When the left ‘uphold the right’

The battle between Labor and the Greens for control of inner city seats in Melbourne and Sydney has resulted in a great deal of vitriol over the last few years. The Labor left consider the rise of the Greens a particular outrage because, in its view, Labor is the rightful home of all left wing votes.

One of the rising stars of the Labor left is Jane Garrett, who is the state member for my electorate of Brunswick. After narrowly winning the seat in a tight contest with the Greens, she became a minister in the Andrews government. She’s also the ALP’s federal vice president, elected on the left ticket.

Garrett has been at the forefront of the campaign to keep the Greens at bay. In the lead up to the last state election she said of the Greens: “Their aim is not to destroy the conservatives, but to destroy us, which only hurts the implementation of good, progressive policies”.

The Greens’ crimes are made even worse, according to the Labor left, because it is left Labor candidates whose seats the Greens put at risk. We’re told left wing MPs in the party play a crucial role in standing up to the right. That’s part of the reason Labor candidates in the inner city go to great lengths to highlight their supposed support for refugees, equal marriage rights and so on.

When police violently attacked anti-racist campaigners near the steps of parliament house in Melbourne in July, Garrett happened to be acting minister for police. The perfect opportunity, you would think, to prove the progressive credentials of Labor’s left parliamentarians by taking a strong stance against abuses of police power.

No such luck, it turned out.

In response to criticism of police conduct at the protest, Garrett said that “police had worked hard to maintain the peace”. She refused to criticise the cop caught on film high-fiving a fascist. “[I]t is not fair or appropriate to speculate on the actions of individual police officers working to keep public order”, she said.

The interests of “public order”, it would seem, are best served by protecting racists while indiscriminately using capsicum spray against anti-racist protesters.

Victorian Labor has form on this kind of thing. It was a similar story in 2000, when thousands of people peacefully protesting at the World Economic Forum in Melbourne were attacked by police. Yet the police were stridently defended by then Labor premier Steve Bracks, who famously described protesters as “fascists”.

At the time, people from the ALP left said that Steve Bracks said what he did because he was part of the notoriously pro law and order Labor right. What do they say this time?