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There’s a kinder, gentler polity out there in the political world now, so in that beneficent spirit, I am going to write a post where I mention the Greens without criticising them.

Bob Brown’s euthenasia private member’s bill into Parliament is a most interesting move from a tactical point of view. During the election campaign, I had sensed that Bob Brown had been more eager to focus on areas of agreement with groups that traditionally had not voted with the Greens. For example, Brown has been making surprising in-roads into country Australia by forging consensus on areas like bio-security (even if they would vociferously disagree on water rights, carbon taxes and social policy). That was reflected in much of the Greens’ language during the campaign and thereafter – where he would speak about the Green’s supposed economic credibility for not opposing the stimulus package and supposedly working constructively with the Labor Government to pass it through the Senate, and also where his rhetoric would be aimed at big business – but he would always remind people that people of all stripes [insert list including small business owners] were flocking towards the Greens.

So, given that, it was quite surprising to see that the first bill Bob Brown introduced was this euthenasia bill. It really harks back to the Greens we all know and love – a party pushing for radical social change on these core progressive issues. And, you know, good on them for that. But because euthenasia is such a contentious issue it could lose them that middle ground and that consensus that they have been forging.

That is not to say that Bob Brown has made a wrong-footed move. I think that he can be a shrewd tactician. I suspect that after the deal he signed with the ALP, he got a great deal of flack from the party faithful with all sorts of calls about him selling out – as evinced by the fact he suddenly turned around to announce that he would be using those powers for gay marriage a day later.

What Brown is attempting to do is really to shift Parliament into this much vaunted ‘new paradigm’ of politics which may not necessarily be the kindler, gentler polity envisioned by our smiling friend from the North but it is one where party political differences will be blurred by the cruel whiteout of political pragmatism. In that sense, he is firstly shifting away from the old paradigm where he would be (legitimately) criticised for sticking by those evil refugee-hating Laborites, and more importantly, he is shifting the power to control the political agenda to the Parliament and not the Executive. In this tightly controlled arge of the daily news cycle, that is a very powerful tool to be having.

An alternative is that Bob Brown simply believes in euthenasia. Quite probably true – but it is a very well selected bill for various reasons:

Firstly, he doesn’t have to write a substantial bill – he merely has to repeal the Cth legislation and let the Territories decide.

Secondly, because he is framing the debate (at present) in terms of Territorian’s rights and not euthenasia he will drum up significant support in the Territories (including the prized second ACT Senate seat). And – in the NT, there’s apparently 90% support for euthenasia probably more out of Territorian parochialism at being snubbed by the Cth than by genuine belief in euthenasia.

Thirdly, whilst euthenasia is a controversial issue, it is not tinged with the same roaring controversy that gay marriage or legalising drugs is.

I don’t think Bob Brown has given up the pragmatic approach just yet. If you compare his statements pre-2010 election and his comments now, you’ll find a stark difference. The old Bob Brown spoke in terms of sharp distinctions and human rights – what was the right and compassionate thing to do. The new Bob Brown and assorted minions speak with tangential arguments that are less controversial. They are not advocating for gay marriage or gay rights, they are advocating o remove discrimination from the Marriage Act. They aren’t fighting for a right to die or for euthenasia, they’re fighting for Territorial rights.

You can learn a lot from watching a politician’s language.


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