Home > Oz Politics > Don’t Follow Leaders, Watch The Parking Meters

Don’t Follow Leaders, Watch The Parking Meters

May 13th, 2014

The dispute over the Greens apparent intention to oppose a more progressive tax system has heated up again, on Facebook and elsewhere, especially given indications that the proposed return to indexation of petrol excise will be passed, as it should be. In combination, if pursued, these policies can be presented, with some justice, as pandering to the self-interest of the stereotypical Greens voter: high income, inner city, with no need to use much petrol.

I haven’t seen anyone defend the pro-rich tax policy on the merits, but I’ve had vigorous pushback from people whose views I would generally respect, taking the following lines

* Labor is doing the same thing, why pick on the Greens
* The policy may be right, but it’s being advocated for the wrong reason (deficit fetishism)
* The policy may be right, but it’s being put forward by the wrong people (evil Abbott government)
* This is only a small step, we need something much bigger and more comprehensive

I’ll respond to these points over the fold, but for the moment I want to observe that these excuses, or minor variants, can be and have been made for every policy sellout in the history of politics. No one gives them the slightest credence when they are put forward by people who aren’t close allies.

The fact that so many intelligent people are willing to buy this sort of case when it’s put forward by the Greens is evidence of the proposition that none of us is immune to the kinds of biased thinking that have completely corrupted the intellectual base of the political right. Fortunately, I think, the left as a whole is more self-critical, so that this kind of reasoning gets a tougher run. But for me, this emphasises the importance of not being aligned with any political party to the extent that loyalty clouds my judgement on the issues. That doesn’t immunise me from various kinds of biases, but at least it helps with problems like this.

Responding briefly to the substantive points, such as they are

* If the Greens want to be held to the same standards as Labor, that’s their choice. Given a choice of two vaguely left parties driven by political expediency, I’ll vote for the one that has a chance of winning government
* The second and third points imply that the Greens should reject everything the government does in pursuit of its fiscal strategy. That will be totally undercut if they (rightly) support the indexation of petrol excise
* If the Greens had a serious prospect of forming a government, there might be some point to going for a comprehensive strategy, and holding off until that could be implemented. As it is, they can only choose to support or oppose government policies (and of course even this is true only until the new Senate takes office).

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  1. O6
    May 13th, 2014 at 14:24 | #1

    I’d have thought the Greens would support re-indexation of the fuel excise, given that it was Mr Howard who removed it. Never mind that it’s a good idea.
    Of course it applies to the diesel concession too, since 0% indexed is still 0%.
    Voltaire said it a long time ago: ‘do not let the best be the enemy of the good.’

  2. Hermit
    May 13th, 2014 at 14:29 | #2

    Interesting observation on urban greens vs survivalists. The latter chop the heads off chooks and routinely get covered in dirt. The former buy glossy magazines and read the Range Rover ads perhaps wondering if they can get one in the same colour as their $400 goretex jacket.

    It’s not just suburbanites vs bush blockies here in Oz. I’m also puzzled by the contrast in pragmatism between the Swedes and the Germans, the Swedes being pragmatic and the Germans tending to ideology. Perhaps it’s an accretion process like stars forming from cosmic dust. Certain notions take seed and cement the surrounding population. Some affluent urban greens seem to me like Homer Simpson in that they have done better than they should due to the prevailing economic regime. Maybe they will thin out as times get tougher.

  3. Ikonoclast
    May 13th, 2014 at 14:59 | #3

    @Hermit

    Oh come on, you don’t have to be a survivalist to chop off the head of a chook. Any farmer has done that. Most farmers and their kids have shot vermin, shot game, shot badly injured stock etc. etc. I spent part of my childhood living on farms, part of my youth working on farms and the greater part of my adult life in cities. The biggest and stupidest artificial divide to set up is that between country folk and city folk. We are all pretty much the same in my experience. Educational opportunities vary and each style of life gives you a different kind of life education.

    The main point is that country and city folk are mutually dependent: they need each other and each other’s products. The way of life in country and city at least since the 1950s has been well removed from survivalism. Survivalism is a niche activity now.

    There is nothing to be gained by sneering at groups (like urban greenies or backblock cow cockies) or whatever. We need to take the whole view. Green (sustainable) values are for everyone who wants our civilization to survive long term.

  4. may
    May 13th, 2014 at 15:38 | #4

    could the stereotyping of greens voters be a bit out of hand?

    my experience at the last election was people were quite happy to say they voted green and not belong to any of the “types” mentioned.

    the weird thing is ,i haven’t found any one,not one, who has been happy to say they voted coalition.

    nasty suspicious mind can’t help wondering if the “misplaced” votes were the first votes “misplaced” or the first votes we have heard of being misplaced.

    hells bells,there are heaps of people working for the AEC and only one or two given an overseas bank account of sufficient magnitude “misplacing” votes on the margin and lo, a landslide.

    99.99% honest ? yes.

  5. Jim Hammond
    May 13th, 2014 at 16:15 | #5

    It is obvious political expediency, not wanting to alienate the top income decile in inner city seats. Whatsmore, it continues their opposition mentality and opportunist approach to public policy.

    The Greens are responsible for ripping into Labor’s primary vote and directly antagonising blue collar workers with their blasé and selective approach to industry policy, leaving Labor with the can on matters like the Carbon Tax!

  6. mandas
    May 13th, 2014 at 16:22 | #6

    The proposed levy on high incomes is not a more progressive tax system, and the Greens are right to oppose it.

    The ‘problems’ with our Budget are not that we are running a deficit which can be fixed by a temporary levy. The problems are structural, and eventually we will run into a wall where we either need to reduce services or lift government income. In other words, we need to fix the tax system properly and not apply bandaids. If this levy was a change to the top tax rate and it was a permanent change, then the Greens should (and I bet they would) support it.

  7. J-D
    May 13th, 2014 at 16:24 | #7

    @may
    The official AEC statistics show 5.9m primary votes cast for the Coalition parties in the most recent election for the House of Representatives.

    If I have to choose between scenario 1, where that 5.9m figure is largely the result of deliberate fabrication on the part of a few corrupt individuals in the AEC, and scenario 2, where that 5.9m figure is correct but you have not encountered any of those Coalition voters because the people you encounter are all people with whom you have things in common, I am going to rate scenario 2 as the more likely one, and so should you.

  8. J-D
    May 13th, 2014 at 16:26 | #8

    @mandas
    As far as I can tell, your response comes under the fourth of John Quiggin’s four headings (‘This is only a small step, we need something much bigger and more comprehensive’). I find his corresponding response persuasive.

  9. rog
    May 13th, 2014 at 16:34 | #9

    @Ikonoclast You don’t chop their heads off, you break their necks with a quick flick.

    Surprising the number of people that are squeamish handling whole chickens, head feet skin and all. It has to be skinned and wrapped in a plastic shroud to be acceptable.

  10. MikeH
    May 13th, 2014 at 16:35 | #10

    “pandering to the self-interest of the stereotypical Greens voter”?

    That is a bit of a stretch JQ. The debt levy supposedly applies to incomes above $150,000 or $180,000. How many “inner city greens” are likely to be on that sort of money. Not many I would thought.

    Milne makes it clear their opposition is because of the “temporary” nature of the tax indicating that they would support a permanent tax on high incomes.

    Do you have any information to suggest that is not the case?

  11. rog
    May 13th, 2014 at 16:40 | #11

    @mandas Yes, the levy while a tiny step does not add much to the balance sheet esp after deducting carbon tax and the MRRT. None of the parties AFAIK are addressing the shortfall in revenue as nobody wants to go against the political trend of lowering income tax.

  12. James
    May 13th, 2014 at 16:42 | #12

    Your first “response” isn’t even an argument. It’s not a deconstruction of any other argument, either. It’s just an irrational bit of spite. Why do you think it’s better to vote for the party that’s got the greater chance of forming government? You don’t get any prizes for tipping the winner, you know. And anyway, we have preferential voting, so you don’t have to pick one lefty basket to put all your eggs in.

    Also, that party you like to vote for – the one that’s got the greater chance of forming government – they’re responsible for Manus Island, an inhumane policy that the Greens completely and resolutely oppose. So, you know, congratulations on caring less about the mental and physical wellbeing of the world’s poorest than you do about whether or not the Greens oppose a particular tax.

  13. rog
    May 13th, 2014 at 16:43 | #13

    @Ikonoclast I know some farmers who home kill but it’s a lot of work. Even graziers who judge cattle buy their meat from woolies.

  14. Fran Barlow
    May 13th, 2014 at 17:11 | #14

    And one might add that voting for a political party is not merely an exercise in instrumental calculus. For those of us interested in inclusion and learning, elections are teachable moments

    We Greens believe in good process and that entails transparency and accountability, neither of which attach to this levy. Indeed, even now, there is no precise policy to support or oppose. It is hard to imagine that the policy would be warranted by any bona fide aim of government.

    On the other hand, the excise indexation restoration is something we have expressly called for so is quite different.

  15. derrida derider
    May 13th, 2014 at 17:21 | #15

    How sincere the Greens are here will soon become obvious. Presumably the Bill for the levy will have an explicit sunset clause so the government can sell it as “a mere temporary levy – nothing like a great big new tax”. If the Greens want it to be permanent then all they have to do is move an amendment to remove that clause.

  16. Nathan
    May 13th, 2014 at 17:53 | #16

    @James
    James, I think you need to actually read the post.

  17. John Quiggin
    May 13th, 2014 at 18:56 | #17

    @James I guess I should add #5

    We’re good on other issues so you should cut us some slack on this one

  18. John Quiggin
    May 13th, 2014 at 18:58 | #18

    @mandas
    The definition of a progressive tax system is one in which the rate of taxation increases for higher incomes. So, I’ll be fascinated to read your explanation of how an increase in the top marginal rate does not make the tax system more progressive.

    For the rest, what J-D said.

  19. John Quiggin
    May 13th, 2014 at 19:00 | #19

    @Fran Barlow
    Say what? The next election is nearly three years away. What does a piece of cheap political pandering have to do with the educative function of elections?

  20. Ikonoclast
    May 13th, 2014 at 20:06 | #20

    @rog

    Yes, I am thinking of farmers in the 1960s and 1970s when I was old enough to pay attention. It was common enough to kill and pluck chooks for roast chook. An axe, the old wood-chopping block, a firm grip on the chooks legs and a tub of very hot water for dunking it in before plucking. I saw sheep farm-slaughtered and cut into major cuts. Let’s say I learnt to truth of the phrase “lamb to the slaughter”. Sheep go as easily as lambs if handled right. I didn’t see anyone tackle a cow for home butchering.

    No self-respecting farmer today would buy meat from the supermarkets. I think they would know a good local butcher. But I agree, farm-slaughter would be rare now. It’s just another way that the lives of city folk and country folk have converged. We become more alike and homogenised by the all pervasive consumer culture of late stage capitalism.

  21. Pete Moran
    May 13th, 2014 at 20:12 | #21

    Hockey said they would “tie in law every dollar of fuel excise raised to road funding”.

    The Greens can’t vote for that.

  22. John Quiggin
    May 13th, 2014 at 20:19 | #22

    @Pete Moran
    Realistically, money is fungible, and this pledge is less important than the restoration of indexation. Equally, a “temporary” levy that outlasts the current Parliament is just about as good as a permanent increase in tax rates.

    By supporting one, and opposing the other, the Greens gain credit neither for consistency nor for good sense.

  23. Robert
    May 13th, 2014 at 20:19 | #23

    John, the mistake you seem to be making is in looking at the “deficit tax” in isolation. I suppose if you do this it makes sense to accuse the greens of inconsistency.

    But it’s not an isolated policy. It’s part of a package, the main part of which involves the government creating a fiscal problem by removing various sources of revenue (most of which were also discouraging undesirable behaviour, or encouraging desirable behaviour), reopening rortable loopholes that the former government had closed and refusing to fix a range of obvious problems with the tax system. And the problem is permanent, but the “solution” is just to kick the hand grenade a little down the road.

    What happens when the tax expires? Either the rest of the government’s highly regressive agenda will have made it unnecessary (they hope), or they’ll be in opposition and ready to turn the full force of their noise machine on anyone who suggests renewing it or anything like it.

    It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the greens haven’t taken the bait, unless you think they really are quite stupid.

  24. rog
    May 13th, 2014 at 20:26 | #24

    @Ikonoclast Not true farmer would….

    Lots of farmers sell to supermarkets.

  25. Pete Moran
    May 13th, 2014 at 20:28 | #25

    @John Quiggin

    But it won’t be what’s presented.

    The bill will be Fuel Excise tied to Road Funding. Attempts to amend/separate in the Senate will be voted down in the House.

    Are we any further ahead than the Greens present stance? I don’t think so.

  26. tunic
    May 13th, 2014 at 21:13 | #26

    @derrida derider A bill imposing a charge or levy for revenue raising purposes is considered a taxation bill, and as such cannot be initiated or amended by the Senate.

    derrida derider :
    How sincere the Greens are here will soon become obvious. Presumably the Bill for the levy will have an explicit sunset clause so the government can sell it as “a mere temporary levy – nothing like a great big new tax”. If the Greens want it to be permanent then all they have to do is move an amendment to remove that clause.

  27. Megan
    May 13th, 2014 at 21:38 | #27

    The ALP appears to have infiltrated the Greens much the same as they did with the Democrats.

    Like a virus or parasite they worm their way in and then destroy the host.

    The ALP attacks on the Greens over Rudd’s useless climate change policy was framed as “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” and the Greens, rightly in my view, held out against that criticism on the basis that it would be locking in failure.

    Then they did the deal with the ALP to get the carbon tax/ETS whatever and they said, rightly in my view, that it was workable because it could be built upon. It looks as though, one way or another, that is now going to be unwound.

    I saw that Christine Milne’s argument against the rich tax was that it was temporary rather than permanent (please correct me if I’ve got that wrong – but that was the way I took the argument).

    If a temporary rich tax was introduced, in isolation, and the Greens couldn’t get an amendment through to improve it (such as ensuring it was isolated &/or permanent) but voted in favour of it, anyway – I can’t see how that would lose them votes from, or faith with, “real” Greens (as opposed to the mythical voters from the ALP who ‘park’ their votes with the Greens, or some other mythical grouping).

  28. James
    May 13th, 2014 at 21:40 | #28

    John Quiggin :
    @James I guess I should add #5
    We’re good on other issues so you should cut us some slack on this one

    John, that’s a really cute line, but you still haven’t told us how “I’m going to go vote for the winning team” makes any sort of sense whatsoever.

    To be clear, I wish the Greens weren’t opposing this, but this “throw your toys out of the cart and vote for labor” position is just stupid. It’s not that the Greens are “good on other issues”, it’s that they’re opposing a systematic torture regime that’s supported by both Labor and Liberal alike. If you’re seriously going to make a post about who you want to vote for, and if you’re seriously going to say that you’ll vote Labor ahead of Greens, you need to address refugee issues. Because if you don’t, you need to explain why.

  29. alfred venison
    May 13th, 2014 at 22:00 | #29

    i think the rich – whatever – will see the levy as a temporary imposition, i know i would if i were rich – whatever. if i were a rich man – whatever – i would rationalize that, in exchange for pain of limited duration, i would, in liberal hands, be safe from any reforms that might lead to a progressive tax system, where i would, in the future, maybe pay more tax than i might lose now to the levy. i’m no economist, or even a rich man – whatever – but does this make any sense? -a.v.

  30. Fran Barlow
    May 13th, 2014 at 23:03 | #30

    PrQ

    Say what? The next election is nearly three years away.

    Technically, about 29 months away, assuming Abbott runs full term, which I don’t assume and somewhat doubt. In theory, he ought to be planning a double dissolution to fulfil his “blood oath” sometime later this year. Education should occur whenever there’s a chance.

    In politics, the context in which people learn most rapidly is when those who are in charge are exposed as political bankrupts, because this disrupts constituency and forces the defenders onto uncertain ground. We want this regime to break — confounded by its evident mal|ce and incoherence.

    We may not get a s57 of course, and if we don’t it will be in part because we’ve helped make the regime’s persistent claims to fiscal rectitude and populist authenticity impossible to reconcile and both untenable.

    You say you’d prefer to vote for a party with a chance of winning government, but unless the regime is torn down, you’re voting Liberal. We can only negotiate over policy if parity exists between the parties. That we can hope for this outcome in ways that pull the curtain away from the spivs shaping policy now makes our course entirely warranted in principle and practice.

  31. roslynb
    May 13th, 2014 at 23:07 | #31

    The rather pathetic debt levy is a pretense that the high end is doing their share of the ‘heavy lifting’; a sop to deceive the ‘middle people’. I don’t see why Labor or the Greens should support such a corrosive strategy. After the next election, if the coalition retain power, they will claim a mandate for further changes to pensions or similar (they have already hinted as much), to manage the structural deficit. The debt crisis (they will claim) will have been averted, so therefore the levy can come off.

  32. May 13th, 2014 at 23:37 | #32

    I have been trying, unsuccessfully, for ages to get the exact figures – but the ALP and LNP voted together to get the vast majority of recently passed legislation through both houses (especially the Senate, obviously).

    The only time a lack of a Senate majority matters in practice is when the ALP and LNP don’t agree on passing some piece of legislation.

    Given a choice of two vaguely left parties driven by political expediency, I’ll vote for the one that has a chance of winning government

    That is precisely why we need a non-ALP “left” party/parties.

    Both houses of parliament and our ‘democracy’ are just a sick joke when the two “sides” that really run the show are indistinguishable on any issue of importance.

    PS: a.v. am i just being over-sensitive, or are you taking a shot at me? m.

  33. rog
    May 13th, 2014 at 23:52 | #33

    It would seem that Hockey has returned the responsibility of education and health to the states (not our problem) and the cost (not our problem) so its up to the states to agree to increase GST.

    This is most probably the end of Abbotts election promise on Gonski.

  34. Ikonoclast
    May 14th, 2014 at 07:26 | #34

    There are two hopes of any sensible public policy in Australia now, none and Buckley’s. The same ideology directing the USA and the EU is now strongly infiltrating into Canada and Australia. Our economies will enter a long recession (as the EU’s has) the more we implement these pro-cyclical austerity policies.

    The US recovery from the global recession of 2009 has been dead cat bounce founded on a few factors soon to be history. These factors are the dollar’s status as a reserve currency and the interim profits, mainly to the finance sector and the oligarchs, of transferring US manufacturing to China.

  35. rsp
    May 14th, 2014 at 08:00 | #35

    The great art of political compromise is to choose options that advance your agenda without doing violence to your principles. It’s hard to believe that neither the ALP or the Greens would fail to recognize the “debt levy” as a chance to improve inequality, even if temporarily, even if minimally.

  36. alfred venison
    May 14th, 2014 at 08:02 | #36

    Megan, i’m genuinely surprised, but, no, i’m not taking a shot at you. i don’t recall you splitting hairs & calling for a definition of “rich” or “rich school” – whatever.

    its tax reform they really fear & loathe. and, in liberals they trust to not reform the tax system while the levy is on. the levy will be over in three years, at which time they will revert to full pay in a tax bracket where they continue to pay less tax than they would if labor were, say, a socialist party and gained power. -a.v.

  37. Fran Barlow
    May 14th, 2014 at 08:18 | #37

    @rsp

    That’s an absolute mess. Cut out all the negatives and make your assertion.

    I’m confident I get your drift, but not confident that your text supports it.

  38. alfred venison
    May 14th, 2014 at 08:20 | #38

    substitute “either” for “neither’ and yr larfing, imo. -a.v.

  39. John Quiggin
    May 14th, 2014 at 08:28 | #39

    @James
    I think we are agreeing furiously on the points that
    (i) this is a bad decision by the Greens
    (ii) there are still good reasons to prefer the Greens to Labor

    But the willingness of so much of the Greens base to support Milne on this is a very bad sign for the future. Looking around the commentary on this, it’s clear that this decision has the potential to wipe out years of effort to present the Greens as being a genuine alternative party with a coherent view on economics, as opposed to a protest party based on feelgood gesture politics, of the kind well represented in this comments thread and elsewhere

  40. NathanA
    May 14th, 2014 at 08:40 | #40

    JQ39

    I am not so sure that so many greens are supporting Milne, but more so the loudest. I think 4 is a reasonable argument only if the Greens specifically state what that something more comprehensibe is. This can then be negotiated in the Senate.

  41. Fran Barlow
    May 14th, 2014 at 09:04 | #41

    @NathanA

    I think 4 is a reasonable argument only if the Greens specifically state what that something more comprehensible is. This can then be negotiated in the Senate.

    No, it can’t be “negotiated with the Senate” because the regime is simply not going to accept that. There is no vehicle for putting together a coherent budget outside of the executive. Arguably, there should be one, but as things stand and in the foreseeable future, there is not.

    That’s why process is so important. A willingness to accept piecemeal sops gets you the worst of all possible worlds. The regime wants to rip $80bn out of education, then leave the states to handle education themselves after four years. Why would we want to endorse that, for example?

    Our biggest challenge as a party is to range the rules of the existing plebiscitary dictatorship, in favour of inclusive governance. It’s hard to see where supporting a temporary and completely bogus “deficit” levy fits into that.

  42. Michael
    May 14th, 2014 at 09:12 | #42

    John Quiggin :
    Looking around the commentary on this, it’s clear that this decision has the potential to wipe out years of effort to present the Greens as being a genuine alternative party with a coherent view on economics, as opposed to a protest party based on feelgood gesture politics, of the kind well represented in this comments thread and elsewhere

    Given how the two major parties carry on and the success of PUP I’m not sure a coherent view on economics is any kind of electoral advantage. Hyperbole, bare-faced lies and the ability to attract the support of the wealthy and powerful have been proven considerably more effective and with the tame media their doesn’t seem to be any price to pay for it either. That said the Greens are always going to be struggling to share power and keep their supporters.

  43. Ikonoclast
    May 14th, 2014 at 09:24 | #43

    @John Quiggin

    Are Liberals and Labor both parties with coherent views on economics? It would be hard to argue they are. Economics is a second order concern. Running society equitably for all is the first order concern. We must remember that economic management is merely a means to an end. First we must politically agree on equitable outcomes then we must adopt the economic policies to meet them. While our society persists in thinking economic management is the first order concern we will get nowhere. These ares kinds of budget fetishism, surplus fetishism, interest rate fetishism, money fetishism etc.

    I liked Bill Mitchell’s quote (very roughly from memory): “The budget is not a patient, it is a set of accounting numbers. It is real people’s requirements that must be met.”

    However, I don’t know why I bother. There appears vanishingly small chance of defeating neoliberalism before it collapses our economy. Then there might be a chance, once people clearly see the havoc it has wrought.

  44. David Irving (no relation)
    May 14th, 2014 at 11:45 | #44

    Prof Q, I honestly think you’re wrong on this. I’ve had a look at the official Green position on the temporary levy, and it seems quite coherent and defensible to me. Fran has explained why in greater detail that I could be bothered with, above.

  45. Michael
    May 14th, 2014 at 12:00 | #45

    Lets also not forget that this is a budget that is not as the press is dressing it up as economically responsible it is in fact the opposite. This gang of gongs is saddling the country with massive future problems that we are all going to pay for. Stranded assets in roads to nowhere, the gutting of renewable energy, a US style mc’education system, expensive social problems from it’s war on the poor and a utterly gutless avoidance in dealing with the real undeserving recipients of government largesse.

  46. NathanA
    May 14th, 2014 at 12:17 | #46

    FranB 41

    I just saw on PB that Abbott is not willing to compromise and is threatening a double dissolution. If that is indeed true, then you’re right and I’m wrong.

  47. Christine Black
    May 14th, 2014 at 13:05 | #47

    @Fran Barlow

    We Greens believe in good process and that entails transparency and accountability, neither of which attach to this levy. Indeed, even now, there is no precise policy to support or oppose. It is hard to imagine that the policy would be warranted by any bona fide aim of government. On the other hand, the excise indexation restoration is something we have expressly called for so is quite different.

    Was there any “transparency and accountability” in the Coalition’s (sensible) decision to reintroduce fuel indexation? No, but it’s OK because the Greens “have expressly called for it.” The Greens have also expressed called for higher income tax on very high income earners – so why does that get rejected. Following the Budget, there is now a very specific policy which the Greens will have to vote for or against in the Senate.

    Sure, move amendments aimed at making the income tax hike permanent, but if that is rejected then why on earth vote to stop very higher income earners paying more tax.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is at all driven by a Greens desire to protect the wealth of well off inner city types. The best I can make out is that it’s some sort of ‘it’s not permanent so it’s not good enough’ argument – which is at best a political justification, not a policy one. So the poor will still get clobbered, but the rich won’t even have to pay the minor amount extra that was going to be extracted from that.

    Hard to see a Greens policy or principle that matches that outcome.

    Are we seriously expected to believe that the Greens would oppose the fuel tax rise if it was only going to be a one off, or the indexation was only going to be for the next few years? (I sure hope the answer isn’t yes).

  48. Fran Barlow
    May 14th, 2014 at 14:00 | #48

    @Christine Black

    Was there any “transparency and accountability” in the Coalition’s (sensible) decision to reintroduce fuel indexation?

    The transparency and accountability reflects the fact that tuntil Howard abandoned it for political advantage in 2001, it was entirely transparent and accountable, and was supported by us then and along with many others, subsequently for the last 13 years or so.

    The Greens have also expressed called for higher income tax on very high income earners – so why does that get rejected?

    This mistates our policy, which can be found here

    Point 14 (in Principles), says:

    The taxation and transfer system should operate on a progressive, not regressive, basis.

    Even in this bald summary, the language does not speak expressly of wealthier people paying more tax, but the system, taken as a whole should settle burdens and benefits in a way that is “progressive” (i.e. reduces inequality). Higher taxes for the relatively wealthy are one part of that but they are only one part. If the system Abbott is implementing as a whole is not only regressive but more regressive than what it replaces, and the levy is aimed at underwriting that regression, it doesn’t fit even the first part of this principle.

    Clearly, the revenue Abbott seeks to raise though this measure must be weighed against what is being given up — taxing miners and polluters more generally. Those are also in our principles and aims at the link above.

    The preceding principle states:

    13.A secure and expanded revenue base is required so that governments can fund a high standard of infrastructure and human services including education, health, transport, environmental protection and social security. Much of the additional revenue required should be raised by taxing polluting industries, resource extraction and economic rent.

    Principle 13 under Aims specifies:

    13.Full accountability of government and corporations to the broader community, including implementing holistic accounting measures at all levels of government to incorporate social, environmental and financial impacts into policy development and assessment.

    You can no more cherry pick that you can ask a person who wants a bird whether he will accept a few feathers from a bird he could go out and slaughter. I’m reminded of the famous Parrot Sketch — Beautiful Plumage!

    Are we seriously expected to believe that the Greens would oppose the fuel tax rise if it was only going to be a one off, or the indexation was only going to be for the next few years? (I sure hope the answer isn’t yes).

    I’d certainly oppose it if that were what were proposed because again, it would imply that we agreed that there was a temporary emergency in the state’s fiscal position, which is a lie.

    More broadly, I find it perplexing that you repeatedly ignore the central question of good process, which is inseparable from the policies that should attend it. The other parties think that this is all about horse-trading, but for us, the public and public discourse matter. For mine, this underlines the dreadful consequences of the decades of debauching of public discourse by the alternative ruling parties of Australian capitalism. You’re obviously not stupid, but are unable to see the obvious when it is staring you in the face.

  49. John Quiggin
    May 14th, 2014 at 15:49 | #49

    Process arguments are the last refuge of the desperate. If you really care about the substance, no one gets too worried about the process.

    But in this case, I can’t even see how the supposed process concern makes any sense. You have seven weeks in which you can either raise taxes on the rich or leave them as they are. Anything you don’t approve will be passed on to the new Senate (ie Palmer). It’s not as if the cuts are part of a package you get to approve or reject. The idea that the Australian public will see your decision as anything other than political cowardice is absurd.

  50. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    May 14th, 2014 at 16:18 | #50

    Perhaps the measure was partly intended to wedge the Greens in just this way.

  51. derrida derider
    May 14th, 2014 at 16:44 | #51

    @tunic
    You are of course correct – I unaccountably forgot that rather important convention. We don’t want a repeat of 1975. The Greens will have to be satisfied with showing their intentions by sending it to committee and having a minorty report recommend the amendment.

  52. Fran Barlow
    May 14th, 2014 at 16:51 | #52

    @John Quiggin

    If you really care about the substance, no one gets too worried about the process.

    Bad process nearly always results in poor outcomes, and even when, unforeseeably, it doesn’t, the chance that there will be unanticipated an unwanted consequences or that the good outcomes can be overturned is huge. And there’s also no way of repeating the process or learning anything useful from it that can found any other good outcomes. That’s why I reject your assertion.

    This is particualrly so in this case. We have had bad process in government for as long as there has been European settlement — and where are we now? We have two nearly identical parties, proposing very similar sets of truly awful pro-boss class policies and an exercise once every three years where the public, who by and large have nothing like the information they need get to choose which they feel marginally less uncomfortable with.

    As things stand, there a quite limited basis for thinking this basic paradigm will ever change outside of some truly catastrophic turn of events — and climate change looms as the obvious candidate here. Accordingly, we Greens have no good alternative but to try to stir things up — to disrupt politics as normal. Politics as normal will digest us and spit us out.

    You say

    The idea that the Australian public will see your decision as anything other than political cowardice is absurd.

    Misleading. Firstly, there are rusted on members of the public who vote reflexively. Their opinions are moot because they are always voting ALP or Coalition. Whether they think we are cowards or not is not something we need to worry about, whether they really believe it, or are merely saying they do. Nothing we might do consistent with our principles will earn their favour. Pandering to surplus fetishists will mean that we are finished as a distinct political group. We might as well join the ALP or even the LNP with that position.

    Those people who are attempting to think rationally about how Australia got into the political mess it’s in will surely realise that what is needed is not some frivolous levy on 400,000 people raising 1/1200th of the budget or whatever it is but a comprehensive look at how we do governance, what public policies are neded and how we can fund them from our human and material resources, and having decided on that, how we can create a vehicle for getting that done. The word “cowardice” won’t get raised because we have absolutely nothing to win or lose at the next election. We have 10 MPs, only one of whom is in the lower house. What we care about is our outreach not our membership of the club.

    You have the privilege of having been an insider, of sorts and that seems to be shaping your position on this. We are still for all practical purposes, outsiders. In 2010 The Australian, riding shotgun for the right, said it wanted to destroy us at the ballot box. Like you, it imagines that this is what we care most about, but they are wrong. We care most about the chracter and coherence of of public policy and its connection with the interests of the working and marginalised people of this country and those with whom we trade.

    The idea that we would lose site of this because some right wing nut dangles some shiny object in front of us is the greater absurdity.

  53. J-D
    May 14th, 2014 at 18:07 | #53

    @Fran Barlow
    Some people would argue that the whole Australian political system is so thoroughly riddled with bad process that it’s wrong to participate it in any way: that one should not even vote, let alone stand for election, and certainly not take seats in Parliament.

    Evidently the Greens stop short of that conclusion, and so do you. But by what reasoning?

  54. Fran Barlow
    May 14th, 2014 at 18:31 | #54

    @J-D

    Elections afford us an opportunity to educate the public about both the possibilities and the constraints of politics as normal. We might simply explain it to people — and jndeed we do — but participation tends to be far more persuasive than any purely didactic exercise.

    Moreover, the election process brings us into contact with far more people than we could hope to meet purely through issue-based activism.

    Finally, in embryonic form, our party’s internal processes are an exemplar of how governance might be conducted, but testing that theory in an exercise where we press for entry into the legislative and perhaps the executive structure does keep us asking the right questions rather than becoming purely introspective.

  55. Bernard J.
    May 14th, 2014 at 23:55 | #55

    @mandas

    Mandas, I believe that the Greens stance was that they would support a high-end tax if it was permanent.

    On the fuel excise, I thought that the Greens issue was that it doesn’t compensate low-income earners who would be disproportionately affected, unlike the carbon price which actually gave low income eaners a net benefit whilst sending a price signal to polluters and alternative energy developers.

    But I could be wrong!

  56. Terry
    May 15th, 2014 at 06:11 | #56

    If, as Fran Barlow notes above, the Greens’ “internal processes are an exemplar of how governance might be conducted” in a future society, then when will the public be able to see what happens at the party’s annual conference?

  57. Fran Barlow
    May 15th, 2014 at 08:16 | #57

    @Terry

    As soon as they join us and participate, making us analogous to the jurisdiction of Australia, of which we citizens are a nominal part.

  58. Matt
    May 15th, 2014 at 08:17 | #58

    @John Quiggin
    In this instance the practical and political can be hard to separate. If the levy were introduced as a temporary measure to last while the budget is in deficit, with a political intention to repeal it in three years, then I would think the Greens should support it, because that would cement the higher tax rate and require a political argument to repeal the increase. And that would be the time to make stronger equality arguments.

    But as I understand it (and I may be wrong) the proposal is for an amendment which sunsets after 3 years. That it’s more difficult to support because it means the party needs to argue now whether the legislation should be automatically repealed in three years time. This is occurring in an environment where the government I’d putting forward the levy as a share the pain measure, and it is reasonable to question whether it is equitable or adequate given the extent of cuts affecting the poorer in society.

    All that said, there is the underlying point that something is better than nothing and that blocking the levy would do little out nothing to stop other objectionable measures. In other words, is it better to collude on this fig leaf measure and protest the other changes even if that is futile, or to protest the wider package as inequitable?

  59. J-D
    May 15th, 2014 at 08:52 | #59

    @Fran Barlow
    I am not sure whether I have understood you correctly. My best guess is that part of what you are saying is that people pay more attention during election campaigns and that standing candidates in elections enables the Greens to capture more of that attention for what they have to say. If that is what you are saying, I accept it as plausible.

    However, that alone would not explain why the Greens would ever cast their votes in Parliament in the affirmative on any question arising there. If the whole process is bad, why facilitate any result from it?

  60. campidg
    May 15th, 2014 at 09:37 | #60

    There is no room for nuance in Tony Abbott’s Australia. The Greens have chosen to denounce the budget in its entirety because it broadly goes against the party’s principles. In the current atmosphere of politics, support for a few aspects of the budget would either be ignored or treated with distrust and cynicism. Maybe the Green have a big enough voice to start to change this state of affairs and promote a higher level of debate but the past experience is that their more carefully made policies and pronouncements rarely get taken seriously, if they are heard at all.

  61. Terry
    May 15th, 2014 at 11:32 | #61

    Well it looks like Labor may end up supporting the debt levy, so the Greens missed their chance to be seen to be supporting a progressive tax reform.

  62. Fran Barlow
    May 15th, 2014 at 12:47 | #62

    @Terry

    Well it looks like Labor may end up supporting the debt levy …

    It’s a matter for them if they want to endorse the LNP’s surplus fetishist and soak the poor agenda. They have missed their chance to rule a line through those particular canards.

  63. Terry
    May 15th, 2014 at 13:25 | #63

    They may change their minds now that Chris Pyne has called Bill Shorten a c**t in Parliament.

  64. J-D
    May 15th, 2014 at 14:47 | #64

    @campidg
    I am not sure whether I have understood you correctly. It seems to me that the line of reasoning that says that the Greens need to attract favourable attention by taking a position without qualifications leads again to the conclusion that the Greens should never vote in favour of anything in Parliament, and if you stop short of this conclusion it’s not clear to me why.

  65. may
    May 15th, 2014 at 14:54 | #65

    J-D :@may The official AEC statistics show 5.9m primary votes cast for the Coalition parties in the most recent election for the House of Representatives.
    If I have to choose between scenario 1, where that 5.9m figure is largely the result of deliberate fabrication on the part of a few corrupt individuals in the AEC, and scenario 2, where that 5.9m figure is correct but you have not encountered any of those Coalition voters because the people you encounter are all people with whom you have things in common, I am going to rate scenario 2 as the more likely one, and so should you.

    fair enough but i still have a nasty suspicious mind and the best and most successful rorts are the ones nobody can concieve of existing.

  66. John Quiggin
    May 15th, 2014 at 15:20 | #66

    Fran and campdig, you seriously think you can persuade people that Labor, opposing higher fuel taxes and supporting a tax on the rich (while the Greens do the opposite) is engaged in a “soak the poor” agenda?

    If the Greens were committed to voting against everything the government proposed, they could claim some kind of purism, along the lines suggested by campidg. But they are picking and choosing= what to support, so none of these claimas make sense.

  67. Fran Barlow
    May 15th, 2014 at 15:40 | #67

    @John Quiggin

    Fran and campdig, you seriously think you can persuade people that Labor, opposing higher fuel taxes and supporting a tax on the rich (while the Greens do the opposite) is engaged in a “soak the poor” agenda?

    I certainly do. The so-called deficit levy is a metaphoric unicorn. Whether 400, 000 people who can’t be bothered arranging their affairs to avoid temporarily paying sums of money ranging mostly from virtually nothing to a few thousand dollars is neither here nor there. It is in practice a mere snowflake in a blizzard of blows delivered against the poor. To the extent it has any political meaning at all it is an attempt to claim that the ‘heavy lifting’ is being shared by the rich, when this is plainly not the case, and when there is no public policy need for any heavy lifting in any event. The regime wants to pretend there’s one even though no person whose reputation is worth a cracker thinks so.

    If the Greens were committed to voting against everything the government proposed, they could claim some kind of purism, along the lines suggested by campidg. But they are picking and choosing what to support, so none of these claims make sense.

    That’s your strawman. We’re going to pick and choose how best to advance principles of governance and public policy development that we think apt in the circumstances. We won’t be party to this regime’s attempts to mislead the public about the state of the economy or the priorities that should be served. As I keep saying, we seek good process. We set great store by honesty in public policy. This levy is part of a fraud against the poor. I see no basis at all for entertaining it.

  68. Fran Barlow
    May 15th, 2014 at 15:49 | #68

    @J-D

    However, that alone would not explain why the Greens would ever cast their votes in Parliament in the affirmative on any question arising there. If the whole process is bad, why facilitate any result from it?

    Fairly obviously, we believe there are occasions when voting affirmatively helps show the flaws in the process more than it obscures them. As I pointed out to PrQ, the fact that a process is bad does not absolutely exclude good results — it just makes them improbable, unrepeatable by process, and insecure. Sometimes, the best way to illustrate that in circumstances where we cannot fundamentally alter the process, is to vote it through. Whether that applies in any specific case is something requiring some reflection.

    We knocked back the CPRS of 2009 on that basis, but waived through the CEF of 2011 because it was qualitatively better, our reservations notwithstanding.

  69. Fran Barlow
    May 15th, 2014 at 15:50 | #69

    Damn! “we waved through …”

  70. J-D
    May 15th, 2014 at 17:07 | #70

    @may
    I can conceive of the possibility of the entire Australian electoral system being thoroughly rorted. I let my imagination roam widely. I can conceive of many things, far more than exist in reality.

    The utter corruption of the Australian electoral system is conceivable, but that provides no evidential support for the conclusion that it has actually happened. Neither does the fact that you have a nasty suspicious mind.

  71. J-D
    May 15th, 2014 at 17:21 | #71

    @Fran Barlow
    I am still struggling to understand your position.

    If I understand you correctly, you say that the Greens voted against the CPRS in 2009 but in favour of the CEF in 2011 because the 2011 CEF was qualitatively better than the 2009 CPRS.

    But you don’t say that the process that produced the 2011 CEF was any better than the process which produced the 2009 CPRS. Are you in fact suggesting that the decision was justified because it produced a better result, regardless of issues of process? This interpretation of your words seems to derive additional support from your observation ‘the fact that a process is bad does not absolutely exclude good results’ — the only way this can be relevant is if you consider that at least in some cases the merits of a result can justify support even if the process was bad. But if that’s your position, you can’t consistently argue that faults of a process alone can justify opposition — to be consistent, you would have to qualify that position by advocating opposition where the process is bad and where the merits of the result are insufficient to outweigh the faults of the process.

    I also don’t understand what leads you to believe that there are occasions when voting affirmatively helps show the flaws in the process more than it obscures them. I can’t see how that could work. Besides, even if it’s true, it’s a different argument from the other one I just discussed, and the way you’ve jumbled the two together makes it even harder to follow you. (What I mean: ‘We voted for this in order to expose the flaws of the process that produced it’ is different from ‘We voted for this because it’s so good that its merits outweigh the flaws of the process that produced it’. Your first and third sentences seem to reflect one of these stances, while your second and fifth seem to add up to the other.)

  72. reason
    May 15th, 2014 at 18:34 | #72

    Of course the issue of progressivity would completely disappear if the revenue was returned evenly to the population (as it should be for pigovian taxes in general in my view). The marginal and average taxes should always be calculated for the tax and transfer system in its entireity, not piecemeal.

  73. Fran Barlow
    May 16th, 2014 at 07:47 | #73

    @J-D

    If I understand you correctly, you say that the Greens voted against the CPRS in 2009 but in favour of the CEF in 2011 because the 2011 CEF was qualitatively better than the 2009 CPRS.

    That’s certainly part of it but also, the process was

    A) far better

    and

    B) novel, at least in relation to the development of a significant piece of public policy.

    Self evidently, the CEF fell far short of what we would have wanted to implement, had we been in a position to design abatement policy. Nevertheless, it passed the test of being a measurable step towards abatement that did not foreclose a more robust set of measures later.

    Equally, it was the result of the so-called ‘new paradigm’ in which for the first time since WW2 — i.e. Outside the memory and lived experience of perhaps 90% of the citizenry, there was an executive that was answerable in parliament to people outside of the party. People at large were rightly keen, following the ALP debacle of 2009, for there to be an earnest attempt to craft the beginnings of an abatement policy, and had we not participated, few would have understood why. I would not have been one of those few. We were IMO, absolutely required to attempt to craft the best policy that the MPCCC process would permit. By contrast with 2009, we were entitled to think that the regime could not simply ignore us. The process therefore fit the educating the piblic and engaging our activists in practical experience if governance as it is standard.

    But you don’t say that the process that produced the 2011 CEF was any better than the process which produced the 2009 CPRS.

    See above. The process was both about as good as the political realities of 2011 would permit and not impossibly flawed or likely to offer a cover for undesirable ends. Nor was it a piece of misdirection designed to cover regime policy we opposed. It was self-contained.

  74. J-D
    May 16th, 2014 at 08:38 | #74

    @Fran Barlow
    1. Underlying your evaluation of the merits of the CEF, is there a general principle that it’s justifiable to support a measurable step towards a goal that does not foreclose a more robust set of measures later? If so, does that exclude the proposed levy under discussion because it would foreclose a more robust set of measures later? But how? Or what else am I missing?

    2. Again, maybe I’m missing something, but the only meaning I can extract from your reference to, in your words, ‘the so-called “new paradigm”‘ (I never heard anybody call it that) is the context of a Parliament in which the government did not have a majority in its own right in the House of Representatives. But if that’s all you mean (yet again, am I missing something?), there’s no justification from that line of reasoning for the Greens ever voting in favour of a proposal that emanates from a government with a majority in its own right in the House of Representatives. It’s a very narrow exception you’ve indicated.

    3. If the Greens are so deeply committed to good process, why did they vote in favour of the Financial Framework Amendment Act (No 3) 2012, a piece of legislation back in the news with the recent contesting of its constitutionality in the High Court? Could there have been a worse process than that Act? The only explanation given by Green Senators in the parliamentary debate on it was that they recognised that there were a lot of ‘legacy programs’ that the government had to validate. But if they were all products of bad process, why not invalidate them? Why give cover to the regime?

  75. Fran Barlow
    May 16th, 2014 at 09:31 | #75

    @J-D

    Underlying your evaluation of the merits of the CEF, is there a general principle that it’s justifiable to support a measurable step towards a goal that does not foreclose a more robust set of measures later?

    That’s an important consideration, for reasons that should be obvious. It’s a necessary condition, though not a sufficient one.

    If so, does that exclude the proposed levy under discussion because it would foreclose a more robust set of measures later?

    As I’ve explained on several occasions, the problem with the so-called deficit levy is that it is the product of a bankrupt process, and designed to divert attention from the substantive measures in the budget that shift the burden of “contributions” onto the bottom quintiles while reducing their level of service. To support the levy in such circumstances is to ride shotgun both for bankupt process and regressive tax and benefit transfers.

    but the only meaning I can extract from your reference to, in your words, ‘the so-called “new paradigm”‘ (I never heard anybody call it that)

    Then you need to pay more attention. The first references to this date from 10/9/10. Google it with 43rd parliament.

    if that’s all you mean (yet again, am I missing something?), there’s no justification from that line of reasoning for the Greens ever voting in favour of a proposal that emanates from a government with a majority in its own right in the House of Representatives.

    I was merely demonstrating that there are circumstances in which voting affirmatively can be useful. It doesn’t exhaust the possibilities of course. we voted with the LNP to strike down the Malaysian “solution” even though our reasons for doing so were radically different. We support same sex marriage legislation and would do so even if the LNP led it. If the LNP had voted to stop occupying Afghanistan, we’d have supported that too — even though their process would have been poor. If the LNP had an epiphany tomorrow and decided to save money by abandoning mandatory detention, then we’d support that too, even though that is not an important reason in our view for doing this.

    Some things are supportable even though there is bad process because one can still use the behaviour of those involved to open a dialog with the public that can be educative while relieving a malady.

    If the Greens are so deeply committed to good process, why did they vote in favour of the Financial Framework Amendment Act (No 3) 2012

    I’ve never heard of this and therefore can’t comment. I will look it up.

  76. jungney
    May 17th, 2014 at 15:22 | #76

    Albanese rightly points out that re-indexing the fuel excise is regressive:

    It’s a regressive tax because if you live further away from where you work and you don’t have public transport options, you’ll pay more and you’ll pay it every week.

    It is also regressive in so far as fuel costs represent a greater proportion of low income wages. It will have a serious impact on anyone living in rural areas, where there is no weekly price cycle, where the fuel is always at the top of the price range. The impact on people living in remote areas will be hardest hit. That’s anyone living in remote areas of the NT, WA, Qld and SA and probably a fair chunk of NSW too unless you qualify for rebates. The majority of the population in those areas doesn’t qualify for these rebates.

    So it is going to cost more to get the rellos to hospital and the kids to school and food from the shops and to socialise or be engaged with your community because in the bush, where there is virtually no public transport, all of the above usually means lots of kilometres.

    Of course, we should all drive more fuel efficient cars like the Renault, or Citroen, that doesn’t provide a spare tyre, not even a skinny emergency one. That’d be useful. And instead of using a four wheel drive to transit sticky clay roads, we could stay in town for a week or so till the road dries out; or we could park at the flooded ford and walk across a swing bridge to then carry the groceries four kilometres to the house. There are heaps of people with disabilities living in the bush where the low cost of housing compensates for the absence of services. They’re all going to be getting much more exercise, it seems, and a good thing to, the welfare bludgers.

    The absurdity of a tax on a tax appears to have escaped most. We will be paying an inflation indexed tax on the GST we already pay on fuel. The states are being goaded to demand an increase on the GST which will spiral the cost of fuel, with excise, into an unaffordable range for many people who simply cannot do without autos.

    Ridiculous.

    The only thing more ridiculous is the Green’s total political ineptitude in not seizing this opportunity to oppose the tax with a view to causing a parliamentary crisis during the current Senate.

    Hopeless. Not only will I never vote Green again, I’ll be actively dissing them at every opportunity, which is a turn around for a veteran conservationist and environmental campaigner.

  77. John Quiggin
    May 17th, 2014 at 15:30 | #77

    Your tenacity is impressive, Fran, but I’ve followed the debate reasonably closely, and I can report that no-one, except obvious Greens partisans, buys the “process” line, and many of those are under the incorrect impression that the Greens are going to oppose the Budget outright.

    Everyone I’ve read who actually cares about inequality regards this as a disaster, especially now that it seems Labor will move back to the Left of the Greens on economics. Not of course, that Labor is going far Left at all, but a party that votes for lower taxes on the rich isn’t even in the centre.

  78. J-D
    May 18th, 2014 at 10:16 | #78

    @Fran Barlow
    I’ve realised there may be another reason why I’ve repeatedly failed to understand your position.

    I agree with you that good process is important, but what I didn’t give enough thought to was that maybe we don’t have the same reasons for thinking good process is important.

    I know why I think good process is important; why do you think good process is important?

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