Media demand an invite to Greens conferences

I don’t agree that Lee Rhiannon should’ve conceded this point to Uhlmann so readily:

CHRIS UHLMANN: You are in fact the only Australian political party which doesn’t allow access to its conferences.

LEE RHIANNON: I don’t think that’s actually probably true. I think you’ll probably mean of all the parliamentary parties.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Certainly you are a parliamentary party?

LEE RHIANNON: Yes, now a parliamentary party but when you said political parties I think there’s others that have closed doors.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But as a parliamentary party don’t you believe the media should have access to your…

LEE RHIANNON: That’s what I just said, I think there is room for us to change how we work here, and it’s an issue I have discussed with my colleagues. I think there is a real need to be more open and one always needs to reflect on how we can improve our own work.

The thing is, there are two main approaches to party democracy.

There’s the American system, where you have two pretty much permanent unchallengeable parties (with first past the post and no preference system, it’s virtually impossible for any new party to challenge them; as you grow, you cannibalise the big party that’s closest to you and put the big party you dislike the most into power). The two established parties become, effectively, government institutions. So those two parties supposedly contain all the different viewpoints, the vast spectrum on “left” and “right”, within them. There are only two parties, but they have very broad bases – because the entire population is expected to pick one or the other. This also means that you never know in advance what particular position such a party will take on an issue, because it depends on the internal makeup at any particular time.

This is the system that the Labor and Liberal parties here like to emulate.

In that system, it makes sense for the media to have full access to those parties’ conferences, because that’s where the democracy actually happens. In the election, it’s just a choice between two (often very similar) choices. What those choices are – that’s what is decided in the party conferences, or primaries.

So if you believe we have to have a Labor or Liberal government, then we need to know what the numbers are internally. We need to know whether they’re presently representing the views of the left, or the right. Note that we never see the internal faction conferences – and the bigger ALP and Liberal party factions are probably about the same size as the Greens – but we get to see, sort of, what happens when they thrash out what the policy of the whole party is going to be. And that makes sense, because that’s effectively like a limited parliament where the decisions are actually made.

The second approach to party democracy is one where the parties themselves are smaller and represent specific views. They don’t try to encompass opposite sides of the spectrum simultaneously. Where instead of groups A, B and C being contained within the Labor Party and groups D, E and F being contained within the Liberal Party, those groups are parties in their own right and the debates on policy take place in parliament. (This also means that just because A, B, and C agree on one issue, it doesn’t mean that they are lumped together on another – A, D and E might agree on a social issue, but with the big party system they’re prevented from voting together.)

Anyway, my point is that the Greens are an ideological grouping more like the factions within the big parties. They’re largely on the same side. The main effect of inviting the media in would be to create further factions within the Greens and start the party down the path to becoming just like the big parties. It would enable the media to focus on personality instead of policy. It would mean that the real policy decisions are, as they are in the big parties, made in another forum before the conferences. Refining a position is never effectively done in the full glare of the media – not by the Greens, not by any political party.

I’d rather the parties sorted out their positions and their candidates in their own time, and then presented their views for us, the voters, to choose between. And then they’d debate and negotiate, party to party, in parliament.

The extra scrutiny required of the internal workings of the big parties only comes from the fact that they appear to be, for many, the permanent institutions of government. As soon as that assumption changes, my need to know what they do internally will vanish as well.

And if you want to influence Greens policy, there’s nothing stopping you joining the party and going along to the conferences yourself.

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7 responses to “Media demand an invite to Greens conferences

  1. Pingback: “Scrutiny” | Pure Poison

  2. jordanrastrick

    (with first past the post and no preference system, it’s virtually impossible for any new party to challenge them;)

    If you count the Coalition as a single bloc, then I believe the Liberal Dems in the UK have achieved a higher lower house representation than any third party in Australia.

    And I’d actually agree there’s no need for the public to be privy to internal Greens debates before they arrive at a position, if they could be held accountable for the policies they have published, and they provided more detail about them.

  3. “and they provided more detail about them.”

    http://greens.org.au/policies

    Full PDF’s of every policy, in more detail than you can probably handle. Detail is not something that is lacking. Honest reporting of that detail is what is lacking, which isn’t the Greens’ fault.

  4. narcoticmusing

    Oh please, neither party allows ANY external person to the meetings where real debate occurs – a cabient or shadow cabinet meeting; no one can go to caucus meetings.

    The party meetings they invite the media to are designed for public consumption, there is no real debate.

  5. jordanrastrick

    Full PDF’s of every policy, in more detail than you can probably handle. Detail is not something that is lacking.

    Lol. A three page list of bullet points on, for instance, the economy, a substantial portion of which are vague, is not what I’d consider overwhelming detail; I’ve personally written more substantial documents on ideas that pertain to a single taxation measure, largely for my own gratification.

    Take their “move in the long term from taxes on work to taxes on resources and pollution.” There is no real exposition of what this means, which is probably because if you understand this policy area and put any serious thought into such a suggestion, you realise it must either actually lead to quite a minor change to the structure of the economy, or else if intended to be a major reform must be one of the worst notions to come out of a serious political party in Australia. Of course its far too unspecific to say exactly what the Greens have in mind.

    The other problem with the policy laundry list is that Greens supporters such as Jeremy don’t think we should hold the Greens accountable for them; I was specifically and repeatedly advised in the lead up to the last election to ignore the more idiotic measures suggested there, as the Greens were too small a group to have gotten around to taking all the silly crap down. Of course I think most or all of the stuff is still there to this day.

    Now I’m sure the party’s official position is that I should take those documents perfectly seriously. But naturally its a bit of a double bind for the Greens; they’re damned if they don’t intend for all those policies to mean something, but they’re even more damned if they do.

  6. I might put up a thread where we look at the Greens policies and find the ones they should probably drop, that wouldn’t even have majority support within the party. I don’t think they should sell out their main principles in the pursuit of votes – but any weird little side notes that are only there because someone popped them in the platform when the party was tiny, should go. If they haven’t already.

    I don’t demand semi-prepared legislation from them, though, because it’s (a) beyond their resources as a small party and (b) they’re not going to get to a position where they can implement them any time soon. At the moment the main aim is to have progressive changes made to the other parties’ policies, and a general philosophical framework made clear so we know what sort of things they’ll vote for and what they’ll vote against.

  7. jordanrastrick

    I might put up a thread where we look at the Greens policies and find the ones they should probably drop, that wouldn’t even have majority support within the party

    That would be admirable, and I look forward to hopefully participating in that discussion. If the Greens were to drop some of their goofier ideas, I could vote for them more regularly, and with fewer reservations.

    I don’t demand semi-prepared legislation from them, though, because it’s (a) beyond their resources as a small party and (b) they’re not going to get to a position where they can implement them any time soon.

    On b), they’re in a coalition government as we speak, and are about to gain control of the balance of power in the Senate. They’ve never been in a better position to implement their agenda and they’re not likely to be in the medium term, either. Obviously as a minor party they’re impact will be limited and they’re going to have to compromise, but that’s not an excuse for their policies to be all pipe dreams; they should have serious, thought out measures that are ready to implement, with a view to getting coalition partners to take up ones that are mutually agreeable, and to enter negotiations over the rest.

    As far as a) goes, I don’t expect actual draft legislation even from the majors. And maybe they can’t afford to commission (for instance) independent modelling of their ideas on the economy, tax, or climate change. But their is no dark mystery about modelling; its just “if we assume the world works approximately according to these equations, and we go from this data, this is what happens.”

    They could do at least some basic work in house, if they attracted enough membership with a decent understanding of mathematics, science, and economics. It obviously wouldn’t be as credible for PR purposes as having it done by an accounting firm, but it would at least be something to reply with when an opinion columnist accuses them of planning to “bankrupt the economy”. Heck, it might even help them identify which of their half-banked ideas actually would bankrupt the economy, and drop them for better alternatives.

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