Friday, August 16, 2013
If I became leader of the Australian Greens
Thank you for attending this press conference. Lauz, Tingles, Kez, Uhlo, Bongo, Knackers, welcome all.
I realise my rise to become leader of the Greens has been sudden and precipitous. None of you predicted my rapid rise from recent membership to climbing the ranks, a parachuting mission into the Senate under what has become known as Operation Varsity II, and completing that particular analogy by invading Germany, I mean the Green caucus room. The inevitable Downfall mashup video chronicling the events surrounding my accession to the leadership over Ms Waters was rather amusing - I particularly liked the gag about how Greens really are watermelons, since we found out just how red Larissa was underneath her green exterior when she got backstabbed. Heh.
Anyway, all that is behind us now, and I would like to set out my policy vision for the Greens into the future. I would first like to pay respect to the founding father of the Greens, Bob Brown. However, what I am about to say may not jive with his recollection of what he set up the Greens to do. The Party has nonetheless moved on, and we have new challenges to face.
I see the Greens as the ultimate economic rationalists. You may protest and say that this is anathema to the history of the party, as we have traditionally opposed many aspects of globalisation and neoliberalism. While that is true, my view is that the Greens can and should be seen as superior economic managers of all parts of the economy. The crucial difference is that we, the Greens, include the environment in our economic models in a way that most economists do not. Most economic models classify natural resources, energy sources and biodiversity as assets to be mined, exploited and exhausted. In short, the environment is seen as an "externality".
This word, externality - which has become part of the language of the political class without much examination as to its meaning - means an economic effect, either bad or good, which affects an uninvolved third party. That is what the Earth is treated as in traditional economics: something external to the economy, something Other. Economics is, almost by definition, in opposition to environmentalism. It is, in the wrong hands, the science of exploiting the environment by pretending that it is a limitless resource.
The consequence of this in traditional economics is that their sums work while the environment provides, but once the resources dwindle and become more expensive to extract and exploit, markets fail and recessions happen. I am here to say: no more. The environment is not an externality. It is internal to our definition of ourselves. We are part of it, and it is a part of us.
I realise that this language sounds like that of many of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, and I acknowledge that the Greens have a debt that can never be repaid to them for teaching us how to value our land and to immerse ourselves in its many wonders with respect and appreciation. We must be careful never to get too mystical, but there is a time and place for a little bit of dreaming in what the Greens say and do.
Ah, you might say, but these are just words. How do you propose to combine economics and environmentalism if they are so opposed? The answer is that they do not have to be opposed. A synthesis is possible. In fact, I am a firm believer in the power of economics within capitalism to empower the powerless and grow a country better than any other system. Including the environment as an integral part of economic modelling does not break the models, it merely means economics removes a lie and becomes more grounded in reality.
This does not mean we leave all the coal in the valleys, all the oil under the deserts and all the trees in the forests. This means prudent planning for harvesting and renewing resources, and transitioning away from exhaustible resources and towards renewables where possible in a gradual fashion. Economics can also be seen as the management of energy, and cheap energy is a social good that the Greens should not reject, and will not under my leadership. The shale oil boom, in particular, is already starting to have positive impact on many smaller economies, which we can not forget in our zeal for ideological purity within our own country. To deny the world cheap energy would be to slow down the wholly positive process of globalisation inexorably lifting up the economies of those in developing countries. Shale oil can be extracted under the control of environmental safeguards even at levels we are comfortable with in Australia, and I will not stand in the way of another energy boom that could underpin the next decade of Australian growth.
You might be thinking that I am not saying anything new. It is true that we have already gone some way towards internalising the externalities, with the carbon price being the most prominent example. The Greens have been at the forefront of developing and implementing the carbon price in Australia and around the world, and I acknowledge the work my predecessors have done in this area. Far from repudiating this proud history of the Party, I seek to build on it to underline the economic credentials of the Greens. We are often portrayed as being at the far left end of the political spectrum, but I do not see it this way. We are a party of the centre, it is just that we define the centre as being centred and at one with the environment, with all of our economically rational policies flowing from that river source.
This is not sophistry, or wispy wishfulness. I believe that the Greens can successfully meld what is called economic rationalism with environmental concerns. How this impacts on individual policies is for a later day, but today I am here to say this: the Greens are the greatest economists the world has ever seen... we just take a longer view than most.