as a schem but win as a political game. The ALP was almost proven correct, but sadly, almost in this case turned into its opposite — and the Liberals refuted them. Now they want to blame the Greens because their game turned sour.

    Laughable really …

  47. Alan
    July 16th, 2012 at 23:40 | #47

    The CPRS legislation also locked Australia into rejecting any international agreement for reductions higher than the flakily modest targets set by the legislation.

    The wonder is that NSW Right and Julia Gillard, both of whom opposed the CPRS legislation, regarded it as some kind of dangerous experiment in radicalism. I would hope no-one is about to argue that the Greens’ rejection of the CPRS was a moment of supreme flakiness but the Gillard/NSW rejection of the CPRS was a moment of sound and sober non-flakiness.

  48. Jill Rush
    July 17th, 2012 at 00:10 | #48

    It is interesting that those who are extremist themselves see extremism in others. The level of idiocy in the NSW right is that it looks like their end game is to change the Prime Minister back to Kevin Rudd as Dastyari decided to shoot his mouth off just as Julia Gillard had performed well for several weeks. It was an old case of “loose lips sink ships” but the ship being sunk is that which carries Labor even if Captain Gillard is in charge. It seems that Dastyari and Howes want Rudd in charge of the lifeboats. It will be a mighty battle to the bottom. Glug glug.

  49. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 00:15 | #49

    Instead of the scheme the greens stopped there was no scheme. With no scheme business got unlimited free permits. Flakey green policy ; flakey green thinking.

  50. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 00:25 | #50

    Time will quickly run out for the greens if they don’t shed flakey. The greens are in their post-Don era, and have also to avoid post-Bob errors.

  51. July 17th, 2012 at 01:12 | #51

    With all this “flakey” talk I smell fear of, rather than concern for, the the future electoral prospects of the Greens.

    The Greens still have my vote because their policies are far better than the Coles/Woolworths we have on offer as our ONLY choices in Australian politics. When they join Coleworths, they lose my vote.

  52. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 02:15 | #52

    When they shed the flakes maybe they will get others votes too.

  53. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    July 17th, 2012 at 09:28 | #53

    The most telling, and damning, aspect of recent Labor denunciations of the Greens is that nobody in the Labor Party has criticised the Greens’ decision to rescind their policy supporting an inheritance tax on the very wealthy. This would be a perfectly sensible and principled reason for a social democrat worth Ben Chifley’s bootlace to criticise another party, yet nobody in the ALP has uttered a squeak about it.

  54. Katz
    July 17th, 2012 at 10:05 | #54

    Hmm, well spotted BBBAC. All is not well in the Greens. The unrepresentative structure of Greens policy making fora reveals a disproportionate influence of members from small states and by extension those who are willing to compromise in order to achieve short term popularity.

    Bob Brown’s peremptory dumping of inheritance tax was justified in the name of popularity and achieved by support of a conference stacked with representatives from small states. Greens political careerists threaten to trash the Greens brand.

    The Greens should recognise that they have to choose either permanent opposition and uncompromising radicalism, or extinction as a party. There is no alternative.

    Here is a sensible voice of dissent in the Greens:

    Which brings me to the unrepresentative nature of the conference. Under the formula for delegates what we get at Greens national conferences is more or less equal numbers from each of the states. It’s more Senate than House of Representatives. So NSW, with over 30% of members, has approximately 15% of delegates. Victoria is in the same position.


  55. Ken_L
    July 17th, 2012 at 10:05 | #55

    An inheritance tax on unearned wealth would be one of the most progressive initiatives imaginable, so naturally it is opposed violently by the parties of entrenched privilege (i.e. Labor, Liberal and National). Who after all could want to overturn the legacy of that great Australian Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen?

    Conservatism and fear of change have become so deeply embedded in our culture that any serious attempt at reforming anything will be condemned as dangerous radicalism. People who ask the Greens to ‘stop being flakey’ are just asking them to join the establishment and stop being ‘different’. That’s fine if you complacently admire Australia’s relentless march to individualistic materialism. Other people, who remain appalled that our country has become so amoral we cheerfully join in wars of aggression just to impress a cretinous US president, believe reform of values and beliefs is exactly what we need.

  56. Fran Barlow
    July 17th, 2012 at 10:52 | #56

    As perverse as it may seem, I’m not that fussed over the inheritance tax issue, despite being from NSW.

    Whil I regard it as perfectly defensible in equity terms, I’m not convinced that one couldn’t address unearned wealth more effectively than with “estate taxes”. The point is surely to prevent large aggregations of unearned wealth rather than to claw it back after it has fallen into the wrong hands.

    Taxes need to meet certain critieria, IMO, to be useful:

    a) They need to settle burdens onto those most ethically fit to bear them (there’s your equity question)
    b) they need to be low cost per dollar of collection
    c) they must be easy to comply with and administer
    d) those to whom they apply must have little reason not to know their obligations
    e) they must be hard to evade/prtovide little incentive to evade

    I’m unconvinced that estate taxes meet standards c) & d) very well and in addition, they provide enormous scope for rightwing populist trolling. Personally, I see taxing residential property, wealth from shares and CEO incomes, superannuation benefits for the upper middle class and better wealth testing access to benefits, as better ways to narrow the gaps.

    Equally, suitable due diligence on residential property loans — putting a floor of 20% under the required equity for loans, capping maximum repayments allowable per month at 30% of adjusted household income, expenditure on increasing the available quality public housing stock plus rezoning for urban consolidation etc again would limit some of this problem.

  57. Katz
    July 17th, 2012 at 11:44 | #57

    FB, your taxonomy of appropriate taxation is eminently sensible.

    Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Greens have slurped deeply from the poisoned chalice of federalism, imbibing substances that are toxic to the heartlands of progressivism. The future of the Greens is with the youth of the inner suburbs. They are the vanguard of cultural change, not the populist trollatariat. The rise of the Greens is a twenty-year project. The party must look beyond victory in the next by-election. If the careerists don’t like it, then let them join another party.

  58. Fran Barlow
    July 17th, 2012 at 15:48 | #58


    It’s hard to disagree with your outline Katz.

    On the Federalist question though, you raise a point worth teasing out. I’m teaching inter alia Year 9 History at the moment and Federation was the first thing we did. After we’d discussed at some lenth the various conceptions of democracy, the students naturally asked just how democratic federal structures were, given that they didn’t distribute power equally amongst all the people they were intended to serve. On the face of it, you might wonder how anyone who thought democracy was about giving everyone an equal say could ever sign on to federalism or even a unitary system in which the seats were not all even — as is the case with our federal parliament.

    Running across democracy is the idea of localism having a value that was equal to or perhaps superior in some senses to democracy. The states antedated the commonwealth — which was entirely a product of a consensus amongst the states that they should all keep most of the authority in their bailiwicks ceding only what they could not usefully do to the feds. Given the remoteness of tjhe commonwealth, the transport and comms difficulties, there were functionally reasonable arguments for this.

    Similarly, the Federal Greens were an artefact of local Greens groups seeking a Federal presence. We had a strong presence in Tasmania of course (many of whom were much closer to the older-style narrowly focused environmentalists, and in NSW too, coming out of the Green bans movement (where we had a more distinctively left-of-centre perspective), but if we were to attract like-minded persons outside these places they needed to be reassured that they wouldn’t simply be subsumed within the larger and better established political alignments. Part of avoiding having a NSW-dominated Green movement, which might simply have stayed in NSW, or one limited to a few major centres entailed surrendering to a federal structure — so that those who joined in QLD, SA, WA, and elsewhere could be confident that they wouldn’t be lost in the wash. Federalism and the consensus voting system necessarily makes us a more conservative party than we’d be if local branches sent delegates according to their numbers to a national conference where matters were decided on a majority basis.

    On the other hand, if we’d had that structure, there might have been no Australian Greens at all, or it might have been something of a sham as almost all of us would have been within a narrow strip from the Tweed down the east coast plus Tasmania. The ability to present ourselves to modest communities as capable of representing concerns over development for example would have been much diminished. Another advantage is that the structure tends to militate against branch stacking, which has been a serious problem for the ALP and Libs. You’d have to rort the system seriously in virtually every state to get any tangible advantage.

    The irony though is that our party is pressing for PR in Federal elections, precisely because the current system makes it damned near impossible for the nearly 12% who give us their PV to get anything like that in Canberra. We are keeping a malapportioned structure for our party branches while opposing it at Federal level for the parliament of the country. That there may be defensible reasons for these apparently differing positions is beside the point. It still looks odd.

    The Greens are a voluntary organisation. Nobody has to be bound by its rulings on policy unless they want to stay and be an MP (and even here, outside NSW, there is a notional loophole), and in many parts of the country we are very thin on the ground — which is why we struggle to elect people. The commonwealth includes every citizen, whether they like it or not. The latter therefore should be more faithful to one vote one value than us, as we are seeking to recruit new people who think they can make a difference.

    Now if we had 25,000 members distributed more or less evenly across the country, the arguments for a federal structure would be far weaker.

  59. Jim
    July 17th, 2012 at 16:13 | #59

    Is this a hc guest post?!

    What are the institutional reasons we have arrived here? How can it be that a party could engineer itself so that the incentives facing an individual (aspirational) member are so opposed to the interests of the party as a whole?

  60. Xevram
    July 17th, 2012 at 17:52 | #60

    I am not at all qualified to comment on the tax discussion. That being said I think that Fran Barlow has it right in the criteria listed at #6.
    As an aside, I got home from work last night early enough to watch Q and A, a pretty good panel I thought, one question/discussion jumped out at me; in regards to that shocking death of the young man at Kings Cross. When asked what could be done to prevent this kind of shocking crime, the answers ran the gamut of more police, shorter club opening hours, better drug and alcohol controls, more rigorous application of the RSA laws, etc. etc. Only one panel member suggested that we look at the base level causal effects, the motivation of the perpetrator, their socio-economc background, their education, the reasons why they committed the crime in the first place. Sarah Hanson-Young.

  61. paul walter
    July 17th, 2012 at 18:29 | #61

    Freelander, who is the the “they” that should “shed their flakes”? The troglodyte ALP right?
    I sadly refer to the the latest Quiggin thread concerning relevancy and complacency”, however.
    The Greens have been persuaded to abandon their initial mission in favour of souffle issues and have allowed themselves to be wedged apart from this mission, manoeuvered into becoming a virtual single-issue party wearing its heart on its sleeve re asylum seekers in a way that almost contradicts their initial critique and purpose.
    The asylum-seeker issue can’t be sorted without relating it to the wider suite of issues re enviro and reasoned economics. The public wont support an open ended, indeterminate influx of offshore people unless a) adequate infrastructure, planning and design codes are in place and b) it finds that the refugee trail is ended at source, by having imperialist powers get out of third word countries. Neither event will happen, partly because of the stinking ALP Right’s sabotaging of the Labor government’ stated task of defence of civil society..
    Hence, I beleive Fran Barlow is wrong to call for exceptionalism for middle class and upper income taxation at a time when the majority here and offshore are expected to pay for Wall st style neoliberal criminality. another example of dislocated fundamentals.

  62. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 18:48 | #62

    They, the greens. Have to support the proposition that flakes and flakey policies ought to be jettisoned from all parties. At the moment there are a lot to jettison.

  63. Alan
    July 17th, 2012 at 18:51 | #63

    I am not completely sure that adding the abolition of Federalism to the Green agenda would necessarily be either seen as an example of the necessary escape from flakiness or central to their mission. Several new democracies, including South Africa, are federations. Their upper house, the national council of provinces, does not have the same powers as our senate, but it does have equal provincial delegations.

    Abolishing the federation and moving to unicameralism in Australia has been a historical preoccupation of the left, but that doesn’t necessarily make it an aprioristically great idea.

  64. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 18:56 | #64

    Political parties need more than nice policy positions. To be elected government voters need to believe that a party can do. You don’t give executive power to a party of flakes who have good intentions but haven’t a clue about how to carry them out. The greens are not yet a credible alternative.

  65. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 19:06 | #65

    You are better off in a car driven by someone who knows how to drive,even if they are going somewhere you don’t want to go, than in a car driven by someone who wants to go where you want to,but who doesn’t know how to drive, is unsafe in their attempts,and doesn’t know the way.

    Which is why some are reluctant to embrace the Greenspam.

  66. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 19:07 | #66

    Sorry … the greens.

  67. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 19:17 | #67

    You would have hoped there was more adult supervision over autistic programmers … and someone would explain that humans don’t like their decisions made for them… These text changers constantly making unrequested changes! On the autistic behavior and lack of adult supervision Google is really going offvthe rails with manipulative trickery that only those missing a theory of mind would indulge in.

  68. Salient Green
    July 17th, 2012 at 19:19 | #68

    This is the first blog I have heard the Greens called ‘flakey’. We are generally called extremist, radical, looney left, authoritarian, communists and watermelons. Of all the labels, radical would be the closest to the truth and I’m talking about the real definition.

    Perhaps Freelander should look up the term flakey and properly answer the previously put question as to which policies and which people he defines as flakey.

  69. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 19:35 | #69

    Already, given an example of a policy. Not that I had to. Can’t name one wholey non-fkakey green politician. Have pointed out that the ability to do which the greens don’t seem to have is necessary before they can be a credible alternative.
    Might not be nice for greens to hear but until they absorb the message they are not going far.

  70. Fran Barlow
    July 17th, 2012 at 19:38 | #70


    You are better off in a car driven by someone who knows how to drive,even if they are going somewhere you don’t want to go, than in a car driven by someone who wants to go where you want to,but who doesn’t know how to drive, is unsafe in their attempts,and doesn’t know the way.

    Was Ivan Milat a competent driver? Did he know his way arounf Belanglo State forest? Would a hitchhiker have been safer in his car than that of a well intended learner?

    I’m guessing not. At least in the latter case, one can perhaps make suggestions, get lucky with the hazards.

    Personally, I’d pass on both …

  71. paul walter
    July 17th, 2012 at 19:46 | #71

    Freelander, if you read the papers you will find articles from Guy Rundle and Nicholas Stuart identifying the true source of the”flaky”. Now, Freelander’s assignment is to read these two articles, then go bed, taking Teddy with him/her.

  72. paul walter
    July 17th, 2012 at 19:56 | #72

    First site I visit after leaving here a couple of minutes ago, “NewMatilda”.
    First article off the rank, Henry Pill, with a piece entitled, ” The Labor Right’s American Playbook”.
    This commences,
    “What do Mitt Romney and Paul Howes have in common? They both offend the right people to consolidate their own power. The ALPs NSW Right is attacking the Greens to alienate progressives” .
    Sorry to add this to your already extensive reading list, Freelander, but it might help “unblock”, when all else has failed.

  73. Fran Barlow
    July 17th, 2012 at 20:50 | #73


    I am not completely sure that adding the abolition of Federalism to the Green agenda would necessarily be either seen as an example of the necessary escape from flakiness or central to their mission. {…} Abolishing the federation and moving to unicameralism in Australia has been a historical preoccupation of the left, but that doesn’t necessarily make it an aprioristically great idea.

    As I think I implied, there can be credible arguments for a federated structure. Democracy is a fairly loose concept based around the idea of individual sovereignty raised to the level of governance, aggregated and then after some parsing, enacted as “the consensus”. Not all governance is best located at the centre — and much of it is better done locally anyway.

    OTOH, my own view (as distinct from that of The Greens) is that in 21st century Australia, the states have no useful role to play and that we’d be better served with a strong central government coordinating regional governments which would in turn have subcommittees to look after council functions.

    It’s hard to see any Federal government in the near term pushing that one however.

  74. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 21:06 | #74

    Amusing to see green logic in action. And this is the sweet talking they do when they try to win support from someone who agrees with the direction they would like to see things go in, to some extent. But unskilled and undisciplined they won’t get far. Fiesty and flakey they will stay in the entertainment section.

  75. July 17th, 2012 at 21:24 | #75

    Freelander, you’ve shifted the goalposts a few times, but never mind. I note you still haven’t come up with a single actual flaky Greens policy, instead claiming we have no other kind, even though I gave you the death duties. (Not that I actually disapproved, I just believed from a pragmatic point of view that it was unwise.)

    So: put up or shut up. Just name 10!

  76. Alan
    July 17th, 2012 at 21:24 | #76

    The state borders are more than faintly silly. I live in a fairly remote town and we have a lot more in common with people living on the other side of state borders than we do with the state capital hundreds of kilometres away.

    Canada has precisely your structure and it would be interesting to do some research on service delivery in Canadian provinces versus Australian states. South Africa moved from 4 colonial provinces to 9 new provinces but there are 14 continuing boundary disputes that have generated considerable problems and quite a lot of enclaves. But, as you say, no government is going to move in this direction in the foreseeable future.

    It seems to me that Greens have a Green agenda and its not really our job to enact an agenda for the historic left.

  77. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 21:49 | #77

    Gee! I’ve shifted the goal posts! No. Mine have stayed still. The problem with a lot of the fellows here is that they argue against the argument they would like to argue against not the argument they happen to be facing.

  78. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 21:54 | #78

    If homework is being handed out, maybe some careful reading of what was not. But then my hope never springs eternal.

  79. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 22:13 | #79

    By the way …
    A new internet law – You know they have run out of arguments when they resort to dragging in Ivan Milat or the Belanglo State forest or better still,both.
    A uniquely Australian law?!

  80. Fran Barlow
    July 17th, 2012 at 23:05 | #80


    You know they have run out of arguments when

    someone adduces a silly analogy as argument.

  81. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 23:17 | #81

    Speak of the devil …

  82. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 23:29 | #82

    Reductio ad Milatum or reductio ad Belangloum, a nice Aussie contribution in lieu of silence when having nothing left to say. I like it!

  83. Freelander
    July 17th, 2012 at 23:41 | #83

    The people who would like the greens to stop being flakey of course don’t want them to evolve into the incumbents. They simply hope they will evolve into competent adults. The incumbents are hardly what we want but despite their many flaws, they have to be preferred to the greens and their dangerous deficiencies.

  84. Sam
    July 18th, 2012 at 00:46 | #84

    Just an observation here; I find that the more comments there are by Freelander, the less I enjoy the discussion. I wouldn’t want to assert direction of causality, but the phenomenon is certainly real.

  85. Freelander
    July 18th, 2012 at 01:09 | #85

    What a pathetic contribution Sam. What a pity the world is neither designed nor revolves simply for your enjoyment.

  86. Sam
    July 18th, 2012 at 01:48 | #86

    Ah, and here’s another data point, right on time.

  87. Freelander
    July 18th, 2012 at 02:15 | #87

    Ah, ad hom all you can contribute Sam and rather nonsensical ad hom at that. So you don’t like me, apparently. How sad for you. But if you have nothing to say,try to avoid being pathetic.

  88. paul walter
    July 18th, 2012 at 03:05 | #88

    Freelander, what is up?
    This stuff isn’t “you”.
    You are true blue Labor and can’t believe the mess recent history has left Labor in, particularly since the promise of 2007-10?
    Neither can anyone else at this thread, I’d bet.
    It is not dislike of Labor or Laborites, it’s just dismay at what the ALP is becoming and what sort of opportunity has been wasted, as well as a sense of sabotage from the Right, within and without.
    It was a good pragmatic platform, the 2007 platform. All of the modest targets on everything from asylum seekers to social policy and environment, to industrial relations and justice, were achievable.
    If things have come to the current sad state, it is to do with the assault on the government from capitalism and msm, against a backdrop of deteriorating consciousness within “New” Labor. The current problems are NOT the fault of progressives, Green or otherwise.
    They are brought about through Labor being fly-blown by manipulable Lyons Forum cranks, neolibs and opportunists, not the people who would dearly have loved to have been its closest allies in keeping democracy healthy.
    Do you realise what a concern it may be be for other thinking people, that soon there may be no viable alternative to the Tories?
    Can I share some thing with you, Freelander?
    I was brought up in a Labor stronghold, believed in Labor; voted for it monotonously.
    Can you imagine what it does to me, to see turncoats within wrecking it and turning it into a bosse’s instrument to be wielded against ordinary Australians?

  89. Freelander
    July 18th, 2012 at 03:28 | #89

    Must admit that once upon a time I thought Labor were for the right things, and once they were. But that was a long time ago, and the labor party is too far gone with opportunists,and careeriests to come back. Lets hope the Greens or some other party steps up and soon.
    As for the Tories, you ‘d have to be embarrassed to be a supporter on that side. Malcolm Frasier seems embarrassed!

  90. Freelander
    July 18th, 2012 at 03:36 | #90

    What has truly sadden me has been the destruction of the union movement, with the divide and conquer of enterprise bargaining being the penultimate step to no unions at all. Free trade was a great battering ram in the long struggle to bust the unions and undo one hundred years of gains.

  91. paul walter
    July 18th, 2012 at 04:35 | #91

    Yes, the gaping hole left in the political fabric has been the disappearance of the “left”, to do with globalisation and neoliberalism, off shoring of the industrial base and the hammering down of the unions.
    The “workers”, of course are now Asians slaving away in the sweatshops of SE Asia- out of sight, out of mind.
    Where once was a country, now only suburbia exists. There is no longer a sense that we are planning and working together toward some thing better, that could be a model for the world, just a load of scrapping amongst Australians for the blingy and ephemeral material symbols that are the outward form that once denoted a creative, healthy civil society.

  92. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    July 18th, 2012 at 09:36 | #92

    Somebody thinks that the Greens have been taking Freelander’s advice, and isn’t happy about it. I personally think the author’s argument is flawed by her essentialist view of “the market”, but as an informed insider accound that actually attempts to present a political argument rather than NUS-style slagging off, it’s a healthy counterweight to the crap we’ve heard and read over the past eleven days.

  93. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    July 18th, 2012 at 09:44 | #93

    There is another important fact of Australian electoral and parliamentary history to be borne in mind when discussing the Labor-Greens relationship. Labor has not had a Senate majority in its own right since 1953, and is not going to have such a majority in any forseeable scenario over at least the next decade (to be charitable). In other words, the current situation where there is a Federal Labor government which needs to negotiate legislation with another left of centre and pro-union party in the Senate is the best place Labor has been in since 1953, and is as good as it’s going to be for quite some time to come. Those Labor figures who have been sounding off about the Greens need to tell us what alternative situation they think is (a) feasible and (b) more desirable from a Labor perspective.

  94. Katz
    July 18th, 2012 at 15:40 | #94

    Nevertheless, Elizabeth Humphrys, quoting from the Overland link above, is absolutely correct:

    One further paradox that emerges from the Greens’ general commitment to markets is that it undercuts the party’s stated opposition to economic growth at all costs. Capitalism, unlike previous social systems, is organised around production primarily (almost exclusively) for the market rather than human or ecological need. Those who control production decisions will only invest if they can feel assured that they will get a sufficient rate of return to make the investment worthwhile and to keep pace with their competitors. Thus, by looking to market mechanisms to drive, for example, structural change towards a low-carbon economy, the Greens accept that change must be driven by the ceaseless search for growth that characterises modern capitalism – the very growth they also oppose!

    There is no middle ground between maximising return on capital and a sustainable economy. One must plump for one or the other.

  95. Fran Barlow
    July 18th, 2012 at 16:12 | #95


    quoting Humphrys:

    One further paradox that emerges from the Greens’ general commitment to markets is that it undercuts the party’s stated opposition to economic growth at all costs.

    The trouble here is twofold. “At all costs” is a non-specific condition. Almost anyone could oppose economic growth at any cost. What scale and quality of cost meets that test is the stuff of mainstream argument, even if one assumes that almost any growth a conservative or neoliberal might approve of would pass the test. That regulatory systems are in force, even in economies run by avowed conservatives or neoliberals tells us that even they accept that growth must pass some sort of cultural test.

    Equally though it has been the case for some time that the more conservative of our major parties has declared that budget deficits are something akin to a mortal sin. That’s niot far from the consensus in the US and of course striving for balanced budgets is de rigeur in Europe these days. Clearly, they don’t think growth at any cost is a good policy.

    So I’m seeing this qualification as something of a truism. FTR there’s nothing at the Greens website that resembles this declaration, and much that seems to affirm that growth can be a good thing, including an explicit recognition of the positive role of markets.

    10.governments have an important role to play in regulating markets and correcting market failures, but markets where they function well have an important role to play in the allocation of resources.

    It’s true that not a few in the Greens are sympathetic to what is called “steady state economics” — a zero-growth perspective that dovetails with the idea of stabilising and reducing population. That’s not the party’s official position though.

    One can argue that our “at any cost” test is a lot sterner than that of the mainstream parties. We place a much higher value on preservation of ecosystems, at the expense, if it comes to that, of consumption — though we would argue that we aren’t close to that yet. We’re not growth fetishists but don’t deny that sustainable growth is possible. The idea of “maximising” the return on captial is also misleading. The ROI is maximised, subject to whatever constraints apply. If one of them is a price on effluent from the oxidation of fossil hydrocarbons, and another is preservation of biodiversity, or a ban on extractive industry in a given ecosystem, then that is something that those seeking ROI must factor in. While economic growth would very probably be lower over time if the whole world were operated in this way, one could still seek to maximise ROI.

    So Humphry’s attack is a strawman, IMO.

  96. Katz
    July 18th, 2012 at 16:57 | #96

    The “at all costs” equivocation is subsidiary to the central contradiction between profit maximisation and sustainability.

    In relation to the subsidiary issue, angels and pinheads come to mind.

  97. Freelander
    July 18th, 2012 at 17:02 | #97

    Neoliberals (libertarians) have always used their long-term strategy of infiltrating all sides of politics that have a chance of success. Even though Neoliberals are in essence a right-wing political force they have pursued the both-all sides strategy because with it they get the Neoliberal agenda enforced regardless of who voters choose.
    Not surprised they have made efforts to subvert the German Greens.

  98. Sam
    July 18th, 2012 at 18:33 | #98

    “There is no middle ground between maximising return on capital and a sustainable economy. One must plump for one or the other”

    This is quite wrong. You could do half of each.

  99. Fran Barlow
    July 18th, 2012 at 18:51 | #99


    I don’t agree. Like other Greens, I’m no growth fetishist, but I do regard growth as a necessary condition (though not a sufficient one) for raising people maintainably out of poverty. I’m not giving away secrets when I note that much of what counts as economic activity has little to do with raising people our of poverty, and sometimes its effect is negative. Military spending, for example, is a response to the failure of humans to devise ways to collaborate equitably over the exploitation of ecosystem services. Not only does it divert human labour into something that is at best worthless, but often actually destructive of the products of human labour and of course humans themselves. In a world in which there were no armies and no military technology, and all that human labour was diverted into meeting human need we might well have less “growth” but humans as a whole would be richer per unit of labour surrendered.

    Doubtless one could look elsewhere with ease for examples of activity that contributes nothing of tangible benefit to humanity — and certainly nothing of commensurate benefit to humans of the labour and ecosystem services consumed.

    Now personally, I strongly prefer a system of community planning over production, but at the light industrial and retail end of the chain, and in services, it seems to me that what we call markets are probably no less efficient at allocating labour than a planning system would be. So once we get below “the commanding heights” where in effect, we have cartels in operation, I’m not persuaded that the marginal utility of planning systems warrants it. These days, co-ops and even small trader operations create no great inequities and will probably deliver goods and services more cheaply in labour time than any other system could.

    I don’t agree that this makes me any kind of neoliberal.

  100. Fran Barlow
    July 18th, 2012 at 19:09 | #100

    One last observation on the silly analogy above about whether one would prefer a competent driver regardless of the destination to an incompetent driver committed to taking you where you want to go …

    The basic claim is that it doesn’t matter where one is going. Plainly, if one is standing at a bus stop one will ignore buses going radically in the wrong direction much as one might decline to get onto a bus that nearly kills you by mounting the footpath driven by someone apparently unfit, regardless of its advertised destination.

    For those loosely described as “on the left” the idea of “progress” is a basic condition for supporting policy or those advocating it. The idea of progress assumes the idea of humans (and especially those who are relatively or absolutely marginalised) coming to have better life chances and more power over the direction of their lives and the quality and quantity of their life chances. To the extent that this entails choices in a zero sum game, progressives prefer the poorer to benefit at the expense of the relatively privileged.

    It’s not a universal view of course. Some think that however unseemly social arrangements may appear, “the poor will always be with us” and this is about as good as it gets, and therefore that inequality and even misery is therefore morally defensible. They assert that any serious attempt to disturb this will not only fail, but risk causing more harm than it abates. Such people are called conservatives, because they seek to preserve existing privileges and usages. Many of them are very competent at prceversing their privileges. A brief look about the world shows this is so. In almost every corner of the world, there is squalor and brutality bound up with the conservation of privilege.

    The idea that progressives would prefer to be governed by a competent conservative at preventing progress, or worse, reversing it, merely because the advocates of progressive policies were somewhat incoherent in approaching the resolution of the problem of progress is simply bizarre.

    We can fix incoherence, when it gets in the way. We may need to do a lot of that before progress is possible — dragging the unfit busdriver out of the seat and replacing him/her with someone better equipped to drive. The direction of policy however, is the starting point for politics. To date, nobody has shown that Greens are in any way unfit to drive the bus. Here and there, one may disagree on our chosen route — I certainly do — but that’s an entirely different matter.

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