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Thursday, 17 March 2005
Page: 158


Mr ANTHONY SMITH (12:54 PM) —This afternoon I want to address a recent finding by the Australian Press Council regarding media commentary on the Australian Greens which appeared in the Melbourne Herald Sun. If you were to believe Senator Brown and the Greens, you would have to believe that statements that they wanted to decriminalise drugs, raise taxes, ban farming and make us all ride bikes were all an evil invention and conspiracy by the journalists who wrote those comments, in particular in the Melbourne Herald Sun. For some bizarre reason, the week before last the Australian Press Council suspended logic and agreed with that proposition by Senator Brown and the Greens.

In doing so, in my view they have made a monumental error and unwittingly assisted Senator Brown to cover up one of the biggest acts of political dishonesty in recent memory—namely, the Greens denial of their own published policy agenda. Nothing the Herald Sun published was invented. All of it came from the Greens own web site, where it had been posted for months and, in some cases, years.

Senator Brown’s defence seems to alternate between two desperate propositions. The first is roughly along these lines: ‘Our policies do not mean what they say they mean.’ The second is: ‘That policy no longer applies because we have taken it off our web site.’ How convenient. No major political party or leader would get away with that. The Prime Minister would not; the Leader of the Opposition would not. But, because Bob Brown represents a minority party, he thinks different rules apply to him.

A cursory glance at what was on the Greens official web site exposes this sham, and this is what the Press Council have failed to look into. The Greens policy on ‘society, drugs and addiction’ originally said:

The regulation of currently illegal drugs should be moved outside the criminal framework.

And:

In a democratic society, in which diversity is accepted, each person has the opportunity to achieve personal fulfilment. It is understood that the means and aims of fulfilment may vary between people at different stages of their lives and may, for some people at particular times, involve the use of drugs.

Perhaps Senator Brown assumed that the party’s policy would only be read by people on drugs. It certainly seems to have been written by them. But, once that policy began to be questioned, a mysterious thing happened. The first sentence quoted was altered to limit decriminalisation to personal use, and the other passage disappeared from the web site completely.

Senator Brown was also alarmed that voters might be misled into believing his party wants to compel us into vegetarianism. Here is what his party’s policy on ‘care for the earth’ originally said, before it was taken from the web site:

... the ... Greens consider it environmentally and ethically essential to decrease all production of animal food and other animal products.

But, again, a mysterious thing happened. What was ‘essential’ policy became so non-essential that it disappeared altogether. Are you starting to see the Greens priorities? Decriminalising drugs while banning the family barbecue is, I think, kind of the wrong way round for most Australians.

The Press Council and Senator Brown railed against the claim that the Greens favoured a 49 per cent corporate tax rate. But, again, that is precisely what the Greens originally had on their web site and on their policy agenda. It was only when the heat came in the lead-up to the election campaign that they altered it and reduced that rate in their policy.

Senator Brown and the Greens may have escaped scrutiny in the past, but that does not give them an exemption or a discount from democratic scrutiny, either in the parliament or in the Australian electorate. No-one but the Greens wrote their policies and published them, and it was only when those policies began to be debated that Senator Brown and the Greens tried to hide them and deny them—not the brave conviction politicians that they would have us believe.

I believe the Press Council have seriously erred; I think they have made a major misjudgment. I think they should re-look at the matter and look at the Greens policies, which were longstanding before they started to tear them off their web site as the election approached. This is certainly part of a well-worn strategy by the Greens, but they should not escape the democratic scrutiny that major political parties have to endure, and I think the Press Council should look at this again as a matter of urgency.

Main committee adjourned at 12.59 p.m., until Wednesday, 11 May 2005 at 9.40 a.m., unless in accordance with standing order 273 an alternative date or time is fixed.