Little Green people from outer space: labelling Christine Milne and co

Little Green people from outer space: labelling Christine Milne and co

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The Daily Telegraph maintains a solidly material focus on its readers’ aspirations. In the political solar system, it occupies a different planet to the Greens.

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The Conversation

The Daily Telegraph isn’t known for holding back. As Stephen Conroy discovered in an already infamous front page, if you’re in its firing line, you’ll know it. It’s a world where a relatively pragmatic media policy is enough to get you compared to mass murderers.

So when The Daily Telegraph depicted Greens MPs as invading aliens last month, it’s safe to say it wasn’t a friendly allusion to Steven Spielberg’s E.T. While Spielberg’s film suggested that, beneath the surface, the alien and the human are fundamentally alike, The Daily Telegraph was implying a brand of Greens radicalism far beyond the mainstream.

Across its coverage of Christine Milne’s decision to cut her formal alliance with Labor, the newspaper’s stance was clear: the Greens were merely confirming their position as extraterrestrial extremists, divorced from conventional reality and ideology.

“The Greens”, The Daily Telegraph editorialised, “inhabit a planet far from any galaxy that the electorate might recognise as real”.


The front page of the The Daily Telegraph on 20 February.


Regular columnist Joe Hildebrand made this point more bombastically on Sky News. The party, he argued, is comprised of “lunatics, imbeciles and undergraduates … They should get up, get on the next boat to Cuba and leave the rest of us normal people alone”.

Of course, such a response is both unsurprising and, in its way, understandable. The Greens and The Daily Telegraph tend not to overlap in either style or ideology. Where research by Ariadne Vromen found that Greens members are likely to be philosophically “post-material”, The Daily Telegraph maintains a solidly material focus on its readers’ aspirations. In the political solar system, the organisations do indeed occupy different planets.

What is perhaps more interesting, and certainly more significant, is the way Labor have echoed this formula, though in a subtly different way. Where The Daily Telegraph emphasised the Greens’ transgression from mainstream values, the ALP has tended to focus on the Greens’ approach to mainstream governance. The former has accused them of being extreme; the latter has added a charge of destructive immaturity.

Labor has positioned the Greens as being unable to engage with the reality of running a country. Following Milne’s announcement, prime minister Julia Gillard described the Greens as a “party of protest” rather than a “party of government”. “The Greens are fundamentally a party that would prefer to complain about things than get solutions”, she argued.

Speaking from a similar script, Anthony Albanese, the Infrastructure and Transport Minister, depicted the move as a “meaningless act of petulance from an immature political party”. Sharing the Telegraph’s intergalactic theme, he described the Greens as outside the boundary of “the real world”. Paul Howes, the leader of the Australian Worker’s Union, simplified the discussion by accusing Christine Milne of a childish “dummy spit”.

These comments can be read as an overtly political assessment of the current Greens (as both Stewart Jackson andNarelle Miragliotta have argued, the party exists at the fault-lines of social movement and electoral professionalism, radicalism and pragmatism), but they also tell an important story about the state of party competition in Australia, and especially amongst its political left.

Labor placing the Greens outside the circle of sensible governance is certainly not new. In 2012, Sam Dastyari, Labor’s NSW General Secretary, compared the Greens to One Nation and urged his party to preference them last at the next Federal election. In the same year, Joel Fitzgibbon asked the Greens again to “join Labor in the real world”, whilst the ever-ready Howes labelled them “extremist”.

When viewed collectively, these statements, all from senior figures, point to a concerted attempt to portray Labor as the sole reliable voice of Australian progressivism.

The existence of this strategy (keeping Labor up by keeping the Greens down) also provides evidence for Richard Katz and Peter Mair’s theory of “cartel” politics. These theorists have argued that, as the ideological gulf that characterised the Cold War shrinks, major parties are much more likely to cooperate and use institutional authority to maintain their electoral primacy.

And as we’re unlikely to hear Liberal opposition to this characterisation of the Greens, it seems fair to say that both major parties, in their current positions of supremacy, would be happy to keep the minor party down.

But has it worked? Is there a popular perception of Greens extremity?

Whilst the evidence is far from conclusive, a recent Essential poll found that 52% of Australians do think they’re “too extreme” to represent the views of “many voters”, up from 47% in November. Most strikingly, the number of Labor supporters holding this view jumped 10% in five months.

The success of Labor’s strategy remains to be seen, but its intent seems clear.

Ultimately, if the Greens really are as alien as the ALP suggests, then Labor MPs should volunteer their mobiles for Green voters to “phone home”.

This article was written by Shaun Crowe – Doctoral candidate and Research Manager, Centre for the Study of Australian Politics. This article was originally posted on The Conversation. Re-posted with permission.

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  1. keith williams 8 years ago

    Labor and the Coalition live in the world of spin and denial. No wonder they feel threatened by the Greens telling the truth. It sort of messes up the fanciful stories the major parties try to promulgate.

    Fascinating that a commitment to being truthful with citizens becomes grounds for demonisation.

  2. Paul Smith 8 years ago

    One thing this increased noise about the Greens shows, is fear. Labour, the Daily Telegraph and others are fearful of the growing popularity the Greens and their policies, especially as the world is waking up to injustice, both at the societal and planetary level.

    This may not (yet) be translating to many seats in parliament, but thinking long term, there are parts of Australian society that are realising that the Greens do not represent extremism/communism etc, they represent decency, integrity and the good of everyone.

  3. Alan Baird 8 years ago

    Both Labor and Liberal resort to the ‘too extreme’ and ‘not realistic’ epithets when describing the Greens, but just how unrealistic are the Greens? Both of the majors regard ‘not realistic’ as being ‘unprepared to embroider the truth’. Both the majors are prepared to leave out the truth and assert factoids instead. However, the ONLY time they both take it seriously is when the OTHER major criticises. THOSE criticisms are usually couched in terms that avoid straying into dangerous TRUTHFUL areas. The Greens are a loose cannon, and can NEVER be trusted to NOT blurt out the truth. You name the issue, the Greens can’t be relied upon to lie about the necessity for the next US war, the next raid on the public purse by rent seekers, the next Aussie citizen held in Israel or the US, the next special weakening of trade barriers with the US where the US doesn’t reciprocate, the next cave in to the mining lobby or big banking etc etc etc. I could go on but won’t. The Greens are like an embarrassing Auntie (not the current ABC anymore) yelling out at the wedding,’But she’s pregnant!’

  4. Ron Barnes 8 years ago

    Is it not time, All Partys, and those working in MEDIA spent more time emphersing, what All Governments un- biasly do good as all items go to the vote demorcraticly.An are either past on their merriots after much debate or lost,whether good or bad.So that all sides have contributed to this in one way or another. The media hipe and a few people doing the wrong thing have succeffuly killed of many things that were positive and ment to helpe all Australians of all political views, Making the media accountable to report. TRUEFULLY AND UNBIASELY, would be a good start . I wonder how hard these people work doing their one column items seemingly Nocking biasley any political group, What is this reporter on funny weed, Talking about LITTLE GREEN PROPLE should be in care until he realises there is no such thing. Would not it been better to talk about the issues then come out with this material.

  5. Ken Fabian 8 years ago

    Mainstream political parties need to portray The Greens as outside of the mainstream in order to avoid public attention focusing on their own inabilities to develop policy in line with science based reality.

  6. Beat Odermatt 8 years ago

    The Greens have done more damage to the environment in Australia than any other organisations. They managed to destroy bipartisan goodwill towards the environment. They have very bad and unworkable policies and they use the “environment” and “green” to push their own nihilistic lifestyle ideologies. Help the Environment and get rid of the Greens!

  7. John D 8 years ago

    Both major parties think that “long term” is tomorrows news cycle. It is no wonder they feel uncomfortable with a party that worries about wrecking the world that our grandchildren will inherit.
    One of the slogans that the Greens used during the last election was: “The future needs your vote today.” It is a good reason to vote Green.

  8. Jane R 8 years ago

    It’s a sad day when the ALP lines up with the Daily Telegraph. Gone are the days of Jim Cairn’s Labor Party when the ALP stood up for what was right rather than for what Wester Sydney and the Daily Telegraph would tolerate.

  9. Gus Griffin 8 years ago

    I am far from convinced that social justice initiatives play a necessary role in achieving genuine sustainability. This is where the Greens lose me. According to my personal observation, knocking around Australia for the past 43 years, all government money allocated to social justice purposes has ended up lining the pockets of overpaid and incompetent bureaucrats or shoring up the self-indulgent lifestyles of habitual dole bludgers. If the Greens stuck to the Green coalface out there, as based on solid scientific findings and proven effective solutions, I’d be their greatest defender. Instead they have become the de facto standard bearers for every bleeding heart in the country.

    If the purpose of a political party is to win votes so as to have a voice in parliament to influence the governing of the country, then the current Green Party has completely lost the plot.

  10. Beat Odermatt 8 years ago

    The biggest environmental hazard we have in Australia are the Greens. They give good environmentalists a bad name.

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