Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Jesuit on the Greens

Fr Frank Brennan SJ has a piece in Eureka Street arguing that a conscientious Christian can indeed vote for the Greens...ok this is just a step too far for me.  Let's look at his arguments.

1.  The desirability of the Senate not being controlled by the party in power

Fr Brennan argues that:

"...the Greens are not in the contest for government and they are very unlikely to have much, if any, say in the House of Representatives. Their political purchase after the election will be in the Senate where they will most probably have the balance of power.

Some Christians, myself included, think that it is never a good thing for the government of the day to control the Senate. You just have to look at what happened to the Howard Government in its last term when it controlled the Senate. Hubris set in; the usual rational debate about the limits on Workchoices was abandoned because the Government was assured passage of its overbroad, ideological legislation. When the Government does not control the Senate, it needs to garner support for legislation by putting coherent arguments in order to attract a handful of Senators on the cross benches.

A thoughtful Christian is entitled to consider the workings of the Senate when deciding where to allocate preferences in their voting. A thoughtful Christian could give their first or second party preference to a minor party like the Greens confident that this minor party would hold to account whichever party is in power on contested legislative proposals."
In principle it is a strong argument.  The power of individual Senators (such as Senator Harradine during his long tenure) or minor parties (such as the Democrats) to force the parties to negotiate on legislation, and to review the operation of government through Senate estimates committees is actually one of the strengths of our system over countries such as Canada (where the Senate is appointed) or New Zealand (which lacks an Upper House altogether). 
The question is, would the Greens actually hold the Government to account in a sensible way, or would they use their numbers to impose their own agenda?  Their record over the last three years is not strong.
And overall, history suggests the latter outcome.
2.  Some of their policies are good
Fr Brennan argues that:
"On some policy issues, I daresay the Greens have a more Christian message than the major parties.

Consider their stand on overseas aid, refugees, stewardship of creation and the environment, public housing, human rights protection, and income management."

Yes, let's consider them.  First, a number of these polices (such as the treatment of asylum seekers) are largely under the control of the Executive, not the Parliament - the legal framework is already in place. 

Secondly, it is highly debatable whether the Greens' position is particularly consistent with the Christian message.  It is true that trendy leftists like Brennan oppose income management and support human rights legislation for example.  But in reality income management is producing some positive results in the desperate situation of many Indigenous communities; and many Christians would agree that a human rights act would actually be counter-productive.

Far more dangerous is the Green's so-called commitment to the stewardship of creation and the environment:  because what this actually translates into is, as some of the commenters on Brennan's article point out, is support for policies such as population control and abortion.

And whereas members and Senators from the major parties are generally likely to be kept under control by their leaders' desires to keep the Christian vote on board, there is absolutely nothing to stop, and every incentive for Green Senators to put up private member bills and forcing conscience votes on issues such as euthanasia and same sex marriage.

What motivates the Parties?

The critical difference between the two mainstream parties and the Greens is that both the Liberals and Labor seek primarily to protect the dignity of the individual and the family (albeit with considerable differences on how to go about this), whereas the Greens start from seeking to protect the environment.  One can debate the merits and reality of the two major parties approaches.  But the distinction in kind between them and the Greens is important.

Labor, it is true, has been infiltrated by 'Emily's List' and continues to lend at least notional support to the 1970s feminist agenda.  I would argue that de facto, the Liberals (leader aside) have been influenced in exactly the same way and adopted exactly the same approach (no party after all is committed to removing the Medicare rebate for abortion, and some of the commitments made under Malcolm Turnbull's leadership...).

This is extremely problematic in considering your vote. 

But there are practical political constraints on both the major parties that have in practice limited how far the Emily's list agenda, or other pernicious influences (at least to date) can go, as commitments made in the last several elections have shown. 

The Greens by contrast have a systematic anti-life, anti-family agenda and are fundamentalist zealots on the subject.

No party in this election can be said to be perfect from a Christian perspective.

But some are a lot more dangerous than others, and having disingenuous apologias for the Greens like this being put forth is exceedingly unhelpful.

And for those with a sense of humour...

Now some will be outraged at this piece of satire (so stop reading if you are easily offended), and its certainly not PC, crossing the line in places (though in the main the text is fine, its the choice of illustrations on the website that I find problematic), but I have to admit to chortling my way through the distillation of recent Australian political history offered on the ABC's website by St Paul's Letter to the Electorates.  It opens as follows:

"i) And so it was, after the time of John, that Kevin went out to meet the enemies of his people. For their enemies were numerous and the people were sore afraid. For the money lenders had put their own house asunder and the crops faileth in the field and drought was upon the land.

ii) And the people looked at Kevin with confusion in their hearts and they sayeth each to the other. 'He is only a boy. And surely he will be done, yea, even unto a dinner.'

iii) But Kevin raiseth up his hand and he calmeth his people, saying 'Listeneth thou to me' and he then spoke for some time and he laid out a plan. And the people were greatly relieved and they offered up praises and hosannas saying 'Go Kevin.' For the plan was good. And this was reflected in the polls. For they went nuts.

iv) And Kevin putteth the plan into action. And he said unto Wayne, 'Mate, poureth thee thy money into the marketplace'. And Wayne betook himself into the desert, where he sat alone for a long time, looking at the surplus. For he was wrestling with his soul...

v) And at this time in the land, the Pharisees met and lo, he that was called Brendan was sacrificed and a new leader was anointed. And his name was called Malcolm. And Malcolm sayeth as follows: 'Although I am opposed to Kevin, for he is not top drawer, Kevin is correct on this matter of the ETS.'

vi) And chief among the Pharisees was Nicholas. And Nicholas looked upon Malcolm and liked him not. And Nicholas bideth his time...."

The latest installment (Chapter 5) includes such gems as:

"i) And so it was that the people found themselves in the desert, and were desolate, and they knew not what to do...

...why witnesseth we a presidential campaign, when we have no president?"

ix) "And for the Cth time, where is the ETS?"

x) And there was a rumbling sound and the Earth trembled and there was a celestial light. And there came before the people a man of seraphic appearance, and he was fair of hair and somewhat circular of dial, and the people rubbed their eyes. And the man spoke, and they knew him.

xi) And they said "It is Kevin!" And verily, it was Kevin.

xii) And they said to him "Is what we see before us a resurrection?" And he said "No, it's just the way I'm standing." And they said "Where hast thou been?" And he answered, saying "I was unwell in the viscera" and they said "And was thou shortened again?" And he said "I'll do the jokes thanks. I was shortened once and it will never happen again. What occureth the second time was a cholecystectomy."

xiii) And they said "And will'st thou be working with Julia?" And he said "I'm not sure 'with' is quite the term we're searching for there, but I'm here to help, for the barbarians are at the gate." And they said "Even after she performeth a Kevinectomy?" And he said "The past is another country. They do things differently there."

xiv) And the Earth trembled once more and the people looked up in wonderment, for another familiar figure appeared. For lo, John stood before them at a lecturn, with both arms in the air and Asian motifs in the background...

xvii) And Julia sayeth to herself "Giveth me strength. For there is a plague on my house, like unto locusts, which arrive in their season and darken the air and consume every herb and nourishing thing."

xviii) And then the Oaken one also appeareth, saying Mark was bitter, and disruptive, and should be cast out. And the people said "Like, Hello."

xix) And Anthony had a launch, and spake unto the people, using many adjectives. But he keepeth well away from policies, for this was the danger area.

xx) And the polls indicateth a nip and tuck affair. And there were 12 days and 12 nights to go...."

And at last some actual policy....

Finally, it is worth noting that there are actually a few substantive policies out there now to chew on:
And tonight we get the forum between the two leaders...


Felix the Cassowary said...

The question is, would the Greens actually hold the Government to account in a sensible way, or would they use their numbers to impose their own agenda?  Their record over the last three years is not strong.
And overall, history suggests the latter outcome.

This line of argument is caused by a common misconception of the balance of power. The balance of power does not mean that the Government needs to go to the Greens to get a bill through, and it doesn't mean the Greens can impose their own agenda. The only thing the Greens can do with the balance of power is what the major parties let them. On the basis of this election campaign, how many bills do you think the Government—either Government—will need to rely on the Greens to get through? None. Greens support is only going to be necessary when a surprise happens (in which case I would prefer the solution be agreed to by both majors anyway, so the Greens vote is irrelevant), or in

The exception, of course, is climate change (see also my aside at the end): But here we have three different views are clear (we should do nothing; we should have an ECTS; we should have a literal carbon tax) and strongly-held. We know that the Greens won't compromise with the Government, no matter who it is, so we get one of three possible results: the Government agrees with Greens and we get a carbon tax; the two majors agree; or we get a double dissolution election.

So a vote for the Greens is only going to answer one question: Should we have a carbon tax or not, and I think this is a question on which christians can legitimately disagree, because it's not directly subject to any teaching of divine origin. Therefore, I think a vote for the Greens is safe for a Christian, but only in this particular election. It may be otherwise at other times. I hope that my Senate vote will eventually elect a Greens candidate, rather than one of the two majors. But concerns (I have a gift for understatement) over the Greens philosophy means I cannot give them a 1.

Now, you claim that a vote for the Greens is risky because their environmental policies will lead to anti-life and anti-immigration policies. The thing is, given current technologies there are substantial limits on what population Australia can support. I don't think we've hit them yet, I think we can still afford to grow. But the important thing is that we need to find alternatives to a consumption-based economy. In terms of energy, so-called sustainable forms are still in their infancy, but the sun is the source of all of the enegy on the earth today! A carbon tax, or some other solution to the carbon problem, can lead to a lot more money being given over to finding solutions. With energy generation from sources that are not used up, almost every problem with population is solved. Bit thirsty? That's okay: we can build a solar power plant and desalanate the sea. Water too far away? That's okay: we can build a solar power plant and pump the water to the very centre of Australia if we want. That's not to say we'll get that far this lifetime, but if we get most of our power from the sun and the wind and the waves, every single one of the Greens' concerns about sustainable population will just disappear.

(If you are concerned about "base load" or one of a million other scary words, remember that if we only have a capital cost but no on-going resource costs, we could have a power plant whose only purpose is to pump water uphill during the day for it to power water mills at night if we want. There is still a scary amount of power left over from the sun. There's a reason pagans worshipped it: what's a scary powerful source of all life sound like to you?)

Terra said...

Felix the Cassowary - Balance of power means exactly what the phrase suggests.

There are two possibilities. The Opposition party holds more Senate seats than the Government, but the number of minor party seats combined with the government constitutes a majority. Or, the number of Labor and Liberal Senators is equal, with minor parties also holding some seats.

The Government wants to pass a bill, the Opposition wants to vote against it (very common indeed over the last ten or so years.

To get the bill through, the Government needs the votes of some of the minor party senators.

Under Rudd (perhaps because he had only been a member in the period when Howard had the numbers to do whatever he wanted without negotiating), the Government mostly just refused to negotiate, and added it to the stack of potential double dissolution triggers.

But Gillard has explicitly said she will negotiate with the Greens. And the Greens have explicitly said they want to negotiate on the shape of a range of legislation (including the mining tax).

When you negotiate under these circumstances there are always two main possibilities: amendments to the specific legislation under consideration, or trading off support for a particular bill for other things. Both approaches have been used in the past, and can be expected in future should the Greens hold the crucial numbers in the Senate.

And tht's why we have to be worried about the Green agenda.

As an aside, on population limits, I'm a sceptic (the issue is about how to get governments to invest adequately in infrastructure),but that's a whole other debate. But even if you were concerned about population sustainability limits, you don't have to be anti-life - just stop immigration, the main source of our population growth.

The Greens of course want to stop people having babies instead.

Your paens to solar energy are a diversion here, so let's not get into that...

thygocanberra said...

thank you for your fisk of (Fr)(I wear ties) Brennan.

What a disgrace that man is.

And as for Bob Brown. He will get his reward.