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Will new Greens leader Di Natale do a Pope Francis?


Richard Di Natale

Commentators suggest the Greens’ leadership transition from Christine Milne to Richard Di Natale (pictured) is a switch from hard-line ideology to political pragmatism.

Whatever the truth of this characterisation, both extremes miss the common good. One embraces principle that cannot be put into practice, while the other overlooks good public policy in order to get legislation through parliament.

The Greens have a chequered history in relation to the Catholic Church. Their social justice positions are very close to those of the Catholic Bishops, especially when compared with other parties. These include workplace relations and welcoming asylum seekers. Yet other policies such as education funding, religious freedom and euthansia, have often prompted bishops to warn Catholics against voting for the party.

If you look at the troubles of the Greens in recent years, they are not entirely dissimilar to those of the Catholic Church, in that fundamental values have been sacrificed at the altar of doctrinal purity and many supporters have felt let down.

The Greens’ foundational commitment was to protecting the environment, yet they have consistently sided with those they regard as environmental vandals in order to reject ‘green’ legislation they regarded as compromised. In 2009, they voted down the Rudd Government’s first emissions trading scheme. Then last year they declined to support the Abbott Government’s Budget bid to increase fuel excise because the extra revenue would not be directed towards public transport improvements.

In a similar vein, there is a self-defeating disregard for the hallmark Christian commandment to ‘love one another’ in the actions of Catholics who equate tolerance of fellow Catholics who are ‘unfaithful to the magisterium’ (i.e. the teaching authority of the Church). Those whom the ‘faithful’ Catholics want excluded include divorced and remarried, and GLBTI Catholics. These doctrinal hard-liners used to take solace from some of the statements of Pope Francis’ predecessors.    

But Francis has turned out to be the master politician, who has so far refused to change Church teaching but, at the same time, shown profound human acceptance of those whose lives do not outwardly conform to it, notably through his ‘Who am I to judge?’ mantra.  

The new Greens leader Di Natale has been pro-active in announcing that he is in the business of politics rather than doctrinal purity. He has said he will sit down with Tony Abbott and discuss the proposed fuel excise, with a view to striking a deal that is in the interest of the common good.

Previous Greens leaders have been fond of using judgmental rhetoric. They have somewhat foolishly referred to those in the high-level carbon emitting legacy industries as ‘polluters’. Perhaps Di Natale will give such counter-productive personal abuse a rest and even adopt Francis’ ‘Who am I to judge?’ attitude. This may give rise to some surprising turnarounds as we’ve witnessed on several fronts recently in moves of the ‘polluter’ AGL to switch from coal to solar energy.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Richard Di Natale, Christine Milne, environment, politics, Greens, Pope Francis



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Existing comments

My reaction to Dr. DiNatale's election was remarkably similar to my reaction to Cardinal Bergoglio's election. My first thought was "At least it wasn't (Rhiannon / Burke.)." My second reaction (after the balcony appearance / interview) was "He seems like a decent sort of bloke." My third thought (after some reading) was "There are some real possibilities here."

Bob Faser | 11 May 2015  

Firstly, I don't think calling "polluters" "polluters" is a personal criticism. It's targeted at institutions.

Secondly, on federal politics. Rudd refused meetings with the Greens again and again, locking the Greens out of climate negotiations. He modified Garnaut's proposals dramatically. In the end the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) would have been worse than nothing, locking in failure for a decade - it would have increased carbon emissions.

Rudd's scheme was far more market-based than either Gillard's or Abbott's. It involved abolishing the Renewable Energy Target [RET] and other subsidy/quota schemes, [and a free market doesn't work for new tech when old tech has had a 400 year head start] which would have caused the kinds of job losses we are seeing with Abbott's abolition of the RET, and also a cap on the carbon price at $40 per tonne, with no minimum price, so the price could have gone very low which would have been good for coal! The environment movement's modelling showed that gas would have benefited above all from Rudd's scheme rather than renewables. Far from being a 'transition fuel' this would have required construction of new infrastructure that would lock in gas for another 30 years, 30 years that we don't have to waste.

So the grassroots climate movement rightly voted to fight the CPRS and the Greens got on board with that goal. It's hard to see any other motivation for Rudd's watering down of the CPRS other caving in to vested interests and splitting climate advocates. That is politicking. Labor needs to sort out its relationship with the environment movement in order to have a chance of solving climate change.

When the Greens had the balance of power under Gillard Labor was dragged kicking and screaming to negotiate and that's how the Greens had any chance of having an impact on Labors climate policy. Gillard's scheme was better than nothing this time, and it was mainly the complementary policies that were rescued by these negotiations that have made the biggest difference [sad to see the RET go now]. So congrats to both the Greens, the climate movement and Labor for these negotiations- it's a pity that the climate movement was unable to sustain the kind of power that would enable Abbott to keep Gillard's policy [as well as the Liberal-introduced RET, which has made the most difference over the years]. It's also sad to see that history has been rewritten romanticising the CPRS, which was on the whole a bad policy which deserved to be rejected.

Anne O'Brien | 11 May 2015  

"The Greens’ foundational commitment was to protecting the environment, yet they have consistently sided with those they regard as environmental vandals in order to reject ‘green’ legislation they regarded as compromised. In 2009, they voted down the Rudd Government’s first emissions trading scheme. Then last year they declined to support the Abbott Government’s Budget bid to increase fuel excise because the extra revenue would not be directed towards public transport improvements."

I think that's simply wrong. The Greens rejected Rudd's scheme because it would have made no difference, just solved a political problem by seeming to do something about emissions. Why would a Green party do that?

They didn't support lifting the fuel excise because Abbott said all of the money would go to building roads. Why not blame Abbott for not compromising, and offering half the money for rail, light rail and cyclepaths?

Russell | 11 May 2015  

Commentators on politics seem, at times, to see all politics through the sceptics eye. Maybe that is so as this article by Michael appears to support this view, The arguments above are correct in responding to the claims of Michael regarding the 'Greens' joining with the enemy. It is about time we all got over that us and them and joined the fight to save our planet.

Tom Kingston | 11 May 2015  

Christine Milne's resignation of the leadership of the Greens was a surprise and, no less, Di Natale's elevation. I would suggest that Greens' voters are attracted to the party because they are forceful in defending environmental issues and standing up for social justice issues. Some may consider using the term "polluters" to be judgmental rhetoric but it's pretty tame compared to some of the language provided by the other parliamentary parties. Di Natale deserves the support of his party and the Greens voters. Let's hope his political skills are used to the best advantage in defending our precious environment and other key policy platforms of the Greens.

Pam | 11 May 2015  

Crikey, Michael! I've been wondering what was wrong with the Australian Catholic bishops for years and you've finally enlightened me! They're flamin' leftie greenies! That explains so much - all anti-authority other than their own!. As far as Dr DiNatale is concerned, his education will have acquainted him with the fact that all things in the physical world are variables dependent on many controlling and interacting factors. Hopefully, therefore, unlike so many political greens and Milne in particular, he will not possess the tunnel vision which says climate change is due entirely to human activity and can be miraculously turned off by spending inestimable billions of dollars. He will hopefully realise that human activity is but one of many variables affecting climate change and perhaps only a minor player compared with many of the mind-boggling events playing their roles in our Universe. And goodness gracious! What if climate change is part of what God created and intended and thus requires our admiration rather than our attempts to prevent it? What if it is part of God's plan for the "consummation of the world"? God might be sitting up there on a storm cloud having a good old laugh, or cry, sometimes at our preoccupation at changing momentous events we probably have bugger all hope of influencing in any way. So there! Now I am a confirmed silly old bugger!

john frawey | 11 May 2015  

Senator Di Natale, head of the Greens is, I believe, the best change that's happened in Canberra for some time. His speech to Senators last year regarding the question of physician assisted death displayed an empathy and understanding few politicians exhibit. I understand my feeling toward this matter is opposed to Catholicism. But as a former nurse and the mother of a daughter who suffered and died as those with intractable schizophrenia so often do, always violently and always, always alone, I am drawn to the possibility that so much suffering may be relieved...for those who die so tragically and all their loved ones. The Age editorial today presents an understanding of his and my

Caroline Storm | 11 May 2015  

"Those whom the ‘faithful’ Catholics want excluded include divorced and remarried, and GLBTI Catholics." What a curious way of putting it - that "faithful" Catholics sit around "wanting" non-marital sexual acts to be seriously sinful. I assume I'm one of those "faithful" Catholics being cast as vindictive here, but from my point of view, it's not a matter of wanting God to have created the world and man with the natures he has given them, but rather accepting that He's done it this way and being grateful He's told us so. I'm not the slightest bit disposed to clink the glass because adultery and murder are inimical to human flourishing in our world any more than I whoop for joy that seven is a prime number and that the dog has four legs. What's wrong with me? Perhaps I'm not a Michael Mullins-type "faithful" Catholic after all !

HH | 12 May 2015  

The previous reflection on natural law fails to recognise that the environmental ethics championed by the Greens are not very different to core conservative Catholic views. If you want to talk about natural law, then you must accept that it also impinges on our everyday life practices in a whole range of human actions - not just sexual/human life issues, but also sustainable ecological practices and fair and just consumption of food and resources.

AURELIUS | 12 May 2015  

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