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Senator Richardson believes that the Democrats will be wiped out at the polls by green Independents, and that there is no threat to the ALP

COMPERE: And now to the greening of Canberra: the unseemly rush by politicians of all persuasions, to snuggle up to the environmental movement. Senator Graham Richardson was an early starter. He correctly picked the mood of mass protests in Tasmania against the daming of the State's wild rivers - a mood which spread to the middle-class on the mainland.

Now Senator Richardson is picking a green revolution in Australian politics, claiming the Democrats will be wiped out at the polls by green independents. But Senator Richardson told political editor, Dennis Grant, tonight, that there's no threat to the ALP.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: There are two things to remember about Tasmania: the first, of course, is the different electoral system. You won't see independents, be they green or anything else, in the House of Representatives here in the near future. I don't think in my lifetime that's likely.

DENNIS GRANT: But you'll certainly see them in the Senate because that again is a different process?


DENNIS GRANT: How are you going to get on there?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, they'll replace the Democrats.

DENNIS GRANT: Just the Democrats?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yes, just the Democrats. I can't see anywhere where they'll replace us. They'll replace the Democrats and, frankly, that's not something I'll be shedding too many tears about.

DENNIS GRANT: Well, in Tasmania there's the so called `green accord' between the greenies and the Labor Party down there, is that possible in the Senate environment?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: I doubt if we'll get to the stage of a Senate accord in the sense that you don't need them to govern. Government is essentially decided in the Lower House and not in the Upper. Having said that, I think we can work well with them in the Senate, and if they are to replace the Democrats in the Senate, it's something I'll welcome.

DENNIS GRANT: So, it's possible that down the track a Labor Party could form some sort of de facto alliance, both in Tasmania and the other States where they may emerge, and certainly in the Senate?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Inevitably, an arrangement between the Labor Party and the greens is much more likely than any arrangement between the greens and the conservative side of politics. So, whether the arrangement would be in the form of an accord or not, is up for discussion. There aren't any greens in there yet. I think you'll have to wait to see who we get and what type they are.

DENNIS GRANT: Staying in Tasmania, the pulp mill proposed was knocked on the head because it didn't meet environmental safeguards, however they may have been laid down; news today that the same company is proposing at least one on the mainland and in Tasmania. Will that receive your endorsement?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, so far we've got two vague proposals. In fact, Harris.... have been talking about these two proposals now for some months - at least six months to my knowledge - but in all of that six months, I'm yet to see one concrete proposal. But even once we get a proposal, it's got to pass two tests: an environmental test, obviously, and as you know, we sent a team of experts from the CSIRO over to Sweden and Finland and Canada to look at what's the best technology in the world, because that's what we'll insist on here. They're going to report in a few weeks.

We'll lay down very strict environmental guidelines. But, secondly, it'll have to pass the same economic test that every foreign investment proposal has to pass and that will be: is it giving sufficient value-added to Australia? That's something for Paul Keating and John Button and their ilk to decide.

DENNIS GRANT: Don't you sometimes worry that the signal that you're sending to the outside world - are the very important boardrooms in the outside world - that Australia is greening; we're going to be much tougher about environmental safeguards; that we're losing out on money. I mean, they will go someplace else, won't they?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: They might. That's quite possible, but I think you've also got to consider what 13 tonnes of organochlorines going into Bass Strait everyday, means. In the end, it means there won't be any life in Bass Strait or in large chunks of it; that's too big a price to pay for money, much too big a price, and we wouldn't pay it. If you signal to the rest of the world that you won't be walked over, then you can pay a penalty, but I think Australians would demand of you no less.

DENNIS GRANT: Senator Graham Richardson - I was going to let you go at that point, but since I've got you in the office - you lot are in trouble: home loan rates at 17 per cent; the Treasurer off buying clocks or whatever he's doing - what's happened to you? You've lost your discipline.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, the Treasurer is not off buying clocks. He went to the OECD in Paris. He ought to be there and well and good that he is. He went on to the USSR to talk to some people in the Soviet regime about economic management, and I'm glad he's doing that. As far as us being in trouble, certainly we're not doing well in the polls. When you've got high interest rates you can't do well. But people have got to realise that it took 30 or 40 years to make a mess of the base of the Australian economy. For almost all of that time, there was no Labor Party in government. We are now faced with that mess and trying to do something about it. It won't be an easy road, but we're going to get there.

DENNIS GRANT: It's a question of perceptions, isn't it? I mean, one of the points that they make around this place, around the Parliament, is that you've got the intensely viral big white car disease - you're looking smug; you're looking complacent.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, I would hope that's not the case. We'd be anything but that. I know and I'm sure that I can speak for the Prime Minister or the Treasurer or anyone else, there are a lot of people hurting out there with interest rates - a lot of people - and that's a matter of great concern, great regret to us, and over the next few months, we all hope that the economy is such that those interest rates can come down.

DENNIS GRANT: So, that skill that this Labor Party was famous for, the skill of communications, getting across the message, you've dipped a bit.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: No doubt about that. We are good at making decisions. We have become not so good, unfortunately, at selling them. That's one thing we've got to do much better at in the next 12 months, but I'm sure we will.