We Need a Steady Voice: A Note from Phil Sawyer
I am convinced that a competently run and managed party, overtly running on a pro-science platform, could win enough Senate seats in the Australian Parliament at the next election to take control from the independents and the Greens. This post briefly explores the potential for success of such a party, and invites responses from readers.
To the extent that the name should be a signifier of party identity, I have suggested that the Science Greens or Green Science, would be a good name. However, some sounding boards of mine have suggested that “science” has a bad name in the public mind! Others insist that calling oneself any kind of ” green ” will be a complete put-off with large slabs of the potential constituency. Maybe. However, such a name does imply that there are other kinds of greenies, ones that are patently not scientific. And that is the starting point of the platform, as outlined below.
Another name might be the Resources Party, or some such. Whatever it is called, with the right people in the driving seat, and with candidates to knock your socks off, I believe it could have spectacular success.
My argument for why this outcome is entirely possible is not based the simple assumption that there is sufficient electoral support for policies in favour of nuclear energy and GM crops, and other such “scientific ” matters, to get over the line. There may be, but I doubt it, although judging by the unfolding debate about nuclear power, this constituency can only grow.
Rather, the key to understanding why such a party could be a startling success is in the realisation that such a party could also be tailored to tap the widespread anti-greenie sentiments that are held within the general community, which I see as a huge, but latent, slice of the electorate that no other party is prepared to pitch for. The influence on public policy of quasi-scientific environmentalism touches most Australians, and, in the form of the ETS threatens to further do so.
This situation has created an enormous constituency that basically subscribes to the barbecue wisdom that ” the greenies have too much influence over governments.” But, aside perhaps from the Nationals, voters have nowhere to go to cast a vote against environmentalism.
By environmentalism I mean that clutch of beliefs that go beyond the realistic, and on to the fundamental, and held by people whose naive certitudes threaten the welfare of all of us, courtesy of a compliant Government which is itself largely scientifically illiterate. Pollies are thus intimidated by their incapacity to scientifically argue anything that differs from the quasi-science of the purveyors of planetary salvation.
So we end up with a situation whereby those of an anti-green sentiment generally have no-one to vote for. Their vote instead goes to the party that best caters for their various other predispositions, which uselessly spreads the votes from this substantial slice of the electorate across all the parties. And all the other parties have common policies: they all want some sort of an ETS scheme, are against nuclear power, are obstructionist with regard to GM crops, and are happy to let the Parkies close up more and more of our land and sea, trashing lifestyles and communities in the process. A single party that generally stands against the excesses of all this planet saving madness will get considerable support.
Thus the aim of the party would be to tap this incipient coalition. Maybe enough to capture 3 or 4 senate seats, thus ensuring that Australia will never trash its prosperity in a paroxysm of millenarianism and settler guilt, or lose opportunities because its Government was unable or unwilling to put the national interest before the electoral need to placate a sentimental rump. The very creation of a new science-based party, led by a clutch of outstanding scientists as candidates, should be sufficient, in itself, to set off an immediate tidal wave of support and notoriety. Around the world!
Support for Nuclear Energy, and GM crops would be signature “science” policies of the new party, policies that will bring the immediate wrath of environmentalists, and assure the party of early notoriety. It is even possible that success could balloon into something positively Hansonian! ( by that I mean cheap publicity through the very novelty ).
Policies on population, the ETS and climate change, water management, forestry, national parks, fisheries, energy infrastructure priorities, etc would be designed to assemble a broad anti-environmentalist coalition, from BHP to beekeepers, from bikers to boaties, from boffins to boofheads, from blackfellas to bankers. You get the drift.
Having assembled a variegated network of corporate and institutional support, the party launch would become the time for the candidates to appear on the scene to begin the political process with a sheaf of policies already written. Not much room for a grass roots approach. And not enough time either. A top-down electoral coup, some might say. A naked push by technocrats, impatient with leaders who wait to follow, others might say. And as for taking money from industry, I would ask why taking money from people who are frightened by the prospect of the end of the world is morally superior.
The pro-nuclear lobby, the uranium industry, and the genetic engineering industry are obvious sources of financial support. The anti ETS lobby is now substantial, and the gas, mining, and smelting industries in general would obviously be supportive of policies to decorbonise our economy with nuclear energy. For example, it is scandalous that Areva and Westinghouse cant quote for the water and power for Greater Roxby, and a stupendous amount poallRThe forestry community too, where grass roots organisations like the FCA have more members than our political parties put together, should be a natural fit, as would the fishing industry.
From the published views of unions like the AWU and CFME, one could also expect support from them, along with a smattering of think tanks, bits of academia, the denialist blogosphere, some aboriginal groups, and so on.
Aside from commercial interests and stakeholders, recreational groups should also be seen as a huge potential reservoir of support. Their memberships are often single issue type voters as well. Access and management of national parks and other public lands and waters are the issue, and the example of the recent locking up of the Barmah forest is typical, as was the end of the mountain cattlemen, more than a decade ago. Fishing industry organisations too, are up in arms all over the country. GBRMPA is regarded as a law unto itself, and other states like SA are busily locking up well managed fisheries into marine parks.
The sacrifice of tradition and lifestyle on the altar of cafe latte environmentalism demonstrates a failure of the body politic to both protect and respect the interests of ordinary people. And they are justifiably furious. And I won’t mention Black Saturday. The list goes on. A broad base on which to pitch for electoral support, it seems to me.
I am reminded of my own brief career as an ALP candidate. John Kerin was a mate who shared my misgivings about our party getting into bed with the greenies during the 1990 election. We both saw a threat to our grand old secular social-democratic party from uncritically fellow-travelling with the greens, tempting as it it might have been, in the short term. John told me later that he raised the matter of dividing the “greenies” into ” fundos ” and ” realos ” in cabinet, arguing that realos were ordinary Aussies who just wanted to do things better, ( and who could argue with that? ), while the fundos were those who exploited this fact to further their own agenda. We both thought it was a good idea, even if slightly borrowed from Germany. We could label anyone we differed with us as a fundo! Easy. But apparently a certain my Richardson shot the idea down. Why, you might ask? Because it would involve candidates knowing enough science to carry out the strategy!
Twenty years down the track our country urgently needs the steadying voice of science, clearly and simply expressed from the highest levels of public life, more urgently than ever. Control of the senate is the perfect platform.
And the candidates? Only science and engineering graduates need apply.
I believe six or seven of the nine members of the Chinese Politburo are engineers. Lord help us.
What do you think?
Adelaide, South Australia
The picture of Mr Sawyer was taken looking over Port Lincoln in May 2007.