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Greens National Conference: keynote speech and and press conference

Christine Milne 3 Nov 2012


Leader of the Australia Greens, Senator Christine Milne, delivered a keynote speech to the Greens National Conference in Sydney, and addressed the press at a press conference afterwards.

Senator Larissa Waters also delivered a speech at the National Conference outlining the Federal Greens' Too Precious to Lose' campaign, to protect our precious natural environments under threat from weakening environmental laws and damaging developments.


Please see attached audio files and transcript of keynote speech below.



Greens National Conference keynote speech


CHRISTINE MILNE: It is such a warm welcome and I too want to welcome all of you here delegates, my Parliamentary colleagues from the Federal Parliament and so many state colleagues as well. It is our 20th anniversary and it's rather wonderful to know that we have so many elected representatives now from local, state and in the Federal Parliament, so welcome to everybody.

I too want to begin by acknowledging the indigenous people and I want to thank Uncle Les for coming here today. I want to pay my respects to the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and the Bidjigal people of the Dharawal nation. Reconciliation with Australia's indigenous people though takes more than just an acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land. We must do more. And the Greens have acknowledged that and throughout our parliamentary work we stand up strongly and say that if we are to achieve reconciliation with our indigenous people we must oppose the Stronger Futures legislation and we did so very much in the Federal Parliament. Far from stronger futures it's actually weaker futures for indigenous communities around the country and in our agreement with the Prime Minister we secured an agreement that we would have a referendum which actually recognised Australia's indigenous people in our constitution. We did a huge amount of work to try to secure that but unfortunately in the absence of tripartite support and in the absence of a major campaign, it won't be achieved in the context of this election framework but let me promise you this - the Greens will keep campaigning for indigenous recognition in our constitution for as long as it takes.

Commitment to indigenous rights to a more equal society, to shrinking the gap between the rich and the poor are core parts of the Greens' vision for our community and our country.  And unlike Labor and the Coalition, we have a long term and consistent vision for a better Australia - one that is strong, confident and decent enough to end discrimination on the basis of sexuality and pursue marriage equality in this country; an Australia that is strong enough to stand up for human rights and the rule of law for every one of our citizens from David Hicks to Julian Assange; one that would never see our nation excised from the map for the purpose of excising our humanity.  

The Greens' vision would put the protection of our natural world, our places that are too precious to lose, our farmland and our aquifers at the heart of economic and social policy, we would not put them in the back pocket of the miners and the Business Council of Australia and Federal and State Governments in tow. We have a vision that says we live in a society, not in an economy, and if the economy isn't making us healthier and happier and more equal and more secure then this isn't doing its job and we need to change the economic tools.

We not only have a vision we actually have the integrity to deliver it. Unlike Labor and the Coalition for whom there are no bottom lines in securing or holding on to power, regardless of the science, regardless of the law or basic human decency and kindness, we Greens actually stand for something. We have the courage of our convictions and we pursue power for a purpose and that purpose is consistent, long-term, transparent and out there for the people to see when they vote Green they know what they're going to get, they know what we're going to stand for and they know what we are going to pursue.

But we have to recognise that because of our success we are under attack as never before. As Gandhi said, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win. But make no mistake we are in the fight-you phase, and it has been unrelenting, and will continue to be unrelenting because both Labor and the Coalition would love to see parliaments around Australia which are confined to their own representation only. It would be a comfortable place for them, a place where no one would question our involvement in Afghanistan, no one would question US intelligence information, no one would be asking the question why are our troops still in Afghanistan? Why aren't we bringing them home as safely and quickly as possible because there will be no difference between now and 2014 in terms of the outcomes in Afghanistan but there will be further loss of life. We should not be exposing our troops to the increasing danger in Afghanistan, we should bring them home now.

In a parliament where there was only the Labor Party and the Coalition the only discussion on tax reform would be to talk a lot about it but to do absolutely nothing. Despite Wayne Swan's rhetoric, the fact is he allowed the mining giants to rewrite the super profits tax. It's raised not a cent in its first quarter. Rio Tinto, BHP and Xstrata have walked away having to pay nothing. But at the same time he has wielded the budget axe against single parents, he has cut research funding to our universities, and failed to lift Newstart by $50 which everybody recognises is essential to stop people being trapped in poverty. And there's no money to bring forward the implementation of the Gonski review to put money into public education or into more money into dental care upfront.

It's obvious that short-term profits and this year's budget surplus are trumping the need to look after one another and prepare for the future. It's time that we delayed the surplus. It's obvious if you look around you there are so many opportunities to raise money and save billions of dollars that we could invest in programs that educate and care for people, that improve lives, that make us happier and healthier, and take us into the innovative zero carbon future where we know we need to be.

We have just had the Parliamentary Budget Office do some costings for us, it's the first costings we have had done and I'm very proud to say that the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office, an office which enables opposition parties and independents to have their policies costed professionally, was something the Greens delivered in our agreement with the Prime Minister. It is an improvement in the parliamentary institutional structure of this country and it demonstrates that the Greens are not only doing policy work in the broader context, we're also improving the quality of the parliaments in which we operate.

We have asked the Parliamentary Budget Office to cost a proposal to lift the mining tax to its original level of 40 per cent and apply it to those super profits. You would be aware of course that it was watered down by Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard from 40 to 30 per cent and then by the time the miners got further deductions it came down to 22 per cent. But, even if you didn't expand the range of minerals that you covered, if you actually lifted it to what Ken Henry originally proposed, that would raise an additional $26 billion over the next four years. I'll say it again - 26 billion over four years is there to be had if we were to restore the mining tax to its original level of ambition. And that is a costing not that the Greens worked  out on the back of an envelope but rather that was done by the Parliamentary Budget Office. It is out there and it is clear that that is what we need to do because that would make a huge difference to the quality of life in Australia. If we invested it wisely we could lift Newstart by that $50, we could make sure we put that money into education, we could roll out more renewable energy, we could put Denticare into Medicare at a faster rate than we've anticipated, we would get high-speed rail on track in Australia and we would work to be securing the kind of future that we need in terms of innovation, research, training, so many things, $26 billion over four years.

So today I am calling on the Prime Minister to work with the Greens to go back and put some substance into the rhetoric. We've heard all about Labor values, we've heard at all about taxing the big miners in order to be a fairer country, well all we've had is talk and no action. We've had Bruce Springsteen but we've had no Parliamentary action to get that money to deliver on the ground. That's what we want to do as the Greens, we want to restore our budgetary position, delay the surplus, raise the 26 billion and actually make a very big difference. And so to that end, I'm going to put a motion to you now which I would ask that you respond to by affirmation I hope, that the National Conference of the Australian Greens calls on the Australian Government to amend the mining tax in the light of the need to plug the growing revenue hole that has seen single parents, job seekers and researchers go without, and in order to fund crucial initiatives including an increase of $50 a week for Newstart recipients. All those in favour - (applause)

I hope the Prime Minister and Wayne Swan are listening because we have got the money if we actually want to put the effort into raising it. But around Australia people are realising the search for a quick dollar from mining and logging is putting at risk places and species that are too precious to lose. And the state and federal governments are doing everything they can to speed it up, to get any environmental protection measures out of the way so that this can proceed without any impediment just as the Business Council of Australia would like. State governments are already leaving the charge with shooting and grazing in national parks, reversing long held prohibitions on uranium mining, but also the Federal Government is right there in the thick of it getting ready to destroy our environmental laws even more by handing over most of their powers to untrustworthy state governments and that will occur at the COAG meeting next month. And if you want to know what it means think regional forest agreements, that is the model that is going to be used to govern how we manage the environment in our country, that is accredit the process, let the states deal with it, there will be no compliance, there will be no enforcement, and if you look at what has happened to our forest since these bilateral agreements then that is exactly what Prime Minister Gillard has on the table for COAG.

This is actually a critical moment for the Greens and for the whole country because this is the point where Prime Minister Gillard sells out the Hawke legacy where the Hawke Government moved in and brought federal powers to bear because it was clear the states couldn't be trusted. Now we are going back to a pre-1970s era almost by handing this back to the states and it is a frightening prospect.

Now we've hit a nerve with this campaign, not only have we had beautiful photographs and videos posted on our website but the community has come on board and started to identify all the places around the country that are special to local people and they are recognising in their search and their pursuit of looking after their local areas just how much is at risk for the whole country. Now we are going to go through this in more detail, Senator Waters is going to give that to you shortly and explain the campaign more because it's something that every Green around the country will be involved with in community groups, and working on, but I wanted to take this opportunity to announce that we'll be organising a national week of action for the Too Precious to Lose campaign leading up to COAG in early December. We'll be getting in touch with local groups around the country and providing materials so that we can strongly take it up to those state premiers and the Federal Government as they sit in a room and prepare to dispatch James Price point, the Tarkine, the Coorong, Kangaroo Island, the Great Barrier Reef and species such as the koala and the Leadbeater's possum as they prepare to dispatch those to the care of state bureaucracies which have already been slashed in terms of numbers and capacity over time. This is shameful, it can't be allowed and it demonstrates that Labor cannot be trusted on the environment.

2013 is going to be a very tough election, make no mistake about that. The election day will be called sometime between August 10 and September 7, unless of course the Prime Minister decides to go into a House only election. We are now as a political party on an election footing. We know that the Greens' record vote in 2010 was in large part contributed to by people who were angry with the Labor Government's complete backflip on action on climate change. People voted for us on the issue of addressing global warming and we didn't let them down. Today because of the Greens we have a legislated package which includes an 80 per cent target reduction in emissions by 2050, the Greens would have like to see it at net carbon zero but nevertheless we have got it to 80 per cent, we have a new institution, the Climate Change Authority, in Australia which is expertise based, we have the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian renewable energy agencies which are going to superpower the transition in renewables in Australia, we've got a move to try to get 100 per cent renewable energy as quickly as possible and an instruction to the Australian electricity market operator to make scenarios for 100 per cent renewables in 2030 and 2050, and we've also moved strongly to get reform of the National Electricity Market so that all those impediments to people who are trying to maximise energy efficiency in demand-side savings or people who are trying to connect to the grid with local and community-based renewables can be facilitated in doing so and the barriers being removed.

But of course there's a lot more to do. We have delivered all of that with the carbon farming initiative and a billion-dollar fund for biodiversity across Australia. We have also looked at and developed and are delivering energy efficiency measures and we are about to link with the European Union and start to go to a greater global system of emissions reduction. Now we have done all of that in the context of Labor going to the last election saying there would be a citizens' assembly and no carbon price in this period of government and the Coalition saying no to anything. So when you consider that, you have to recognise how much the Greens contributed to where we are on climate change now and the package that we have delivered is admired around the world. I met with Christiana Figueres from the UNFCCC Secretariat when she was in Australia recently, and she congratulated me and of course in the context of the Government as well for the delivery of the Clean Energy Package in Australia saying that it is a world leading, well-thought through package. It is of course undermined by the decision by the Labor Government, supported by the Coalition, to massively expand coal. And that is their big Achilles' heel. You cannot say that you want to reduce emissions and you care about global warming if you approve the biggest coal mine in the Southern Hemisphere. if you try to wreck the reef with new coal ports through the reef, you can't say you are genuine about global warming if that is the strategy you are taking and you can't argue that you're economically responsible when you are exposing shareholders and the whole Australian economy to great risk because the Chinese and others around the world are now reducing their energy intensity and the Chinese have reduced theirs from 85 per cent 73 per cent in terms of the coal. It is going down and Australia is putting all its future in a coal mine and it's a backward step, it's irresponsible, and that's why the Greens' leadership in this is so essential in parliaments right around the country.

Given a chance to show what we could do in the balance of power when the Australian people have that opportunity, when Adam Bandt was elected to the seat of Melbourne and we achieved balance of power in the Lower House as well as in the Senate, we really have worked hard to deliver for the Australian people. Denticare is one of those very substantial achievements and negotiations which have been successful and will make an enormous difference to the health and well-being of people around the country.

We have also we have also put high-speed rail on the map on the political agenda. It is part of our agreement with the Gillard Government, phase one showed that it was feasible, phase two is about to be delivered by the end of the year, and the Greens will not stop working until we see high-speed rail in Australia, it is one of those areas of nation building which is so obvious that we must get on with it if we are to go to a zero carbon future and if we are to improve the amenity of life in cities around Australia, but also in the task of moving people in the most efficient manner in this century.

We have also worked and negotiated with the Government where we thought it would take our nation forward. And the example this week, just this very last week, where we have negotiated with the Government for better outcomes is in the area of poker machine reform and in terms of the wheat industry in Australia. They are two and those kinds of negotiations go on week in week out.

But I want make one point about negotiations. Getting an outcome is not an end in itself, if the outcome you achieve amounts to nothing or a step backwards in terms of the national interest, and I draw your attention to the mining tax as I mentioned before. Much was said about the great negotiation that took place on the intransigence between the mining industry which spent 22 million to save itself 26 billion. But in my view a negotiation that arrived at that conclusion is a failed negotiation.

And I also put it to you on the issue of people seeking asylum in our country. Much was said about we must get it done, we must reach a compromise on this, and so the Coalition and Labor got together and celebrated the great compromise that they had achieved. And the Greens stood by principle, but we stood by what was right for people in terms of saving lives. And now several months down the track, where is the evaluation of the marvellousness of that negotiation? Because what we are now seeing is more people getting to Australia than less in terms of getting here in leaky boats. What the Greens have said is let's put money into maximising our humanitarian intake, let's put money into regional assessment in Indonesia, let's do the right thing by vulnerable people, let's not pretend that some parliamentary fix is of itself something to celebrate when it is done on the back of very vulnerable people.

Well we're now in new circumstances, the era, the period in which we have negotiated, got those outcomes for the Australian community as part of our agreement the Gillard Government, has now gone into election mode. And we are in these new circumstances where Tony Abbott and the Coalition will stop at nothing in their negative campaigning and preparedness to exploit fear and insecurity as Australians grapple with an uncertain future. They aren't trying to make society any better or kinder or healthier or better educated. What they're doing is offering no solutions, they are pursuing a strategy which is about achieving power at any costs and it's on the back of cheap slogans, turn back the votes, no carbon price, no mining tax. They're slogans, but what are they for? What does the Coalition stand for? And where is it going to get the money to deliver what it says it intends to deliver? In terms of the Labor Party it's in a fight for its life because it has lost its soul. It's in a new quest to match the Liberals in the push to the right.

Just how far have they have gone to the right came home to me this week when I saw Mayor Bloomberg in New York backing the Obama candidacy for presidency. He came out and said look, action on climate change, marriage equality, woman's right to choose, healthcare and gun control are centrist issues. I thought to myself what would he make of Australia where Liberal and Labor have moved so far to the right that they have abandoned not only the left but they have abandoned the centre and they have moved there with the assistance of News Limited every step of the way. Rupert Murdoch would be very happy with the extent to which he shifted the political agenda in Australia so far to the right.

And in those circumstances it is quite hard for the Greens to reach voters and we have seen some setbacks in recent times, but I have to say in spite of those setbacks we have still have had some pretty outstanding results and you just have to look at the Canberra Times today to celebrate what a great outcome Shane Rattenbury and his colleagues in the ACT Greens have had. It is going to be because the Greens were in the ACT assembly and got it on the agenda and with Shane holding the balance of power that we will see light rail rolled out in Canberra and it will be Shane who will put the backbone into the Labor Party to act on their emissions reduction promises.

And just in terms of good news I must congratulate the Victorian Greens for the terrific outcome of the local government elections there last weekend and here in Sydney as well and the increase in the Green vote in the seat of Sydney.

It is a matter of fact that the Greens are not an aberration, we are not just a party of protest, we have integrity, we have vision, and we have the policies that recognise the main threats to the planet and humanity in this century. We are the only party that faces those very real threats to the planet but we have to do a better job of communicating the Greens message. We have to do a better job of getting out there and explaining to people how our economic policy is about supporting people and nature and a better society. We have to go out there and explain to people how the transition to a zero carbon economy is the best way to secure resilience in Australia, to create new jobs, to have a better quality of life around the country in rural and regional Australia, as well as in the cities, and that's why I've said the Greens are going to reach out to rural and regional Australia and since I've taken over I have been around many of the states, met many rural communities and I can tell you the Greens' position on actually taking on the dogma of free trade to say it needs to be fair trade, the Greens say that we recognise that land grabbing and food insecurity is one of the reasons why we need to face up to the challenge of foreign ownership in Australia. We've  said let's get on with protecting our biodiversity and biosecurity. Those things people in rural and regional Australia are really listening to as indeed they are, as we talk up and take to them more renewable energy projects which allow them to put another crop in their rotation. They can actually make money out of the Greens bringing renewable energy out there to the bush. And we're also the ones saying to rural and regional Australia let us help you bring down your input costs, get back to more natural systems. We need to be maximising value in Australian agriculture, protecting agricultural land for food production because as Lester Brown has said, in this century food is oil and land is gold. That's something the Greens get and we're the only political party in the Parliament who does, and rural Australia need to have us be out there telling that to them as often as we can. I really welcome the formation of the Country Greens.

But we also need to be reaching out to progressive business in Australia because there's now a critical mass of business who depend on the implementation of the Greens' vision, whether you are in green design, of cities or buildings, whether you are in research and development, trying to commercialise some of those new technologies in renewable energy or energy efficiency, whether you are in product development in financial services and insurance and so on, you have a keen interest in making sure that addressing climate change continues, that the ramped up effort goes on. There is a critical mass of people out there, running businesses in those fields, and in rural and regional Australia that goes to preserving carbon in the landscape as well. We need to be talking to them, and they need a voice, because they certainly don't have it through the Australian Industry Group or the Business Council of Australia or many of those other peak bodies. We have to work with them, to actually go out there and provide the certainty that they need that we will deliver for them through the parliaments on the low carbon future that we all aspire to. So we need to campaign. We need to raise money. We need to ask the Australian community to join us in looking after our country and our people in the context of our region and global security. Because what really counts is securing the health and happiness of Australia, its people, its rivers, its reefs  its forests, its farmlands, the wealth of our biodiversity, and also securing a preparedness for the future because we are the only ones who are prepared to face up to the challenges that that future is going to bring . And to do that, you need a global vision, the Greens have got that, through the Global Greens, the Australian Greens, the Greens from state parties, the Greens in local government. When you vote for a Green at any level you get an internally consistent, global vision, and you get local action. That's what people want, that's what this century depends on: social justice, ecological integrity, participatory democracy, peace and non-violence. That's what we stand for, that's why we need to be in parliaments and I look forward to joining you all on the campaign trail as we take it up to the others for the 2013 election.


Attached Files
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