Bowtell for Melbourne (or why the Greens are just too flaky for me)

Last night on ABC TV news Lindsay Tanner filled what seemed to me to be a major omission in Labor candidate for Melbourne Cath Bowtell’s campaign. He appealed directly to Liberal voters to ignore their party’s Green preferencing how-to-vote card and preference Labor instead.

All the Bowtell campaign material I have received is focused on a competition with the Greens for the ‘progressive’ vote. Even the admission that Labor is not as far left as the Greens is phrased in apologetic terms: ‘Unlike the Greens, Labor does not have the luxury of behaving like a single-issue group’ said one campaign letter I received from Bowtell.

But despite the ‘progressive’ vote focus, it is likely that Liberal voters will decide the seat of Melbourne. Indeed, for all the money the Greens spend in Melbourne, and all the buzz their campaign generates, they would have no hope whatsoever of winning the seat were it not for the Liberal how-to-vote card. On the primary vote in 2007 the Greens were actually about 600 votes behind the Liberal candidate. Only the distribution of minor party and then Liberal preferences made them serious contenders.

As regular readers know, I had been unsure as to whether I should preference Labor or the Greens after the Liberals. The party’s decision is a tactical one aimed at creating problems for its main opponent, the ALP.

However I have decided to preference Labor on Tanneresque grounds that overall they are clearly the least-worst from a Liberal voter perspective. On the issue I am most interested in, education, Green policies are mostly very bad.

Their prejudices against private schools I object to but I can see the logic within their own worldview. But in higher education some of the proposals are just ridiculous, eg:

abolish fees for educational services at public universities for Australian students and forgive HECS debts and FEE-HELP debt incurred at public universities

This would write-off $20 billion in debts that students have freely signed up to and add billions to annual recurrent spending to cover the gaps in university income. Even from a ‘progressive’ perspective it makes no sense, because the benefits of this will flow overwhelming to higher-income earners. It reflects continued belief in theory about access to higher education that is not supported by the evidence.

To be sure, there are plenty of daft handouts in the platforms of the other parties. But none of them would deliver so much to a group so clearly not in need.

The Greens are still the flaky party, and I cannot bring myself to preference them above Labor.

39 Responses to “Bowtell for Melbourne (or why the Greens are just too flaky for me)

  • 1
    Robert Merkel
    August 15th, 2010 13:34

    I agree that it’s bad policy, Andrew, but I get the distinct impression that you’re just scouting around for a justification for something you wanted to do anyway.

    There are any number of equally daft major policies from one or the other of the major parties (“direct action” on climate change, the private health insurance subsidy, the continuation of massive explicit and tacit assistance to the car industry, the ridiculous SES funding formula for private schools).

    In fact, the daftness award has to go to the conservatives this time around. Their entire election pitch is an appeal to idiocy.

    Would you care to point to the higher education policy of either Labor or the Coalition, by any chance?

  • 2
    Rajat Sood
    August 15th, 2010 14:43

    Bandt has said he will side with Labor if there is a hung parliament, so there may be limited short-term tactical value in voting Green. Still, if Labor in government has to or chooses to work with Bandt (as opposed to the three independents), it may help the Coalition’s chances of winning government in 2013.

  • 3
    Andrew Norton
    August 15th, 2010 14:50

    Robert – Well clearly the Greens have worse overall policies than the ALP from my perspective, so it is easy to justify opposing them. But if they were only a little worse than maybe a tactical vote for them to frustrate the ALP could be justified.

    But I would put the Green higher ed policy in a different category to all those that you mention. While with the exception of the private school policy they represent poor value for money, they do at least at the margins change behaviour in the direction intended by the policy, while the Green higher ed policy is a straight regressive redistribution with no positive educational effects.

    Labor appears to be running on its record on higher ed; the Libs have miscellaneous statements but no policy. But we can be confident that they are not going to give $20 billion away.

    The SES system is conceptually sound, but needs to be applied properly with phased changes for schools which shift categories.

  • 4
    conrad
    August 15th, 2010 16:18

    “But I would put the Green higher ed policy in a different category to all those that you mention.”

    That’s just because you’re interested in higher ed. Surely the health care rebate, the real cost of which is in the billions per year, is just as bad (a very quick search suggests it costed 3.5 billion in 2009).

  • 5
    NMG
    August 15th, 2010 16:26

    As a Greens voter, I must say I do disagree with their position on HECS / FEE-HELP (in fact, I think HECS was an excellent piece of well structured policy). But nevertheless, that’s not enough to convince me not to vote that away from them. Further (and this perhaps sounds like ‘tactical voting’) the Greens won’t be in as strong a position to influence Higher Ed policy as they will on climate change.

    It’s far easier to ‘tinker’ with Higher Ed than it is to do so with one of (if not the top) economic issue of our times.

  • 6
    Alex
    August 15th, 2010 16:27

    Hey Andrew,
    I’m glad that you will be voting for the policies that you believe in and not to cheap shot parties by making things difficult. It’s something I respect in many conservatives even if I don’t agree with their policies.
    I thought I would be a rusted on Labor voter (ex-nsw state), however over this term in government I believe I will be a greens leaning green-labor swinger (of what I consider the 3 major parties).
    I’d just like to say that I am a university (commerce) student and I don’t agree with that stance on tertiary education. Whilst I think everything should be able to go to university I don’t think it should be expected of everyone (for all careers ex-law and med). The time period, cost and questionable skills picked up could be better spent learning in a more hands on capacity.

    However, the chances of these policies seeing the light of day over the next 3, 6, or even 9 years I see as marginal-slim. I vote greens because I see them as the only party that will stand up against vested interests and deliver the respect for our environments that we so desperately need.

    This is only my second comment I believe, but I have been following the blog for a while now, can I ask do you believe in anthropogenic climate change, and if yes do you think that either party’s policies are adequate?

  • 7
    NMG
    August 15th, 2010 16:28

    Re: ‘tinkering’ – in retrospect that is.

  • 8
    Sinclair Davidson
    August 15th, 2010 17:37

    Quick question – are the ALP preferencing the Liberals above the Greens in Melbourne? If not, then clearly they’re happy to see the Greens take the seat.

  • 9
    Andrew Norton
    August 15th, 2010 20:27

    Conrad – The private health insurance rebate has as I understand it pushed up the number of people taking it out as it was intended to do. And the core hospital component is like the schools another way of paying for services to which people are entitled anyway.

    Sinc – I don’t know, but presumably yes. An interesting tactical issue for Labor supporters here. If a few thousand of them voted Liberal that would be enough to knock the Greens into third place and guarantee that Labor would win.

    NMG – I don’t want this thread derailed by the subject you mention, as it will bring out the obsessives on both sides. Looking through the ‘environment’ category you can see some of the posts on this, though mainly I have been concerned with the politics of the situation.

  • 10
    Alex
    August 15th, 2010 22:13

    If you are of the opinion of there is some warming caused by human emissions, but the extent of that warming is yet inconclusive I would urge you to read through some more of the science. This is the main differentiator for me and a lot of my friends who have not identified with a party this election and unsure they will do so.
    A lot of the scandals like climate gate have been proved to be shams and that the affects we are seeing are worse than projected.
    Other than my pet issue I applaud your deliberated discussion on how to distribute your preferences, it’s a testament to the strength of the Australian preferential system 🙂

  • 11
    JC
    August 16th, 2010 05:09

    The Greens are still the flaky party, and I cannot bring myself to preference them above Labor

    Prior to the last election their website hadn’t been cleaned up like it is now and it had the policy of banning nuclear medicine and nuclear waste dumps. The effect would have been cancer patients unable to obtain radiology treatment and most scanning couldn’t continue because the waste dumps would have been closed.

    I’ve been trying to find out what happened to this policy because they seem to simply remove them whenever they got heat for some of the more bizarre ones.

    I presume the anti-cancer patients policy is still in operation because I haven’t been able to find if it is removed from party minutes

    Perhaps a party member like Robert Merkal would be able to tell us exactly what happened to anti cancer patients policy, as I’m really interested in knowing.

  • 12
    Geoff Robinson
    August 16th, 2010 08:24

    Greens have an incentive to promise lowest common denominator politics to everybody with a gripe, but still their HECS policy reduces govt revenue needed to make social democracy work, its a left-wing version of the govt’s backdown on the resources tax.

  • 13
    conrad
    August 16th, 2010 08:45

    “Greens have an incentive to promise lowest common denominator politics to everybody with a gripe”
    .
    I think the Greens are the least bad of the offenders this election. At least they have a position on many things.

  • 14
    Karl Kessel
    August 16th, 2010 09:06

    It will be interesting to see if the ALP have a go at the Greens policies this week.

    The Greens announced during the election that they thought the company tax rate should be 28%

    http://www.theage.com.au/federal-election/greens-suddenly-the-party-of-lower-company-taxes-20100720-10jkm.html

    Checking their policy page however they want it raised to 33%

    http://greens.org.au/sites/greens.org.au/files/policydownloads/G1%20Economics%20March%202010_0.pdf

    Why the change? How would their policies stand up to a costing?

  • 15
    Son of the Ratpack
    August 16th, 2010 09:40

    Unless there are a lot of Liberals like AN, the Greens will win Melbourne easily, because their primary vote should be much higher than 2007.

    “If a few thousand of them voted Liberal that would be enough to knock the Greens into third place and guarantee that Labor would win.”

    Yes, but if too many of them tried this tactic then the Liberals would win the seat.

  • 16
    Andrew Norton
    August 16th, 2010 10:01

    “If a few thousand of them voted Liberal that would be enough to knock the Greens into third place and guarantee that Labor would win.”

    Yes, but if too many of them tried this tactic then the Liberals would win the seat.”

    True. But a sharper dilemma than the one I face.

  • 17
    Son of the Ratpack
    August 16th, 2010 10:30

    Andrew, why don’t you move to North Balwyn? Then you could live amongst like-minded people, vote for Kevin Andrews and not face any such dilemmas.

  • 18
    Andrew Norton
    August 16th, 2010 11:02

    I could move anywhere in Australia to remove this dilemma. Higgins or Wentworth are my only options for combining my way of life with a Liberal seat.

  • 19
    jtfsoon
    August 16th, 2010 11:22

    a vote for orthodox pro-economic growth Communists would be a lesser evil to voting Green. There is no dilemma.

  • 20
    John Farrell
    August 16th, 2010 11:50

    Of course you won’t preference the Greens, Andrew, it’s obvious that the differences between Labor and Liberal are window-dressing designed to present the illusion of choice. No matter who wins we’ll have a conservative government focussed on keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. God forbid that the word “liberal” should ever be tainted by any hint of progressivism.

  • 21
    Son of the Ratpack
    August 16th, 2010 12:04

    “Higgins or Wentworth are my only options for combining my way of life with a Liberal seat.”

    You could live in Neutral Bay. 10 mins to the CBD by ferry, all the haute bourgeois trimmings, and in the electorate of North Sydney.

  • 22
    Andrew Norton
    August 16th, 2010 12:24

    S of R – I used to live nearby Neutral Bay, in Crows Nest. Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay are the only parts of Sydney that appeal to me as a place to live.

  • 23
    Michael "Lorenzo" Warby
    August 16th, 2010 12:25

    You could live in Neutral Bay. 10 mins to the CBD by ferry, all the haute bourgeois trimmings, and in the electorate of North Sydney.
    Not if you want competent State government and a city with lowish crime.
    Labor and Liberal are window-dressing designed to present the illusion of choice. No matter who wins we’ll have a conservative government focussed on keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. God forbid that the word “liberal” should ever be tainted by any hint of progressivism.
    Ah yes, the obligatory moral vanity r us comment. No doubt that “explains” why Australia regularly rates so high on the UN Human Development Index, for example, or our welfare system is quite successfully redistributive (by the standards of such things) etc …
    As for voting Green, the last reason to vote for them is caring about the environment. We have ludicrous urban water shortages because of the failure to invest in dams (Victoria, for example, has had a 30% increase in population with no significant investment in new water infrastructure: surprise, surprise, there are urban water shortages) due to fear of “green” sentiment. The Greens support ludicrous planning policies which reduce capacity to protect against bushfires, ludicrous park management policies which increase the risk of catastrophic fires, etc. With few exceptions (the Tasmanian hydro strategy probably had gone past its use-by date), being “Green” is about appearing to care about the environment: it is a political and social marketing exercise, a congenial political and moral branding.
    And, the great thing about supporting dysfunctional environmental policies is they lead to policy failures which can then be blamed on failure to be sufficiently environmentally concerned! (Failure to build dams, or disastrous bushfires, are, after all, “obviously” the fault of climate change.) Justification through failure, what a winner.

  • 24
    Son of the Ratpack
    August 16th, 2010 13:07

    “Victoria, for example, has had a 30% increase in population with no significant investment in new water infrastructure”

    The Thompson Dam was supposed to drought proof Melbourne forever. At least, that’s how it was sold to the public at the time by the State Liberal Government. And, in any case, what is the about-to-be-built desalination plant, if not new water infrastructure?

  • 25
    Rajat Sood
    August 16th, 2010 13:15

    Re Higgins: Be careful Andrew – once you’ve come south of the river you can’t go back!

  • 26
    Son of the Ratpack
    August 16th, 2010 14:26

    Higgins = Armadale = pretentious.
    Stay in Carlton.

  • 27
    Peter Patton
    August 16th, 2010 15:07

    Well the fruit loops have just found another lazy $4.3 billion for a dentalcare. Given the non-stop lying machine that is The Greens isn’t there someway to jail them like Pauline was?

  • 28
    Peter Patton
    August 16th, 2010 16:54

    Thanks Andrew.

  • 29
    Jeremy
    August 16th, 2010 18:24

    Reversion to the mean, guys.

    After 11 years of reasonably sensible government, we’re due for our fill of deranged idiocy.

    Rudd, with his NBN, GroceryWatch, etc, was just Part I. And Julia with her Cash for Clunkers, etc, is just a continuation.

    The Greens will be the main course.

    Unpleasant as it will be, I can see a silver lining to the grey cloud that will be Hippie Overlordism.

    Lord Bob of the Barricades will actually have to make some tough decisions, and explain them to the public. This is never good for a Party of Moral Vanity. Look at what happened to the Democrats.

    Disillusion follows hard upon.

    Just pray that it won’t cost too much.

  • 30
    caf
    August 16th, 2010 22:07

    Well clearly the Greens have worse overall policies than the ALP from my perspective

    …but is it really that clear? In areas other than economics / business, the Greens seem to have the least state interventionist / most liberal policies. Examples include censorship and gay marriage.

    Do you tend to consider those sorts of issues to be “second-tier”?

  • 31
    caf
    August 16th, 2010 22:20

    Alex: I would argue that Engineering, like Law and Medicine, has a large body of complex underlying theory that must be mastered before on-the-job training can begin.

  • 32
    Mitch
    August 16th, 2010 23:45

    I don’t see any of the Greens stupider policies getting any real traction in the long term. I will be voting Greens as my first preference to signal a shift leftwards on social issues- such as gay marriage. I think it’ll also be a good learning experience for them to actually have the balance of power in the Senate.
    I’ll be preferencing Labor before the Liberals. I’m definitely right-leaning on all the important genuinely federal issues, except immigration. But the Lib’s campaign pitch seems to be, without offering any serious reform ideas themselves, that Labor’s been so terrible our only serious option is to go back to the Howard team. This is a bit of a stretch in my opinion.
    I voted Liberal in 07 after the prospect of Costello taking over mid-way through this term but Labor won and I still think it’s too soon to make a call on them. Julia Gillard has been my preference over Kevin Rudd since 2006 so I’d like to see how she’d govern.
    The Liberals are still to rebrand themselves for the 21st century. Turnbull was the logical leader to do so but instead we get a self described weather vane on policy playing politics with parental leave that his party doesn’t even support.

  • 33
    Andrew Elder
    August 17th, 2010 17:50

    I don’t see a strong link between Green policy and Green voting outcomes. Bandt could be the moderating influence the Greens need. In NSW all Greens are watermelons so a vote for someone like Bandt, di Natale, Rachel Siewert or Christine Milne is not possible as such candidates simply don’t make it through the dark satanic mill built by the Aarons family.

    Be suspicious of Labor voters who congratulate you for being ‘principled’ when what you actually have is a stick with which to beat them. Think about what Labor people did to classical and Deakinite Liberals a century ago, and curb your sympathy.

  • 34
    peter
    August 19th, 2010 00:29

    The best tactical Labor vote is for the Secular Party or Sex Party first, then liberals, then Labor. It achieves the same outcome as a liberal vote in terms of limiting the chance of a Green win, but means that the libs don’t pick up your $2.50 in taxpayer funds.

    I’m normally a Green voter – sure they are flakey and many policies are insane, but between climate change, refugee rights, and gay rights I can’t see a way to vote for one of the major parties. This time I felt the best thing was to keep Adam Bandt out. Electing a narcissistic socialist with no interest in the environment would strengthen all the bad elements of the greens, while keeping a progressive voice (on gay rights, refugee rights and climate change) out of the labor party.

  • 35
    Fran Barlow
    August 19th, 2010 05:16

    Declaration of Interest: I am actively campaigning for The Greens in NSW.

    I will come part of the way with you on higher ed. Andrew. More middle-class welfare we don’t need. I’d be inclined to require repayment at AFTWE. If people don’t average this in the seven years after debt is incurred and they graduate, the remainder of the debt is waived. If they pay above the requirement, their payments are deemed at 110%.

    Still, it’s not as if this aspect of Greens policy has the proverbial snowflake’s chance in hell of passing, so it is irrelevant. Far more important policies — such as a price on carbon for example — are far from probable — and yet this is probably the policy for which they are most recognised. Asylum seekers? Forget it. Gay Marriuage? No way. Nor is their policy for a much more equitable share of windfall mining profits likely to pass, even allowing that the government could pass it with Green support. No clean feed might get up because the Liberals are no against it too.

    So before one can realistically complain about their higher ed policy, one would have to show there was a rough chance of the government taking them up on it when the government has as yet not taken up a single Green policy and has dumped on policies they themselves had but which the Greens support.

  • 36
    Andrew Norton
    August 19th, 2010 07:18

    My vote will primarily be an ‘expressive’ vote, ranking the parties by their overall ideological distance from my own position. But there is a case for taking into most account those policies that may be the source of divided major party opinion. You are right that neither Labor nor Liberal will throw away $20 billion in student debt.

  • 37
    Fran Barlow
    August 19th, 2010 10:00

    And since the vote is symbolic since it cannot in practice, lead to the voctroy of my candidate and bearing in mind that the symbol is confused by the bipartisan character of the policies my candidate opposes, the only real value in my symbol is the refusal to endorse either party in a way that unmistakeably shows why I won’t endorse them.

    If all Greens in Melbourne voted informal by doing a Langer — exhausting both the majors at the same number while putting The Greens first and the other more progressive parties above, and the Liberals won after the green preferences collapsed for informality, even though there was a sympathetic ALP candidate, (ensuring the Liberal won) there would be only one possible interpretation.

  • 38
    JC
    August 19th, 2010 21:47

    So before one can realistically complain about their higher ed policy, one would have to show there was a rough chance of the government taking them up on it when the government has as yet not taken up a single Green policy and has dumped on policies they themselves had but which the Greens support

    That’s silly, Fran. NSW greens are now endorsing full blown Commies and you just dismiss that by saying don’t worry, vote for the loons because there’s no possible way their loonie policies will make it through.

    However they will influence the direction of policy through the parliament that can seriously damage the country.

    Playing the “they’re harmless” little hamsters routine isn’t going to cut.

  • 39
    Fran Barlow
    August 20th, 2010 07:35

    NSW greens are now endorsing full blown Commies

    No they aren’t, but even if they were, these “full blown commies” are going to finish far behind The Greens so it is not clear they are endorsing them. If there are “full blown commies” running in NSW they are orders of magnitude preferable to the Liberals and of course the rightwing nutbags in Climate Septics, One Notion, Christian Autocrats etc …

    The salient point to engage with though is what in practice does a vote for The Greens mean? For most, it means

    1. Take serious action on climate change (price on carbon, renewables) and the environment
    2. Humane treatment for irregular arrivals
    3. No clean feed; NBN
    4. Gay marriage reform
    5. More money for public schools hospitals and dental care
    6. Money for water buy back in Murray Darling

    Probably in that order.

    Realistically, of these only 3 and 6 are a serious probability (because the Liberals or the ALP support them. Number 1 is an outside chance

    They would block a return to workchoices if the Liberals win. They would try to block abandoning MRRT.

    So talking about fringe claims is silly, even if there is a hung parliament and Adam Bandt and Sam Byrnes are elected.
    It’s