10 Jul 2012

Labor's Spectacular Own Goal

By Jeff Sparrow
ALP heavyweights are trying to paint the Greens as extremists - at a time when ALP policy is drifting ever further away from the beliefs of ordinary Australians, writes Jeff Sparrow
The concerted offensive launched by Labor heavyweights at the Greens this week centres on the supposed gulf between the ideas of the Greens and those of ordinary Australians. The Greens will never "represent mainstream working Australian values", says NSW Labor General Secretary Sam Dastyari.

As a strategy, Labor's campaign seems bizarrely self-destructive, consisting as it does of trumpeting a longstanding talking point of the Right. Already we've seen senior Liberals delightedly discussing how Julia Gillard remains in government only through the support of those Dastyari calls "extremists not unlike One Nation".

It's another spectacular own goal in the making, one more lemming-like plunge by the same crew who thought Labor's electoral fortunes would improve if they explained how the leader they'd taken to the election was a dysfunctional egoist who they all hated.

But let's look at the charge on its merits. Are the Green somehow innately distant from the mainstream values of working Australians?

The most prominent "values debate" currently in public life pertains to same-sex marriage. Polling data suggest that, in fact, the majority of both blue and white collar workers support the rights of gays to marry.

In other words, on the key "moral" issue, it's not the Greens who spurn the values of working Australians. On the contrary, it's Julia Gillard who is miles from the mainstream.

But maybe that's not a fair test. What about refugees? For years we've heard how Labor's embrace of Howard-style border policing was driven by the need to appeal to ordinary Australians, all of whom supposedly bubbling over with barely suppressed hatred for queue jumpers and boat people.

Indeed, the question of asylum seekers seems to have spurred the ALP's attack on the Greens, with Labor heavyweights denouncing their refusal to compromise over offshore processing as yet more evidence of their wild-eyed extremism.

Yet a poll last year showed that an extraordinary 62 per cent of Labor voters supported onshore processing, with only one in five sharing Gillard's enthusiasm for offshore alternatives. Once again, the Greens are not scorning mainstream values. They're representing them, against a Labor-Liberal consensus indifferent to what ordinary people think.

But the way Bob Carr joined the anti-Greens pile-on was perhaps most revealing.

Labor could, he said, maintain a co-operative working relationship with the Greens on some questions, particularly on environmental and social issues. However, the Greens could not, he said, "be trusted on questions of economic management or national security".

You could not come up with two better examples of how the Greens quite strikingly reflect a majority sentiment.

Take the war in Afghanistan, the most important debate in the national security portfolio. Even as the deaths mount, Labor and the Coalition remain steadfastly committed to "staying the course". Poll after poll has shown that the majority of Australians take a quite different view. They want the troops home — as do the Greens.

To put it another way, when Carr argues that the Greens are suspect on national security, he's not saying that they don't represent "mainstream values". He's saying that they do — and that's the problem.

What about the economy?

In the same interview, Carr says that, as premier of NSW, he made a point of holding the line against the Greens when it came to "sound economic management". What does that mean? The key economic debate in NSW pertained to the sale of the electricity industry, a policy that successive Labor leaders championed in the face of consistent public hostility. The Greens opposed energy privatisation — as did the vast majority of mainstream working Australians.

So again, Carr's insistence that the Greens "can't be trusted" with the economy has nothing to do with whether their policies might accord with the values of ordinary people. What he's really arguing is that they can't be relied upon to stick to the neoliberal script that, in Carr's view, all right-thinking people should uphold. Again, it's a quite a different point.

We're living through a time of political rupture, in which, around the world, many of the old certainties are starting to fray. Ideas that were once on the very fringe of political life have moved, disconcertingly, to the centre. Gay marriage is an obvious example — but the process goes the other way, too.

Who would have thought, for instance, that in the twenty-first century we'd have an Australian opposition leader advocating the return of floating prison hulks to house asylum seekers and a US President claiming the right to secretly assassinate American citizens?

Labor's attack on the Greens represents an attempt to police the boundaries of Australian public life, to ensure that certain ideas (invariably those on the Left) remain beyond the pale, even as memes from the far Right creep increasingly into common usage. That's why it matters, irrespective of what you think of the Greens themselves.

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Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 13:35

Pollies need to start reading surveys and stop claim they can read our minds.

Until then we cannot trust them to separate their personal opinion from what they claim is popularist opinion.

Both of which ought be thrown overboard when what they're saying flies in the face of academic opinion on the issue.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 13:38

Yet the following story (SMH, May 22 2012) indicates that the Greens with their 'open borders' policy (because that's what it is) are getting increasingly out of line with mainstream Australian thinking, if not completely off with the fairies.

"The majority of Australians want the country's borders closed and migration halted, according to new research.

"Just over half of respondents - 51 per cent - to a poll about border security want to say no to all migrants because of fears over job security and increasingly stretched infrastructure, News Limited reports.

"This is a 10 per cent jump from 2005.

"One third of the 2000 people surveyed in a study commissioned by AustraliaSCAN believed overseas migration made Australia 'a more interesting place', while two thirds said migrants should 'adopt the Australian way of life'".


David Skidmore
Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 13:50

The issue of same-sex marriage for a start is about individual rights and not allowing the state to interfere in the preferences of adults. And for those adults to be treated equal before the law. This is a free market position anyone who supports capitalism ie: the ALP should have no problem with or completely endorse.

As for the Greens' policies that supposedly destroy jobs, I think you'll find large corporations are better at destroying jobs as they "downsize" as well as governments as they close services we rely on. And of course environmental degradation destroys jobs that depend on preseving the environment.

As for "loopy" Australian meddling in the politics of Afghanistan was and is completely insane - as absurd as Central Asian regimes interference in Australian politics for instance.

Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 14:44

Great piece, Jeff.
O. Puhleez, it's important to distinguish migration from refugee policy. Quite different issues.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. Carlos
Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 15:21

Yaaaawn... These lame arguments were old more than ten years ago when hoWARd and his government tried with the assistence of Packer and Murdoch to demonise The Greens.

Let's analyse why the timing of this attack and who is directing it: just before ALP annual conference in Sydney, instead of scrutiny over same sex marriage motions and votes, instead of demolishing these useless right wing hacks that have now lost QLD, NSW and Vic by historical margins by lying to their own supporters like immigrants and workers affected by privatisation.

<b>Always ask, who benefits from the propaganda and who pays for it... Always follow the money!</b>

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Gandhi

Mr Crapulent
Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 15:49

Surely it is an own goal. Another epic fail. It won't damage the Greens and will put off a lot of the progressive Labor members still clinging to false hope and embarrassed by their party's social and economic conservatism. The extremist line sounds particularly hollow with the Greens (Milne and Bandt at least) sounding quite sensible and playing it straight. As a lefty, they look very mainstream to me.

The concerted nature of the attack is also silly and makes it about as convincing as Craig Emerson's recent singing performance. It appears to me that Labor travelled through tragedy long ago and are now deeply rooted in farce.

Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 15:51

@Carlos: +1: As for who benefits, news limited, WA mining companies? I think they'd like to see Labor self destruct for a few terms.

Mr Denmore
Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 16:21

Not quite sure why the Labor Right, after everything that has happened in recent years, still believes it has some kind of innate sixth sense about the electoral mind. Driven to an existential crisis by 11 years of Howard, the party lives in a state of self-delusion. It now continually shifts its principles to accommodate the perceived fears, ignorance and bigotry of a mythical and largely imagined outer suburban bogan aspirant.

In truth, the electorate is much more amorphous and elusive in its beliefs than the party's clunky research machine ever gives it credit for. As a result, the Labor brains trust is like the programming department of a Hits and Memories radio station, flogging Hotel California and Cheap Wine to death because it doesn't know what other buttons to push to get a response.

Labor is busted. It needs to be kicked out of office and re-discover its soul. Preferably, it will cease to exist and a smart, modern and tactically astute social democratic party will take its place, while driving a nail through the robotic hearts and tin ears of the Howes and Daystaris and all the one-idea whiz kids who grew up wanting to be Graham bloody Richardson.

Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 16:26

O. Puhleez

"Do you seek the truth, or is your News Limited?"

Your confusion about polling perhaps stems from your reliance upon News Ltd pollsters..

Trust me, 10,000 people arriving by boat per year won't overwhelm the "aussie values" or civic institutions of a country of 23 million. It's precisely the wilful misrepresentation of the facts of the refugee issue by the mainstream garbage-media, and the self-interested political elite, that influences those "close the borders" polls (closed circle of narrowcast opinion). In essence, it's a vicious cycle of manure.

I'd suggest you diversify your sources of media information.

Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 17:54

I concur with this fantastic article and especially "Labor’s attack on the Greens represents an attempt to police the boundaries of Australian public life..." Precisely. It is the political establishment trying to say that they will decide who can be represented and who cannot.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 18:11

Beheadline & Co:

If you had closely inspected my link before tapping out your comment, you would have noticed that I referred to an article in the SMH. News Ltd was nowhere in sight.

"Trust me, 10,000 people arriving by boat per year won’t overwhelm the 'aussie values' or civic institutions of a country of 23 million."

Boat arrivals are currently around 6,000 per year. Trusting you or not, that number is presently out of the Federal Government's control. (Never mind that sick joke called Abbott.) The history of migration into this country since 1788, when written records started, suggests that pull and push factors combined can lead to such migrants arriving in exponentially increasing numbers.

Either you prefer immigration controls, or you don't. Depending on which preference becomes policy, very different results will probably follow.

There are probably about 40 million + people out there who would like to make the switch from their present circumstances. How many of them have to turn up before even you join the growing number of 'refugee advocates' crying 'enough'?

Dallas Beaufort
Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 18:38

Green Labor's policy equates to No CO2 = no plants = no humans

Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 19:15

O. Puhleez is being conservative. There are perhaps 2 or 3 BILLION people who'd like to come and live in Australia if they had the chance (much of China, a considerable proportion of India and of Africa plus others including of course people suffering oppression). Essentially in terms of our population capacity, the push-side of the equation is infinite. Some 'refugees' are more desperate than others, with what we might call the genuine refugees at the top of the queue and those idly speculating on economic/lifestyle improvement at the other end. But all of them would come if they got the chance to do it without risk or cost -- more realistically a variable percentage of them would come proportional to the risk and cost at play vs their level of desperation. It's a pretty simple relationship - number coming to Australia is inversely proportional to the difficulty in migrating/fleeing to here. If certain death is the consequence, the number of immigrating refugees would be zero. If we have an open border policy and offer to fly people in, there will be BILLIONS.

Without a border policy we would be swamped. Not an inconvenient number of new arrivals, simply swamped. We have to have immigration controls. The greens and anyone who says 'let them all come' are simply confused and must be ignored. The Greens are yet to learn 'responsibility' and 'the art of the possible' and until they do they deserve to be sidelined, as Labor is trying to do.

The stupidity of those who call for open borders is breathtaking, the only consolation is that these same people would be horrified if this actually happened and their lifestyle was destroyed, as it would be. It's one thing to believe that the good things in life should be shared and that unfortunate people should all be helped, but quite another to work out how this could possibly be achieved without reducing life in Australia to the same level of misery as many of the would-be immigrants suffer now.

Dallas Beaufort - you continue to amaze me! Nobody, anywhere, ever, has suggested that we aim for no CO2 on earth! I'd be embarrassed to display this kind of thinking in public.

Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 20:10

Even if billions did come over time jrsubs, are you seriously suggesting this enormous continent could not provide them a great home and a great life? Or do you just want to keep it for yourself?

This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 20:34

The people smugglers' procedure increasingly appears to be:

1. Get hold of a cheap and dodgy boat.
2. Leave Indonesia.
3. Either from inside or outside Indonesian waters, contact Australia's maritime authorities requesting help.
4. If it helps business, disable the boat.
5. Wait for the Australian government ferry service to arrive to carry your amply paying passengers safely to Australia's shore.
6. Get off the boat and back to Indonesia before the Australian government ferry arrives.

BrentonEccles: Even with our present population Australia's ecosystems are under severe stress and many native species are disappearing. I suggest that you leave off blogging and ride across the continent on the Indian-Pacific, to educate yourself on how most of Australia's land area is uninhabited, because it is in fact uninhabitable.

Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 23:38

BrentonEccles - of course Australia can't support billions. It probably can't support 100 million. Have you ever spent any time in the outback, most of Australia? Do you know anything at all about agricultural yields, carrying capacity, or ... er ... water supply? Sheesh.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. aussiegreg
Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 01:11

Much as I hate to leap to the defence of Bob Carr, I don't think he had electricity privatisation in mind.

I think he was referring to old-fashioned budgeting, where you try and keep expenditure close to revenue (and this is an alien concept for most of the Labor Left, let alone the Greens).

The Greens approach to Treasury matters rests on the faith that whatever they want to see happen, the money will come from somewhere to pay for it.

Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 02:45

jrsubs & O. Puhleez: I'm saying that in the context of high technology (maybe I should've pointed that out initially) - meaning incredibly compact cities within which the vast majority of the needs of the citizens are produced. For example we could have a huge skyscraper that is solely a hydroponic farm. Obviously the natural capacity of the land could never support billions, but that is where our science and technology can come in. I'm talking merely possibility, not absolute certainty.

Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 02:47

aussiegreg that is nonsense to say that adhering to budgetary measures is nonsense to the Greens - for example Bob Brown was very clear that any demands made to implement Green policy in any budgets would have to be payed for in the context of the revenue and costings inherent in Labor's budgets ... hardly a leftist position.

David Skidmore
Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 07:40

In terms of loopy ideas, the ALP Right is simply projecting. Not only that, it and the Coalition contradict their free market principles and their commitment to individual rights is a bad joke. As for expenses, costly wars seem no problem and economic responsibility is thrown out the window by both major parties.

At any rate, if the Greens are so awful then why didn't the ALP simply reject any deals and go into opposition back in 2010?

This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 07:52


How many hydroponic farms in the form of skyscrapers actually exist? Hydroponics shops are in business, mainly to supply the needs of dope growers and their illicit backyard and roof-cavity gardens. If your idealised skyscrapers were a proposition, market forces would have put them all over the place by now, especially in countries where conventional agriculture is difficult.

But only a government such as that of Bavaria in the days of His Majesty Mad Ludwig would base immigration policy on such a notion.

Ken Fabos
Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 08:57

I think it's a misguided attempt to distance the ALP from The Greens in the public mind, in response to the apparent effectiveness of Coalition rhetoric. It didn't just start, it's been going on for a while. Of course it's more example of the ALP being on the back foot, of being poll-driven and of lacking conviction. Gillard being an impediment to gay marriage was a message to the public that she wasn't beholden to the gay Greens leader, then Brown retires. Oops. Cutting funding to solar and other programs that might have a green tinge in response to unpopularity of Carbon Pricing. Those who don't care about climate change and who Labor needed to notice those cuts didn't, upsetting more of their own supporters with no gain. Oops again. Now they find it convenient to blame the "uncompromising" Greens for failure to make any headway in the Asylum seekers issue, adding more distance.

It was the Coalition, with policies not much different to Labor's, that refused to compromise. They've done quite well spinning the illusion that the clock can be rolled back to that small window of time, between refugees first being sent to Nauru and those refugees being granted asylum and residency in Australia, spinning the illusion of Nauru having some kind of ongoing magical power to deter despite that power already being lost. But it's to their political advantage to refuse compromise, to leave the issue unresolved in order to damage Labor, which they have done. Now Labor want to use this circumstance to further distance themselves from the Greens rather than the Opposition - in order to avoid upsetting the xenophobe vote already in the Coalition's bag? Oops one more time.

Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 12:27

Excellent and well researched article, Jeff Sparrow. I concur.
As for O.Puhleez, i think he/she is very badly misinformed. Around 6000 people arrive in Australia via Aeroplane every year, whether on false passports, or other false documents, or just over-stay their visas and not a word is spoken about them. The Far Raving Right is just bonkers about boats! Just because Howard/Abbott/Rudd/Gillard can not see the forests for the trees, either.
In truth, the world is badly overpopulated already, and I see no sense in carrying this over-population into Australia any further than it has already. We are already far beyond self-sufficiency, having exçeeded our optimal population by about 10 million already.
The Greens (as did the Democrats) had a policy that suggested that we only take a max of 70,000 people as refugees or skilled workers each year, balancing out the brain-drain of people going elsewhere for jobs and life style. I do not know if this policy has changed. What the Greens are now suggesting is that we bring the so-called 'boat-people' (refugees, and NOT illegal) into the general overall intake level.
Perhaps reduce the numbers we are taking from the European and African countries as refugees. We are an Asian country, whether we like it or not, because of geography, so maybe we should act that way.
Sorry about all those thousands of Greeks heading this way, but maybe others have more urgent needs, and are more deserving of attention.
As for Labor and it's advisers, perhaps they really do need a long time in the wilderness, except that to do this, we end up with the Mad Monk and his nutters, and by the time they finish with Australia, no one will want to come here from anywhere.
Vict. NSW, Qld and WA already run by disciples of British Prime Minister Cameron and his insane policies (same advisers) are showing just what Tony Baby has in mind for us, and IT IS NOT NICE!
One could just hope that the more people see and experience of the Premiers of these States (and for that matter Labor run SA and the NT, all economic and social ir-rationalists) the less they will want to see the same at Federal level. I can hope!
But like the NSW Labor Right, the Bligh Govt. in Queensland, the Friends-of-the-Miners Labor in WA, the Far Right ex Premier of Vict. maybe some people just can not see the difference. I admit, it is hard.
Poor Fellow, My country!


This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 16:59


With regard to overstayers, they are the inevitable outcome of any visa system. But the government has discretion over their admission or otherwise in the first instance.

The present 'small number' of boat arrivals can grow to whatever number per year. What upper limit there is is presently set by the fees charged by the people smugglers and the availability of boats. As the smugglers seem to be always one jump ahead of the government, and have their business model fine-tuned it is likely that more Indonesian fishermen will become smugglers, likely lowering the price of passage to Australia.

The time to act is now, while it is still only a relative trickle of unauthorised boat arrivals. As I see it, the only way of wresting back control of immigration is for Australia to withdraw from the International Refugee Convention.

(Shock horror!)

Posted Thursday, July 12, 2012 - 10:52

Great article.
It cleared up a few misconceptions conveniently overlooked by mainstream parties and the media.
I am appalled with the continual 'misrepresentation' of the Australian electorate by the two major parties, to cater to an obviously shrinking right-wing/red-neck, conservative viewpoint that both major parties seem to rely on and bicker for.
The Greens are the only party with both a social and environmental conscience, and anyone who understands this, has no alternative but to support them, as they are the only party that even vaguely reflects their viewpoint and values.
And as far as working class people are concerned, the only true enemy are the Coalition who would strip away workers' rights in favour of company profits.
So vote 1 Green, preference Labor, to protect worker's rights, but only if they drop that silly Malaysia solution - the one that ignores International Conventions on refugees and asylum seekers.

Posted Thursday, July 12, 2012 - 17:36

O. Puhleez,

Could you explain (with reference to actual policy documents, if you could), why you think that the Greens have an "open borders" policy?

It would appear that actually reading the documents may lead you to a different conclusion. Indeed the assertion that the Greens have an "open borders" policy seems to be "completely off with the fairies."

Posted Friday, July 13, 2012 - 13:13

Labor's attacks on the Greens will simply draw attention to the reality that the (1) antiwar, (2) pro-environment, (3) pro-equity, (4) anti-racism, (5) pro-human rights , (6) pro-Australian Greens now represent the only major political party standing for these core traditional Labor values.

1. Labor Governments supported/supports the Iraq War, Afghan War and NATO intervention in Libya and Syria (Green anti-war, pro-peace).

2. Under pro-coal, pro-gas, pro-iron ore Labor's Carbon Tax-ETS Australia's Domestic plus Exported greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution INCREASE to 2,571 Mt CO2-e by 2020 from 1,708 Mt CO2-e in 2010 and 1,182 Mt CO2-e in 2000 (Google "2011 climate change course"; the Greens supported the idea of a Carbon Tax but want real action i.e. for GHG pollution to DECREASE).

3. Educational Apartheid under Labor has disproportionately excluded most Australian children from decent education, university, top universities, top courses (Greens want proper support for State schools).

4. Labor excluded NT Aborigines, Afghan refugees, Tamil refugees from the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act (Greens are firmly anti-racist)..

5. Labor is grossly violating human rights in relation to refugees, Occupied Afghanistan (0.2 million infant deaths annually) and Indigenous Australian (9,000 avoidable deaths annually) (Greens demand action).

6. Under Labor 66,000 Australians die preventably yearly , the breakdown being 18,000 (annual Australian deaths from adverse hospital events), 15,500 (smoking), 10,000 carbon burning pollution-derived ), 9.000 (avoidable Indigenous Australian deaths), 6,000 obesity-related), 3,000 ( alcohol-related), 2,100 (suicides), 1,400 (road deaths), 360 (opiate drug-related deaths annually due to US restoration of the Taliban-destroyed Afghan opium industry) and 300 (homicides) (see "Why PM Julia Gillard Must Go: 66,000 Preventable Australian Deaths Annually", Countercurrents, 21 February 2012: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya210212.htm ) . (Greens demand action).

Decent Labor voters will vote 1 Green and put Labor last until it reverts to its decent values of about 40 years ago.

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Friday, July 13, 2012 - 16:13

O. Puhleez said "If your idealised skyscrapers were a proposition, market forces would have put them all over the place by now, especially in countries where conventional agriculture is difficult."

We're going to have to agree to disagree that the market can identify the most efficient means to structure agriculture, and I would personally say that even if it wanted to it wouldn't. I would say that science is the answer, not the market. Not that it has no place, just that its not the foundational place to look when you ask the question 'so, what do we do?'

Posted Sunday, July 15, 2012 - 20:26

dazza brilliant piece.

Boat people a problem ???? everywhere I go in my job all I hear is heavy Irish accents, you can't understand most of them. There can't be anyone left over there, hope somebody turned of the lights on the way out. Its seems we have a double standard. Most short term Construction Projects are full of Irish, English or Kiwi's fair dinkum. I thought they created those Projects as a means of Job Creation for Aussies, what happened. Most of the Irish I meet are realy nice guys, I likem, but, hey fair go. If people are going to whinge then be fair dinkum, don't just come up with some racist crap.

We are either full or we are not!

Posted Sunday, July 22, 2012 - 22:02

"Labor is busted. It needs to be kicked out of office and re-discover its soul. Preferably, it will cease to exist and a smart, modern and tactically astute social democratic party will take its place, while driving a nail through the robotic hearts and tin ears of the Howes and Daystaris and all the one-idea whiz kids who grew up wanting to be Graham bloody Richardson."

I definitely concur with Mr Denmore above, in France for all that has transpired they have a clear choice between centre left and centre right politics when they go to an election, just exactly what clear choice do we have here?

The Coalition is more conservative than centre right, the labour party is????????
someone tell me, they're definitely not centre left look at their policies.

This latest idea if you could call it that seems to be part of the "nobody is indispensable policy" that seems to permeate everything lately.