Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Greens: Policies, Reality and Consequences.

How do you judge a political party? From their rhetoric? From their behaviour in legislatures? By their activists? By their voters? From their policies?

The Greens: Policies, Reality and Consequences edited by Andrew McIntyre seeks to analyse the Greens in terms of their published policies. The Greens are not a “Party of Government”, they are not seeking to get that nth marginal voter that will give them a Parliamentary majority. So that may make their policies less important (since they are not likely to be implemented) but more revealing (on the grounds that they more unreservedly express their “world view” uninhibited by the need to establish a very broad appeal). Conversely, precisely because the policies matter less, folk may be more willing to let “indulgences” of particular individuals or sub-groups through the internal selection system, which would make the content of policies less indicative of the Party as a whole.

The Greens are, however, a “Party of coalition” in that governments have relied on their votes in Parliaments to form effective governing majorities—as is the case of the current minority federal Labor Government. That makes their policies more important, if they actually drive what they seek in negotiations with the Governments they support.

So, policies are unlikely to be a basis for a definitive analysis of a political Party, but they are some sort of basis for analysis: if even only what sort of policy “discourse” is (at some level) acceptable within that political Party.

The Greens provides a series of critical analysis of different Green policies from people with a range of expertise and perspectives of broadly liberal-conservative outlook. As is normal with such anthologies, the quality varies somewhat (particularly the balance of irritation versus information). Still, the picture is not reassuring for anyone who has been following the serious policy debate over the last few decades. Indeed, the Greens policies come across as the losers in those debates getting together and assuring each other that, in a just world, they would have won. That the Greens apparently disregard historical experience is a recurring motif of critical comment by contributors.

According to their polices, the Greens love the UN, hate Israel, distrust (or worse) private sector provision and have complete confidence in public sector control and provision—particularly in education and media. Whether their policies will actually lead to better environmental outcomes may reasonably be doubted.

A stand-out contribution is David Price’s withering critique of their indigenous policies: “maximising past failure” is a pithy summary (Pp60-5). David F. Smith’s piece on farming is both informative and devastating (Pp83-8). But Jim Hoggett’s piece on logging (Pp89-95), Walter Starck’s piece on fishing (Pp96-101) and Alastair Watson on water policy (Pp102-7) all give further reasons to think that Green policies would either make environmental results worse, or otherwise be not worth the costs.

Another continuing theme is that, according to Green policies, ethics means (government) control. Garth Paltridge’s piece on science policy brings this concern out particularly strongly: their proposed policies would make it even easier to squeeze out inconvenient science (Pp122-6).

The analyses in this volume collectively give good reason to think that Green policies would not make Australia a better society, even in environmental management terms. Which leads back to the original question: how much can we judge a political Party by its published policies? Whatever the practical answer to that question, a political Party is surely inviting itself to be judged by the policies it publishes, which this volume does in an informative way.

One quibble: the Greens do not have a “controlling majority” in the Senate (p.1). They control the swing votes, but that only makes them powerful if Labor and Coalition vote differently. If either abstains, or if they vote together, the Greens have no power to determine the outcome of votes: always something to keep in mind when people complain about the power of third Parties.

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