The Politics    Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A new kind of Green?

By Sean Kelly

New Greens leader Richard Di Natale might be quite a departure from his predecessors

A political leader of any party is judged on the achievements of that party while they are in charge. And that’s fair enough – what else is there to judge them by?

But of course many factors play into a leader’s success or otherwise. John Howard was helped by a mining bonanza that would have made King Solomon blush. Gough Whitlam came to power shortly before a global economic downturn. External circumstances can have almost as great an impact on politics – and on votes – as a leader’s own qualities.

I suspect that is even more true for a non-major party, like the Greens. It’s no coincidence that the Greens’ primary vote shot up almost 4% to a record high in the 2010 federal election, when citizens turned on the major parties after their dispiriting recent efforts; nor that it dropped back 3% at the next election, when things had calmed down a bit.

Which is not to say that the Greens’ leaders haven’t played important roles. Bob Brown pretty much built the party with his bare hands. Christine Milne did very well to keep the party together after his departure, and hang on to the seats the party held (if not all the votes). The party owes both of them an enormous amount, and Milne deserved the tributes from her members today.

But, of course, no Greens leader stands a chance of becoming prime minister. And that, in part, means that most people who vote Green are not voting specifically on the basis of who the leader is.

The election of Victorian senator Richard Di Natale today made me wonder whether that will remain the case. He’s a striking departure from both Milne and Brown. He too will never be PM, but he might command more attention. Let’s look at why.

In the first place, he’s not Tasmanian. That’s more important than it might seem, because it means that, unlike his predecessors, he did not come of political age in the Tasmanian environmental movement.

So he’s made clear that climate change will be a huge focus for him (as it should be), but that his interests extend well beyond the issue which has historically defined his party.

Listen to this pitch for the voting middle ground:

If you want to know about my general philosophy, I’m not an ideologue. I’m not going to say we want small or big government; you’re not going to get that from me. We want decent government that looks after people. Decent health care, decent education, affordable housing, public transport; we’re going to give voice to all of those issues and, as leader, they are things that for me mean a hell of a lot.

Or this:

I come from a traditional, working class, Italian family. My parents weren’t particularly political, but my extended family were all Labor voters.

He also lives on a farm, which somewhat insulates him from inner-city-latte-sipping attacks, follows the AFL, and was a GP.

Thirdly, the press conference he gave today was impressive. It was no-nonsense. There were no Brown-like references to “Earthians”. He displayed an ability to communicate concisely with straightforward language. If he can overcome the usual reflexive Green irritation with the press – which just comes across as grumpiness in voters’ living rooms – he might do very well.

Still, as I always remind people, it will be down to his actions, not just what he says and how he sounds while saying it.

One note of disappointment. The new leader said “I think people are sick of the sort of the nonsense that goes on in this place.” Moments later, both he and Christine Milne refused to answer questions about whether some Greens senators were given advance warning of Milne’s departure, and therefore a head start on leadership machinations. Sounds a little like the usual standard applied by politicians – it’s only nonsense when other people do it. It’s exactly that type of hypocrisy that Di Natale would do best to avoid.

The SMH has five moments in Milne’s career, and the search for Milne’s successor. The Guardian has this Milne retrospective and this profile of Di Natale. Chris Kenny in the Australian snarls at “snarling” Milne.

Barbs flying everywhere over reports the PM’s people asked the male partner of Stephen Brady, the Ambassador to France, to wait in the car rather than greet the PM on his arrival at a Paris airport. Brady subsequently offered his resignation, but it was not accepted. Asked if he’d known about the “snub”, the PM said he didn’t concern himself with “trivia”. Personally I think it’s a bit absurd to refer to an incident that an experienced ambassador considered grossly insulting as “trivia”, but that’s me. Bill Shorten demanded an explanation.

In a little over 24 hours voting will open in the British general election. Most analysts are predicting a hung parliament, with the two major parties incredibly close. That means there’s no real light to be shed at this stage – so have a read of how Labour’s Ed Miliband went from geek to heartthrob.

Joe Hockey says the interest rate cut is “fertiliser” for the economy. Paul Kelly on Hockey’s budget challenge.

Meanwhile Tony Abbott nobly put his own budget pressures aside to help WA out with its budget pressures by giving the state $500 million, to ease its pain over recent decreases to its share of GST. A few weeks ago Greg Jericho explained in detail why this shows ignorance of the unfairness of recent GST history.

Labor’s immigration spokesman has hit out at Abbott’s use of recent asylum seeker drownings in the Mediterranean.

The Australian reports “an offer of money for sex made by a white man to an Aboriginal man in front of his wife could be grounds for provocation to murder, the High Court has ruled today.”

Novelist Philip Pullman on why theatre should be as much a right for children as food, water and shelter

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.


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