There's nothing inherently partisan about numbers. From pointing out declining tax revenue to highlighting poor expenditure, people from across the political spectrum will forever argue about how governments should raise money and how it should be spent.
The Greens' recent decision to have our policies costed prompted a range of reactions. We were welcomed for maturing as a political party, yet also accused simultaneously of hiding extremist policies and becoming more conservative.
It's bemusing that opening a discussion about where money comes from and where it goes is seen as a political shift, so let's be clear about this. This isn't about a change of political direction from the Greens, it's about making the numbers add up.
Historically, third parties like the Greens have had difficulty getting policies costed. At the last election, we approached Treasury for some analysis, yet were told it wasn't within their purview to cost our policies for us.
As a condition of our support for the minority Government, we secured the creation of an independent body to cost policies, the Parliamentary Budget Office.
The Greens accept that voters are entitled to ask of us the same questions they ask of the other major parties, such as how much our initiatives will cost and where the money will come from. With the PBO now up and running, people will be able to get answers to these questions.
Given this changed landscape, the Greens membership has revised the party's policy platform so that while our aims and values remain the same, we will also make sure our revenue raising and expenditure proposals are costed in the lead up to each election.
The Greens' updated policy platform reaffirms our core beliefs, such as making big business contribute a fairer share to fund the services Australians expect, like good schools and a universal healthcare system.
Take what our updated platform says about schools, for example. We believe ‘federal schools funding policy should prioritise the public education system'. Our platform calls for ‘increased funding to public education through funding models for all sectors of the education system that prioritise public education.' The party wants the ‘money saved from ending the public funding of those very wealthy non-government schools, which would not receive government funding under such a model, reinvested into public schools with the highest proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.' All pretty clear.
Should the Government ever decide to stop extending the Howard-era funding model and legislate a new schools funding system, Greens MPs will approach the debate bound by this policy. And in the lead-up to the 2013 election, the Greens will tell the public how much we'd put into education and when (which is, incidentally, more than Labor did at the last election).
It's rubbish to suggest that talking about revenue and expenditure is somehow a conservative move. In fact, now more than ever, progressives need to be diving in to the fiscal debate.
There is a growing revenue crisis in this country. Labor trumpets that it's keeping tax as a percentage of GDP at a lower rate than John Howard's government. To my mind, that's not a boast, that's a problem. It leads to Labor's cuts to single parent payments and university research funds in a vain attempt to reach a surplus. Meanwhile, the Coalition around Australia peddles a cure worse than the disease, with massive cost cutting and an increase in regressive taxes like the GST.
Labor's emphasis on keeping the tax take below the Howard-era level is a killer. If we kept revenue at the same level as under Howard - not increased, mind you, just maintained - we could expect an extra $20-$25bn per year in revenue. That's a lot of money that could be spent on public schools, social welfare and infrastructure. But to get it, we may have to raise some taxes on big business and the wealthy.
This is why the Greens have for some time been calling for a strengthened mining tax, higher taxes for millionaires and an end to tax breaks for wealthy resource companies.
Unless we have a serious discussion about how much money we need and where it is going to come from, things will get worse as Labor and the Coalition keep looking for spending cuts and shy away from our looming revenue crisis.
Government should have the courage to stand up to big business and raise the revenue we need, instead of cutting important public services or asking the rest of us to pay more from our own pockets.
The Greens are committed to having a serious discussion about numbers as well as retaining our principles.
You can do both at the same time.
You can take on big business, care for people and the environment and make society more equal while still making the numbers add up.
Indeed, with the growing crises facing Australia and the planet, it's what every good progressive should be doing.