Labor’s hunger means feeding the Greens beast
TO measure how much clout the Australian Greens command in the minority federal Labor government, look no further than Julia Gillard’s backflip on a carbon price.
On the eve of the election the Prime Minister emphatically ruled out pricing carbon, yet now she has made it one of her key policy targets for next year.
With the Greens keeping Labor in power, the political landscape has changed dramatically and voters can do nothing about it at present.
Gillard used the close election outcome to excuse the backflip: “It’s absolutely no secret, particularly after the election campaign that was, that the government believes we need to work towards a price on carbon.” Like the citizens assembly and the promise of a new era of openness and transparency, the no-carbon-tax pledge was abandoned.
Welcome to the new political paradigm where Labor may be in government but the Greens are in power. As former NSW Labor powerbroker and treasurer Michael Costa wrote last month in The Australian Literary Review, “Gillard and her advisers have, by formalising a political agreement with the Greens, unnecessarily and irresponsibly legitimised them in the eyes of many ill-informed voters as a credible political force.”
The Greens’ influence will come into play even more dramatically when they get the power balance in the new Senate.
Such was the threat from the Greens in last month’s Victorian election that then premier John Brumby made the unprecedented call for the Liberal Party to save Labor by doing a deal on preferences. Then Labor did its own deal with the Greens. Only after defeat did one former Labor minister ruefully observe: “Whatever we did was never good enough for them because they are absolutely so pure that they felt it was appropriate to cut flesh off us at every point.” That is the stark reality facing the Gillard government. Feed the crocodile an arm today but tomorrow another limb will almost certainly be required to stave off the all-consuming beast.
The Greens are already unhappy about a carbon tax based on Labor’s target of a 5 per cent emissions reduction by 2020.
Greens deputy leader Christine Milne may dress like Margaret Thatcher and she may be just as uncompromising, but that’s where the similarities end. Asked about the 5 per cent target, Milne said: “Well, that’s not enough.” In other words, a bigger tax, higher electricity prices for consumers and a greater impost on business and exports.
The Greens’ shopping list should make political realists wilt at the potential impact on the Australian economy, while the likely voter reaction will be a backlash against Labor at the next federal election.
Top of the Greens’ new year list of policies are: an inheritance tax, or what was once known as death duties; company tax of 33 per cent (at present 30 per cent); a 50 per cent top personal income tax bracket; road congestion charges; reduced business and personal tax concessions (for company cars, for example); higher tariffs on imported four-wheel-drive vehicles; and abolition of the private health insurance rebate.
The Greens also have campaigned for the national flag to be dumped; for 16-year-olds to get the vote; and for a freeze on public funding for private schools at 2003-04 levels. And there’s more. On border security the Greens want to abolish mandatory detention for illegal asylum-seekers; restrict their detention to 30 days; and allow such claimants unrestricted entry and exit rights to and from what would become “reception centres”.
Declarations for saving the environment act as a cover for much more radical policy excursions.
Take defence, for example. The Greens would scrap the ANZUS Treaty if it could not be revised to accord with Australia’s unspecified “international human rights obligations”. Joint Australian-US military communications are under threat and in some circumstances the Greens would prevent joint military training exercises, with restrictions to be imposed on some hitherto friendly naval fleet visits.
Under the Greens’ policy manifesto, energy and resources come in for special attention.
New coalmines would be banned, as would new coal-fired power stations and the expansion of existing coalmines.
The mining and export of uranium is opposed by the Greens, whose policy platform has a 30 per cent renewable energy target for meeting national demand by 2020.
Budget savings also would be achieved by cuts to defence spending plus higher Medicare surcharge thresholds.
Labor Senate veteran and former defence minister John Faulkner has admitted that “modern Labor is struggling with the perception we are very long on cunning and very short on courage”.
Stand by for more dominance of cunning over courage as the Greens continue to set the agenda for federal Labor under Gillard next year and beyond.
January 01-02, 2011