If you’ve ever despaired at what passes for political debate in this country, Senator George Brandis’ Greens-as-Nazis speech would surely have confirmed your cynicism. I suspect that his attempt to explain himself on last Friday’s Lateline will not exactly fill you with hope for the future. Says Brandis:
…what I also want to do, is do something we do too seldom in this country and have a debate about ideas and the source of ideas.
It is perhaps a perverse understanding of “a debate about ideas” to suggest that equating the Greens with “the methods and the values of the Nazis” falls within such a concept. It’s worth pointing out that Godwin’s Law was proposed as a means of reducing the effectiveness of the “handy rhetorical hammer” of Nazi-comparison, in recognition of the fact that once a tangential comparison to Hitler is made, you’ve reached the end-point of rationale debate.
So putting to one side Brandis’ “debate about ideas”, how can the Greens-as-Nazis speech be explained? Brandis made it clear on Lateline that he will not withdraw the comparison — indeed when Tony Jones asked him if he “will continue to develop this theme in further speeches”, Brandis answered in the affirmative — so we can also put to one side the suggestion that this was a mistake, or an aberration. So, why compare the Greens to the Nazis?
On this point Brandis was perhaps more revealing than he meant to be. As an example:
I want to change the perception of the Greens.
You see, the Greens have got under the political radar screen in this country and I think they’ve got most people convinced that they are not a danger, they are not a threat, that they are basically well-meaning oddballs or perhaps they’re radical liberals.
But they’re not that.
I suppose it’s open to interpretation as to what this means, but it does seem to indicate 1 that the Liberal Party is worried about the defection of small-l liberals to the Greens. Brandis gives more away further on:
TONY JONES: …Do you now believe the Greens represent the same sort of threat that One Nation represented?
GEORGE BRANDIS: I think they represent a different kind of threat to democratic politics in this country.
But, if the Liberal Party made a mistake in not exposing One Nation for what it was early enough in the piece a few years ago, then that’s not a mistake we’re going to make with the Greens.
For the phrase “made a mistake in not exposing One Nation for what it was”, substitute “made a mistake in not crushing One Nation before they started taking votes away from us”. Clearly the Liberals aren’t of the view that only the ALP have reason to fear the Greens.
And if you think it’s presumptuous to impute the speech of a lone Liberal Senator to the party as a whole, consider what the following exchange indicates about where these comments are coming from:
TONY JONES: …did you inform the PM or any senior Government member prior to making this speech?
GEORGE BRANDIS: I haven’t discuss the matter with the PM, no. Now, Tony, you cut me off before.
TONY JONES: Hang on a sec, I’ll just finish with that question, though, because you only answered half of it. Did you inform any senior Government member prior to making this speech?
GEORGE BRANDIS: I’m not going to talk about conversations with colleagues. You asked me about the PM. I haven’t discussed the matter with the PM.
TONY JONES: No, but the key question here is, is this part of a new tactic to take on the Greens, which has been endorsed by the Government, not just you, it’s not an individual thing that you’re doing, and I imagine that by not saying whether you did or did not discuss it, you’re refusing to deny that you discussed it with senior members of the Government, therefore we can assume, perhaps, it is a tactic.
GEORGE BRANDIS: You … can assume what you like but you asked me whether I discussed it with the PM and the answer is no, I haven’t spoken to the PM about it.
TONY JONES: And I also asked you did you discuss it with any other senior member of government?
GEORGE BRANDIS: And I’m telling you I’m not going to go into conversations with colleagues.
Well I suppose you all know what I’m assuming: that within the Liberal Party there are strategies to discredit the Greens, of which this scurrilous attack is an example. One thing we can conclude from this, without making any assumptions, is that Brandis needs to work on his stone-walling.
The funniest part of Brandis’ explanation is his attempt to make the Nazi comparison seem like brave and principled politics. In this vein he says:
There is a lot to be exposed about the Greens, about the ideas that underlie them, about the intellectual traditions to which they are heir and it’s about time somebody blew the whistle on them.
Blowing the whistle, as it is generally understood, suggests a person who exposes something dodgy that is taking place within their own organisation, often at great risk to their career or livelihood. I suppose Brandis is putting his career at risk, in the sense that his speech might cause some to seriously question his capacity for abstract thought, his possession of opposable digits etc, but I doubt this is what Brandis means by describing himself as a whistle-blower. In “exposing” the Greens, Brandis thinks he is acting against neither his own interests nor the interest of his party. We can contrast this by imagining Brandis exposing fascist tendencies within his own party; that would be whistle-blowing, even if it would also be as dumb as comparing the Greens to the Nazis.
I’m all for exposing malfeasance in political parties, but why is it that exposing the Greens is always so crap? I’m reminded of the hysteria of March this year when the Greens’ “Hidden Policy On Drugs“, was “exposed” in a Sunday Telegraph “investigation”. Said investigation, you’ll recall, apparently consisted of consulting the Greens’ website, wherein said hidden policy was publicly available. The policy had also been the subject of media releases, an official launch and a press conference, all prior to it being “exposed”. Nevertheless the reporting of that incident generated a veritable shit-storm, the consequences of which eventually ruined the Greens’ best chance of winning a seat in the NSW lower house. Brandis can continue to pimp his Greens-as-Nazis analogy; I somehow doubt it will be as consequential.
POSTSCRIPT: Bob Brown was on Meet the Press, where he was asked about the Nazi analogy:
DENNIS ATKINS: But if you strip away the harsh rhetoric of Senator Brandis, didn’t he have a kernel of truth in there – that the Greens are a fundamentalist party that is based more on passion rather than policy?
BOB BROWN: No, there is no relevance there at all. You can apply that to the Christian church or to Buddhism or the boy scouts. It was a horrendous thing for George Brandis and the Howard Government to do. What I do say is that we are unashamedly environmentalist. I want to stop those chainsaws boring into the Tasmanian forest with 150,000 log trucks going out of the forest to the wood chip mills this year…And the opinion polls all show that the majority of Tasmanians and the majority of Australians agree. Now, is George Brandis going to use his epithet against that majority of Australians concerned about the environment? And remember, in those opinion polls about what people think politicians should be talking about, it’s health, education, the environment and unemployment at the top of the list. For George Brandis to select one of those and say, that is off the agenda because I can bring in this terrible analogy with Nazism is wayward politics to say the best.
Also, in writing this post, I discovered a handy Google feature of which I was heretofore unaware. If you Google in the form “What is a 2”, your first hit will be a definition of that thing. It doesn’t always work out, though.
- as some commenters on my previous post suggested