David Penberthy, former Daily Telegraph editor, today seeks to give the Greens some advice: replace Bob Brown. Ignoring for a moment that this is like the Liberals seeking advice from, say, me (I don’t exactly have their party’s best interests at heart, do I), he makes two main points, one of which needs to be disposed of bluntly, and one of which raises an issue that the Greens will need to consider.
The one that is clearly false is his line that the Greens are terrified of real scrutiny of their policies. To the contrary, the Greens would LOVE the chance to debate the issues openly and publicly with the other parties, to discuss their policies with the media. Presumably what Penbo is remembering is Green disgust with the way tabloids like the one he used to run shamelessly misrepresent their policies. He refers to “their terrifically laissez-faire drug policies” as an example – and it’s an excellent example of how a rational policy that is supported by pretty much everyone involved in the area, from police to health professionals to social workers, is smeared as being a kooky pro-drug free-for-all. Greens voters can see what’s being done there (and are relieved the party is sticking to its guns) – but that doesn’t stop them being annoyed at the one-sided and inaccurate tabloid attack, and the damage it does – by wrecking the chance of progress – to real people’s lives.
The Greens are happy for an open debate on that, and any other, subject. They’re just less impressed, justifiably, by their stance being deliberately wrongly portrayed by those with the power to drown them out.
The second issue is whether Bob Brown is the best spokesperson for the party. And that’s one that the Greens will have to, over time, consider. Penbo’s main attack is Bob’s response to a ridiculous question from Kerry O’Brien on Tuesday night:
BOB BROWN: Well, let’s not talk about hypotheticals, let’s talk about the reality. 180,000 immigrants have come to this country in the first part of this year. It is a very tiny number. Let me again say: do we accept the 50,000 overstayers who’ve come by plane about whom there’s no debate. And let me also put it at – the numbers forward, where we’ve got a humanitarian program in this country which is very tiny compared to the rest of the program. Sure, that may need to be adjusted, but the time has not come for that yet, Kerry. What has happened here is this concentration on this, on this …
KERRY O’BRIEN: What limit would you put on it? At what point – where would you draw the line?
BOB BROWN: What do you think it should be, Kerry? What do you think the population of this country should be? Governance takes the circumstances at the times and calibrates it.
KERRY O’BRIEN: You’re the elected senator. You’re the party leader; I’m asking you.
BOB BROWN: Well I’m telling you that the 6,000 people who have come by boat to this country should all be processed legally and accepted into this country if they’re genuine refugees, and the majority of Australians in the most recent opinion polls agree. They believe that genuine asylum seekers should be brought into this country and made part of this country’s future, made productive citizens of this country, and I agree with that majority.
I would’ve shot back to Kerry – “you’re asking me at what number of asylum seekers we’d agree that the rule of law should break down and we should panic and stop following our obligations under the refugee convention? I haven’t got a number, but we’re clearly nowhere near that yet. We’re apparently fine with 50,000 overstayers by plane – it’s absurd to suggest that at 6,000 people on boats the time has come where we have to throw our responsibilities, if you’ll pardon the expression, overboard.”
(I wouldn’t really have made that last crack on TV, but the rest I would’ve.)
Bob’s “what do you think it should be, Kerry” is quite reasonable as a retort to a frankly unanswerable question – but to the voters who haven’t thought it through, it did look evasive.
It’s a bit like Sarah Hanson-Young’s problems on Q&A the other week.
I suspect the Greens could probably do with more media training – what’s lacking here isn’t so much the message, as the polish of its delivery in the mass media age. And of course, they don’t have the same amount of money as the major parties to spend on advisers and staff to make sure they have a quick answer to any broadside a journalist can come up with. But that’s just a reality of modern politics, and since I suspect that the real issue with their vote being stuck in the teens is not their policies – which I think represent the views, conservatively, of at least a good 30% core of Australians – but their ability to get the message out through a hostile media and in a political system massively weighted towards the big two; it’s something on which I think they need urgently to focus.
You can be slicker selling your message without selling out on that message.
How you do that with the limited funding of being a growing third party, though, I’m not sure.
ELSEWHERE: On the decriminalisation of drugs issue, an interesting report by the BBC on the experience in Portugal: