CANBERRA OBSERVED : by News WeeklyNews Weekly
The Greens' road-block to a double dissolution
, November 15, 2003
Bob Brown's antics during the visit of President George Bush gave Prime Minister John Howard a taste of what life might be like if the Greens dominated the Senate after the next election.
And he did not like what he saw.
Whatever criticisms there have been of the Australian Democrats over recent years - and there have been many - the party founded by Don Chipp a quarter of a century ago is the embodiment of reasonableness when compared with the Greens.
The Democrats, it needs to be remembered, are made from a Liberal rib, a modern day reincarnation of the Liberal Movement, from the bosom of the Liberal Party.
And through many different leaders, incarnations, betrayals and public infighting, it has remained predominantly a party of small "l" liberals.Trendy issues
Libertarian by instinct (Chipp himself was a pioneer against censorship and in favour of access to pornography), the Democrats were easily seduced by trendy and ephemeral issues, often completely economically illiterate, but fundamentally seeking change within the framework of a free capitalist society.
Not so the Greens.
The Greens seek to be a radical if not revolutionary party - both in Europe where they have gained serious power, and here, where they have begun to get a toehold into the Australian political system.
They are not, as some conservatives such as Senator George Brandis, have sought to label them, Nazis.
Such name calling only serves to undermine genuine criticism and makes the public view Senator Bob Brown as the exact opposite - a reasonable and measured person "concerned" about the environment and human rights.
Senator Brown has built a national profile by constant availability to the media on any subject, and by taking a position on key marginal issues designed to embarrass the major parties who so often act in unison.
He has leveraged his small power base on this profile to become a far more significant player in national politics than his place as a Tasmanian Senator warrants.
By being the strongest and most strident opponent of the war in Iraq he managed to steal the limelight from Labor whose views were blurry.
Certainly there is much to admire about Senator Brown. Unlike many politicians he is fearless and bold. And his stand on human rights abuses in China has resulted in an unusual alliance with fellow Tasmanian, Senator Brian Harradine.
He is nothing if not dogged for the causes he believes in.
Yet behind him is a movement that uses half-truths and distortions to push a cause which is anti-farming, anti-mining, anti-family and anti-wealth.
Increasingly, there is a rethink about many of the hysterical theories the radical Green groups have made over recent years. There is a healthy scepticism about radical environmentalists and demands for scientific back-up about their claims.
Unlike the Democrats though, the Greens as a whole are not interested in compromise, and reason and fairness.Non-retreat
The political strategy of the Greens, unlike the Democrats, is also one of non-retreat. Every victory, every concession one gains is encouragement to take another step forward without ever naming the ultimate goal.
John Howard complains of Senate intransigence, but the Democrats almost always do deals on their merits, on the issue at hand rather than cross dealing. In other words they do not vote in favour of one bill in exchange for another.
Senator Brown has shown by his willingness to break with existing protocols and conventions (from wearing an open-necked shirt in Parliament to grandstanding for a foreign dignitary to name just two) that he will be a much more difficult customer to deal with.
Six Senator Browns in the Parliament with much less experience and even more radical views is not a prospect any Prime Minister would look forward to.
This is why Mr Howard will want to think very carefully about a double dissolution where the Greens would need only half the quota in a normal election.
This, in turn, raises questions about the Government's capacity to force through legislation defeated in the Senate.