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A response to: Power Sharing makes the Greens more electable

I envy the voters of Denison, because Wilkie does deserve to keep getting elected.  It probably doesn’t matter much in terms of the impending inevitable inglorious implosion of the inept Labor-Green administration in Tasmania, but nevertheless, just for the record it is interesting to consider the nature of the issues that have been raised in the last week or so on the back of the McKim-O’Connor version of “stable government-ministerial responsibility-cabinet solidarity” et al, especially in relation to policy implementation via the budgetary process.

One thing is most striking.  It is the strength of virulence against those who question the place of party solidarity within the political edifice, and even within society.  Is party solidarity more important than freedom of expression?  Is caucus conformity the end point of democratic representative government?  Is loyalty to the party more important than a holistic vision about the future of a whole society?  Should the institutional apparatus of the state become merely the arm of a self-serving political party, with its own internal structures of promotion, reward and control extending into the bureaucracy, NGOs, consultancies and lobbyists, advisers and publicly funded boards of management, from Forestry Tasmania to everything else?

The answer, given unequivocally by Cassy O’Connor on behalf of the Labor-Green coalition government is that conformity to the leadership’s infallible decisions is purity, and anything less is blasphemy.  It is interesting that the Greens coalition partner has stopped short of such “friendly” strictures.   
 
It is also quite striking that there is a very strong sentiment that “stable government” to stop “Liberal majority government” should be the fundamental premise in Labor-Green political propaganda, particularly Green propaganda, irrespective of whatever the Labor-Green coalition government does, and irrespective of its budgetary priorities.  Perhaps that is because this has been the mantra of all state Green politicians for quite a while.  Nothing more.  Absolutely nothing more.  The discussion is not about policy at all, except in so far as it is defensive and protective of the “Labor budget”.  Witness Cassy O’Connor’s much publicised defence of Michelle O’Byrne’s elective surgery cuts in the health budget. 
 
This is accompanied by the notion that “it’s not too late for Nick and Cassy to turn it all around”, as if they can pick themselves up and put themselves back on the right policy rails which they have somehow abandoned through no fault of their own.  This is an interesting phenomenon, for it answers the question “stable government for what?” in an extremely negative way. 

Somehow or other Labor-Green apologists need to confront the reality that the Labor-Green coalition government is implementing a budget which would normally be associated with the priorities of a very conservative Liberal (non-liberal) administration, slashing public health, education and other essential services while continuing to pour money into corporations like Gunns.  They need to ask themselves if this approach to the maintenance of “stable government” is principled, or in any way in keeping with the main purposes that public funds should be used by a state government.
Those who pursue the party interest at the expense of the public interest are doomed to justify “stable” government at any price, including the gutting of the most basic of essential services.  It is informative to learn that at least one Green apologist couldn’t care a damn about the Tamar Valley pulp mill, implying support for an industry direction doomed to fail, as well as a woeful understanding of what Tasmania should be doing within the context of promoting Tasmania’s social-economic-environmental future.

It is worthy of mention that the bulk of the criticism of independently-minded critics of the mainstream political party system comes from the offices of the Greens, from apparatchiks of various Green-ENGO links and aspirants for Green political patronage.   

This is precisely the reason why there is escalating disenchantment and disillusionment with the Tasmanian Greens, not only among voters who have switched from Labor and Liberal in recent years in the hope of a more socially inclusive focus on the way that public funds are distributed, but also among long-term Green supporters.  In the last couple of weeks there were at least three former Greens political candidates who expressed their deep dissatisfaction with the Tasmanian Greens. 

It is a false and out-dated paradigm to believe that people ignore the way that political parties operate while in government.  There has been increasing volatility in voting behaviour for several decades, and it is still increasing.  The size of the swinging vote is not diminishing, and the rusted-on vote is declining.  There are still people who will vote Labor, Liberal or Green irrespective of who the candidates are, whether they are “kind, clever and connected”, posers or downright thugs, but that section of the electorate in in terminal decline.  The rusted-on Labor vote has fallen everywhere in Australia to below 30%, and in some cases below 25%.  This is not a temporary phenomenon. 

Another related issue concerns the veracity of the McKim-O’Connor dictum that it’s not a “Greens budget”, even though the Greens have given their imprimatur to it, and defended it vociferously.  When Andrew Wilkie said in the inaugural TT annual lecture ( Has Politics Failed Us? HERE ) that he thought the Greens erred in taking cabinet positions in the current government, he was understating the situation.  Unlike the situation in the federal arena, where the Gillard government is truly a minority government (and its cabinet totally composed of Labor parliamentarians), dependent on the support of Wilkie and other non-Labor members of the House of Representatives to stay in power, the Labor-Green Tasmanian government is a coalition government, a “majority government”.  It is no different to the string of Liberal-Country/National party coalition governments which have held power in Australia at federal and state levels since the 1920s.  Perhaps the most interesting example is that of the Liberal-Country party government elected in 1961, where the Menzies Liberals held 45 seats in the House, the Country Party 17 and the ALP 60, giving the Menzies coalition a two seat majority.  If, in those circumstances the Country Party had declined to hold cabinet positions in the government, then Menzies would have had a minority government, mirroring the current situation of the Gillard government. 

It is completely dishonest for members of the Labor-Green Tasmanian government, or their supporters and apologists, to claim explicitly or by inference or suggestion that Tasmania does not have a “majority government”, as long as both parties have representatives sitting in the cabinet with real portfolio responsibilities and with power to distribute and use public funds.  It is disingenuous and false for McKim and O’Conner to claim that it is not a “Greens budget”, while working to implement the budget decisions as they apply in their portfolios.  They have made the choice to be part of a coalition government.  They cannot now disavow the well-established norms of cabinet responsibility without resigning from cabinet.  That is the proper course to take by ministers who have fundamental disagreements in cabinet.  Otherwise they commit themselves to cabinet solidarity, which in this case means agreeing to work to implement the decisions of the whole cabinet.

A further related issue is to do with the question of the Greens as a party of progressive social reform in the interests of social justice.  We all know that the ALP has long since lost its way as the party of social justice, which is in large part why its support base has declined so much, but it has taken the Greens a much briefer period to demonstrate that they have no coherent intellectual frame of reference, no bedrock belief informing and underpinning their actions.  It is all a loose shamble of disconnected threads, which when put to the test is a chimera, easily dispensed and blown away.  That has been placed in even starker relief by the attack of Nicola Roxon on the Labor-Green health cuts.  But what is the Greens’ defence?  “The Liberals would be worse” is their one and only whimper.

Finally, there is the issue of forests-the pulp mill-monocultural plantations-roundtable-statement of principles-intergovernment agreement-Gunns compensation-permits and so on.  It is now beyond any doubt that the whole process from May 2010 until now was designed to get Gunns Tamar valley pulp mill up, to assist Gunns in whatever way possible.  It is now clear that the ENGOs who were signatories to the agreement agreed that Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill would not be opposed by them if the feedstock was plantation-based.  Throughout the whole period from May 2010 until now the Greens have been fully in support of the whole process, including agreeing to pay Gunns $35 million for exiting native forests, and writing off all Gunns’ debts to Forestry Tasmania.  All of that is now on the public record.