Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Labor at it again with Greens 'deal' campaign

There's an interesting article by Simon Kidd in today's edition of The Melbourne Times. It describes the ALP's accusations of a deal between the Greens and the Liberal Party that first surfaced in the lead-up to last November's State election. The campaign has hotted up with the election of three Upper House Greens MPs – Colleen Hartland, Greg Barber and Sue Pennicuik – and, of course, with the approaching Federal election.

Among the issues currently contested is the Greens Upper House vote against a Bill supporting a plebiscite should the Federal Government attempt to foist a nuclear power station on Victorians. TMT reports the Greens response as rejecting the plebiscite Bill because the Resources Minister and not the Parliament would have the final say on the wording of the question put to voters about whether they wanted nuclear power in their State.

My view is that we should look carefully at the ALP's allegations on this and other issues, asking whether they are accurate in terms of how the Greens have argued in the Upper House and, secondly, whether the allegations sit sensibly with what we know are the fundamental principles and stated policies of the Greens.

I haven't got to Hansard on the plebiscite Bill as yet, but the insinuation of the ALP's charge is that the Greens are somehow closet supporters of nuclear power. This has as much credibility as Martin Ferguson's claim (letters, same issue of the TMT) that he isn't pro-nuclear, despite being his party's most ardent supporter of the expansion of uranium mining and the change of the Labor Party's three-mines policy at last April's ALP National Conference.

The challenge for the Greens is to squarely meet the ALP's claims, showing why parliamentary disagreements with the ALP are principled, and do not amount to collusion with the enemy.

At the last State election, while the Greens addressed Labor's misinformation about a preference deal with the Liberals, they were unable to do so with sufficient vigour in the short time available before polling day. Running as an independent in Northcote, I saw the number of people on election day who approached the Greens campaigners quizzing them about the deal. The ALP's strategy hit home, but the Greens should have challenged the Northcote result in court because the ALP's victory was built on misleading campaign material that arguably influenced the outcome.

Whatever the prospects of success of such a challenge on legal grounds, such a move would have ensured a clear airing of the issues and a thorough testing of the ALP's claims. The risk is that the current ALP campaign will gain impetus from the Greens' inadequate response.

Back in November, some of (now Northcote MLA) Fiona Richardson's ALP-branded campaign material was authorised by the same person who authorised unbranded and otherwise unattributed material alleging a preference deal between the Liberals and the Greens. One such item was authorised by Stephen Newnham, Richardson's husband. Newnham also authorised the letter to Northcote constituents from Peter Garrett, again alleging the deal.

Now he is authorising the website set up to promote the ALP's so-called 'Gotcha' campaign, which criticises how the Greens vote in the Victorian Upper House and suggests an ongoing relationship with the Liberals.

Instead of peddling propaganda, Labor would do better to heed principled disagreements with its policies; it will otherwise continue the drift away from its own core values and weaken its chances of removing John Howard at the Federal election. On the other hand, working with progressives will only strengthen its electoral fortunes among voters who have not forgotten the Left.

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Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.