10/07/2012 - 9:42am

Paul Howes' rant against the NSW Greens in the Sunday Telegraph has about as much relationship to facts on The Greens as a statement by Senator Eric Abetz on industrial relations.

He seizes on a clause in the NSW Greens recreation and sports policy that proposes that there is "too much emphasis … placed on full body contact sports often causing unnecessary physical damage and confining opportunities for participation to the athletic elite."

He posits this statement as an example of a bizarre policy that is written with no understanding of children. However, Howes quotes selectively from the NSW Greens policy, which also states: "There should be ample and varied opportunities for participation in non-competitive sports."

This is not an anti-competitive statement – it is a participation philosophy that has been in schools for some decades now, providing opportunities for exercise and fitness for those children who are not good at competitive sports, and is the subject of contemporary policy concerns. Howes makes assertions about children and competitive sports that do not universally apply. At least one research study of children and sport in a regional context suggests that little over half of the children surveyed expressed a preference for playing competitive sport.

If Howes really had his finger on the pulse of children's behaviour to the degree that he would lead us to believe, he would understand that. Perhaps he does, but it gets in the way of his political diatribe against the Greens as a rival for the progressives that his party has abandoned.

In the first place Howes is not being honest about The Greens' policy. In his characterisation of The Greens as a "fringe" party he is keen to keep alive the false image of a bunch of hippies pursuing an extremist agenda and confects a picture of an anti-sports party.

But, the Greens party nationally has an expanding demographic of Australians who are not only environmentally aware but also committed to a better, fairer Australia. Few wear the dreadlocks and tie-dyed T-shirts of Paul Howes' imagination. In any room of Greens members you will find as many suits, smart outfits and neat hair as casual inelegance just as in any broad gathering of Australians. The Greens are part of the rich Australian social fabric not a fringe-dwelling bunch of ferals in Howes' peculiar caricature.

I will own up to being sports-loving Collingwood supporter and Queensland Reds member as well as a Queensland Greens Spokesperson, who is likely to have a meat pie with a beer at half-time during a footy match on my annual trip to the MCG or watching the Reds at Lang Park. I went to the A League Grand Final this year. Indeed, I will watch anything with a ball [except golf]! My Branch Convenor and I recently went to a Reds match together.

Clearly, the NSW Greens have adopted an inclusive approach to sports. Their policy also seeks "to provide opportunities for health-enhancing recreation and sport, with less emphasis on competition and greater emphasis on the enjoyment of physical activities in an invigorating environment". It could be argued that there is too much emphasis on competition and contact sports at the expense of alternatives and on professional sports at the expense of funding community-based sporting activity. The NSW Greens address that by calling for an increase in "the funding of a wide range of community-based sport and facilities for recreation and sport".

Howes paints a unitary picture of The Greens, lumping NSW policy – which he misrepresents – into a national picture when each Greens State Branch is an independent entity. The Queensland Greens, for example, are currently examining their own sports policy and even Howes would have no problem with the draft, which calls upon educating "players about full body contact sports to reduce unnecessary physical damage". This is about as mainstream as sports policy gets given the attempts by League, Union, AFL and health bodies to manage and regulate injury-causing physical contact among professional players as well as in the town and suburban competitions. For example, the AFL has a no tackling rule for junior players.

Howes is a central figure from the ALP Right, which is about as feral as party politics gets, and he is less concerned about sports policy than to ridicule the Greens. Rather than present a rational analysis of why the Greens is a threat to right-wing Labor, his article is a polemic of little substance. It is designed to tweak the anxieties of an electorate the ALP has abandoned by sketching an anti-sports, anti-jobs caricature of Greens policies.

This attack on The Greens' industrial relations and jobs policies is pretty rich from a leader whose union has a firm grip on Queensland Labor, which impelled itself to electoral annihilation in that State.

The bald statement by Paul Howes that "the Greens are fundamentally opposed to the core values of the labour movement" is demonstrably false. This is an allegation from a union leader whose union buries its policies in present jobs, has no answer for a post-carbon economy, and Paul Howes can only make things up about the Greens.

The Australian Greens' industrial relations policy commences with a list of 11 principles that deal with a fair and equitable industrial relations system for all workers including the core values and rights of a democratic industrial relations system that are consistent with the core principles codified in the ILO's International Labour Standards. These include rights to be a member of a union, to collectively bargain, to collectively withhold labour and collectively organise in the workplace. These rights were discarded by the Howard Government and the Rudd and Gillard Governments have failed to restore them in their fullness.

Greens policy also affirms that a fair and effective industrial relations system includes effective processes of dispute resolution, including conciliation and arbitration before an independent tribunal, core industrial relations principles that Mr Howes claims the Greens don't subscribe to.

The Greens' philosophy emphasises the dignity of work, economic security, equity, fair and equitable remuneration, the right to workplace participation and a safe workplace, where industrial manslaughter is a crime. The ALP has no monopoly on labour principles.

Far from Howes' reckless allegation that The Greens "openly want to crush the jobs of hardworking Australians in the very industries that support our national prosperity", the party focuses on an Australian workforce that must be highly skilled, highly trained and well paid, and addresses the undesirability of an industrial system that allows the objectives of profitability and efficiency to override social and ecological objectives.

Mr Howes' party took five years to remove Howard's unjust and reprehensible Australian Building and Construction Commission, allowing it to remain in place until last month, hardly giving the Labor party the moral high ground in the core values of the labour movement.

As a former trade union official and industrial relations academic, long disenchanted with the ALP's move to the right, I found the Greens' policies for jobs and employment refreshing. The Greens' embrace of the need for future-proofing employment in the new economy, and its championing of renewable energy and low emitting industries contains a long-term perspective that not only serves the present workforce, which has been under siege for the past two decades, but also prepares for a more secure future for our grandchildren.

In a way, Howes has done the Greens a favour with his ill-considered rant, for in his concern to distance the ALP from his fictional Greens, he dismantles the Coalition's line that "a vote for The Greens is a vote for Labor" or that "a vote for the Greens is a wasted vote" – a slogan that reveals the Tories' distain for the value of Australians' vote.

Jim McDonald