22 October 2015

Greening Australia

Politics in the Pub and the Australia Institute now seems to be the right audience for the Greens, given Labor's small targets and indecisions. So it was that this PitP was on the fourth floor, a larger room used when the RSVPs are many. I guess many wanted to see Richard Di Natale, this new Greens leader, in the flesh. He seems a likeable, sensible, concerned, undogmatic type on teev and he has a history as a doctor with conscience so that fits. In the end, I felt very comfortable with his simple and surprisingly centrist presentation: recognising science, economics, the "real world" that's not one of finance and slogans and ideology. Away from the myths of the "lifters" (who do money while the "leaners" actually do work) and the entitled failures who fob off to a comfy bolt hole in Washington DC. But I digress. We were introduced to Richard then he spoke broadly of issues. Health is a function of many things. The economy is just a means to an end, but is important for important ends. An economy is just a tool. A transition to a future Australia, of innovation, intellect, education and the rest. How Turnbull was received with a sigh of relief now must prove himself different. but he's started will. How he needs a plan to manage climate change and transition. How climate is the greatest market fialure (quoting Stern) and of the benefits of acting now (we've lost benefits of acting earlier and Abbott even threw benefits away). How after Trudeau, Australia's position will be "nothing short of embarrassing" at Paris. Of some good news of transition (Geelong, and more). Of coal's structural decline and Adani and Liverpool Plains and the battle of past and present that was Abbott. Of the successes of ARENA and CEFC. Of growth but also distribution. Of expenditures, eg, on medicine, as choices of a rich community, esp given our comparison with the US's privatised health (National health expenditures: Aust 9% of GDP; US 17% of GDP; the American option can be nothing but ideological given these figures). Of intelligent policy: in military expenditure (Trudeau's first action as to cancel Canada's JSF purchase); in taxation (fix tax avoidance, then consider GST).

Then some questions. Placing the economy more prominently is a deliberate choice to disabuse notions of Green incompetence; Greens consider the purpose of economic measures, for the Government it's an article of faith. Greens support free education and education as a priority, but recognise this is a longer term goal. But it's essential for Australia's future. He was asked about Labor's policy and responded "what is it?". Renewable energy is popular. There's a history of bad decisions in Defence: a debate is necessary, but things can change quickly. Labor and Greens may work together, but coalition is not an option and some Labor members see Greens as a threat. Automation of jobs will require structural change and government must support people in transition. Someone asked about expenditure on health in final years of life. Di Natale responded that the medical profession needs to deal much better with its own failure here (interesting and sensible response). Then marriage equality (why not a free vote) and budget surpluses vs investment in infrastructure when interest rates are low. Privacy and metadata retention, interestingly from an ex-Communist country resident (oh, Labor supported that; shame on Labor; I've written my email to Shorten on that one). Di Natale: "if you have it, you'll use it" and "we share your concerns". (Good on Greens; I've got my VPN but it costs and so will the extra charges from our ISPs for keeping all this metadata).

I liked this man. He seemed informed, even and balanced, concerned about issues that matter and prepared to question some dictums, eg, that economics is all and defence can't be questioned. Richard Di Natale spoke at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute.

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