Labor needs to call out the cynical, posturing Greens

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By: Nick Dyrenfurth

The political blowtorch is being applied to Anthony Albanese as the year begins. The PM’s second half of last year mirrored champion Australian Test batsman Steve Smith’s chequered recent form. And questioning Albo’s performance, ditto Smith’s woes, is how democracy works.

 

There were some – but not enough – analyses of Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. The efficacy of his negative strategy will be probed in 2024. After all, at a time when economic insecurity dominates, Labor would be wise to draw attention to Dutton never having held a serious ministerial or shadow ministerial portfolio in the economic realm. Culture war sorties into Woolworths selling Australia Day merchandise won’t cut it.

 

Yet one political party seems to evade critical scrutiny, passing through the slips cordon of democratic accountability with alarming ease. The Australian Greens, led by Adam Bandt, have become a more formidable force in recent years, even if their tally of legislative runs on the board would seem to have inspired the paltry efforts of recent touring teams. Compared to the major parties, the Greens glide under the radar, shielded by an aura of feelgood environmentalism and virtue signalling.

 

The Greens vote among young voters is growing. They are not merely shifting on climate and environmental concerns, but sense that the Greens are on their economic side. Yet it’s time to question the immunity granted to Bandt and his party, a green light for unchecked ideological flights of fancy and potentially dangerous policies and rhetoric.

 

Putting aside impractical, utopian climate policies, consider housing. The left-wing populism spouted by Greens spokesman Max Chandler-Mather is cutting through with Generation Rent. Proposals for a rent cap and freezes are foolish in the extreme. The Greens have the luxury of never actually implementing or dealing with their consequences – landlords would simply jack up rents ahead of any change, blunting its practical effect. There’s also the problem of caps not working in practice overseas.

 

In the manner of last year’s wrangling over Labor’s Housing Future Fund, the Greens are threatening to block the government’s shared equity “help to buy” scheme in the Senate to again push for freezes and caps. Bandt mocked “Labor backing unlimited rent rises, handouts for property moguls and tax cuts for politicians and billionaires.”

 

Treasurer Jim Chalmers, who wrote his PhD thesis on Paul Keating as “brawler statesman”, and Housing Minister Julie Collins need to get on the front foot. Where is the economic modelling underlying the Greens’ proposals?

 

How would inner-city Adam Bandt pitch to voters in outer suburban and regional seats who knocked the Voice on the head?

 

Then there is foreign policy. Whereas the German Greens, in a coalition government with the senior Social Democrats, have taken a mature, ethical position on Israel’s war against Hamas, spearheaded by Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, the Greens have behaved recklessly, with no regard to facts on the ground or social cohesion at home.

 

On and after October 7, as rockets rained down on Israel and Israeli citizens were murdered, mutilated, raped and kidnapped into Gaza, there was deafening silence from Bandt’s Greens – a brazen display of selective empathy. The Greens’ failure to condemn Hamas terrorism reveals a glaring blind spot in their purported commitment to human rights and universalism. For all intents and purposes, their call for a unilateral ceasefire is a pro-Hamas stance.

 

Moreover, Israel is the only nation in the Middle East that shares the Greens’ stated values – a commitment to democracy, freedom to protest, environmental bona fides, a free press, a free judiciary, equality of the sexes, rights and protections for LGBTQIA+ people.

 

Social cohesion matters too. In his reckless politicisation of the conflict and loss of mostly innocent Palestinian lives in Gaza. Bandt is taking Australia down a divisive path, cynically seeking to exploit the sympathies of Muslim voters in Labor-held seats such as Wills.

 

The Greens have plumbed new lows. Responding to US and UK airstrikes against the Iran-backed Houthis menacing Red Sea shipping, defence spokesman David Shoebridge took aim at the Australian government. Putting aside the oh so progressive Houthis’ fundamentalist Islamism – including bringing back slavery to Yemen, killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent Yemenites, and slogan of “God Is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, A Curse Upon the Jews, Victory to Islam” – how can a serious and secular political party oppose action against genocidal, racist terrorists targeting civilian shipping? The strikes are in Australia’s national interest, protecting living standards given the necessity of protecting trade routes we rely upon and uphold a rules-based global order.

 

It’s time to dial up the volume of accountability on international affairs from the Greens.

 

On post-material issues, Bandt is being allowed free rein. He lambasted Labor for putting the republic on ice given economic gloom and defeat of the Voice referendum. Yet Bandt contributed next to nothing to the Voice campaign. How would inner-city Adam pitch to voters in outer suburban and regional seats who knocked the Voice on the head – in almost identical terms to the 1999 republic referendum to change the constitution? One suspects Bandt wouldn’t recognise a working-class Australian if he ran over one in his EV.

 

Australians deserve a transparent, comprehensive understanding of policies determining their future if implemented, or shaped, by extremist Greens ideology. In an era of disinformation, they deserve more than vague promises and cynical posturing. If not, our nation risks becoming captive to unchecked ideology at the expense of practical governance.

 

See Nick Dyrenfurth’s feature opinion in the Australian Financial Review.

 

Nick Dyrenfurth is Executive Director of the John Curtin Research Centre.

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