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Are the Greens Big Enough to Let Good Policy Prevail?

The long-term goal of the Australian Greens is to replace the ALP as the dominant progressive party and one day form government. Not to have this aim would be to consign itself to the political margins.

The strategy is to take votes and seats from the Labor Party. In pursuit of this strategy the Greens have at times agreed not to direct preferences to Labor in exchange for securing Liberal Party preferences in winnable electorates.

It is true that in terms of vote flows such an arrangement strongly favours the Greens because Liberal voters are much more inclined to follow how-to-vote cards than Greens voters.

 Michael Kroger, the Victorian Liberal Party operative at the centre of recent preference swapping stories, knows this. But he also knows that splitting the progressive vote can only benefit the conservatives – and damage Labor.

Yet the Greens’ long-term goal should at times be subordinated to the need for the Greens to do what they can to ensure more progressive policies are adopted in the short and medium term.

There is nothing more vital to the future of Australia than having an effective climate change policy, and right now is a critical time. After the disgraceful but effective attacks on carbon pricing and renewable energy support by Tony Abbott and the right-wing media, the Labor Party has with considerable courage differentiated itself clearly from the Coalition on climate change policy.

Its emission reduction targets are good, if still falling well short, and its policy approach is credible and effective, as long as it is not watered down in practice with giveaways and exemptions. If Labor wins the July election it will have a strong mandate to implement its policies.

So to reverse the nation’s disastrous growth in carbon emissions, and to resume the economy’s transition to a low-emissions future, this election is vital, even more so as the rest of the world announced in Paris last December its intention to ramp up efforts to tackle global warming. The world is at last beginning to move.

It is no longer credible to believe (as many of us did) that Malcolm Turnbull’s election to the prime ministership will result in a substantial shift in Coalition policy. 

Even if Turnbull were to have a solid win at the July poll, which now seems unlikely, to believe he would adopt a stance anywhere near Labor’s is wishful thinking.

Malcolm Turnbull today is not the man who said, “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.” Actually, looking at the words again, he could repeat them now and feel no contradiction.

Proof of this lamentable volte-face was provided a fortnight ago when Turnbull, backed by political rubber man Greg Hunt, launched an Abbott-style tirade against Labor’s newly announced emissions-intensity trading scheme for the electricity sector.

Labor’s policy is precisely the one Turnbull and Hunt have been plotting to introduce, as a development of the Coalition’s risible safeguard mechanism. So for the sake of a few headlines, Turnbull was willing to throw overboard the only way of escaping the Abbott climate policy trap.

At this crucial juncture any decision by the Greens that enhances the prospects of the Coalition being returned would be a mistake. A Coalition victory in July will set back climate policy for years, whereas a Labor win will restart the transformation of Australia’s energy economy. Too slowly, yes, but probably unstoppably.

In my view (as a member of the Greens and the party’s candidate in the 2009 Higgins by-election), in these circumstances the immediate interests of good policy on an issue that is at the centre of the Greens’ reason for existence should prevail over the longer-term goal of winning seats from Labor.

The Conversation

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Clive Hamilton

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