Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Greens' deep red heart leaves me politically homeless

This is a picture of Adam Bandt, the Greens' sole parliamentary lower house representative. Bandt represents the seat of Melbourne, which the Greens memorably won in the 2010 federal election. Because of the tenuous hold the Labor Party has on the parliamentary balance of power, Bandt has been playing a key role in Australian politics over the last few years.

Like many progressives, I cheered when Bandt won his seat, and I looked on with interest as the election result necessitated a bit of horse-trading between the successful candidates, resulting in a new model of Parliament. I watched approvingly as a key Greens policy - a carbon tax - was ushered in amid claims of duplicity aimed at the prime minister. Clearly, a new type of consensus was required, and Australians were taking their time getting used to it. With a single lower-house representative, the Greens were punching above their weight on the national stage. I also watched as the Labor Party changed its official policy on gay marriage - an issue very close to my heart - although the prime minister has ensured that a change to the marriage laws has been impossible.

But everything changed for me when some other elements of Greens policy became plain to me, as I read a statement published by Bandt on a website. While I certainly agree that corporations must be made to contribute more to building equity into Australian society, there are two things in this statement that I violently disagree with. One of these is their desire for "higher taxes for millionaires" as if private savings and private income were of the same nature as corporate profits.

This kind of redistributive animus against the concentration of wealth in private hands is very Old Labor. It's deeply red and appeals to the worst instincts of the majority of Australians, being of the same nature as the kind of rank xenophobia that makes it easy for governments here to work so hard to prevent asylum seekers from arriving on our foreshores. I have no patience with this kind of policy. A guy who has saved, say, five million dollars and who owns three or four investment properties is not "rich". He's not a plutocrat who possesses more money than he'll even be able to spend, like Rupert Murdoch or Gina Rinehart. He's just a prudent and successful man, probably with a wife and family, who has been able to squirrel away a bit of the ready to prepare for his retirement. But this guy would be targeted by a Greens government.

The thing I want to say to Bandt and his colleagues is that you do not make the majority rich by punishing the prudent and successful. What you do is help more people to be like this. I think that all governments would like to see everyone retiring with the capital assets that my man has, so that social security payments can be lower. It is prudent for governments to make changes that can help my man to acquire the relatively small amount of wealth that he has put away. A government that does not help this guy is not going to get my support.

But there's another deeply-red element to Bandt's policy statement. Bandt wants to end "the public funding of ... very wealthy non-government schools" so that more funds can be channelled to public schools, especially those which service areas that contain material disadvantage. Again, I think this is regressive and harkens back to the old days of class warfare, the type of class warfare that Mark Latham brought into play in the runup to the 2004 federal election, which he unsuccessfully contested as leader of the Labor Party. Latham notoriously imploded after that election, and it's precisely this kind of redistributive bent that led to his downfall. But the Greens want to give new life to this old corpse?

I think all schools should receive more funding, but the way to do that is not by punishing the elite institutions that have served our country so well for so many generations. You don't pull up the majority by pulling down the elite. It's the same old school thinking that turns me off Bandt's "millionaire's tax": an outdated mindset that harkens back to the bad old days when social mobility was minimal. Today's suburbs are populated by aspirational voters who all want those investment properties and who all want their kids in private schools. Bandt, and the Greens, are way out of line with the true wishes of the majority of right-thinking Australians on this one.

I will never abandon the progressive ideas that make me who I am. I will always push for human rights, the rights of the individual, and for greater tolerance in society. I will do so because to do otherwise would be to betray myself. But I cannot ignore the regressive, old-school economic policies the Greens are promoting, and I cannot stomach the popular animus they are designed to appeal to. We all need to be better educated, financially better prepared for retirement, and more open to new ideas and new arrivals. My type of Australia does not rely on the negative process of class warfare to achieve its goals, but generously includes all of the people in its broad embrace.

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