Why I have joined the Greens
Civil society seems to be in rapid decline. The opportunity to drink alcohol, gamble, borrow money, eat junk food has now expanded to 24/7. Welcome to the freedom to buy whatever you want, whenever you want. No money? No problem. You can borrow beyond your means with your friendly pay day lender. It’s a free country. Caveat emptor baby! Here we are now…entertain us!….bread and circuses….sport and war, shock and awe.
Meanwhile social mobility declines. The rich get richer. Our jail population expands. Our climate is changing -and not for the better.
No matter who we vote for- the social/economic trajectory is the same.
The political class, both Labor and Coalition share the same narrow view of what is possible. Sorry folks… we have to up the retirement age.. and by the way we can no longer “afford” a welfare safety net that allows for human dignity. Good bye Gonski….farewell to a properly funded NDIS.
On many fronts, our politicians are seriously out of step with us. Most Australians actually don’t want war, and we wouldn’t mind a tax increase if it improved public transport, health services and education. We are comfortable with the idea of voluntary euthanasia and same sex marriage, and we don’t like privatization or deregulation.
This must be a source of great frustration to media barons who constantly push a pro war, free market, low tax, pro-gambling and anti-euthanasia mind set.
Richard Cooke’s essay, A Class of Their Own, in the June 2014 Monthly is illuminating reading on the topic of the disconnect between politicians and the rest of us.
His observations are worth quoting at length.
“In the United States, what you might call the “bore in the bar” theory of democracy – that it’s all bullshit – is starting to look more persuasive. In academia, it’s called the “Economic Elite Domination” model: the unhappy idea that democracies are oligarchies in drag. This theory was once unpopular but is now resurging, partly on the back of disquieting research by two American political scientists, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page. After an analysis of 1779 legislative outcomes over a 20-year period, the researchers determined that “economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence”.
Little or no independent influence. Stew on that for a moment.
Gilens and Page found that once you account for the preferences of “affluent” citizens, “the apparent connection between public policy and the preferences of the average citizen may indeed be largely or entirely spurious”. Seen this way, the shrivelling public involvement in politics isn’t a retreat from modernity and community, but a rational appraisal of how things are. After all, why give legitimacy to a system that just ignores you?
…..How did it get to this? In her Quarterly Essay Great Expectations, Laura Tingle outlines some of the difficulties facing contemporary politicians. They’re weak in the face of a modern, globalised economy, but suffer intense media scrutiny at just this moment of impotence. Both the public and their representatives now have no clear, shared idea of what government is supposed to do in a deregulated market, and instead expect it to do everything. Everyone ends up disappointed. Shrinking revenues and an ageing population will “require us to forge a much more explicit new settlement, a much clearer social contract than the one we have had to date”. That this contract will end with Australia as a low-tax, small-government nation open to the world is taken as a technocratic inevitability.
The trouble for the political class is that this version of Australia is the opposite of how most of us want to live. Australians are suspicious of immigration. The public is extremely hostile to privatisation and foreign investment. We want the government to take measures, up to and including nationalisation, that will protect local jobs and manufacturing. We want more spending on health care and are willing to pay higher taxes to fund it. We support regulation, and we think big business has far too much power.
These positions are shared to a surprising extent across the political spectrum. Our leaders are frustrated by this dogged counter-vision, and the way the public clings to it. “The head members of both major parties,” as Guy Rundle puts it in an article for Crikey, “share a mutual sympathy at the stupidity of their own supporters in rejecting neoliberalism.” On the other hand, on social issues of gay marriage, voluntary euthanasia and abortion, these same leaders are decades behind “ordinary” Australians.
This dissonance helps explain why the last two election campaigns were so shambolic. They were failed sales jobs, repetitive, mendacious and joyless attempts to win over slivers of the population. The most recent, in 2013, managed to limbo even under the abysmal standard of the 2010 campaign. Several political veterans described it as the worst they had ever seen. The Labor stalwart and commentator Barry Jones, not a man for hyperbole, called it a “policy vacuum” and “the worst in our modern history for the debased quality of political discourse”. For an event supposedly tailored to what the people wanted, it left them completely dissatisfied.”
It gets worse. Not only are our politicians out of step with the rest of us. Far from being a noble profession of selfless public service- they are as venal, hypocritical and self-serving as any group that has access to power and money.
Enter the Greens.
By and large the Greens policies are the best reflection of what most of us actually want. (including me) If you don’t believe me look at their policy platform.
There is off course one notable exception- immigration and refugees. Back in the day, Labor were the anti-immigration party. This was driven by fear of the hordes from the north swamping us and taking our jobs. Conversely, when labour was in short supply, the conservatives championed greater immigration. Gina Rinehardt is still holding out for this.
But for Labor and the Coalition are now united in a race to the bottom. If Australia were not already a signatory to the UN refugee convention, we would not be signing it now. Scott Morrison has declared that the convention is a tool for people smugglers to “run death voyages”.
By contrast the Greens want to honor our commitments, end off shore processing and raise our humanitarian quota.
It remains to be seen over the next few decades which view prevails; policies driven by fear of people in need, and what we might lose by being generous – or love of our fellows- and what we might gain by being generous.
My decision to join the Greens is not however just about policy. Greens politicians and leaders have yet to display the venal, snouts in troughs behavior of the more established political leaders, who happily serve in the neo-liberal oligarchy.
Of course there is always the risk. But to date the Greens have gone to enormous lengths to work in a way that is inclusive, democratic, transparent and ethical.
Consequently, when a Greens politician speaks they have considerable moral authority. I hope it lasts as more power comes to them.