That the Greens made a fool of Tony Abbott and the Coalition on coal-seam gas laws this week surprises nobody — save for the complacent Coalition and the conservatoriat that support them.
The Greens after all, run the table at the moment. They didn’t want an ETS, so they killed it. They wanted a carbon tax and they got it. Since the carbon tax is effectively a mechanism that reshapes the relationship between environment, economy and society (albeit in a fairly modest way initially), its introduction is really a keystone of a transformed political process.
All Australian politics is now being conducted in reaction to that process — hence all politics is reactive to the Greens. So it was inevitable that they would be able to catch out Abbott on his attempt to pay lip-service to rural populism, by forcing him to choose between farmers’ rights, and macroeconomic development as offered by giving miners a free hand.
Who couldn’t see this coming? The conservatoriat. They’ve spent so long labelling the Greens as either a fairies at the bottom of the garden party of no consequence (1992-2006) or a monolithic totalitarian force of such inflexible correctness that the normal business of politics is impossible for them (2007-present).
The conservatoriat thus unwittingly re-staged Karl Popper’s “open society” argument, even as they accused others of being totalitarians. Popper argued — in relation to Stalinism and Nazism — that dictatorship plus propaganda creates a situation in which an information system loses all capacity to test reality with hypotheses.
Because “truth” becomes not a picture of the outer world of action, but a faithful reproduction of ideology, no information reaches the leadership, and they are unable to react strategically. Hence, the Right and the coalition are continually surprised when the Greens do an end run around them, because they’ve consoled themselves that such things are impossible.
Thus the Greens are a fearsome Stalinist force but they’re a bunch of woolly, mung bean eaters but they’re blinkered ideologues, and on it goes round and round. To the casual observer it’s obvious that there is far more strategic and parliamentary talent concentrated in the Greens than there is in the headquarters of either major party.
Indeed, so frantic have the Right become about the Greens that they’ve recently concocted a new narrative — that the Greens have had an easy run because they’ve never been subject to proper scrutiny. This was the actual subject of an editorial in the Oz, inviting the obvious response, shit yeah, if only one had a national newspaper to do that.
The “Greens have never been properly scrutinised” line has some hilarious aspects — in the mid-2000s, the Herald Sun picked apart the Greens policies on drugs, line by line. Sadly they then misassembled the items in question in their news stories, obliging the Hun to run a full-page notice from the Press Council damning the report. When one of the journalists charged with performing the hatchet job was threatened with jail for non-disclosure of sources (on a later, unrelated story) Bob Brown spoke up in his defence, something you can be damn sure you won’t see from the other major parties.
The latest twist to this — “The Greens — behind the secretive party we’ve written 8000 articles on” approach is the non-gotcha gotcha, something at which Glenn Milne appears to be a dab hand.
It goes like this: journo approaches Bob Brown or Christine Milne and says “aha — you say you want to reduce carbon emissions, but won’t that spell death for the coal industry?” and they respond “well yes we are going to have to phase out coal pretty rapidly” at which point the journo goes “aha — so you admit it”, “well — yes, we’ve put out several releases saying that …” and on it goes, often for 700-800 words.
Had the conservatoriat been paying attention they would have noticed that the Greens have been cultivating links with farmers and rural groups for more than a decade — and that the transformation of Australia by mass open-cut mining and the new mega-mining processes — which essentially involves removing the top layer of a whole region — has been their opportunity to make such a move.
Why? Because such transformation and the conflicts that arise represent not merely a glitch in the conservative politics of rural Australia, but an absolute contradiction in the notion of a “way of life”. For obvious reasons, sub-surface mining and farming can co-exist indefinitely — as can remote area agribusiness and mining. But the conflict between settled communities and invasive mining procedures cannot be wished away.
Essentially, it exposes what lies at the heart of Coalition politics — not merely a rigged deal on economic issues — such as generated rural socialism and urban capitalism in postwar Australia — but also a glossing over of the “existential” contradictions of such policies.
Rural people may believe themselves to be good capitalists, but they really aren’t — those who want rural Australia to survive essentially believe in a world where not everything is for sale, where some things — and communal land, the character of a region would be one of them — are held as invioble.
That belief is now in contradiction with the cross-party neo-liberal wing of Australian politics, which stretches from Marn Fern and Craig Emerson in the ALP to the deepest reaches of the Liberal Party. They regard the increased and urgent commodification of every aspect of Australian life to be the key to progress — so they can construct rural resistance to mining in the same way as they regard urban workers’ resistance to “free” trade, as pure obstruction of the dynamic force of progress.
Labor is no longer wedged on this — the neo-liberalisation occurred on their watch, the walls came down, the class that benefited from earlier arrangements has “retired” or died. The Coalition has no such luck, because the divisions run deep — sectorally, geographically and culturally. But now each side of the Coalition can no longer turn a blind eye to the divisions because one sector is literally, physically interacting with the other, by destroying its land, livelihood and the possibility of a continued way of life.
There’s nothing that brings home the fact that a way of life is being undermined, than a literal undermining — i.e. the ground disappearing beneath your feet. Such a categorical shift in your position in the world, tends to create categorical shifts in your politics.
Thus, though many rural people still find it culturally and psychologically impossible to get close to the Greens as a party, they are increasingly happy to have them float the measures they would like to see occur, and increasingly receptive to visits from Bob Brown or Christine Milne — Greens figures who get a good reception in rural areas, something the conservatoriat would have noticed if it hadn’t been too busy comparing their policy statements with old Enver Hoxha speeches.
There will be winners and losers from this process, but definitely in the latter category is the National Party — which is, pure and simply, facing extinction because of its dull-witted failure to understand the shifting politics of its rural base. You can see this in the panicked statements by various Nats, or semi-Nats, such as Barnaby Joyce:
Senator Joyce said the Greens move looked like a political “wedge” and he urged the party to wait until a Senate inquiry, which he had sparked, reported later this year on the coal-seam gas issue.
At that point in time, with the reality of how politics works, we’d have a better chance of corralling the votes to get something through.
Joyce portrays himself as something of an independent on matters concerning his constituency. But in this matter he’s doing what every Nat has done since the demise of Jack McEwan — selling out his people through prevarication and waffle, in the interests of large corporate powers.
This is the approach that has brought about the Nats’ demise — their collapse as a party because of the departure of high-profile figures such as Bob Katter. Ultimately it has cost the Coalition government, because a viable National Party would control the seats currently occupied by Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.
The delusional, Romanov quality of the Nats is demonstrated nowhere more forcefully than in an op-ed by Ron Boswell, who was trying to raise the old issue of Julia Gillard’s membership of the ALP left group “Socialist Forum”:
For example, one of the Gillard (editorial committee) titles, The Greening of the Red, a recipe for left-wing totalitarian control via environmental activism, calls for re-regulating the exchange rate, reintroducing tariffs and reducing imports and foreign investment … Australians are scratching their heads to work out how we have arrived at our current destination: a nanny-state land where competitiveness is eroded by taxes, public funds are disastrously wasted and the Greens rule, not OK.
Not OK, OK? Right on, Ron. This burst is funny for several reasons. For a start, most of those “totalitarian” policies were ones that the Country/National Country/National Party was selectively in favour of throughout much of its existence. More pertinently, if you asked Boswell’s constituents what they were in favour of, most of them would emphatically support such measures.. Rural Australian didn’t move away from these policies — the National Party moved away from rural Australia. The vacuum has been filled by Oakeshott, Windsor, Katter — and now Bob Brown and the Greens, who have done what Boswell and their ilk lack the courage and fortitude to do. They’ve stood up for people’s right to resist the forces of global capital, in order to preserve their way of life.
Had Ron Boswell and the conservatoriat been less concerned with ferreting out old Gestetnered policy papers put out under Gillard’s imprimatur, they might have spotted what the Greens were doing. But Boswell and Barnaby would have had to be doing that for quite a while to effect any real change in the remains of the party they lead.
Boswell is often touted as the man who kept One Nation out of gaining a foothold. Well maybe — but the single thing he and the Nats leadership really did was to take a viable political party with near monopoly support in some areas, and hurry it on to extinction. It takes real anti-talent to do that — but it’s made easier when the whole of Australian conservatism is more willing to retreat into fantasy than to contest new forces reshaping the intellectual and political landscape, more effectively than a lopped mountaintop.