The ALP, the Greens and the Values Debate

Being based in Queensland, I can’t say that I pay a lot of attention to Victorian state politics. Its a bit like the AFL – I have some background knowledge because of the noise that’s around, but I can’t claim to follow it closely.

As a result, I don’t know much about the Victorian opposition leader, Daniel Andrews. I did, however, see him on today’s Insiders program, and would have to say that I was impressed.

Andrews was on with Victorian Greens MLC Greg Baxter discussing the upcoming by-election of the state seat of Melbourne. The seat has been held by Labor since its inception but, with the Liberals not running a candidate, it is widely predicted to be set to go to The Greens, just as at a Federal level the seat of Melbourne went to the Greens’ Adam Bandt in the 2010 Federal election.

The full program can be viewed here, with transcript. The interview is 10 minutes into the program. What is striking is that Andrews avoids spin, sophistry and personal point scoring in making the case for voting Labor in the by-election. He sticks to the two core arguments that: (1) for those wanting a change of government in Victoria (and with the Liberals not running a candidate, this would be most of the electorate), electing a Labor MP takes you closer to an alternative that can have a governing majority, whereas its not clear what electing a Greens MP means; and (2) Labor has the history and track record on properly costed reforms to TAFE, schools, hospitals etc.

This is all pretty much what you would expect a Labor leader to say under the circumstances. Indeed, Andrews had already said as much in a recent opinion piece in The Age.

Its in the second half of the interview, however, where things get interesting. Andrews decides to address head-on the Christine Milne/Sarah Hanson-Young argument that only the Greens have values, and Labor “stands for nothing“.

In a complete inversion of what might be expected, it is Andrews who strongly defends values, arguing that Labor stands for incremental reform, aiming to build public sector institutions that can be part of a fairer society, with a particular eye for the most disadvantaged. Andrews’ quote was as follows:

What I know is I understand that working people, and particularly people who do it tough, get no benefit, there’s no opportunity, there’s no empowerment in just words.

You need costed policies, funded policies; you need to recognise that you can’t do everything. You’ve got to make choices. If you don’t live in the real world, you know having a holiday from reality does nothing for people whether they’re in the high rise in the inner city or they’re in Noble Park or other working class suburbs.

I’m about a practical agenda, a real agenda and getting the consensus and the majority to be able to actually deliver it. That’s what Labor stands for. This notion that you can promise everything to everyone and somehow that makes you a party of values, it’s a fraud.

It’s not about values at all, it’s about failure, talking instead of delivering, that doesn’t benefit anyone.

By contrast, Baxter consistently evades the question of what Green values are, arguing at one point – bafflingly – that the Greens are the party of political pragmatism. Otherwise, he keeps trying to turn Barrie Cassidy away from the question of values, to the question of whether trams can run for later hours on a Saturday night.

The opening up of a debate in the ALP about its future relationship to the Greens has led to responses questioning the Green’s claims to have a monopoly on political morality and virtue, as well as arguments that the ALP needs to turn away from the green-left agenda and focus on the “vital centre” of Australian politics. But Daniel Andrews’ contribution also demonstrates that Labor can make a clear case for its own values in debates with the Greens.

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About Terry Flew

I am Professor of Media and Communication in the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. I am the author of New Media: An Introduction, the fourth edition of which was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. I am also the author of Understanding Global Media, published by Palgrave in 2007, and The Creative Industries, Culture and Policy, published by Sage in 2012.