Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Greens and the ETS: it all seems so simple if you just close your eyes and dream

Yesterday I wrote about the Rudd Government's decision to shelve the ETS till “2013”. I also had a bit of a go at the Greens for being politically naive and also trying to remain politically pure. Tim Hollo, who is an advisor to Greens Senator Christine Milne, left a few comments – as did quite a few others (in fact it was a record number of comments for a blog post of mine. Hollo’s comments, as usual (he’s left some comments on other posts and he sometimes writes for Crikey), are reasoned and he makes some good points. Some I agree with, others I don’t. But he did write one thing that surprised me:

He wrote:

Your jibe at Christine Milne (disclaimer - yes, I am her adviser) is done in the bliss of complete ignorance. You weren't in the room in meetings with Senators outside Labor and the Greens who told us they would support our carbon levy proposal.

I take it from this that he means there were meetings with Liberal Party Senators (and possibly Xenaphon) who were willing to support the Green’s carbon levy proposal. If so, he is right, I am ignorant of such things, and it is very interesting that such a thing never made it to the press. It sounds wonderful, but of course there is a big difference between some Liberal Senators being willing to vote for a Greens’ proposal if it is approved by the shadow cabinet, and the shadow cabinet agreeing to it.

Crossing the floor is done when the vote doesn’t matter – cf Troeth and Boyce in February. This is massively different from Troeth and Boyce (and whoever) crossing the floor to pass an ETS that had not been agreed to even by Turnbull. Last night on Lateline Bob Brown seemed to suggest this was a possibility:

r191895_723618BOB BROWN: We think that with good faith negotiations with the other crossbenchers and some Liberals would have - would get through the Senate,

Over on New Matilda, this was also talked up by Ben Eltham:

With a policy that embraced reasonably strong emissions reductions targets, Labor could have won Green support, isolated the Opposition and applied the screws to the cross-benches. Xenophon could have been bribed with more money for the lower Murray. As it was, history records that three Liberals voted for the ETS anyway: Malcolm Turnbull in the House plus two Liberal Senators, Sue Boyce and Judith Troeth. Those two Liberal votes, plus the Greens, would have equaled victory. It’s the great "what if" of this term of government.

Eltham of course suggests that there would have been a possible ETS that the Greens would have voted for and so too would have Troeth and Boyce (he doesn’t seem to consider that the Greens could have voted for the one in February – I guess the Greens get a pass on that vote).

You see the Greens didn’t vote for the ETS because they thought it fundamentally flawed. And they are probably right. I have no qualms with people saying the Government's ETS was a bad Bill, but I am yet to be convinced that “some Liberals” would have crossed the floor had the Bill been good enough for the Greens.

Let’s step back a bit. Rudd negotiated the ETS with a Liberal leader who actually believed climate change is real. Even with this it was bloody hard to get them to agree to anything. The National Party was threatening to split; Joyce had gone completely troppo; the media was helping with plenty of bullshit stories about entire factories/mines closing down. And yet a deal was done. Then Abbott reneged and it was voted down. Troeth and Boyce voted for it because they thought the deal should be honoured, but they knew their votes wouldn’t change the result.

What the Greens suggest is that the ALP should have negotiated with the Greens, then got Xenophon on board (remember he voted against the ETS, even though he had been in step with Turnbull earlier in the piece), and then they had to convince either Troeth or Boyce to support the Bill even though their leadership didn’t and they knew supporting it will mean political suicide for them both.

Sorry, I don’t see that happening anywhere except in the dreams of the left. Give me one example where a Liberal Senator has crossed the floor to either ensure an ALP Bill has passed, or has crossed the floor to ensure a Liberal Bill does not pass? Some will cross the floor for “principled” reasons but to actually do something that counts?

r141094_486288Now look, I don’t blame the Greens for the ETS’s defeat. But I certainly don’t blame Rudd for playing the game as he did. The odds of the “Brown” situation occurring were next to zilch; getting the Libs to agree to a deal was hard enough – and yet he did succeed. So many forget this. Bernard Keane in today’s Crikey writes:

I said ages ago that if Julia Gillard had been running this issue -- because, as we all know, she has a lot of spare capacity -- we might have had a very different outcome.

Really? Julia is good, but I’d love to know how she would have struck a deal with the Libs – a deal which the Greens themselves say is so good for polluters that it made the ETS pointless (ie palatable to many in the Liberal Party) – and then not only do this, but also have ensured Turnbull’s leadership remained strong and thus Abbott would not have challenged, and if he did Turnbull would have walked out the winner, and thus the ETS would have passed.

Or is it that Julia would have been so good that she would have come up with a deal that the Libs were able to accept, and also the Greens thought was lovely?

Please. She’s good, but she isn’t that good.

The ETS died when Copenhagen was reported universally as a dud. From that moment any of those voters wavering on the ETS went over to the “let’s wait camp”. Yeah Turnbull made a lovely speech about the ETS, but he was preaching to the converted – he couldn’t even convert his own party. The political momentum was gone.

Many from the left have been calling Rudd a coward for putting it off till 2013, and not just saying he’ll work with the new Senate after the eleciton. The reason of course is that if Rudd were to say this, the Libs would run hard on the issue that the Greens will be the authors of the ETS and it’d be fear and scare time.r515945_2823926

This bring me to my main point of yesterday’s blog post, and what I still think is the great question of the political year – how will the Greens act after the election when they have the balance of power.

I actually think the Greens will be quite rational – they were very sensible in the economic stimulus vote – they got some concessions, but did not blackmail just because they could. But the Greens have to acknowledge that they have an image problem – they are not viewed as economically safe in the media, or in the electorate. I make no comment on whether or not they do actually come up with economically feasible policies. But they must acknowledge that when the ALP is seen to work with them on issues as controversial as an ETS – which is primarily an economic issue (yes it is about trying to reach an environmental outcome, but when you get down to brass tacks the media covers the issue as an economic one).

I recall the Greens saying they had some policies; I don’t recall them being accompanied with any business support. This is what I mean by politically pure. The Greens can come up with wonderful policies that the environmental lobby love, and which they can get Access Economics or the Gratten Institute to say won’t cost jobs, but are they prepared to come up with policies that have someone – say even the Australian Industry Group – stand next to them saying this is good economics.

My view is the Greens haven’t done it yet. Maybe it is because the AIG or others don’t want to talk to them, I;m sure the Greens would love to get business on side, but the fact is they haven’t go there yet. And when dealing with the ALP the Greens have to realise that at the end of the day the ALP is trying to win elections – and to do so they have to win over swinging voters – voters who swing from Liberal to Labor, and who care mostly about the economy and their job when they come to vote. The Greens on the other hand are trying to win voters who swing from Labor to the Greens – voters who are either at uni, or are highly educated and in secure jobs. Dealing with the Greens does not bring many benefits electorally for the ALP. At best they win some votes back from the Greens which would have ended up with them anyway, at worst they lose voters who view the Greens as radical lefties.

This is why I am interested to see how things work after the election. And not just how the Greens will act, but also how Rudd will work with them.

I have no problem with Rudd claiming the current Senate as to blame for many of the legislation being blocked. Sure Howard had to deal with the Democrats, Mal Colston and Brian Harradine. But the Democrats were a centrist party (plenty of swinging voters there), Colston had sold his soul anyway and was just after whatever he could get, and ditto Harradine and dopey stuff for Tasmania. They all had a price. Sure Xenophon has a price, but Fielding? The guy is a complete fool when it comes to climate change (and most other things). How the hell does anyone deal with him on this issue? Were the balance of power held by the Greens and Xenophon I would agree that Rudd should have tried to get them on board, and it is Australia’s great loss that this Senate is not made up like that – I believe the Rudd first term would have been truly great (excuse me while I sigh, close my eyes and live in that dream land).

Which brings us to after the election. Rudd (should he win – and I still believe he will – easily in fact) will no longer have that excuse. He will have to deal with the Greens, and the Greens will have to deal with him. This means Rudd needs to realise that the Greens have certain lines they can’t cross, and the Greens have to realise that dealing with the Greens is not always a good electoral outcome for the ALP; they also have to realise that the political climate on climate change is not what it was in 2007 (alas).

If Rudd is smart he will do deals and blame the Libs when he has to bend to the Greens’ will (much like the ALP got blamed by Howard and Costello for anytime they had to do deals with the Democrats). If he is dumb he will not do deals with the Greens and still blame the Liberal Party.

I am obviously not a Greens’ supporter – I have no problems with them winning seats in the Senate, but when they target people like Lindsay Tanner I put them in the same class as Ralph Nader in the 2000 Presidential election, and I treat them with the same contempt. Sure it’s democracy, and everyone is free to try and win election, but I cannot see how the Greens’ cause is helped by ousting Tanner on Liberal Party preferences to have one MP sitting in the House of Reps doing absolutely bugger all.

On that score the Greens are definitely not politically pure, they’ll try to win a seat even though it helps the Liberal Party – it also an example of what I wrote back in January:

What is it with the Left and absolutely imploding?

Groups on the left often don’t work well together – the right wing of politics just want to win, the left worry about “principles” and love the noble martyr. I worry about principles as well, but when I see someone like Tony Abbott who advocates bullshit climate change polices, regressive taxation policies disguised as paid parental leave and a cruel unemployment benefit scheme, I prefer my team to win.

I hope the ALP and the Greens see after the election that it can be a win-win if they both play it smart.


Bondles said...

I disagree with you re: the greens taking a lower house seat. They need it for a few reasons, not least being to put the wind up Labor. Show them that if they keep positioning themselves an inch to the left of the Libs, no matter how far right that takes them, they're going to lose seats.

aCarr said...

Except the greens already won a seat, with Michael Organ taking Cunningham in 2002, where he achieved precisely... nothing. The media was interested for a week as a way to say Labor under Beazley was week, then ignored him.

There is simply no way the Greens can have any significant balance of power or rhetorical effect on Parliament via a House of Representatives seat. The closest election in Australian history was 1961, where it was still a 2 seat victory.

The Greens are just wasting resources and candidates running for the House of Representatives.

Anonymous said...

Hi Grog

Brilliant still and again.

Thankyou so much for this informative post.

Usually I take no notice of the Greens, but you have given me an insight for thought.

Keep up your excellent work, and such thoughtful columns, three cheers for Grog.

The MSM has gone barking savage today,they just don't apply reason to anything the Government does.

Cheers Lyn

L said...

I recall the Greens saying they had some policies; I don’t recall them being accompanied with any business support. This is what I mean by politically pure. The Greens can come up with wonderful policies that the environmental lobby love, and which they can get Access Economics or the Gratten Institute to say won’t cost jobs, but are they prepared to come up with policies that have someone – say even the Australian Industry Group – stand next to them saying this is good economics.

No. There is no chance that this will happen. No industry body (other than an explicitly green industry body) will ever stand up and publically support the Greens no matter what the Greens do or say. Even the ones who are willing to support the ALP's rare greenish policies are so hostile to the Greens and everything that the party stands for that they would sooner take out a full-page ad in the Australian in support of Barnaby Joyce's position on foreign debt than lend the tiniest bit of business credibility to the Greens. I'm pretty sure the Greens know this and have designed their strategy appropriately.

But I do agree that it would really suck if the Greens started bumping off all of the ALP's smartest and leftiest Lower House MPs, who are sadly concentrated in the seats with the highest Green vote. I wouldn't vote for them in Melbourne, for example (especially if they ran with someone like that clown Clive Hamilton, although I think he's more of a Sydney person).

Of course, I don't live in Melbourne and nobody really cares who I vote for.