A bit over a week ago, I found myself at a Greens Party meeting. And I uttered an obscene word: Realpolitik.
Despite his leftish views, this blogger doesn't usually attend Greens meetings, any more than he joins mobs marching down streets chanting “Waddawe want?” Nice people, and history will show many of their environmental and social justice concerns to have been well founded, but their absolute, unquestioning faith in their credo can be unsettling.
As is their general impotence at advancing their policies in the mainstream of Australian politics.
The invitation had come via our reconciliation group, and it seemed to be for a community meeting to discuss Kevin Andrews's slashing of Australia's intake of Sudanese refugees.
The Immigration Minister's decision disturbed me, especially after he made it clear he had no more than anecdotal evidence about the refugees' propensity to crime and failure to assimilate.
Hullo, I thought, John Howard's playing the xenophobia card but he's getting Andrews to do the deed. Now I think it was all Andrews's work – he's that type of guy.
Anyhow, I'm at what proved to be a Greens meeting and I'm hearing some pretty heavy criticism of Kevin Rudd. It's understandable. The Opposition Leader has repudiated – or failed to endorse – nearly everything dear to the Greens' hearts.
The room is full of good vibes. These few decent, caring people are doing their bit for a better Australia. But there's also a feeling that some would now find it impossible to give Rudd their vote.
Then I pipe up, and utter what, to Greens at least, must be an obscene word. Realpolitik (look it up here, if you wish, or at more length in Wikipedia). I point out that Rudd is tip-toeing through minefields set by one of the most astute and ruthless politicians in our history.
If he speaks out against the way Howard and Mal Brough are going about their “national emergency” intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, Howard and Brough (and Costello and Abbott and Hockey, and all the rest of them) will howl: “See, he doen't care about the sexual abuse of children.”
If he speaks out against the Gunns mill, he risks a repeat of that astonishing scene three years ago when members of Australia's most bloody-minded union packed a Launceston hall and cheered Howard.
I also point out to all these nice people that if the coming election returns the Howard government, the Prime Minister will take it as an endorsement of all his policies – including the slashing of our intake of African immigration. And the only way to stop that is to elect a Rudd Labor government.
Don't believe the polls, I say. This election is going to be much closer than you think. Rudd will have a hard task winning the necessary 16 extra seats.
The Greens' best chance of more political influence is to increase representation in the Senate, where Labor, even if wins in the House of Representatives and forms government, is unlikely to obtain a clear majority. Labor then will have to woo minority parties like the Greens more assiduously than ever.
But whatever you do, give your preferences to Labor.
Well, I've said it. But I think some of these people have cooled towards me. I've marked myself as an outsider, perhaps even a Labor Party plant, although one pleasant young woman chats with me as I walk back to my motor cycle and pull on my jacket.
A day or two later, I feel vindicated when I see the response to Rob McClelland's statement that a Labor government would campaign globally against the death penalty, even for the Bali bombers. Howard and Costello went on the attack immediately.
They say you need a touch of the mongrel to succeed in Australian politics. Rudd has it in spades. He slammed down his shadow foreign minister, even though McClelland only stated Labor policy, and also blamed the unnamed staffers who had cleared the speech. Now that's realpolitik.
The issue of the death penalty troubles me. My opposition is akin to religious belief, but I can't explain why. I even acknowledge that if you offered suicide pills to prisoners in Asian jails – and even to those in the Goulburn Supermax – more than a few would take them.
I had assumed that most Australians shared my belief. But at a meeting of a retired professional and business men's club the other day, the speaker (a retired detective inspector) said he supported the death penalty, and a murmur of approval went around the room.
Of course, one could say: "Only for the most serious crimes." It's hard to argue on behalf of mass murderers, especially when they're Asian Muslim jihadists and you're talking to Australians.
But to me, this is an issue on which you can't be half-pregnant. Let's be blunt about it. Howard and Costello support the death penalty. And now Rudd too?
Note added 18 October: Yesterday at the National Press Club in Canberra, Greens Leader Bob Brown urged voters to vote first for Greens, but to make their preference votes count. Later, on the ABC's 7.30 Report, he answered questions from Kerry O'Brien.
He said a vote for the Greens offered double value – "you send a message to the next government that you prefer the Greens' strong social and environmental policies, and if the Greens is not elected, then that vote goes over as a whole vote to the next party of your choice. It's double value voting."
Kerry had to drag it out of him, but he managed to get Senator Brown to say:
It's time for Australia to have fresh blood, to have new ideas, to come into the 21st century. John Howard can't do that.
Let's hope Kevin Rudd, who says he's a conservative and therefore will need the Greens in there to make his policies on a whole range of social and environmental issues more progressive [there's something missing from that sentence, but that's the online transcript].
Let's hope, though, we do get a change of Government. That's what democracy's about and it will be good for this country.
Don't shout it from the rooftops – but I might just do as Brown suggests. Vote Greens (1) and then give my prefs to Labor. Try to get Rudd in as PM, with a message that many Australians want a more progressive agenda than he has enunciated, and hope to give the Greens (or the Democrats, God bless 'em) a little more clout in the Senate.
And a second note added on 18 October: You may enjoy Emma Tom's The Wry Side column in this morning's Australian. She makes the same points about capital punishment – including the half-pregnant line – as I have, but she's much more fun to read. [My BigPond connection is creaking along so slowly, I can't get up a web address to give you a link.]