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Greens deserve rational scrutiny

By Nils von Kalm - posted Monday, 25 July 2011


Politics is an emotive topic. The original Greek word means "of or relating to citizens," so anything to do with our welfare is going to cause great passion on all sides.

Personally, I don't like to align myself with either the left or the right side of the political debate. As a Christian I prefer to gauge my response to issues on how people are treated, particularly the less fortunate.

It has been said that the measure of a society is in how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. For me that will mean that on some issues I lean to the more progressive side whilst on other issues I am more conservative.

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It is for the above reasons that for some years now I have been a supporter of the Greens. I need to make clear from the outset that I am not a member of the Greens and in this article I am not speaking on behalf of the Greens. I am speaking as an individual supporter who sees a need to defend them against much hysterical criticism in certain parts of our society.

The reason I support the Greens is because their core principles of social justice, peace, democracy, and environmental concern align much more clearly with my Christian values, than those of any other political party. There are Greens policies with which I struggle, but isn't that the case for any honest supporter of a political party? I am never going to support a Greens policy just because it is from the Greens. I am going to think through it before I decide on whether or not I agree with it.

Thinking through such policies with reasoned logic and intelligent debate has been sadly lacking when it comes to the reporting of Greens' policies in much of the media, including the blogosphere and talkback radio.

Therefore in this article I would like to point out somemisconceptions on a few issues on which the Greens have copped a fair share of criticism by people who have not bothered to do their research and have thrown emotive comments around in an irresponsible manner, which is unworthy of a great democracy like Australia.

I come at these issues as a layperson only. I am not an expert by any means, so as far as detailed policy goes, I encourage readers to look at the Greens' website, where their policies are set out in detail for anyone to subject them to scrutiny.

The first area I would like to look at, and one in which the Greens have been criticised for, is that of drugs, particularly heroin injecting rooms. Contrary to popular opinion, the Greens actually want people off drugs, and injecting rooms have been shown to be a way to minimise harm in the process.

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In terms of harm minimisation, the Greens are simply putting forward what the vast majority of experts in this field say. The NSW Government in 2010 approved a heroin injecting room in King's Cross after it was revealed that the trial period had been a resounding success.

And despite the evidence clearly pointing to the success of injecting rooms, many people fail to see the positive effects because it is such an emotive issue. In an article in September 2010, The Australian said that a number of results from the last National Drug Strategy Household Survey conducted in 2007 suggest people aren't basing their views on the weight of scientific evidence.

Another area in which the Greens have received criticism is to do with preference deals with Labor. The fact is however, that as recently as the last Federal election, the Greens made it clear that people have a choice to preference whoever they like when they vote. Bob Brown made this point a number of times during the campaign.

The problem with this criticism is that many Australians have no idea how preference voting works. You don't have to follow what the how-to-vote card says at all, but thousands of people don't know that. They think that you have to vote according to the how-to-vote card. The Greens have been trying to educate people against that.

When it comes to economics, contrary to popular opinion, the Greens are not out to destroy our way of life. What they want in terms of economic policy is to reduce tax breaks for high-income earners, a new top marginal tax rate of 50 per cent on incomes of $1 million or over, and no increase or extension to the GST.

And, as Andrew West wrote in The Age recently, "a study last year by Ipsos found 86 per cent believe government should be more aggressive regulating activities of national and multinational corporations',' and "75 per cent of Australians believe that large or foreign corporations are more powerful than governments - and hold too much influence over their own.''

West adds that, "a Galaxy poll last year found 59 per cent wanted a levy on bank profits just like the Gillard government's planned tax on mining super profits. Two specific Greens policies that particularly enrage the establishment - higher taxes on the super rich and an inheritance tax on multimillion-dollar estates - are far from left-wing radicalism. Last December, a survey of 1300 people by the Australia Institute found more than 80 per cent of people supported a crackdown on tax loopholes used by the wealthy."

The Greens have also been criticised for wanting to reduce subsidies for private schools (something that Labor supported a few years ago as well). But the reason the Greens want more funding for public schools and less for private schools is because the ratio of funding for private schools compared to public schools has been skewed in favour of private schools in proportion to the number of private schools to public ones. A just and compassionate response would be to have it the other way around.

One of the most contentious issues in recent years that the Greens have spoken out on is that of refugees. The alarmist position usually goes along the lines of the myth that the Greens want to allow as many boats and refugees in as they like. As with many other emotion-laden arguments that are not based on actual evidence, this is also incorrect.

Firstly there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant. Australia has signed and ratified the UN Refugee Convention making this country a safe haven for those seeking asylum. Further, the Greens would turn back people who are not found to be genuine refugees.

The Greens want compassion for asylum seekers, more than 90% of whom are found to be genuine refugees. Then there is the fact that only about 5% of asylum seekers come by boat. The rest come by plane. And how about the many more tourists who overstay their visas? I don't hear anyone else complaining about us being overrun by them.

The above examples are reflective of the depths to which political debate has plunged in Australia over recent years. One of the reasons (and there are many) that the level of political debate in this country is so bad at the moment is because it is too short sighted and lacks mature leadership.

We are like the adolescents who demand their own way regardless of the consequences. If only we had more people like Leslie Cannold speaking out about our immaturity.

She recently wrote that, "our personal feelings and interests – our hip pockets, every thought-bubble, each emotional twitch – cannot be the central concern of those running the world if we want the world to run properly. Some of us would like to shed our inner-Veruca Salt and aspire to something higher. Whisper to us, leaders of Australia. Stop replying to our every ill-informed, over-hyped whinge with well-versed empathy and solicit a heartbeat from our better selves."

The current hysteria over the carbon tax is all about how it will affect your hip pocket and not so much how it will benefit our children. A mature society led by mature leaders will look to the common good and the long-term future. Our current debate is the opposite of that and brings out the worst in human nature.

I have been frustrated over the years by many people who do not think about the issues and about why the Greens have these policies. To make such exaggerated and sweeping claims about them, as many critics do, just shows the alarmist position of people who haven't bothered to do their research.

What makes me angry is when influential people, both in the media and in politics, make assertions which are clearly incorrect, which other people then believe, thus spreading falsehood and wild rumours.

If these critics really want less successful drug programs, the same government subsidies for private schools, and to stop the boats, then we will end up with a more callous society with increased crime – guaranteed.

It is fine to have passionate public debate. Any robust democracy can benefit from it. Indeed in this article I have made clear my strong feelings concerning the way in which issues are dealt with in the public. All I ask is that people do not fall for alarmist rhetoric that is clearly wrong (and which in many cases has been debunked over and over).

Do your research; read the policies. The Greens are not perfect, and there are criticisms I have of them too. For example, the first policies they went public with following the 2010 Federal election being the most contentious ones, those on gay marriage and euthanasia. I think that was poor public relations.

And there are of course controversial policies (such as the aforementioned two) that I have not discussed. But whatever your opinion of the Greens let it be formed based on good, hard evidence, and not on emotive, hysterical reactions that have no basis in fact. A mature society deserves nothing less.

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About the Author

Nils von Kalm is a funding coordinator at World Vision Australia who also enjoys writing about social, political and cultural issues. His website is at www.soulthoughts.com

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