May 2020


Adam Bandt, the personable hardliner

By Margaret Simons
Image of Adam Bandt

Adam Bandt. © Asanka Brendon Ratnayake / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Where will the Greens’ unusual new leader take the party?

Adam Bandt should be at the Greenbushes lithium mine in Western Australia. The visit was scheduled as part of a tour to launch his nascent leadership of the Australian Greens and his new approach to selling the party’s policies – reaching out to workers, building “a coalition of the anxious”.

His message on this tour would have been “the best job for a coalminer is another mining job”. He wanted not to alienate but to signal a way forward.

But all that has been cancelled.

Instead he is in his electorate office, in the heart of hipster Melbourne. It is March 19. He has been federal leader of the Greens for just six weeks, following the resignation of Richard Di Natale. The Fitzroy cafes are quiet, but still open. His staff are in the office, not at home, and the ritual of hand sanitiser on entry is performed with a hint of self-conscious irony – not yet routine.

The world is shutting down due to the coronavirus, about to drop off a precipice. A week before, the federal government had announced its first stimulus package, to be dwarfed within the fortnight. The day before, Australia had declared a human biosecurity emergency.

On this morning, Bandt and his wife, Claudia Perkins, had a hard conversation with his parents, who were visiting from Western Australia and intending an extended stay to connect with their grandchildren. Bandt told them he thought they should go home. It wasn’t safe, and soon the states would begin to close their borders.

The cancelled tour, the sudden emergency, might have cruelled his chance to sell a political message. But at another level, Adam Bandt has spent a lot of time preparing for this, and thinking about emergencies.

Not many people know that he has a PhD. So far as I can determine, he has never used the honorific – Doctor – to which he is entitled. The only mainstream media attention his scholarship received was a supposed exposé in the Murdoch tabloids, revealing that Bandt had written – shock horror – a Marxist analysis of the foundations of the law.

In 2009 he published an academic paper arising out of that thesis, with the subtitle “Reconsidering Emergency”. He wrote about how the concept had been used – in the global financial crisis and the war on terrorism – to undermine basic rights, while the real emergency of climate change had been ignored. In later articles, he included the “budget emergency” declared by the Tony Abbott–led Opposition as another example of fake emergency.

“At the risk of being glib, climate change has arrived at the wrong time,” he wrote in 2009.

Had it come in the 1940s, there may have been a response similar to the war effort … Now, however, it comes on the scene in a world saturated by markets, where even political imagination can’t think beyond “carbon trading schemes” which will give those responsible for the financial crisis yet another financial instrument to play with.

He wrote that “rule by emergency” had become a “technique” of “the strong state of neoliberalism” – a term he used to assert that for all the talk of shrinking government, the past few decades have left us with a mighty and more oppressive state.

So what, on this anxious day, does Adam Bandt make of the COVID-19 emergency? Is he thinking, as his planned tour and campaign falls apart, that it might be best not to waste a good crisis?

If he is nettled by the suggestion he might be so cynical, he doesn’t show it. He is quick to make the obvious point.

“If we get through the coronavirus crisis in reasonably good shape,” he says, “it will be because of public institutions acting for the public good, and government being prepared to put the preservation of life at the highest priority. These are all things that economic orthodoxy has railed against for the last 30 years. Now it will be things like a strong public healthcare system and governments acting on independent scientific advice that are going to minimise the loss of life and steer us through.”

He hopes that by the time the virus is defeated we might have learnt about the important and unique role governments should play. And he pivots neatly to the “The Green New Deal” – his reframing of longstanding Green policies as a program of investment by government to build a better society.

Meanwhile, given the Coalition government’s record of “trashing science and independent advice”, he says that “there’s a question mark about whether these are the right people to be leading us through this particular crisis”.

Bandt has been prominent in the Greens for 13 years – since he first unsuccessfully contested the federal electorate of Melbourne in 2007. He has been a potential leader since at least 2013, when, he admits, he considered running against Christine Milne for the leadership after a disappointing federal election result. He decided against it then, and says he has no regrets.

Milne sprang the news of her retirement on her party room in 2015. It appeared to some that Di Natale’s succession had been organised behind the scenes, while Bandt was left unprepared. Bandt was also blocked from the deputy leadership. He and Milne had previously parted ways over aspects of policy and party management. He was not, at that time, her preferred successor.

Political journalist Paddy Manning, who recently published Inside the Greens, a history of the party, sees Milne and Bandt as being on opposite sides of a deep ideological gulf between environmentalists and socialists within the Greens. Says Manning, “If you tell Christine Milne, ‘Oh, you’re on the right wing of the party,’ she’ll go ballistic. She doesn’t believe she’s right wing in the slightest. But compared to Bandt she probably is.”

Bandt, says Manning, is hard left – closer in his politics to former senator for New South Wales Lee Rhiannon, whom former party leader Bob Brown tried to push out of the party. But unlike Rhiannon, Bandt is not divisive. He brings people together, and he is pragmatic.

“They are great backbiters the Greens, they really are,” Manning says. “But for what it is worth, never out of Adam, and never out of Adam’s office. You will never hear any sledging of other Greens coming from him.”

Bandt is known for his personability, and his civility. Lindsay Tanner, who held the seat of Melbourne for Labor before Bandt’s victory in 2010, declined to provide any comment for this profile, other than to say that he appreciated Bandt paying him generous tribute in his victory speech – a courtesy he had not expected, and an example of rare graciousness in politics.

Milne says she considers Bandt the right leader now, even if he was wrong five years ago. Why? She declines to “revisit partyroom discussions” but says it is partly because his electorate of Melbourne is now “relatively safe”. Elected on the back of Liberal preferences in 2010, Bandt not only held the seat in 2013 when preferences went the other way but has also increased his primary vote at every election.

Milne thinks Bandt is a good communicator who can cut through in ways Di Natale might have failed to do. “That’s not a criticism of Richard but a reference to the times,” she says. “What was unthinkable by mainstream politics then is possible now.”

A survey of the clippings files reveals that Bandt has never been the subject of a detailed profile, and has given precious few extended interviews. It’s a measure of the Greens’ dilemma and their sneaky advantage. They suffer from not having their policies treated seriously by the political class, yet they benefit from a lack of critical scrutiny on their record.

Bob Brown’s ambition for the Greens to become a major party, perhaps supplanting Labor, seems foolish. After 28 years, the Greens’ national vote seems stuck at around 10 per cent. Bandt is the only Green in the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, the party appears to be here to stay. It has outlasted the Australian Democrats, and succeeded where that party failed in penetrating the lower house of the federal parliament. The Greens are important in state parliaments and local governments. Thanks to Bandt winning Melbourne in 2010, the Greens were part of the partnership with independents that delivered minority government to the Gillard Labor government.

That brief and troubled period remains the high point of their federal influence – and the template for what Bandt hopes to achieve in the future.

On this strange day, marooned in Melbourne, he is charming, but not charismatic. Speaking about himself and his scholarly work, he is oddly hesitant and awkward. He looks into a corner of the room, not meeting my eyes. Some describe him as shy. Only when he is a little riled – more about that later – does he become fluent, the hesitation dropping away.

He wasn’t expected to hold his seat in 2013. He did so through a sustained grassroots campaign, strongly influenced by that of the Barack Obama machine in the United States. He melded the Greens message to hyperlocal concerns about poker machines in Flemington, a bus in Parkville, immigration queries from within the African community.

Come election time, Greens how-to-vote cards are often handed out by young African Australians from public housing. Labor people interviewed for this profile declared these relationships “superficial” and “transactional”. There was a strong whiff of sour grapes.

Bandt prefers to see it as doing the basic work of a local MP – solving people’s problems and thereby introducing the Greens to voters who would benefit from their policies. He often talks about getting showers fixed in public housing. So far, Bandt has managed to combine his role on the national stage with this micro activism, marrying the public-housing votes with those from left-wing, middle-class voters disappointed with Labor.

Whether he can continue to maintain the balancing act as leader, with the added scrutiny that will bring, remains to be seen.

Who is Adam Bandt, this personable hardliner? And where will he take the Greens?

His mild manner and the lack of serious media attention have obscured the fact that he is a very unusual Australian politician. He is rooted in industrial law but just as much in scholarship. He is a scholarly activist – a tradition more familiar in Europe than in Australia.

Bandt was born in 1972 in Adelaide. On his father’s side, he is descended from Johann Friedrich Ludwig Bandt, a Prussian migrant and miller who settled near the small Flinders Ranges town of Quorn in the 1870s. Johann Bandt fathered 23 children from two wives, and the family spread far and wide.

One branch of the family moved to Geelong early last century. Lewis Bandt worked for the Ford Australia plant, where he invented that quintessentially Australian vehicle, the ute. The Lewis Bandt Bridge on the Geelong bypass road is named after him.

Adam Bandt’s father, Allan, was a social worker who moved into human resources jobs and then on to run a consultancy, Bandt Gatter, in Perth. Bandt’s mother, Moira, was a teacher and later a school principal. She was born in the south of England, the daughter of a naval engineer and a teacher who migrated to Australia as “ten-pound Poms”. When Adam was about 10 years old, the family moved to Perth for Allan’s work.

Bandt’s early memories include his father shouting at the television when Liberal politicians were speaking. “He would be saying, ‘Don’t they understand that some people are doing it tough?’” Allan Bandt was a committed Labor voter. Moira, he suspects, voted Democrat.

From his father, the young Adam got a strong sense of social justice. His mother’s legacy was “a practical environmentalism”, he says. “The sense that we have only one earth and we have to look after it. Also, the idea of rationality and principle in politics. The idea of holding the government to account was a value in the Democrats that appealed to her.”

Bandt went to Hollywood Senior High School – long since closed and built over – and then to Murdoch University. His marks would have allowed him to get into the more prestigious University of Western Australia, but Murdoch was a deliberate choice. Bandt, apparently already politically formed, liked that it was a “Whitlam university” with a brand-new law school and an innovative, progressive curriculum. Murdoch allowed its first-year students to range wide. Bandt studied maths and German. He could have moved into the sciences, but decided he wanted to study “how society worked” and ended up doing an Arts/Law degree.

Bandt’s Labor opponents assert that in an earlier age he would have been a member of the left wing of the Labor Party. He was in fact a member of Labor for a few years at high school.

It is interesting to compare his career to that of Penny Wong, his near contemporary, who was also raised in Adelaide with a social worker as a parent.

For both of them, the defining issue was the Hawke–Keating government’s economic rationalism, and in particular the introduction of university fees and what became the HECS system of student loans. Wong and Bandt both protested against the policy, but Wong was persuaded that the best way of making a difference was to join the Labor Party and argue from within.

Bandt made the opposite choice. Asked about the comparison, and Wong’s decision to work from within the party, he almost snorts. “How did that work out for her?”

At Murdoch, he was active in student politics as part of the Left Alliance – a grouping of socialist, feminist and progressive students aligned with the Communist Party. He became head of the student guild. He had attended his first protest when he was still in high school – against nuclear warships docking in Fremantle, inspired by Jo Vallentine, the Quaker and peace activist who remains one of his political heroes.

Despite all his activism, Bandt excelled as a student, graduating with the Ronald Wilson Prize for academic achievement and “all-round contribution to the life of the university”.

Today he sees little point in debating whether, in a different time, he would have been a Labor politician. Labor was the party most responsible for introducing economic rationalism and eroding the public sector. That meant he could not belong to Labor back then. As for now, he says, “I couldn’t be part of a party so keen on embracing coal.”

Bandt moved to Melbourne after finishing university, and worked for student unions before undertaking articles at Labor-alligned law firm Slater and Gordon. He spent a decade working in industrial law at the firm, with unions for clients. Bandt is remembered as a good lawyer, who combined hard work and attention to detail with an understanding of the politics of unions, where the result of cases depended not only on the law but on the strengths of the warring parties and the extent to which the union members were mobilised and engaged.

Bandt had been on the edges of the Greens for some years, handing out how-to-vote cards and generally volunteering, before he decided to join the party in 2004. He had been disgusted at the preference deal by which Labor and the Democrats inadvertently aided Family First’s Steven Fielding to gain a Senate seat on a tiny vote, at the expense of the Greens’ David Risstrom.

At first, he admits, he was more concerned with social justice than climate change. That changed quickly.

“Climate change had been one of those issues that was on my radar, and that I knew people were working on,” he recalls. “And I just felt like, ‘Well, I’m sure it’s a significant issue, and I’m sure people have got it under control.’ I thought other people would focus on it and I would focus on my issues.”

Then he began to read books and scientific papers, and realised that it was not just another issue but the issue. “Looking at the bare brute maths of it all, I realised that we were getting to the point of having only a few short years to turn the ship around. And that is what prompted me to ultimately decide that I was going to leave Slater and Gordon and start running in elections for the Greens.”

But even before that, Bandt had made a very particular decision. He had gone part-time at Slaters, in order to complete a PhD.

His principal supervisor was the cultural theorist and literary critic Professor Andrew Milner of Monash University. He remembers Bandt as one of the strongest candidates he has ever supervised. For the most part, Bandt was conscientious, delivering work regularly and on time, but when there was a political campaign on – first in 2007 for the seat of Melbourne, and the next year an unsuccessful run for mayor of Melbourne – Bandt would simply disappear. Milner remembers Bandt promising to deliver a chapter “before he entered parliament”. It was a joke. Neither of them thought it likely. Milner thought Bandt could have had a stellar academic career. The examiners for the thesis – renowned international scholars – were very impressed with his work, Milner recalls.

Bandt’s thesis was not the kind of study usually undertaken by aspiring politicians. It was the reverse of instrumental – dense and highly theoretical.

Bandt describes his motivation as the need to scratch an itch: “There was a question that had been nagging in the back of my mind since I finished my undergraduate degree.” He wanted to understand “the connection, in the era of globalisation, between the slow eroding of the rule of law and the suspension of basic rights”.

He was asking the question in the context of the new industrial laws introduced by the Howard government, but also the erosion of civil liberties in the War on Terror and the establishment of Guantánamo Bay. He felt there was a connection between the two. It was “the beginning of reclassifying people as less than people, so you didn’t have to accord them a full set of rights … I felt there was a connection between the economy and the law, and that surely Marxist scholars must have something to say about that.”

Bandt read Marx and Hegel in the original German, and engaged deeply with the work of British socialist and science fiction/fantasy writer China Miéville, and the 20th-century Russian legal scholar Evgeny Pashukanis. Miéville had argued that the law was best understood as arising from a commodity-based society, as protecting the interests of capital.

Bandt argued that Miéville was largely wrong. “I felt the Marxist scholars didn’t have the complete picture.” His thinking brought him back to industrial relations law. He argued that the law was best understood as a means by which the state exercised power over labour.

Asked whether Bandt can be described as a Marxist, Andrew Milner concurs, though hastily adds, “I mean in a scholarly sense, not in the sense the word would be used by Andrew Bolt.”

Bandt himself disagrees. “I have no desire to be called that, and I don’t think it’s accurate either.”

Marxist analysis, he says, deals with “fundamental questions about the nature of work and what capitalism is like now … They’re interesting and important questions, but I don’t think those are the fundamental political questions of our times.”

Rather, he says, “The fundamental question at the moment is not socialism versus capitalism. It’s democracy versus barbarism.”

What’s needed is not so much “a Bolshevik party, but more a 19th-century Whiggish party”.

The aim is “to try to usher in new forms of economy that aren’t based on wrecking the world”, he says.

“That’s not a left-versus-right question … What is at stake is democracy and the rule of law and individual rights.

“I would rather my daughters live a long life under Green capitalism than a short, nasty, brutish life facing climate collapse. And yes, there will be people from a socialist perspective who get involved in the climate movements, and that is great. But there will also be people who want to run large businesses making wind turbines – and that’s great too.”

Bandt is nothing if not pragmatic – driven by a perception of the politically achievable at a time of climate emergency. Whether or not he would once have favoured a more fundamental restructure of society, he seems to suggest we don’t have the time for a revolution. Action depends on “building a broad-based coalition of people from across classes, across demographics, across the country to tackle it”.

But a reading of his academic work alongside his more political speeches and pamphlets leaves little doubt about the roots of his thinking.

In his academic work, he talks about putting labour – in the Marxist sense – back into the centre of understanding of neoliberalism. In his political statements, the same ideas are there – but the word “labour” is substituted with “people”.

In a political pamphlet written at about the same time as his thesis, he talked about how people were increasingly referred to as “customers”:

“In neoliberal Australia … Government now forces people to participate in the market. But it is a double blow: people are now forced to think about the fundamentals of their own lives in the terms of the entrepreneur, the speculator, the competitor.”

The space for the Greens, he wrote, was to counter “the neoliberalism division and separation from above, and reconnect from below”.

In an interview for Paddy Manning’s history of the Greens, Bandt said that neoliberalism was about the government separating people from each other and turning them into competitors. This, he said, was not the “natural human condition”.

It is a modern recasting of one of the foundations of Marx’s thought: the concept of alienation, or the idea that capitalism estranges people from their Gattungswesen, their “species essence”.

The scholarship informs a politics he judges fit for the times.

It had been suggested to me that Adam Bandt could be thin-skinned – that he might find increased media scrutiny difficult.

I put it to the test by pressing him on a subject that is a festering sore for Labor and the Greens.

I bring to this a perspective gained from interviewing leading Labor figures for the biography I wrote of Penny Wong. It was Wong, as climate-change minister in the Rudd government, who negotiated the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) package that went to parliament in 2009.

The package had bipartisan support, until Tony Abbott replaced Malcolm Turnbull as leader of the Liberal Party. As a result, the Labor government needed Steve Fielding, independent Nick Xenophon and the Greens to vote with them if it was to pass in the Senate. Fielding and Xenophon voted against it, but two Liberal senators crossed the floor. Everything hung on the Greens – who voted it down.

In Labor’s narrative, this was evidence of the Greens cynically taking political advantage – depicting themselves as more pure than Labor so they could bleed left-wing votes. This is the gap between Greens rhetoric and the reality of their record, Labor people suggest. They were making the perfect the enemy of the good. Senior Labor figures have said to me that they will never again trust the Greens.

Had the CPRS legislation passed in 2009, so the Labor narrative goes, it would have been so firmly in place that Abbott would not have been able to dismantle it on taking power in 2013. Indeed, Abbott may never have been prime minister, because Rudd would not have been weakened, Gillard would not have mounted her challenge, and Labor might have won the 2010 election in its own right and even still be in government today.

This is not only a Labor narrative. Ross Garnaut, the economist whose report on climate change was the foundation for Labor’s action, was himself highly critical of the CPRS legislation, but today thinks the country would have been better off if the Greens had voted the other way.

Bandt wasn’t in parliament when all of this happened. I ask him if he thinks voting down the CPRS had been a mistake. Had he been leader then, what would he have done?

He arcs up. The hesitation disappears. He is fully engaged, and annoyed. Not so mild-mannered after all.

“What’s the evidence that that would have happened? What’s the evidence that Abbott wouldn’t have run, in conjunction with Rupert Murdoch and the fossil-fuel industry, an ‘axe the tax’ campaign three years earlier? What’s the evidence that the Labor Right wouldn’t have torn down another prime minister? … There’s this mythological alternative history that’s been built up by a Labor Party that is attempting to throw Julia Gillard under a bus and totally ignore her legacy.”

Bandt is much keener to talk about what he and the other Greens did a year and a half later – working on a cross-party committee with Labor in minority government to negotiate and introduce a price on carbon.

Labor asserts that this package was no better than, and substantially the same as, the CPRS previously voted down. The Greens point to the addition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Australian Renewable Energy Agency as their achievements – bodies that have stood the test of time.

Now Bandt is fired up. “I think it is significant that you don’t want to talk about what we did under Gillard,” he says, without naming the alleged significance. “Let’s say you agree with every criticism that’s made about the Greens and that we should have compromised and worked with others and passed the legislation [in 2009]. Well, we did it a year and a bit later.”

As a result, he says, Gillard presided over the only time in history that carbon pollution in Australia has fallen. “Julia Gillard is going to be able to hold her head up high because she’s the only one who’s been able to deliver that.”

Andrew Wilkie was one of the independents involved in the minority government. He remembers Bandt as reserved and cautious at first – perhaps wary because Wilkie was a former Green.

But as he watched, he says, he realised that Bandt was not so much interested in holding Gillard to account as working “in a calm, level-headed way” to help the government achieve policy objectives. Bandt, says Wilkie, is “not just a party hack … he’s a very principled man, and he fought the good fight on principle. That sets him apart from a lot of people in the parliament.”

Bandt is also, says Wilkie, very passionate, “an absolute Tory-fighter, to paraphrase Anthony Albanese.”

Wilkie says the Greens remain a “personality-based party” and no leader has yet filled Bob Brown’s large shoes. “Adam is an experiment, really. I don’t know whether the Bandt experiment will succeed or not. I hope it does.”

Meanwhile, minutes after arcing up under questioning, Bandt apologises for being “grumpy”. The suggestion of a slightly thin skin may have some substantiation, but Bandt has shown that he is a better communicator when in combat. His predominantly mild manner obscures his passion, and his anger. He is a fighter.

So would he have voted down the CPRS if he had been leader? One can’t help but suspect he might have taken a different tack – but he isn’t saying so. The CPRS was a terrible package, he says. Christine Milne and Bob Brown were entirely right in voting it down.

Bandt does not talk, as Bob Brown did, of the Greens replacing Labor. Rather, he wants to work with them.

“I am not one of those who thinks there is no difference between Labor and the Liberals,” he says. “I believe that the path towards getting change in this country is for the Greens and Labor and independents to cooperatively work together and share power like we did under Julia Gillard. But I think Labor will only act [on climate change] if the Greens make them act.”

And he doesn’t acknowledge that the passion and resentment over the history – on both Labor’s side and that of the Greens – might stand in the way.

He says he has three goals for the current electoral period: “To turn out the terrible government that we’ve got, to get the Greens into balance of power in both houses of parliament, and to implement a Green New Deal.”

So what, exactly, is the Green New Deal? The work on this new framing of Greens policy is generally seen as Bandt’s, though Christine Milne is quick to say that the ideas had been discussed within the party since at least 2008.

The name references US president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1930s program of public works and financial reforms to spur recovery after the Great Depression. More recently, it has been linked to a resolution introduced in the US Congress by Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey. The term is also prominent in the policies of European Green parties.

Bandt talked about the Green New Deal in his first public statement upon taking the leadership in February. “The two elements of a Green New Deal – government taking the lead to create new jobs and industries, and universal services to ensure no one is left behind – are the values I have been fighting for my whole adult life … With a Green New Deal we can create new jobs by inspiring a manufacturing renaissance and turning Australia into a renewable energy superpower. We can get dental fully covered under Medicare. We can make public schools genuinely free.”

Milne says that she is glad Bandt has adopted the Green New Deal terminology, but adds, perhaps with just a hint of acid, “It’s a bit like Humpty Dumpty. You know, when I use a word it means exactly what I choose it to mean. So I think when it comes down to tin tacks you will see differences between the European Greens and the American Democrats and the Australian Greens. We’ll see.”

Asked to nominate Bandt’s strengths, she mentions his thoughtfulness and his communication skills. Asked for his weaknesses, she says, “He has not got a background of environmental campaigning. So he may have to work hard to bring the broader environmental movement with him.” On the other hand, he has a strong record of persuading some unions to back the Greens.

The differences between Bandt and Di Natale, she asserts, will be more of style than substance.

Some differences are already clear. Between 2016 and 2019, Bandt was the Greens climate-change spokesperson. Rather than alienating mining workers, he reached out to them – touring mining sites, talking up new jobs. He says he sees it as vital not only to criticise but to offer a way forward.

So what does he think of the Bob Brown–led anti-Adani mine convoy before the last federal election, which Labor blames for costing it seats?

He rejects the idea that the convoy cost Labor seats. That was much more to do with Clive Palmer’s aggressive advertising, he says.

But would he lead such a convoy? Was it a good idea? He neatly dodges the question.

“Even if no convoy happens at the next election, you are going to find grandmothers are going to start lying down in front of bulldozers to stop coalmines going ahead. And Labor has to decide where it stands on that … it comes back to that fundamental question of Labor straddling both sides of the fence.”

I put to him that there is an alternative way of reading the current virus-driven emergency. Rather than evidencing the death of neoliberalism, the disruption might instead fuel the rise of the far right – just as Hitler rose after the Great Depression.

He agrees on the risk.

“If there’s one word to describe the sentiment in Australia and in large parts of the world, it’s ‘anxious’ … People are feeling anxious because the basics of life are no longer guaranteed … You can be in a full-time job and still be in poverty. A lot of jobs are highly insecure. If you don’t have a job, then you are really in strife and you’ve got the climate crisis coming in as well, which is making it very difficult for people to think about the future.”

This anxiety, he says, and a Greens-led coalition of the anxious, will transform political alignments.

That is why the Green New Deal is important. It offers a way out of the “terrible strife we are in”, and hope is a bulwark against “barbarism”.

I exit Bandt’s office into the streets of Fitzroy. Unbeknown to either of us, while we were talking 2700 passengers from the Ruby Princess cruise ship were allowed to disembark in Sydney. Some of them are carrying the virus, and they have dispersed, spreading the disease. I later imagine that Bandt might describe it as a failure of the strong state of neoliberalism. Border security not so strong after all.

Then, within days, the government that had been so intent on cuts and surplus in February begins to act almost as though it had been listening to Bandt speak. It delivers the largest package of stimulus measures in Australian history. Wages are to be subsidised. Private hospitals are to be brought into the public system. Childcare is to be free. There is even talk of nationalising airlines.

It is evidence of the transformative effect of emergencies, and their political power. A new deal, if not a Green New Deal. The question is whether the Greens, under Bandt, can steal the moment, or whether they will be left with nowhere to move.

Margaret Simons

Margaret Simons is an author, journalist and journalism academic. She has written numerous books, articles and essays, including the Quarterly Essay Cry Me a River: The Tragedy of the Murray–Darling Basin.


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