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National Press Club: address [Green's policy; election campaign]



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ADDRESS TO THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB

 

Senator Bob Brown

 

28 September 1998

 

In Sydney two weeks ago, a young man asked me simply “Is there any hope?” That question sears the fabric of young Australia. We Greens are defiant of those who use office to divide society and wreck the environment. We take up the challenge to put optimism back on young Australia’s agenda. We are a party of action and through our action we offer hope.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, in an election marked by no higher vision for Australia than how it is to be taxed, the Greens offer you an Australia with the world’s best environment and lifestyle standards.

 

We will write the nation’s duty as custodian of the environment, into the constitution. Unlike Labor, we will rescind Mr Howard’s Native Title Act and re-empower the Indigenous people’s culture of care for the land. We will embed a credo of intergenerational equity into national politics. We will inscribe over every entrance to parliament this question - “Will people, 100 years from now, thank us for what we do today?” It is a question which should predicate every political debate. Through this homage to all future generations of Australians, we insist on their right to inherit a continent at least as beautiful, as clean, as livable and as full of potential as the Australia of today.

 

And as full of potential as the 125 women and men who are standing for election as Greens around the continent.

 

[INTRODUCE CANDIDATES-

 

Louise Crossley. Tasmanian Senate candidate

Charmaine Clark. Victorian Senate candidate

Deb Foskey. ACT Senate candidate

John Sutton. NSW Senate candidate

 

Also in attendance - Ian Cohen - Upper House MP from NSW]

 

And a special word for my fellow Green Senator in Western Australia, Dee Margetts. Senator Margetts, as almost a lone voice then, led the fight in Canberra against GATT legislation at the height of the economic rationalist mania four years ago. She has repeatedly warned of the ravages of unfettered competition policy on Australia’s businesses and jobs. She leads the Senate defence of Indigenous rights when eroded by legislation like Wik and, of course, she is an ardent defender of WA’s environment and wild forests.

 

She is standing for reelection in WA.

 

[Other candidates not in attendance —Drew Hutton (QLD), Craig Wilkins (SA), Ilana Eldridge (NT Reps)]

 

Any one of these outstanding Greens candidates, elected to parliament, will liven up that fusty institution.

 

Under John Howard the parliament has become reactionary. It is as exciting as watching paint dry. Instead of leading this great nation to the forefront of human endeavour, his government is transferring power and decision-making to the faceless multi-nationals of the stock-exchange. Mr Howard’s economic rationalism, empowers the corporate millionaires in the absurd hope that the trickle down effect will see Australia’s poor get enough to survive on. This is the theory, as JK Galbraith put it, that if you feed more wheat to the horses enough will go through and fall on the pavement to feed the sparrows.

 

Half the multinational corporations pay no tax at all. And Mr Howard’s GST would. widen the gap between rich and poor even further.

 

Controls on the export of Australia’s minerals have been lifted. The need for multinational logging companies to get a licence for the export of shattered forests as woodchips has been scrapped. Australia’s time-honoured industrial relations system has been gutted by the Coalition and the Democrats. Labor’s $2.7 million dollars for street kids to buy books, rulers and other basic equipment as an encouragement to get them back to school has been abolished. So has the dental scheme for older Australians. With the support of the Democrats again, Mr Howard introduced that infamous $26,000 levy on old folk entering nursing homes.

 

Given a second term, Mr Howard will privatise the rest of Telstra. The Greens will keep Telstra in public hands. The Greens will protect Australian Post from privitisation.

 

He will allow the big four banks to amalgamate into two, with a massive loss of competition and services for ordinary Australians, specially in the bush, The Greens will tackle him against further deregulation of the banks.

 

He will further lift controls on media ownership. We will not.

 

He will make another ambush on the ABC. Instead of grizzling about bias - if only the Greens got a fraction of Mr Howard’s ABC coverage — we are staunch defenders of the ABC.

 

These are just some of the reasons why some extra strength opposition, the Greens, is essential in the Senate.

 

We won’t have a bar of Mr Howard’s GST. A year ago, we set out to find if a green GST — that is, a socially just, and environmentally sound, GST - is possible. But, no matter how economists readjust the knobs, an equitable and ecological GST does not exist. It is not possible.

 

The Democrats want a foodless GST, but it will not be a toothless GST -- it will still bite poor and low-paid Australians, and, as I will explain, the Howard package is manifestly bad for the environment. We reject that package.

 

Rather than try to make a silk purse out of Mr Howard’s sow's ear, the Greens have a tax package much better attuned to the Australian concept of a fair go.

 

We advocate European—style ecotaxes. These are based on the principle of making polluters pay and giving incentives to those who use clean green technology.

 

Our modest carbon tax of $25 per tonne of C02, for example, would raise $6 billion - enough to abolish payroll tax and to fire Australia into world leadership in clean green technologies.

 

Compare that with the myopic Howard GST package which donates $5 billion in reduced diesel and petrol costs to the big mining, transport and logging companies as an incentive to bum fossil fuels, produce greenhouse gases and pollute the air with potent cancer-causing chemicals. Where his $5 billion promotes pollution, our $6 billion would reduce it dramatically. And reduced it must be!

 

Each of the last 15 months was the hottest in the history of weather records around the world. Global warming from greenhouse gases threatens the next generation of Australians with huge economic and social dislocation as well as environmental damage. A number of our neighbouring Pacific and Indian Ocean island nations face extinction. Tens of millions of our Asian and Pacific Rim neighbours may be forced to migrate as environmental refugees. Storm damage in Australia is predicted to escalate.

 

In these circumstances, well-known to every school child in the nation, the Prime Minister comes up with a tax package which actually stimulates global warming! Even last year’s warning by more than 1000 leading economists from around the world that global warming seriously threatens our way of life and economy has fallen on deaf ears in his oval office. Last year, he cut all funding for solar power R&D and put $111 million instead into funding R&D into dirty fuel - coal and gas! We would reverse this studied and applied ignorance by Mr Howard.

 

So, instead of rewarding greenhouse gas production, we would use $2 billion of the government’s $5 billion gift to the polluting industries to make Australia the sun-power nation of the next century. Australia already has the world’s best solar technology. We would integrate a national solar, wind, public transport and energy efficiency program. It would afford interest—free loans for every household and business to install solar hot water, insulation and energy-efficient equipment. It would save all Australians money. For example, switching to the world’s most energy—efficient refridgerators would save an average household $1000 in power bills over 15 years.

 

Under our plan, the spin off from thousands of small businesses would be 53 000 new jobs in the towns and cities of Australia. As well, our plan would stimulate a multi-billion dollar export industry with Australia, the ‘sun-power nation’, exporting solar power options to the world.

 

This is no pipedream. There is a clear precedent. In 1983 when 27 Greens were first elected to the German parliament, the Bundestag, Chancellor Kohl reacted by bringing in the world’s most advanced pollution control and recycling laws. Business went ape. ‘How can we compete with the rest of the world with such a green handicap?’ they shouted. But now, fifteen years later, German environmental technology leads the world. It is a multi—billion dollar export industry and has created half a million jobs.

 

In an election where health has been put in the back seat, the Greens’ environment policies promote a healthy Australia as well. They echo the call of the Australian Public Health Association just two weeks ago. It warned that

 

·  Environmental degradation, the global warming that has already occurred, and greenhouse gas emissions are now impacting adversely on the health of human populations.

 

·  Both of Australia's major parties are ignoring a most serious health issue and have failed to include consideration of it in their tax packages.

 

·  The Australian electorate deserves tax reform that will contribute to a sustainable future.

 

They went on to call for

 

“each of the political parties to include in their tax plans a system of eco-taxes (eg carbon tax) of the kind that have been advocated by US Vice President Al Gore, and implemented with effect in a growing number of European countries.

 

The health professionals added

 

We believe that eco-taxes will benefit both the short and long term health of Australia ns and that such taxes will be both understood and supported by the Australian electorate. We believe that most Australians are concerned at the need to constrain greenhouse emissions, which, if they continue at their current rate, will result in ecological changes profoundly damaging to human health.”

 

The Greens alone have answered this call from Australia’s public health professionals by making eco taxes a core election policy.

 

A sun-power Australia, powering into the next century, is a cornerstone of o ur platform.

 

Let me list some other points of the strongest environment policies any party will offer Australia’s voters -

 

·  Instead of Mr Howard’s 8% increase in greenhouse gas emissions over 1990 levels by the 2010 we would decrease emissions by 50%

 

·  We would fund local government to stop all sewage entering Australia's rivers and seas by 2010. This would include reprocessing solid waste to make nearly 1 billion tonnes of fertiliser per annum. It would also make enough fuel to add 8 percent to the national power grid. Your loss, Australia’s gain!

 

We would -

·  Put $1 billion annually into a national park and biodiversity program to protect the continent's wildlife, natural ecosystems and World Heritage areas

 

·  In consultation with the Traditional Owners, promote World Heritage listing and protection for Cape York, the Kimberley and Tasmania's unprotected forests. including the Tarkine, Great Western Tiers and Southern Forests

 

·  Sideline Robert Hill and John Anderson and appoint an independent board of nine ecological experts to’ disburse the $1.25 billion Natural Heritage Trust.

 

·  Block Mr Howard’s outrageous move to lever the Traditional Owners out of control of Uluru and Kakadu

 

·  Ask Australians at a referendum to give the Commonwealth responsibility, in the Constitution, for the nation’s environment

 

·  Institute a nation—wide recycling scheme, ensuring hundreds of thousands of jobs, including a beverage deposit scheme which of itself would create 10 000 jobs.

 

·  Promote Australia as the unpolluted garden for world food, including. Uniform national labelling laws for organic produce.

 

Now to this election’s litmus issue: Jabiluka.

 

Before the last election, John Howard told an anxious nation, including the Mirrar people, the traditional owners of the beautiful Jabiluka Valley in Kakadu, that he didn't see how mining at Kakadu could happen “because of environmental considerations.” After winning the election, his minister against the environment, Robert Hill, told the Senate in relation to the world’s second biggest uranium mine proposed for Jabiluka that “the rights of the traditional owners clearly should be respected”. Robert Hill has disgraced that sentiment.

 

As we sit here today, the bulldozers are ripping up the Mirrar people’s valley. Mirrar leader, Yvonne Margarula, and Jacqui Katona, have actually been charged and convicted in the Northern Territory courts with trespass on their own lands. The uranium miner, ERA, a subsidiary of the multinational mining and logging corporation, North, has effectively been given the landrights to the Mirrar heartland by the deceitful Howard-Hill duo. Though polls show 70 or 80% of Australians oppose the mine Mr Howard has given it the go-ahead. This is the leader who talks, on other issues, of the concept of mandate!

 

In politics there is sometimes only a best choice, not a good choice. With Jabiluka testing how Australia honours both its indigenous peoples and its superlative natural environment, Labor’s Kim Beazley has fallen short of the categorical assurance needed . Instead he offers equivocal hope that Labor would stop the mine after October 3rd This equivocation will warrant many undecided voters putting Labor before the Coalition on October 3rd. But the best assurance on Jabiluka in the Senate is to put the Greens first. If Labor is elected we will be in the balance of power. We will insist Kim Beazley stop the mine.

 

A word on One Nation which wants to mine Jabiluka too. We Greens have tackled One Nation hardest in the Senate because of its racism and divisiveness. When I first moved to have PM Howard name Ms Hanson and condemn her bigotry, none of the other parties would back my call. That is history. Cheryl Kernot called it a stunt.

 

Voters should know now, however, that One Nation is a guns—and-all anti-environment outfit. It would mine Jabliuka. It would go much further and open Australia’s national parks to logging. The best antidote to One Nation is the Greens.

 

As we Greens will fight to stop the Jabiluka mine outright; so we will fight for Australia’s wild forests against Labor and the Coalition policy of increased Woodchipping.

 

In Tasmania it is the Jabiluka company North, again, which is the major destroyer of the forests, including world heritage value forests. We will fight to end its destruction of the nation’s heirloom natural heritage. I, for one, will continue to join the daring and committed young Australians who face huge fines and even jail to peacefully protest against the forest carnage from Western Australian to East Gippsland. I am not just a Senate seat warmer. My heart is in Australia's great environmental heritage.

 

To see nature as our essential companion on this small planet, to be cherished and protected for its own sake as well as ours, is, it seems to me, basic to any politician’s responsibilities. Yet, the Prime Minister has reduced his responsibility to chequebook environmentalism. To ‘greenwash’ politics.

 

Dee Margetts and I have added much—needed focus, colour and fairness to the Senate. We take the strongest stand on Indigenous rights. Unlike the ALP we will continue to strive for the right of Indigenous Australians to negotiate when developments like cotton crops, broadscale plantations, quarries and dams threaten their lands.

 

The Wik legislation stole those rights. While it is not ALP policy to rescind the Wik 10-point plan, it is Greens policy to do so.

 

Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples should also be recognised in the constitution. They should also be ensured representation in the nation’s parliament, as ar e New Zealand’s Maori people.

 

We Greens are actively committed to the rights and freedoms of Australia’s neighbours. So, when President Clinton visited our parliament on his way to meet the Premier of China, I called on him to raise the issue of freedom for the Tibetan people.

 

We have taken a stand in the Senate, time and again, for the people of Tibet, East Timor, West Papua, Burma and Bougainville.

 

At home, we celebrate our cultural diversity and promote freedom from discrimination for all Australians, including our ethnic communities, disabled people and the gay and lesbian community -- where, for example, national reform is required to end discrimination in the laws relating to property and superannuation. The Greens are Australia’s only political party with a majority of women in its state and federal representation. We will by example, not just by platitude, strive to ensure women fill half the places in Australia's parliaments and boardrooms.

 

Education is another Greens priority.

 

We would take another $2 billion of John Howard’s polluting $5 billion, and put it into education which, of course, also means job creation. This would revitalise the nation’s public education systems, ensuring free access by every Australian to pre school, primary, secondary and tertiary education. It would take Australia from nearly last to amongst the front rank of the OECD nations in terms of per-capita investment in education. We would encourage all young Australians into tertiary education to raise their prospects for the work, self-esteem and fulfilment they deserve.

 

We would boost small business through the national business enterprise program. The Greens introduced this program as local employment initiatives to Tasmania, the state with Australia’s worst unemployment figures. On a shoestring budget, it promotes smal l business which, unlike the multinationals, puts its profits back into the local community. Greens initiatives have created more than 1000 jobs in the island state’s most depressed towns, helping reduce youth unemployment and rewarding people with good ideas for business.

 

And whatever happened to the republic? The Greens will drive this issue back onto the agenda. Last year I used my casting vote in the Senate to ensure the Constitutional Convention went ahead. In particular, if Australia elects a Labor Government on October 3 rd , we will press for immediate action to bring in the republic and so enable an Australian head of state to open the Sydney Olympics two years from now.

 

Much has been said of the Democrats and the balance of power. But if Labor is elected, Mr Beazley will need the Greens, besides the Democrats, to get legislation through the Senate. The Greens will be the effective balance of power. We will, I assure you, Green up Labor on issues like social justice, overseas aid, putting the republic back on the agenda and, not least, turning around Labor’s own appalling track record on the environment in the 1990s.

 

We will pursue Labor to change from its weak past position on East Timor and Tibet for example so that Australia insists on the right of a free vote for independence in each.

 

Besides stopping the Jabiluka uranium mine in its tracks, we will insist Labor turn around its past failure to protect Australia’s forests. We will drive Labor to achieve a positive target for greenhouse gas reduction and its current policies which fall short on native title rights and immigrant welfare.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, there are two things that bring both the big parties together: raising their own salaries and rigging the system to get rid of competition.

 

With then Green colleague Gerry Bates, I was outside the Tasmanian House of Assembly in 1986 when the Liberal and Labor parties got together, suspended standing orders and zapped through a bill for a 15% payrise, without debate, in 6 minutes flat. That should be in the Guinness Book of Records.

 

This year Labor and Liberal used their numbers in the Tasmanian parliament to rig the electoral system to oust the Greens, led by the state’s most constructive political leader, Christine Mime. Despite this big-party gerrymander, and against the odds, Peg Putt retained her seat in Denison.

 

The next target? The Senate. Two weeks ago we sent a questionnaire to the Labor and Coalition leaders on a range of issues affecting all Australians. Out of a hundred, we’ve scored Kim Beazley the almost-failed score of 51. But John Howard could manage just 3 points out of 100. From the environment to education his stock in trade answer to ideas other than the GST is ‘no!’

 

Significantly, to the question of whether he would guarantee not changing the Senate voting system, without first asking Australians at a referendum, he replied with a flat ‘no!’. Mr Beazley more coyly said that Labor had ‘no intention of doing such a thing.’ Well, not yet.

 

If John Howard ever wins control of the Senate, he will rig the voting system to get rid of minor parties and independents. He will not ask the people. He and his Liberal cabinet will gut the fairest voting system in Canberra, just as they did in Tasmania. Whatever you vote for the Reps, do not vote for the big parties in the Senate. Instead of allowing them to turn the Senate into a rubber stamp, stamp your feet at the ballot box on October 3rd and put the Greens, defenders of the Senate, first.

 

By the way, I am often asked if voting Green risks wasting a vote. This is not so. Quite to the contrary, if the Green candidate is not elected, your vote goes on to the next party or candidate of your choice as a whole vote. In this way, voting Green can be double value.

 

The other night, in the leaders’ debate on TV, Mr Howard at one stage clasped the right upper quadrant of his abdomen and said that he felt “in here” that the GST is right for Australia. Well, as a one time GP I know that when someone’s tender spot is down there, it is the liver which is likely to be inflamed, not the heart.

 

My heart, our Green heart, is in re-orienting politics to focus on our vision of Australia as a safe, clean, natural country, leading in environmental technology in the new century, a haven of justice and tolerance in this turbulent world.

 

Once again, le t me give you the commitment that in all that we do, including tackling every parliamentary question, we will bring this question to the fore: “will Australians, 100 years from now, thank us for doing this?" If parliament can’t say yes to that question or is unsure, it should not proceed.

 

This is our optimistic credo for shaping Australia, taking all Australians, including all generations to come, into account in all we do.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, on October 3rd I urge you to buck the old politics and go for the party of new ideas for the new millenium. Vote 1 ,The Greens

 

 

KD