The Greens embrace business
The Greens are now part of the political mainstream in Australia writes Tom Bramble in Socialist Alternative. And the party’s desire for respectability is reflected best by its own appointments. When Bob Brown steps down as Greens senator and party elder statesman in the next few weeks, he will be replaced by a man who boasts of never having been arrested and who has declared his intention to cuddle up to big business.
Peter Whish-Wilson is every inch the modern Greens senator. He did his Bachelor’s degree at the Australian Defence Force Academy and is a former vice president at the New York head office of Merrill Lynch – an investment bank that went bust during the GFC as a result of its speculative trading in toxic assets. He also worked as an investment banker at Deutsche Bank in Hong Kong.
Since his return to Australia Whish-Wilson has split his time between working on his family’s vineyard outside Launceston and teaching international financial management and environmental finance at the University of Tasmania. In the latter capacity he teaches students where money is to be made from carbon trading, fishing quotas, water rights, fuel and commodities. Fellow UTas lecturer Tony McCall described Whish-Wilson as “a Green who reads the Harvard Business Review”.
Whish-Wilson’s nomination is only a consolidation of the shift to the right by the Greens. While the small number of real activists left in the Greens might not be enthusiastic about such a businessman winning a spot as the party’s second Tasmanian senator, his colleagues explained the characteristics which drew them to select him over 10 other candidates. New Greens leader Christine Milne said that “As an economist, business owner and campaigner to stop a polluting pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, he brings great experience and an excellent skill-set to the Senate”.
Of these three attributes, the first two weighed particularly on the party’s mind. On taking over the leadership, Milne told the ABC’s Lateline that the Greens needed to reach out to “progressive business”. Whish-Wilson will be the party’s go-to man in this respect. He told the Financial Review that “My background makes me a very different Green but I have experience in small business, markets and global finance that I could bring. I am more for opportunity than opposition”. The Age reported him as saying:
A lot of the issues tend to be perceived as being conflict between companies and development and conservation, but obviously it’s a lot more complicated than that. I’ve got a lot of experience in how corporations work. I believe that it’s time to start putting all the divisiveness aside.
Presumably the basic clash between the greed for profits by the big corporations and the need for environmental sustainability can be just wished away in an orgy of mutual backslapping between company directors and Green politicians.
Predictably the nomination of Whish-Wilson as the new senator was praised by the press which, rightly, took it as confirmation that the Greens are serious about jettisoning their old protest party image.
The nomination was also praised by the most high profile left wing figure inside the Greens, Lee Rhiannon, who said she “very much welcomed Peter. When you come to talk about dark greens, light greens etc. and about division… it’s shown to be wide of the mark.” The left in the Greens has consistently given way to Brown in recent years and show no signs of taking a harder line under Milne’s leadership.
This desire for respectability comes with a cost. With the Greens hanging on to Gillard’s coat tails, the party’s vote has plateaued since the 2010 federal election. Indeed, at the March state elections in Queensland, when the Bligh government faced widespread opposition for its privatisation programme, a situation when a left opposition to Labor could have won over many disgruntled Labor voters, the party’s share of the vote actually dropped.
Despite the hopes of many in the early 2000s, when Bob Brown spoke at the S11 anti-capitalist protest in Melbourne and heckled George W. Bush when he addressed parliament, the Greens have not become a left wing alternative in Australian politics. A genuine left wing alternative has to be built by building fighting movements in the workplaces, on campuses and on the streets.
Such an alternative has to reject all the “common sense” ideas of capitalist politics to which all the major parties, the Greens included, are committed and must argue instead for socialist solutions to the problems of the working class and the oppressed.
Such a perspective is a world away from the likes of Peter Whish-Wilson.