I must say I’m mystified by the Liberals’ decision to open the election campaign with a series of broadsides against the Greens, the typical tone of which is given by a media statement from John Anderson entitled “Don’t Trust Your Vote with Wacky Greens”. A large part of the campaign seems to be an attempt to claim that the Greens’ policies on issues other than the environment are those of the “loony left” – economic radicalism, free drugs for kids, forcing people to ride bicycles and so on.
The first problem with this claim is that it’s nonsense, based on silly distortions that won’t stand up to even momentary scrutiny.
I looked at the Greens’ economic policy a while ago, and while I had some criticisms, I concluded that it was one of the most coherent and intellectually-defensible documents of its kind ever put forward by an Australian political party. There was a reply from Sinclair Davidson, who pointed to such lunatic “irrational” policies as support for a “Tobin” tax on international financial transactions. For readers who don’t follow economics too closely the “economic irrationalist” who advanced this policy was the late James Tobin, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.
This time the government has singled out for attack the Greens’ commitment to restore capital gains tax at the full rate. If there is an economist in the country who endorses the governments decision to promote speculative investment by halving the rate of capital gains tax, I’m not aware of the fact. The Productivity Commission and many others have pointed to the effect of this decision in promoting the housing boom. And let’s not forget that the intellectual justification came from the “New Era” theories of the dotcom boom. If anyone is “wacky” here, it’s the government.
On drug policy, again, the Greens policy is a sensible harm minimisation approach, consistent with the recommendations of most of those who have actually worked in the field, as opposed to what will play well in focus groups. But the government picks out a single clause referring to “investigations of options for the regulated supply of social drugs such as ecstasy in controlled environments”, in support of the claim that this represents “ecstasy over the counter to kids”. Given the near-complete failure of attempts to suppress drugs like ecstasy, can anyone seriously suggest it’s not worth investigating alternative options.
Not surprisingly, the Greens have a policy of encouraging bicycles, as do most state and local governments. As a quick Google search reveals, so do the Liberals. Imagine what Anderson and Howard could have done if the Greens had advocated free train travel for bikes but not for people
To see more of the kind of bizarre distortion that’s going on it’s worth visiting Steve Edwards aptly named Daily Slander site. As part of his anti-Green line, he quotes the “terrifying” global governance policy, highlighting in bold such statements as supporting and strengthening existing multilateral bodies, regimes and treaties. . He must be easily terrified. Edwards’ piece is also notable for the reasoning “if every point in a smear campaign is not instantly denied, those not denied must be true”.
So the factual basis of this campaign is non-existent. I’m equally mystified though, by the political calculation. The effect is to set Brown up as an equal to Howard and Anderson, responding to their attacks. And Brown comes across well on TV – anything but wacky.
Even if it succeeds, I would have thought the main effect would be to persuade those considering a vote for the Greens to go for their preferred major party candidate instead. This won’t have much effect, but if it has any it is to benefit Labor.
Finally, while most Green preferences go to Labor, the Liberals have historically got 20 to 30 per cent, which could amount to 2 or 3 per cent of the electorate this time. These voters are hardly likely to be impressed and could easily switch their second preference to Labor.