Why not the Greens?

So now we know what Malcolm Fraser had been up to in the last years of his life. As Crikey reported on Thursday, he had been working “for more than four years” on the formation of a new political party, provisionally titled “Renew Australia”. You can read its draft manifesto here.

This news raises as many questions as it answers, among them why it took so long to produce a ten-page program: a dilatoriness somewhat at odds with the claim that “alongside his books, the party was [Fraser’s] greatest passion in recent years.”

But the most interesting question is why would anyone who subscribed to this program not just join the Greens, an already well-established party with apparently very similar aims.

For many refugees from the Liberal Party, that question has an intelligible answer: while rejecting tribal conservatism, they remain economic liberals and therefore are uncomfortable with the hostility to the free market found among many Greens. But that is manifestly an answer not available to the Fraserites, whom the document reveals to be – as one might expect from Fraser’s history – every bit as sceptical of the market as the Greens are.

A side issue for many ex-Liberals would be wariness about the Greens’ tendency to utopianism in international affairs, which slides easily into a reflexive anti-Americanism. But not surprisingly, the Fraser manifesto follows them down the same path.

Read it yourself, and compare the Greens platform here. I won’t claim there are no differences in detail or emphasis, but I challenge anyone to find a disagreement that would be central enough to present a real problem.

So the question remains, why would the Fraser group go to the enormous effort of trying to set up a new party when the Greens are already occupying their ground? Fraser’s close co-operation with some Greens in recent years (notably Sarah Hanson-Young* on refugees) makes the question more salient, and the strong Greens showing in yesterday’s New South Wales election demonstrates their continuing relevance.

One also wonders about the way in which the Greens question is absent in so much of the commentary on the Fraser plan – almost as if we know the answer but are unwilling to talk about it.

As with much of Australian politics, it seems to me that the answer basically comes down to class. The barrier between the Fraser group and the Greens is not ideological or programmatic at all, but rather class-based.

It’s true that the Greens’ support base is largely middle class. But it’s a different sort of middle class from the Fraser group. The latter are better described as upper middle class (or even “upper class”, a thing we don’t usually admit to having in Australia); they are a leisure class, driven by something we might call noblesse oblige. The Greens are based much more in the petit bourgeoisie; their supporters may not exactly be driven by their economic interests, but at least they play some sort of role in the economy.

The Fraser group would feel that to muck in and make common cause with the Greens would be to get their hands dirty. The Greens are organised; they have community structures supporting them and a global movement to align with. Fraser’s people would see that sort of thing as beneath them. But the reality is that politics is a dirty business; to avert your eyes from that is to confess your impotence.

Perhaps “class” is too fancy a word here for what are really differences in temperament. But I can’t help seeing a parallel with the Australian Democrats, who failed where the Greens were later to succeed precisely because they were unable to establish a class basis (my colleague Guy Rundle has written about this at some length in the past).

The elite worriers that Fraser surrounded himself with are not enough to sustain a party on their own; they need followers. They may perhaps find them in a sudden wave of popular support, as for a time the Democrats did (and, for that matter, Clive Palmer). But to keep it a going concern over time, they need to find a class of their own, and the obvious place to look has already been cornered by the Greens.

I realise this is not a popular message; we like to think that we all vote according to our convictions rather than our economic interests. But the reality is that that’s just not how the Australian political system works. If it did, the Fraserites would feel no need for a party of their own.


* I said the other day that Fraser was someone whose style grated on me even when I agreed with him; it’s only fair to point out that Hanson-Young falls into the same category.



5 thoughts on “Why not the Greens?

  1. There’s an element of branding too. There is a sector (apparently mainly older people, and probably a lot of ex-Democrats) who would never feel comfortable considering themselves “greenies”, with all of the surrounding connotations of activists chained to trees and irregular showers. These are things that would put off a certain kind of ‘respectable’ wet Liberal voter of the petit bourgeoisie. The kind of voter who disagrees with the Australian’s self-parodic agenda of the last 10-15 years but still thinks of it as a credible newspaper. A Fraser Party would be something you could comfortably admit voting for at a barbecue.


  2. There are those of us who believe in the progressive freedoms but not the nanny state fetishes of the Greens.

    Some of use support cultural tolerance and marriage equality, but do not support the vilification of those who dissent. some of us also support more state and national parks, but also support hunting, fishing, and other recreations in these areas.

    The point is that the Greens are not a party of tolerance for a wide selection of lifestyles and cultures, but rather for their sanitized, inner city view for how the rest of the country should be.


  3. Thanks everyone. Prefix, I think that’s exactly right: there are clearly a lot of people who broadly agree with the Greens but wouldn’t dream of voting for them, or if they did wouldn’t admit to it among their friends. But I question whether setting up a new party is really a cost-effective solution to that problem.
    Bizzybags, that’s a perfectly reasonable critique of the Greens. (Perhaps some Greens person would like to respond?) But do we have any reason to think that a Fraserite party would be any better in that regard? I’ve got a feeling that if anything it might actually be worse.


  4. Charles I am one of those voters, I switched from Labor in 1993 because I realized back then the current 2 horse race was leading us down the (free market) track that we have been on since the wholesale deregulation of everything since the 1980’s. This is all being perpetrated by the “robber barons” of olde.
    This has meant the word community has now been turned into a profit making commodity controlled by shareholders which will never work. If you chase these shareholders there is a maze that takes you through many organizations and financial consortium’s, once past this you hit a dead end they are just anonymous its as if they just don’t exist. I got off track a bit here but the rise of the Greens was initially staving off some of their attacks which prompted a huge propaganda attack not seen since the “reds under the beds” crap back in the 60s and 70s.

    The truth is any Western Country that decides it should control it’a own country and affairs instead of “anonymous financial overlords” comes under attack not just from quisling front-men who sabotage the party’s internal process but also the 4th estate which attacks in the public’s eye. This is why there has been that un-manley brand attached to the Greens that you afore mentioned, I remember the attacks of that time as well.

    When you actually look at the social policy’s of the Greens they are very good as well a their environmental attributes, and I believe once the public become more aware of the 2 major parties there will be a mass exodus from them to the Greens.
    If the Greens Liberalize they will lose their genuine status because they will be just another party open for business to the unregulated free market which is the rotten apple destroying the sovereignty and community of every country that has unwittingly adopted it via our corrupt and soul less leaders. As the Greens grow and we are in big trouble if they don’t some of their more hard and fast policies will become more pliable. At the moment we are seeing a rise in small or 1 policy parties because people are fed up with the lies of the 2 majors, the trouble is that most of these are just dupes for the Liberals like:- The Christian Democrats, Family First and so on. With newspapers losing their flavour people are going online this scares our overlords and already they are taking steps “Data retention laws” Make no mistake Charles this current financial system is designed to fail which it will before it morphs into a more dictorial regime seeking even more control, all you have to do to see this happen is keep voting and thinking in the same manner, the “Free Market” is not at all free it’s a gateway to Human imprisonment physically and mentally.


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