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Notes: DENNIS ALTMAN AND BOB BROWN IN CONVERSATION


Fullers Bookshop, Hobart. Friday 23 September, 2016.



Traditionally, Australian progressives have supported the Australian Labor Party; increasingly, the Greens appeal. What are the key differences between the parties? Is greater collaboration desirable? Is it likely?

Some progressives remain strongly committed to Labor or the Greens. Others have abandoned one or other of the parties from bitter experience. Others still are genuinely undecided, or seek to promote greater understanding and cooperation.

Dennis Altman and Sean Scalmer edited a collection of essays written by a diverse range of experts, entitled How to vote progressive in Australia: Labor or Green? (Monash University Publishing). Dennis spoke to Bob Brown about the book.



Brown and Altman


We’re very pleased this evening to have Bob Brown in conversation with Dennis Altman. Talking to Dennis before we started he said the worst thing about coming back to Hobart is that everybody seems to be forty years older than when he was last here ... but that’s what happens when you don’t live in a place for a while.



BOB BROWN

This is going to be a terrific get-together, have your questions ready at the end. I can introduce Dennis - one of our greatest exports from Tasmania, listed as one of the 100 great Australians of all time with an Order of Australia – by saying he's a great social progressive and a great contributor to the transformation of Australia which we’ve seen in the last half century towards much more egalitarian and liveable places for people who’ve faced all sorts of discrimination. Most of the population did in one way or another, back then to now. It is a transformed society but there’s a long way to go. And we see the backwash of that all the time, we’re witnessing a little bit of that in federal parliament at the moment. But that’s on to the side. Our guest tonight is you Dennis, and I might kick off by asking you: how come this book? How to vote progressive in Australia, Labor or Green. Goodness me: is there a question?




DENNIS ALTMAN

Let me start by saying, how wonderful it is to be here, for two reasons. One is to be on the platform with Bob – well, on rickety stools with Bob - and the other is to be back in Hobart, which does have a whole set of layers of memory, some of which I suspect I might share with some of you in question time.


Look, the book really grew out of my own deep political ambivalences. I grew up as a gut Labor supporter. I vividly remember my matriculation class at Friends School - there were fifty of us doing matric, five of us were Labor supporters. It’s odd isn’t it how you remember those things, but I do. And for me, voting Labor was just part of what you did. And it was really only over the last decade that my faith in Labor started to be shaken, and Bob you get a lot of credit for that - perhaps not from the Labor Party – but you did pioneer and establish a political party that was able to challenge many of us, who felt we were on the Left, who believed in social justice; and we saw the Labor Party as selling out on some issues. And for me the key and crucial issue was asylum seekers. As it was for many people. And so, in conversations with my co-editor, Sean Scalmer, who is a Professor of History at Melbourne University, and with our editor at Monash University Press, Nathan Hollier, we decided that there was a conversation that we needed to have. Now I’m going to be the first to admit, it’s very much an inner-Melbourne conversation. And you may want to reflect on this Bob, the way in which inner-Melbourne has now become ...


BROWN

I think it’s a very inner-Hobart conversation too. And maybe outer-Hobart….


ALTMAN

Yes, I think you’re right. But would you have predicted when the party began that your electoral base would in a sense move to inner-Melbourne … ?


BROWN

Well, I think it is inner-Hobart effectively, and yes the inner parts of the big cities. In part, in part….



ALTMAN

I was saying to Bob before, in the last election - we had some very easy choices, I have to say; the Labor Party really should be congratulated for giving us some extraordinary duds in the inner-Melbourne city electorates, as you well know because I know you were there, at one point, campaigning with my mate Jason Hall, I think, in Higgins - interestingly, in the one seat where it did look as if there was real prospect of the Greens unseating a Liberal, which would have been extraordinary had it happened.


But going back, I think the book really grew out of a sense that many of us were torn. And I want to say what I think for me the dilemma is, and I’d really like to get Bob’s take on this. The dilemma is that when we vote in an Australian election, we’re simultaneously voting for the next government, and for our local member. And in the last election - all the elections in fact that we are likely to remember - the only alternative to the conservatives has been a Labor Government. So the dilemma is, when you have – as we did in my electorate – a much stronger and more attractive Greens candidate: do you vote for that person, which I have done now for the last two elections, or do you vote hoping to push the Labor Party? Do you work within the Labor Party because if they form government, one wants to have influence within them? And that to me is the central dilemma, it’s a dilemma not so much of voting but to where you put your political energy.


BROWN

Well surely the answer to that is, and it was demonstrated in the Gillard years, that if you had a majority of one due to the Labor Party having a majority, there would have been no reform on climate change, for example, or no national denticare for children; but because you had a Green sitting there in the form of Adam Bandt, Labor had to move not across to the Right, but to the Left. And it had to make those concessions to stay there. And surely it is much more powerful to have some Greens in there influencing Labor than to have a number of Labor people elected who have to do what they’re told. You remember, Labor members cannot cross the floor, cannot vote against what their party’s doing – or they’re out, effectively. So: much more powerful to have a Green, and Greens with the balance of power with Labor in office, if you’re progressive - and there’s a great essay on what is progressive by Carmen Lawrence in this book - than simply to have wall-to-wall Labor in a majority, don’t you think?


ALTMAN

I would agree with that. It’s a great question, and a great dilemma.


BROWN

There’s – what: twenty contributors or so to the book? If you’re a progressive voter, should you vote Labor or Green? At the end of the book what’s the answer?


ALTMAN

Well, we very carefully didn’t want to give an answer.


BROWN

But the reader wants to have one.


ALTMAN

Indeed. But it’s not Agatha Christie, we don’t need to know who did it….




I think you’ve given the answer at one level. And for me at an electoral level in the last election – in the last several elections – it’s not been very difficult. And we of course also have in Australia an upper house so we get to vote as well for a senate. But for me the real question – and it is a genuine question I don’t have an answer to - is my fear that if all the good progressive people leave the Labor Party, that the Labor Party remains as the alternative government, what sort of government will we have? And that to me is a genuine dilemma to which I don’t have a single answer. The Greens will presumably say, we can supplant Labor. Yes, if you get the balance of power, that’s terrific. But with one member of the House of Representatives, that isn’t very likely to happen. It happened once, I can’t see it happening again.


BROWN

Oh I can. You really can’t?


ALTMAN

No.


BROWN

And you were in Melbourne, where there were three or four Greens who came within a whisker of winning seats at this election. And the high chance that that will move a step further and a number of those will go to the Greens at the next election. You can’t see that happening? Why not? Is it something about the current makeup of the Greens or is that Labor’s going to suddenly become progressive again?


ALTMAN

My hunch is - and this goes against what I would like to believe, as somebody who worked for several of those Greens’ candidates…. My hunch is that the Greens’ vote has probably peaked. My pessimistic sense is that the likelihood of any more seats going Green is fairly low, I think that is a much higher likelihood at a state level - and certainly balance of power at a state level in Tasmania is very possible – and that’s good. At a federal level I really doubt it.

BROWN

See that’s the difference between Labor and the Greens – pessimism versus optimism. That is very pessimistic…. But you know, Dennis, people have been saying that the Greens’ vote has peaked for the last twenty years. It plateaus at times, and it even goes backwards at times, but then it keeps growing again and you get a new burst…. In the Tasmanian parliamentary lineup, we went back to having one member when Peg Putt survived the Labor / Liberal get-together to cut the Greens out in 1998 and we can expect that Labor and Liberal will get together to cut the Greens out in preferencing as we saw in Melbourne and elsewhere. But isn’t that really the story of it all? There’s an essay in the book by Adam Bandt pointing to the German experience, and Germany for most of the last decade has had a Labor / Liberal Government, with the Greens in opposition, because that’s what natural. Don’t you think that’s the case?


ALTMAN

If my mate Jason Ball - the Greens’ candidate in Higgins - were here, he would say that generational change is on the side of the Greens. And I think that’s a powerful argument, there is some evidence to suggest that as the population changes, there will be an increase in the Greens’ vote. A lot depends on what sort of re-distribution happens, because there will be a redistribution in Victoria, I think, before the next election. You could draw boundaries immediately to create three or four seats which the Greens would clearly be able to win. You could also draw boundaries to make sure they don’t. I don’t know what the electoral commission will do.


I think what you say is possible, and I think this is why it is so difficult, because even if – let’s assume you can get three or four Greens’ members in the lower house … that also assumes that those three or four have the balance of power. That’s a gamble: I don’t know. Meanwhile, what happens to the Labor Party? Do we say we give up on the Labor Party, which is to say we’re giving up on the party that is most likely to form government? That to me is a genuine question.


BROWN

Well I’m being a devil’s advocate, but Petra Kelly, the great formative German Green, came here in 1984 after she’d worked on Robert Kennedy’s presidential candidature in the United States, and with the Social Democrats in Germany, and she said that the consistent thing is that the established social democrats, ie Labor Party, put on their green spots in opposition and shed them in government, and there is only one way to get around that and that is to have an option that doesn’t do that; hence, the Greens. And she had come to that realisation back in the late 1970’s. But here we have people still struggling with the hope that Labor will somehow become a green progressive party, will suddenly somehow stand up to the multinational corporations that run the show in an age of neo-liberalism and will become progressive in an environmental sense as well as the social sense. And it’s not going to happen, is it?


ALTMAN

No. Well I think Labor is going to become more progressive on social issues because there’s a declining influence of the old Catholic right wing, they’re not going to be as progressive as I think most of us would like on major economic issues, and they’re certainly not going to say things like we will stop coal-mining, which is a central issue where I think there is a real, very clearly marked distinction….


BROWN

Just if I may: why are they not going to say things like ‘we’ll stop coal mining’, because isn’t the fate of the planet dependent on it?


ALTMAN

Well, I’m deliberately trying, because I’m speaking with you Bob ... if I were here with Anthony Albanese, I’d probably be arguing slightly differently….


BROWN

Unfortunately I haven’t been asked to interview him.


ALTMAN

Well, in fact, there was almost an event in Sydney where I was supposed to be sitting between Anthony Albanese and Adam Bandt, and I was rather nervous about that. I think the Labor Party decided they did not want to give the Greens oxygen in the last campaign, which you would understand – you may not approve of, but you would understand - so that event didn’t happen.


Look I think that what is happening in Europe is clearly a major decline in the social democrats, the old social democrats / labour parties, there is virtually no European country where that is not happening. I wouldn’t necessarily assume that will follow here. And that’s why I think it’s a genuine dilemma. I think the Labor Party...


BROWN

But Dennis, isn’t that what’s happened here?


ALTMAN

Well it’s happened here in the sense that Labor cannot win an election with an absolute majority of the votes. Certainly, that has happened here.


BROWN

But hasn’t also the fact that Labor has given up its devout defence of workers and equality and the downtrodden and poor, aiming for a socialist economy? That’s right out the window. Two people in your book mentioned Julia Gillard’s speech where she said, we’re not a unionist party, we’re not a social democrat party, we’re not this, we’re not that, we’re Labor - whatever that means. It was a disavowal of the very roots of the Labor Party’s origins.


ALTMAN

Yes, and I’m one of the two people…. But that still leaves open the question of, how does the slightly under 50% of Australia who do not support the sort of government that the Liberal / National coalition is likely to offer - how are they likely to vote? And there I don’t see, at least in the medium term, a move away from Labor as the alternative government. I would like it, I would certainly prefer a Labor government that is dependent on someone like Adam sitting in the House, and I would hope there were more people like Adam. But if the Labor Party is going to be the party forming government, I think we cannot just write them off, we need to have a strategy that engages with the Labor Party, and pushes them. And I actually think that the Labor party at the moment is somewhat more progressive than it was under Rudd and Gillard. I do see shifts going on that make me therefore feel I’m not yet willing to totally draw the curtain.


BROWN

A couple of people that get mentioned in the book are Martin Ferguson who came from the Left - whose seat almost went to the Greens, as you’ll know, at this last election - who was a great opponent of Julia Gillard bringing in reform to address climate change when I was in there. On one occasion there was a great blazing row between the two as he tried to block renewable industry getting the backup that it got. He’s now gone off to be a senior figure in the fossil fuel industry. And then we’ve got our friend who was the minister for renewable energy, Greg Combet - great supporter of the Greens’ push to get this historic package which would put Australia at the front of parliamentary moves to combat climate change in 2013 - who's gone off to a big job in the fossil fuel industry. I mean, it’s in their blood. How are you going to eradicate that?

ALTMAN

Well … I don’t think political views are in anyone’s blood. I take your point about the people you mention. And I’ve already made this point, that I can’t see the Labor Party again in the foreseeable future giving up their liking for coal. I think they’ve been very clear about that.


But, I come back.… I’m not necessarily talking about what I would like to see happen. In an ideal world I would want to see the Greens in a situation where they could form a government. But we’re not in an ideal world, and in the world we’re in, I’m concerned about who are the most likely alternatives to form a government, given how appalling I see the current Turnbull / Abbott – and I’m prepared to say we could now start talking about the Abbott / Turnbull / Abbot government, I think we have an historical precedent for that? I think Bob it’s a genuine dilemma. I don’t think you and I necessarily disagree about all the defects of the Labor Party. What I’m saying is, if they are likely to be the major force in an alternative government, we have to work with them. Now, how we find ways of both working with them and strengthening the Greens in those areas where the Greens have realistic chances of winning, seems to me a major political question we need to be addressing.


BROWN

I think that’s true, and I think the Green Labor Accord from 1989 is an example of that, and we’ve seen some better and some worse outcomes since then. When people elect you to office, they want you to use your power. Nobody wants you to be a shrinking violet, they’re not going to vote for you if you are. So having got the power you have to use it. But you have to also take the public into confidence, so surely isn’t the best thing for the Greens to work with Labor - I can’t see this happening with the Coalition any time soon - to get a series of breakthroughs as we did with Julia Gillard in 2013, and put it in the public arena? And I can tell you that Labor hated that. They were happy to have the Agreement, but to go out in public and sign it in front of the television cameras, well that was perhaps one of the most difficult things to negotiate about that Agreement. But you have to. Because if you don’t have the public in there, knowing what you’ve asked for, the agreement will be welshed on very very quickly.


But isn’t the problem that the Greens are becoming very much more resolute about the real issues the country’s facing? I mean there are stand-alones on refugees at the moment - Labor’s gone with the Coalition. And the stand-alones on basic climate change policy: witness coal mines ... isn’t the real dilemma going to be not for the Greens – they can work out an arrangement that will give Labor office - but for Labor which is going to have a large section of it saying we’d be much more comfortable going into an arrangement with the Coalition, that we feel easier with the Coalition than we do with the Greens?


ALTMAN

Let me make a couple of comments about that. Adam, as you point out, does mention the German example and the possibility of a Labor / Liberal, whether formal or informal, pact. I don’t think that’s likely to happen. One of the reasons that I guess I don’t give up on the Labor Party is that in the middle of the year I was sent to the Labor National Congress, I was actually there as Michelle Grattan’s handbag. Literally. I was sent there by The Conversation. What struck me at the Labor National Conference was the large number of young activists who are working through the Labor Party. Now I’m equally struck by the large number of young activists whom I’ve met who are working for the Greens. My basic point is that, on both sides – and as someone who is totally schizophrenic on this – I have mixed with both Labor and Greens activists. And the distance between them is often not very great.

I agree with you Bob, the control by the machine guys at the top of the Labor Party gives rise to everything you’ve said. But there is I think a possibility that I’m not prepared to write off of a new generation of Labor activists, and what we need to do is find a way of stopping the venom that too often has come out. And I agree with you about this, it’s been essentially – very much - Labor venom directed at the Greens. There were some very unpleasant examples of that at the last election where you felt the Labor Party had forgotten who their real opponents were.


BROWN

Yes, Andrew Giles has written a chapter in the book which basically says that the Greens have simply taken different policies to Labor – and one of those is on asylum seekers - to make it hard for Labor … the cynical lot of Greens who have sat down and worked out what’s going to be an awkward policy if they adopt and Labor hasn’t got it. I mean, that’s a failure to understand that in a democracy if you don’t put forward policies that you believe in that the public is going to accept that someone else has a very great right to do that and in a heartfelt way. I might add that the Liberal Party is full of young activists too….


ALTMAN

I’ve also met some of the young activists in the Liberal Party and they terrify me. Seriously. I mean, the young activists in the Liberal Party are pushing the party to the right. The young activists in the Labor Party are not. I think there is a real difference.


BROWN

Is not one of the solutions then for the Labor Party simply to adopt Greens’ policies lock stock and barrel and have done with it! Get rid of the Greens. Why don’t they do that?


ALTMAN

Well they’re not going to do that.


BROWN

Why not?


ALTMAN

They’re not going to do that. I’m just pointing to what I think are some difficult political questions, that we are not going to get progress or progressive policies of any sort from a Liberal / National Party government.


Maybe I can just say something about the itinerary of this book. This book began when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister and there was a real fear that his pulling of Australia to the Right was going to be very successful. Abbott’s reign declined. We were putting the book together when Turnbull came in which is why we asked Peter Van Onselem as someone who’s a Liberal supporter, to actually muse on the possibility that the best hope for progressive policies in Australia was the Turnbull Liberals. Luckily Peter doesn’t think that’s case, and I don’t think any of us now think that’s even a plausible argument.


We are inevitably going to have to talk about marriage, safe schools and the rest of it because I think people would like us to – but that bothers me, that worries me. And so the real question for all of us who do not support that type of right wing politics is how do we get a decent amount of cooperation and discussion among those of us who want to change it. And that would include dealing with people who are deeply and emotionally committed to Labor, and deeply and emotionally committed to the Greens. And I have friends who scream abuse at me from both of those positions because I am so bipolar in my politics.


BROWN

The real question here is, Labor’s got to paddle its own canoe, the Greens have! If getting together - because both are in minority - makes majority, then they should work it out.


I think it’s about time we went across and asked for questions from all of you, but I’ll just say Dennis, I think the book is a marvellous aid for people who want to understand modern political movements in Australia, not least those with an interest in the evolution of the Greens. And there are a few peripatetic nomads - if that’s not a tautology of some sort – in the book; like Felicity Wade – wandering from here to somewhere else. And trying to change Labor from inside. It’s a big question. Do you change Labor from inside or do you face the music and say, it isn’t changeable, I’ll go with it, or I’ll go with the Greens. Well we might take a question.


NEW QUESTION

How can you hope to have any influence over the Labor party when it’s a party of pragmatists?


BROWN

Okay … how to be pragmatic and move Left?


ALTMAN

You know, you have a state government in Victoria that has done a number of quite impressive progressive things. And it’s done some terrible things. What has been interesting is that the Andrews government has been willing to push on issues that are highly controversial - like safer schools, and now euthanasia - that are clearly different from what we would get from a Liberal government. Now some of this I’m prepared to give credit to the Greens in the Upper House in Victoria. And indeed to the Sex Party: the one Sex Party member in the Upper House in Victoria is probably the most effective single legislator in Victoria. But it does suggest to me that a) there’s a real difference on some issues between the two major parties in Victoria, and b) I’m not going to give up total hope in Labor.


BROWN

Ellen Sandell, the member for Melbourne Greens in the lower house in Victoria, says in her contribution that two bills including one on euthanasia have been blocked by Labor – the government – in the House on the first reading. Now I remember in Tasmania – it was Freedom of Information, in 1985 – and Robin Gray, the then Liberal Premier blocked the first reading. There was such a huge outcry about this, because what that means is that the bill cannot be explained to the parliament, it gets blocked before it’s even heard on the floor of the parliament what it’s about. And he had to rescind a week later, there was such a furore. Now here’s Ellen Sandell saying that that’s become part of what Labor does to Green bills in the lower house in Victoria. How come? How can you block a first reading in a democratic parliament so that the bill isn’t even allowed to come in to the parliament to be debated? You can block a second reading or you can keep it on the table, but how can you …


ALTMAN

You’re not asking me to defend the indefensible….


BROWN

We agree. Next question?


NEW QUESTION

I can’t wait to read the book, but I’m interested in – just from the title, and the discussion today – the binary you present for progressive voters – Labor or the Greens – and here we sit in Denison where a progressive voter has clearly, for two elections now, made a progressive choice for a candidate who is neither. In fact, when it comes to holding government, I agree I don’t see the Labor Party will ever again hold a majority government, they will always have to do it in conjunction with others – and I wonder about the possibility that a dishevelled array of independants may always be a more attractive option, in some sense, than the Greens for partners in doing that. And so I wonder – from both of you, actually - what that means for Labor and the Greens when it comes to speaking to and attracting progressive voters.


ALTMAN

You know it’s a really interesting question, and I wonder if any of you saw a Jenny Brockie 'Insight' program where Jenny spoke to people who voted independent and hadn’t voted for the major parties. And somehow the Greens got totally written out of the script…


BROWN

Not with Jenny Brockie….


ALTMAN

I’m afraid with Jenny Brockie, yes.


BROWN

… who’s never asked me onto her program.


ALTMAN

But that was the point, wasn’t it? Somehow the Greens were neither seen as a major party nor as …


QUESTIONER

Perhaps because a vote for the Greens is no longer seen as a progressive vote.


BROWN

By the media…. Not by the public!


QUESTIONER

Well I don’t know about that Bob actually, no, I would dispute that in many senses.


BROWN

Here’s one of the things you might comment on Dennis.… If you don’t have a party you don’t have longevity. Independents last as long as they have the seat, and then it goes back to a party. Whereas a party gives longevity. In the Greens there’s longevity …


QUESTIONER

Or maybe it goes to another independent. Once Andrew Wilkie runs his term, who will come next?


ALTMAN

We’ve seen …


QUESTIONER

I know, in the past. But we’re looking in to the future. We don’t quite know yet.


ALTMAN

I’m deeply sceptical of independents, I’m on Bob’s side on this.


BROWN

New question … up the back?


NEW QUESTION

I’m also interested in the choices for progressive voters – and I’m looking and thinking about the New Zealand experience, for example where – in the eighties – the progressive side of politics decided that the competitive nature of politics was the problem and the lack of a democratic system that allowed multiple voices along with a collaborative negotiating style of politics. And they decided that they would all campaign – unions, greenies, the not-for-profit sector – to stop trying to just influence the current structure and to move to a proportional representative system. It does have a majority but it’s a much more – I think – collaborative political culture, so much so that Labor and the Greens have entered into a pre-election agreement to work together, and at least to not be doing silly childhood things – I won’t talk to you and I won’t acknowledge you’re there. I mean, don’t we actually need if we’re progressive voters, don’t we need to campaign, not just for one party or the other, but to think about the actual structure of our political culture and our political system and make that more collaborative so that there can be a range of voices all working together for progressive politics?


ALTMAN

I would love that, and I think that the basic point – that if we had proportional representation, the idea of collaboration becomes much easier – is actually correct. But of course in Tasmania there was the rather unpleasant experience, wasn’t there, of the major parties combining to shrink the size of the House because they didn’t like what proportional representation gave them? So it’s going to be an uphill battle. But I totally agree. I think there are increasing numbers of people who can see the two major parties between them are now getting 70% of the vote. The argument for proportional representation has a strength it didn’t have in the past.


NEW QUESTION

Are either of you, given the increasing fragmentation of political parties generally, are you concerned at all that perhaps political parties are in fact becoming increasingly obsolete as their gross vote drops and the encouragement therefore of independents who are largely articulate – and do try … do you think they will in the future have a greater say for the benefit of Australia? Do you therefore feel that the progressive parties of the Left now – the Greens, and the Labor Party to some extent – are therefore threatened?


BROWN

Are the Greens and the Labor Party threatened? Look I think all parties are threatened, and I think independents are threatened, because they don’t stay there. But I’ve always welcomed new parties, and independents, Andrew Wilkie got a good schooling with the Greens; he’s become a very popular progressive independent in Denison. I think it’s a good thing: the more options that people have, the better. And it’s over to the voters….


NEW QUESTION

Dennis, I’m looking at the title, you’ve got Labor or the Greens, 1) that suggests there has to be competition between them, and 2) it overlooks the fact that many of us vote for both Labor and the Greens – and in my family situation, that’s an imperative. What I want to put to you is what has happened to social democracy throughout Europe. When social democratic parties break down, they don’t go left, they go right. And the Brexit vote in Britain, the rise of Trump, and the emergence of Marine Le Pen who gets so many of her votes from working class, communist electorates. So it seems to me that without a strong and continuing social democratic party, the chances are you’ll end up with xenophobia and right-wing truth.


ALTMAN

I’m not absolutely sure, but I think that we can turn the whole script around and say what is strong about Australia is the continued strength of the Labor Party, rather than its weakness. The fact that - yes, it depends heavily on Greens’ preferences – but it came close to being re-elected, it holds power now in a majority of states. That actually suggests to me that the Labor Party is not on the way out. The comparisons … I think we have to take Trump, Brexit and Marine le Pen quite separately, I mean I know we lump them together for all sorts of good reasons, but analytically I think there are quite different factors going on. So maybe for once – and this goes back to a previous question – instead of constantly talking about the 25% of Australians who don’t support the major parties, we should talk about the 70% plus who do. And say this is actually quite extraordinary. And in that sense the Labor Party has survived much better than I think some of us could have expected after the 2013 election.


NEW QUESTION

Specifically for Dennis – because I suspect I know what Bob’s answer would be – if you turned around the question of your title, rather than ‘to vote for’ but were instead to ask … if you were a progressive with political ambitions, which avenue should you pursue? Should you pursue it through the Greens Party, or Labor, or indeed independent, knowing what you know about the philosophies of those two parties, but also the structure of preselection of those two parties? Which avenue would you pursue to advance progressive ideas?

ALTMAN

Could I add one other thing to this five or twenty? It’s a really interesting question, and I honestly don’t know the answer. I think when we began putting this collection together, I would have leant much more to Bob’s position. I think I now lean more towards the possibility of working with the Labor Party, and that comes out of a weird mix of optimism – that is, optimism that yes the Labor Party with all its flaws can change - and pessimism: that is, the overall political mood in Australia and the apparent success of the Right in capturing and controlling the Liberal Party, even at the time when someone who’s seen to be at the smaller Liberal end of that party is losing it. So for those two reasons, I think – Bob wanted me to have an answer – I think in the end I come to: it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be hard and I’m stil going to vote Green when my choice is between Natale and David Feeney but I think we have to work through the Labor Prty because they are the most likely to govern. And I want to influence what they do as a government.

BROWN

That’s the Peter Garrett answer….


NEW QUESTION

I’d like to say we haven’t discussed climate change very much, and yet in Tasmania we see floods, we’ve seen all-time huge fires, we’re seen terrible costs for electricity through dirty diesel etc. Can’t you see the possibility of maybe the National Party and the Greens also forming alliances in the future? Climate change itself will give a lot of impetus and the fact that many farmers are very conerned and would make a natural – maybe not on social justice issues, but on climate change – a natural partnership with the Greens.


ALTMAN

I think that’s what happened in Ballina in northern NSW….


BROWN

Yes, along came coal seam gas, and the Greens won the coalition seat.


ALTMAN

But I don’t think there’s going to be a coalition between the National Party and the Greens.


NEW QUESTION

I think the historic antagonism or hatred by the Labor Party towards the Greens has been much more destructive for the Labor Party than the Greens. But I think – particularly among young people – they desire more accord between Labor and Greens. And I wonder when Labor will ever confront and acknowledge that antagonism and do something about it, because I think people want to see a bit more communication between them.


ALTMAN

Not only do I think that you’re right, but actually I had a couple of experiences during the campaign where at polling booths, the Labor and the Greens people mixed, knew each other, shared values and were clearly so set apart – physically and emotionally and ideologically – from the people who were there handing out for the Liberal Party. But I have to say, in all fairness to the Liberal Party, it was in a part of Melbourne which I suspect the Liberal canvassers are paid to do it.


QUESTIONER

But do you think Labor is capable of confronting….


ALTMAN

I know there are people in the Labor Party who are. And I think there are people in the Labor Party who are basically scared for their own seats, I can think of several Labor members for whom I’ve actually a lot of respect whose venom against the Greens comes down to self-interest. The Greens are their real threat. But I agree with you – that’s what we all want.


Ralph Wessman, October 2016