Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tad Tieze on why the Greens are far from extreme

Excellent piece here by Tad Tieze from the Overland blog on the contradictions inherent in the politics and ideology of the Australian Greens.

Tieze argues that the Greens continue to drift rightward in search of political legitimacy and electoral success as they adopt and endorse market fundamentalist (neoliberal) policies.

Tieze's points to the Greens political deferral to elite opinion and market (neoliberal) orthodoxy on a whole range of social policy issues including public education and disability reform.

The bigger problem, which Rhiannon evades with talk of her party’s ‘progressive’ character, is that the Greens have been pursuing a long-term process of moderating their policies and approach – of moving to the right on a series of issues and playing a more ‘constructive’ role. This process includes the watering down of policies perceived to be controversial vote-losers (e.g. drug decriminalisation or, more recently, death duties). It has also taken the form of public attacks on the party’s ‘watermelon’ Left in NSW, most prominently over the BDS. Finally, it has also meant adapting to their role in government – most sickeningly in Tasmania by being the party for school closures, but even federally limiting their ambit and integrating themselves with the political establishment.

One particularly disturbing way this adaptation has manifested is in the party’s increasing resort to a technocratic, anti-political approach to politics. Now, at one level anti-political rhetoric can be a cute debating trick, with politicians accusing other politicians of ‘playing politics’ – as if politicians are meant to do something else!

This kind of rhetoric tries to connect with the not unreasonable idea that politicians too often represent narrow, party political interests rather than the social good. You could see it in action last week in the tussle over the National Disability Insurance Scheme, an impeccably neoliberal policy all the parties actually agree on. NSW Upper House MP Jan Barham – part of that state’s right-wing Troika of Greens politicians – was quick to accuse Barry O’Farrell of ‘playing politics’ in stalling on the scheme, which he undoubtedly was. But wasn’t she doing the same when she claimed the NDIS is ‘a ground breaking process for people with disabilities that will provide self-determination and dignity for those people and their families’ even though the evidence for such claims is negative?

On education funding, the Greens have joined the calls for the Gonski report to be implemented. So Penny Wright argues: ‘Gonski gives us a clear way forward to achieving a system of fair, needs-based funding for our schools and the Greens are keen to work constructively with the government to bring on these practical and visionary reforms.’ Now why would any self-respecting progressive politician defer to the findings of UNSW’s chancellor David Gonski who – with vice-chancellor Fred Hilmer – has spearheaded the aggressive corporatisation of the university, not to mention a hardline industrial relations agenda that provoked extended and bitter industrial action by staff? This is not to mention presiding over (and denying the existence of) a culture of bullying at UNSW, recently outlined in a survey carried out by the NTEU. While Gonski’s proposed reforms point to the underfunding of public schools, they are far from unbiased and will lock in public subsidy of rich private schools. This is in contravention of Greens policy which rightly calls for a significant cut in public money being given to private schools (here)see points 18 & 65 – a policy that the Right in the party have been trying to get rid of, and which they will have a fifth attempt at in the current policy revision process*. Again, behind the veneer of the expert report is an intensely political deferral to elite opinion and neoliberal orthodoxy.

Tieze makes the important point, well demonstrated nationally and here in Western Australia that the Greens have accepted their place within the political establishment.

The Greens have long prided themselves on ‘doing politics differently’ to the major parties. But the more they have been drawn into the mainstream, into taking responsibility for the running of the state, the more they have started to play politics in exactly the way that has led the major parties into crisis. Now so tied in to this dynamic, the ‘anti-politics’ they articulate is no longer of outsiders wanting to engender a truly ‘grassroots’ approach. Nor is it even of wanting to save existing democracy (however limited) from itself. Increasingly they accept their place in a hollowed out political system and the remaining vestiges of democratic influence it still describes.

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