No one should be surprised that the ascent of four new Greens to the Senate has been taken as an opportunity to scrutinise the party more closely. The media should examine what political parties do and how it matches up to what they say. The more information we have about the people and parties who make up our governments, the better. In this regard, the Greens are fair game.
The thing is, the criticism to which the Greens have been subjected as they’ve emerged as a bigger player on the national political scene is facile. The argument that the higher profile of the party mandates a higher level of scrutiny is very sound. But what’s being dished up in the guise of serious scrutiny insults the intelligence of the reading public. Just at the time when serious questions should be asked about how the Greens plan to use the balance of power, we’re still reading foolish diatribes about whales and fairies. The party is infantilised — and so are the 1.5 million Australians who voted for them.
Greens voters are set up as basket-weaving fools, too naive to work out that they said yes to a mendacious chameleon of a party. Let’s look at how many people got sucked in. The Greens got 1,458,982 votes in the lower house in the 2010 federal election — 11.8 per cent of the vote. There was a 4 per cent swing their way overall — compared to 0.8 to the Liberals and 5.4 away from the ALP — a pretty solid sign that many voters were fed up with the majors.
In the upper house, the Greens won six seats, including four new senators. In NSW, where the Green the Right loves to hate, Lee Rhiannon, won a Senate seat, the initial count gave the party 10.69 per cent of the vote.
It’s not like we weren’t warned that a spate of Green bashing was coming. In September last year, The Australian issued a savage editorial about Bob Brown and the Greens. "We believe he and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box." But it’s not just News Limited who has been putting the boot in — plenty of Fairfax commentators have been opining that the Greens are bad for the nation, too.
If Brown and co really are hypocrites, voters should know about it. They’re unlikely to find anything new in the screeds that have been run recently, however. In spite of commentators like Glenn Milne insisting that the Greens had better get used so scrutiny now that they’re playing in the big league, what we’re reading are the same tired old lines.
Firstly: hubris. Pride goeth before destruction. The Greens have got it coming and it won’t be long before Bob Brown is wandering blind in the Tassie wilderness.
Gerard Henderson pushed the overreaching theme hard yesterday. The shorter Henderson: The Greens have only got nine senators, they’re already too big for their boots, it’s hubris that will sink them, they would be nothing — nothing! — without Liberal preferences. He pointed to the unsuccessful nomination of Scott Ludlam as president of the upper house as the beginning of the end. Just look what happened to the Democrats, etc etc. And of course, Henderson did not let the chance pass to have a go at Lee Rhiannon who he regards as "represents the pinnacle of the Greens’ leftist ideology".
Henderson — along with comrade Mark Arons — has been getting stuck into the Greens, and particularly to Rhiannon, for years. Indeed NSW voters would have struggled mightily to miss the combined efforts of Henderson, News Ltd and Mark Arons to characterise Rhiannon as an out of control Communist. This kind of commentary hardly qualifies as serious scrutiny.
Dennis Atkins in the Courier-Mail also played the cockiness card, noting with disapproval "in the Senate there was more than a whiff of triumph" when the new Greens senators were sworn in. Like Hendo, Atkins talks about hubris and predicts it will all end in tears. And not just for the Greens. "Every day that Brown and his colleagues seek to claim credit and authorship of government policies, they help keep Labor in the electoral doghouse."
The second concern to which the commentators return again and again is that of mendacious appearances. Bob Brown and his party are not who they seem to be. We’ve heard this already via the watermelon trope — which Brown has been valiantly trying to turn into an avocado.
Be afraid, says the Herald Sun, be very afraid. "Greens leader Bob Brown, is no longer the warm and fuzzy figure once thought of as a harmless, tree-hugging Tasmanian environmentalist."
The paper warns that if Brown and his party get their way, "Australia would become an industrial wasteland where higher taxes would be the reward for hard work." We’ve got the condescending suggestion that the swing to the Greens was basically a spate of the misplaced warm and fuzzies — and a hit of hip pocket alarmism.
If you hadn’t already got the message that the Greens were about to go rogue, the paper puts it in terms that children can understand: "The new fairies at the bottom of the garden, while also fantasising of a world ruled by a benevolent global parliament, have turned into vengeful goblins."
Glenn Milne in The Oz is predicting we’ll see Bob go bad pretty soon. He does touch on a matter of substance: the relationship between the Greens’ largest donor, WotIf’s Graeme Wood and the sale of Gunns’ Triabunna mill. We should be reading about potential conflicts of interests like this with regards to all of our politicians. Milne advises Brown to "steel himself for more of this kind of scrutiny" but fails to deliver the killer punch that he promises. Why? Because he gets distracted by Lee Rhiannon and the party’s policy on Israel-Palestine.
Philip Hudson, national political editor of the Herald Sun writes another morality piece about scrutiny and misleading appearances — this time in the guise of a piece of reportage. His story leads with Bob Brown considering joining Robert Menzies’ Liberals as a young man. Clearly he’s not to be trusted. "Brown has succeeded in presenting a moderate Green face and keeping a lid on radicals. Now, they face greater scrutiny and temptation. They still don’t have the numbers to do anything by themselves but have influence, a weekly audience with the PM and can do deals." It’s hard to follow Hudson’s thinking through these sentences but the key terms are "radicals", "temptation", "Influence" and "deals".
And then of course there are the explicit attacks. Paul Syvret in the Courier Mail has a go at comparing Bob Brown and Lord Monckton: lunatic fringe, extreme views. His contempt for Green voters is unguarded:
"As it stands now I’m not even quite sure what constituency the Greens are trying to represent. Even if you are a bisexual Burmese whale who is concerned about global warming, the chances are some of the Greens’ other views mightn’t sit comfortably — particularly if you like the lights to come on when you flick the power switch."
Quite. Syvret has some fun with vegan jokes and throwaway lines about hamsters and hydro power but the gist of his article is that while ordinary Australians have got no real beef with renewable energy, they know that for jobs and power we need a thriving coal industry.
That’s why we should all be wary of the Greens and that notorious left of the bisexual Burmese whale constituency who voted them in.
The Green bashing started before the federal election last year — but there were enough voters unconvinced to elect six senators. They should now have the opportunity to assess how the Greens deal with the power that they hold in the upper house. While we’re being dished up lazy name calling instead of — as promised — "scrutiny", it’s hard to see how the Greens will really be held to account.
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