Graeme Philipson
June 30, 2016

Time to stop demonising Greens

Election 2016

Time to stop demonising Greens

On the move: The Greens have a cranked up the volume on innovation policy

The election is upon us and both major parties have been demonising The Greens. The level of vitriol directed towards them is most likely counter-productive – it is simply legitimising them.

After years of being dismissed as a fringe party, The Greens are now mainstream. They will almost certainly hold the balance of power in the next Senate, along with Nick Xenephon and independents, and there is a very good chance they will increase their representation in the lower house.

Most of The Green’s support is coming from the left, which means they are eating into Labor’s vote far more than they are the Coalition’s. But Australia’s preferential voting system, which is almost unique among major democracies, means this has not hurt the ‘progressive’ side of politics as much as it would in many other countries.

About one Australian voter in eight supports The Greens. In many seats, mostly in the inner cities and the tree-change regional areas, that is as high as one in three. They are a serious political force.

But The Greens have had trouble getting heard, even though things have improved for them. The adversarial nature of politics has seen most attention focussed on the two major parties, and the increasingly presidential nature of the debate has seen the spotlight shone most brightly on the two leaders Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten.

Both major parties have tried to make the argument that The Greens’ policies do not matter, because they will not be in power and they can afford the luxury of making promise they will not have to keep. In a divided parliament, this argument is spurious.

The Greens had a major influence on ensuring the Gillard government introduced the so-called ‘Carbon Tax’ (which was not really a tax at all). More than the Australian Democrats ever did, they are keeping the bastards honest. They will have massive influence in the new Senate, as they did in the old, and if the Coalition does not get a majority in the House of Representatives they will be even more important.

So, it is time to take The Greens very seriously. They are now large enough to have the resources to develop comprehensive policies. The Greens have produced an ‘Innovation Nation’ policy, subtitled ‘Investing in disruption, supporting the change agents’.

Taken at face value, it is the broadest any of the parties for strong government policy to support Australia’s innovation industries.

It is easy to dismiss these policies as empty rhetoric. Indeed, that is exactly what the major parties want. But the world has changed. The Green spokesman on matters technological, Senator Scott Ludlam, has gained enormous respect from the tech community since he scraped back into the upper house after Western Australia’s farcical Senate election re-run last time round.

Senator Ludlam's influence comes through very strongly in these policies.

The policy document points out that Australia is rated just 17th in the world on the Global Innovation Index, and a dismal 72nd in the world in turning research into commercial outcomes.

“On becoming leader, Mr Turnbull said ‘disruption is our friend’. But rather than supporting emerging and disruptive technologies, Turnbull has backed the industry incumbents: the coal and fossil fuel industries. The Greens, Australia’s political disruptors, will reverse the government’s anti-innovative and climate destroying policies.”

You like that? The Greens are cleverly calling themselves ‘the political disruptors’, which is not so far from the truth. So what are their ‘Innovation Nation’ policies?

At the top of their list is the establishment of the office of an Innovation Commissioner, who would “work with industry, universities, business, government agencies and Innovation and Science Australia to advance the innovation agenda. The Innovation Commissioner would also be responsible for developing a comprehensive Innovation Strategy, including a National Social Innovation Strategy.”

The Greens argue that without significant government policy and strategy the impact and value of Australia’s social enterprise sector will not realise its potential. Other policies:

  • Reversing the cuts to CSIRO and to such policies as the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program and the Australian Interactive Games Fund.
  • The establishment of an Australian Innovation Future Fund. “If just 3 percent of Future Fund private equity investment was dedicated to Australian innovation and impact investing it would create a fund of just over $15 billion over four years.”
  • Putting the ‘social’ into innovation. “We need to do more to incentivise investment into companies that are established with the primary aim of increasing the public good in Australia, by helping transition to a more equitable, more socially just and more environmentally sustainable economy.”
  • Social enterprise and benefit corporations. The Greens say that start-up social enterprises often struggle to find investors, when compared to tech or other commercial start-ups, and they want them to be eligible for grant funding through the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program.
  • Supporting innovation and social enterprise through procurement.
  • Crowdfunding innovation changes to the Corporations Act to increase investor caps for crowdfunding.
  • Addressing the skills shortage. “Australia will need 100,000 new ICT workers over the next six years to meet the demands of digital technology sectors, including startups.”
  • Educating tomorrow’s stem workforce today. $678.9 million over four years to increasing STEM uptake in schools and universities.
  • Celebrate entrepreneurial success. “The Greens will, through education, media, awards nights, and most importantly, through our whole-hearted support, celebrate our innovative and entrepreneurial successes with the Australian public just as we as a nation celebrate our sporting successes.”

Many still dismiss The Greens as rosy-eyed optimists, lefty loony ratbags, or fairies at the bottom of the garden. It is in the major parties’ interests to promote these stereotypes.

There is no doubt that they ate calling for stronger government intervention, which puts them on the left of the simplistic political spectrum, but that does not mean their policies are necessarily impractical, and it certainly does not mean they should be dismissed out of hand.

Australia now has a serious third political force, and we will all have to get used to it.

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