Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Greens bid for relevance
In a climate change election, one party has a clear answer

Greens Leader Richard Di Natale took some hard questions at the National Press Club today – about flatlining polls, the party’s prospects in the lower house and in regional Australia, and the future of his leadership. With six of nine senators facing a difficult change-of-government election, implacable hostility from the major parties, a swag of green-tinged independents vying for the lower house, and a far-right circus in the upper house… almost everything is going against the Greens coming up to May 18. This is with one big exception: it is a climate change election, and the platform Di Natale officially launched today has the most far-reaching set of climate policy measures on offer, including a carbon price.

There were no policy announcements today, per se; rather, Di Natale delivered a well-flagged call for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, if elected, to work with the Greens on a climate response instead of with the sceptics in the Coalition, One Nation or Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party. Di Natale is explicitly rooting for a Labor victory, saying that the alternative of a re-elected Coalition government “does not bear thinking about”.

Shorten, for his part, has already firmly rebuffed Di Natale, this morning saying, “Sorry Richard, it’s not happening” and accusing him of a search for relevance, as well as ruling out any repeat of the signing ceremony with a sprig of wattle when Julia Gillard’s minority government did a deal with the Greens in 2010. Di Natale told the press club today that he was not surprised by Shorten’s rebuff, and did not expect to sign a formal alliance. But Di Natale said it didn’t matter what Shorten said this side of the election, it would be up to the voters, and if they delivered an upper or lower house with an expanded and disparate crossbench, the Greens could be a source of stability. In his four years in the job, Di Natale said, he’d seen three PMs, and he described the Greens as the “only stable force in Australian politics”. He again pledged to carry on as leader regardless of the coming election result, saying it was “an enormous privilege to do it”. Paradoxically, the worse the result is, the safer it makes Di Natale’s leadership, at least in theory, given that the two other continuing senators, Peter Whish-Wilson and Rachel Siewert, have been strong backers.

Somewhat surprisingly, when making the Greens’ pitch for the Senate today Di Natale reprised the old Democrats’ slogan of “keeping the bastards honest”. Former leader Bob Brown used to insist that the party was there to “replace the bastards”, but that feels a long way away now. Brown himself said recently that the Greens could well surprise at this election, but the tougher questions in the press club today were downbeat: hadn’t Di Natale flagged 20 per cent support within a decade? Was it time to give up on the idea that the Greens could ever be a party of government?

Di Natale’s responses, however, and his delivery were insistent and upbeat, and the Greens come to this election with a proud list of achievements in the last term of parliament: leading the charge on the disability and banking royal commissions, and for a federal ICAC; brokering the medivac legislation; seeing in marriage equality after a decade’s lone advocacy. Most importantly, in defiance of the Green-baiting from the likes of Greg Sheridan on Monday’s Q&A, Di Natale and his colleagues are sticking to their guns on climate policy. That means standing against letting off any more carbon bombs, from opening up the Galilee Basin for coalmining, to fracking in the Northern Territory, to drilling for oil in the Bight. Di Natale got stuck into both major parties, pointing to Labor especially for being “a great disappointment already”. If Labor wins narrowly, it’s looking like a showdown.

“It is not in the national or public interest for Northern Beaches public hospital services to be on-sold to a foreign company, run for profit, and operated out of a tax haven. Over $2 billion of taxpayers’ money has been invested in the new hospital.”

Independent candidates Zali Steggall and Alice Thompson, in an open letter to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg calling for an intervention to stop the $5 billion takeover of operator Healthscope by Canada’s Brookfield.

“There may be benefits in terms of avoided climate change-induced economic damage, but this works only if every other country in the world meets or exceeds its Paris targets.”

The Australian’s contributing economics editor Judith Sloan spots the flaw in Labor’s plan to tackle climate change, concluding that Labor’s plan will result in a $1.2-trillion hit to GDP.


The number of Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party candidates – almost 40 per cent – who live outside the seat they are contesting.

“If elected at the upcoming federal election, we agree to work together and with other parliamentarians, to: 1. Oppose the opening up of the thermal coal basin in the Galilee Basin in Queensland, one of the largest coal reserves on the planet, for mining. This includes opposing the development of the proposed Adani coal mine.”

The first of a 10-point pledge to tackle climate change signed by seven key independent candidates – Andrew Wilkie, Kerryn Phelps, Julia Banks, Helen Haines, Zali Steggall, Rob Oakeshott and Oliver Yates – and brokered by the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The list

“In April Netflix debuted a terrific pair of idiosyncratic comedy series whose episodes run for little more than 15 minutes. Special and Bonding can each be watched in roughly two hours, but instead of being breakneck or insubstantial, both titles use a condensed clock to be smartly succinct.”  

“The nation will soon head to the polls with public integrity a higher-profile issue than perhaps ever before in Australian history. The two major parties, however, seem to be the last people in the country to realise this ... Trust took a dive not only because citizens suddenly felt unsure that their vote mattered. It was also the flip side – concern about the failure of due democratic process and the role of undue influences over the decision-making in Australia’s highest office. This is the message the major parties seem to have missed.’” 

“If narcissism is common among politicians, so, perhaps, is a fascination with extinction – and Clive Palmer ... doesn’t hide either trait. Swing into the Palmer Coolum Resort, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, and you spy a life-size model Tyrannosaurus rex looming over the golf course. Then, attached to a minibus’ luggage trailer, there’s a giant campaign photo of Palmer, his waist airbrushed, his two thumbs up.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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