A darker shade of hypocrisy is hurting the progressive cause

Jane Garrett

LABOR Party members and supporters across the country are gravely concerned about the future of progressive politics in this country. We are also, quite frankly, fed up with the behaviour, intransigence and hypocrisy of the Greens party.

We are fed up with the relentless attacks by the Greens party on us and what we stand for.

We are sick of being told that the party that we belong to has no values, is amoral and should be destroyed. We are sick of the suggestion that the millions of people who vote Labor either have no proper values or morals, or are too stupid to realise they are voting for a party that has no values or morals.

When Adam Bandt stood up last week at the launch for the Melbourne by-election campaign and said “they are going to throw a bucket of dirt at us, because a bucket of dirt is all Labor has got” he was as arrogant as he was offensive as he was wrong.

He made those comments in the middle of a seat that has seen extraordinary investment and commitment from Labor governments in social housing, world-class medical facilities and the new Children’s Hospital. And in a seat that includes the head offices of many Labor-affiliated trade unions, who in conjunction with Labor governments have achieved fair wages, safe places of work and advances in pay equity and women’s rights.

I belong to the Labor Party because I believe that the values we care about – social justice, fairness at work, equality – are best realised when government is achieved, which means taking on the conservatives in a majority of seats, arguing for your position, subjecting your platform to scrutiny and costings, and winning the battle for hearts and minds of a majority of voters. It requires tackling many difficult issues, understanding and respecting different points of view and coming up with solutions that don’t always please everyone.

The debate Labor is having with the Greens is unfolding for several reasons, but the primary one is the fact that the Greens party has changed its raison d’etre to be the destruction of the Labor Party – the “we’re not here to keep the bastards honest, we are here to replace them”.

The Greens’ attack on the Labor Party mainly involves a mantra that Labor has no values, no soul and no idea. They make this assault with the luxury of being a minor party and of never genuinely challenging a conservative opponent. Which means they don’t know and don’t care what most people are thinking or saying. For the Greens it is a firm rule never to acknowledge that the Labor Party does good things, or if Labor does something good, it is a victory for the Greens over a reluctant and soulless Labor Party.

There are many examples of how this Greens tactic is being played out. Prior to the 2010 Victorian election, the Greens ran a brutal campaign against Labor’s environmental policies. After all, Labor’s approach to the environment was apparently as bad or worse than the conservatives’. This is demonstrably untrue, as can be seen in Premier Ted Baillieu’s disastrous record in environmental policy and funding, yet the Greens fail to acknowledge this and have displayed none of the moral outrage and indignation against Baillieu that they reserve for us.

This approach is also obvious in the Greens’ campaign in Melbourne. Their candidate, Cathy Oke, says: “I am disappointed in Ted Baillieu, but Labor has done nothing to hold him to account.” Disappointed? We in Labor are outraged at Baillieu. Ropeable at his inaction on jobs, his slashing of services, TAFE funding, health and the public sector, his trashing of the environment agenda, his approach to unions and enterprise bargaining agreements and his attacks on human rights.

I don’t blame anyone in Labor for being fed up with this sort of game playing and nonsense.

Despite what the Greens have said about replacing Labor and being an alternative government, their actions tell a different story. Going after one or two Labor seats each election is a long-term strategy, to put it mildly. If you’re fair dinkum about being an alternative government party then have an honest crack at it. Take a serious run in seats outside the inner city and the major capitals and let the broader community consider and judge your policy agenda.

And start taking some criticism on the chin, like the adult political player you say you are.

I don’t know of any political contest in the world, any democratic contest anyway, where one side is expected to take a pile of rubbish every day but any attempt to rebut that rubbish is greeted not with a response on the issues or philosophy or approach, but with a response that says the very questioning of our viewpoint is an attack on virtue itself.

Pure hypocrisy. Hypocrisy that we see from the Greens time and again, such as the current debate around preferences. In 2010, when Liberal preferences flowed to Bandt, securing his election, the Greens accepted those preferences happily and made comments to the effect of “we understand why everyone wants to preference us because we are so worthy”. Yet when the Liberals chose to preference Labor in the 2010 Victorian state election, the outcry from the Greens was palpable: “Look, it’s the two big parties ganging up on our minor party because they are both morally bankrupt and exactly the same.”

And let’s not forget that old Greens favourite if Labor seeks to challenge their self-confessed attempts to destroy us: that quivering with rage that Labor is “helping the Coalition”. This from a party that never genuinely takes on the conservatives itself.

Many Greens may have strong values, and some of them at least believe in what they are doing. But their endgame has fundamentally changed, and in this they have lost the plot. And they are doing great damage to the progressive cause and the reality of progressive governments in this country.

So, yes, we will call it for what it is. We will have the discussion about preferences, and I for one think we should never automatically preference them again. We will fight to ensure Australians still have the opportunity to vote for stable, fair and progressive governments. And we in the Labor Party are not going to stand by and be told we have no values, no soul and no idea by a small bunch of out-of-touch, self-indulgent and arrogant politicians who have no interest in, and no intention of, seeking the burdens and challenges of government, or of ever taking the fight up to the Liberal Party.

Jane Garrett is the Victorian MP for Brunswick

The Australian, July 14th 2013