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Transcript of joint press conference: Parliament House, Canberra: 23 August 2012: mining; increasing the humanitarian intake; health of asylum seekers in detention; environmental protections; Tony Abbott



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Christine Milne Australian Greens Leader

Sarah Hanson-Young Greens spokesperson for Immigration & Citizenship and Human Rights

Richard Di Natale Greens Health spokesperson

Larissa Waters Greens spokesperson for Mining, Environment & Biodiversity

Joint press conference Thursday 23 August 2012

Transcript

Subjects: mining, increasing the humanitarian intake, health of asylum seekers in detention, environmental protections, Tony Abbott

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Australian Greens have been calling for a very long time for the increase in humanitarian intake. When the debate came to the House, we put it very firmly as part of our Second Reading Amendment. It was defeated by both the Government and the Coalition but nevertheless we very strongly argued. I met with the Prime Minister and put it to her, said to her very clearly, you can do this without the Parliament, it is the one thing that we know will actually save lives because it will give people hope that they have a safe pathway to get to Australia. So I really welcome today the Prime Minister's decision to move on increasing the humanitarian intake to 20,000. We look forward to that happening as soon as possible and I really congratulate the advocates around the country who have been working for this with the Greens for a very long time.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: We have always known that the best way to save lives is to give people a safer alternative than having to board dangerous boats. That’s what the Greens have always said, that is what the overwhelming list of submissions to the Expert Panel, the Houston panel said. They asked for an increase to the numbers of refugees we safely bring to Australia. That should be the heart of any policy, not dumping vulnerable children, refugees out of sight out of mind on an island prison. That is not a way to save lives. You save lives by giving people safer alternatives and safer pathways. That’s what the increase in the humanitarian intake is all about. Furthermore the extra money to go directly to the UNHCR and partner agencies is exactly what those organisations asked

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for, particularly when I was in Indonesia only six weeks ago so I welcome both moves from the Government, they are things that the sector has argued for for a long, long time and there is no way we would be where we are today if it was not for the hard work of organisations like the Refugee Council, Amnesty International, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and many, many others. Saving lives is about giving people a safer pathway and that is what this policy will do.

RICHARD DI NATALE: Last night I was lucky enough to speak at the AMA dinner and the AMA have called on politicians to enshrine in law the protection, particularly with the protection of young people, their mental health and their general health. They have called on parliamentarians to introduce a bill that would enshrine that protection in law and today the Greens are responding to that call by saying that we will introduce a bill into this Parliament which will essentially ensure that we go some way to reducing the huge epidemic of mental-health illness, depression, anxiety, of people committing suicide, all as a result of indefinite mandatory detention. The AMA have called for a panel of health experts made up of people with expertise in mental health and general health to ensure that we get genuine transparency around what is happening in detention. We want to ensure that we do not get a situation where it is the policemen policing themselves. We want to ensure that we get an independent group of health experts monitoring the facilities themselves, ensuring that people have access to adequate health infrastructure but also ensuring that we go some way to reducing the huge mental-health epidemic that will be created by indefinite mandatory detention. So Sarah and I will be introducing a bill into the Parliament that ensures an independent panel of health experts is created, that that panel will not report to the Immigration Department but in fact will report directly to the Parliament, to the Prime Minister and to the other relevant ministers. We will do that in the next sitting of Parliament. We think it is vital to make a terrible bill slightly better, to try to ease some of the suffering and hardship that we are inflicting on some of the most vulnerable people. It is consistent with a physician's ethic of care, it is consistent with the Hippocratic oath that says first do no harm. I commend the AMA for the proposal and will be working with them to ensure this bill is introduced into the next Parliament.

LARISSA WATERS: We’ve seen some comments earlier today from Resources Minister Martin Ferguson that the boom is over. Of course having to be corrected by the Treasury spokesperson and the Prime Minister, we know that the mining bubble is inevitably going to end which is why it’s all the more important that we strengthen and diversify our economy, which is why it is a great shame that we’ve seen today the Federal Labor Environment Minister tick off, approve the largest coal mine in Australia and the largest coal mine in the Southern Hemisphere, right at the time when the climate scientists are saying we’ve got to start dealing with climate change seriously and when we’ve taken those steps in the Parliament to put a price on pollution, why on earth do we have the Environment Minister approving the biggest ever coal mine in the Southern Hemisphere, in my state of Queensland for Gina Rinehart. Now this just goes to show that our environmental laws are not strong enough to prevent this climate disaster and this disaster for our Great Barrier Reef. Our laws are too weak to stop this and that’s why they need to be strengthened rather than weakened as the Government is doing with the support of the Opposition.

JOURNALIST: In your opinion do you think the mining boom is over?

CHRISTINE MILNE: It’s very interesting that Martin Ferguson thinks that the mining boom is over but the Government has gone into over correction mode to suggest that it is not the case. What I think

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we have is a wake-up call in Australia and what it points to very clearly is how vulnerable this economy is as its overdependence on digging up, cutting down and shipping away comes right to the fore. In the last 24 hours we’ve had BHP put on hold Olympic Dam, we’ve also had Woodside put on hold its Pluto gas development. What we’re seeing now with the approval of the Alpha coal mine is this attempt to go out there and say oh look there’s a big future for coal but the reality is the world is taking seriously global warming, this is a huge risk to the economy, to put all your eggs in one basket with constant investment and subsidies for large-scale resource projects when in fact the jobs, the new investment in renewables and the clean energy sector. In the House today we’ve had the visiting Chinese businessman who is rolling out solar panels and talking about the massive shift going on around the world but particularly in China. On the one hand there is a real lack of understanding in Australia at how both the Government and the Coalition are putting the future at risk by not diversifying the economy and getting out of the resources and getting more into investment in education, training, research and development and commercialisation of new industries, the whole green economy.

JOURNALIST: why should the mining tax go ahead if there are companies like BHP and Woodside that are shelving projects?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I think it has to be put into perspective. BHP’s profit is still the second largest in Australia’s history. This is something like $17 billion of profit BHP is making. We should as the community be able to raise the money to pay for health, to pay for education, for Denticare, for national disability insurance. We the community deserve to be able to get money from the resources boom. We should have had it in a sovereign wealth fund and we should now be in a position to roll it out for the things that we need. But these companies are still making mega profits and can afford to pay and we have to raise revenue to do the good things that allow us to care for people in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Could the dividends from the tax be reduced because companies are being a bit more careful or cautious?

CHRISTINE MILNE: It is really clear that the Government made a huge mistake when it raced from the Super Profits Tax to the mineral tax that we now have, and in just negotiating with three companies Xstrata, Rio Tinto and BHP, restricting it to a certain number of minerals and not all, they have severely reduced the capacity to deliver the kinds of things we want for education, health, disability and the like. So what we are wanting to do as the Greens, and I’ll be introducing a Private Member’s Bill to this end, is to block that loophole that is there and basically stop the states from being able to gouge the revenue. But even so there is a good chance that the revenue will not be enough, in fact almost certainly will not be enough to do what we need to do to implement the Gonski Review and have good investment in education. It will not be enough to support national disability insurance or Denticare and the question is from the head of Treasury Martin Parkinson through to the former head of Treasury Ken Henry to even the Business Council of Australia Jennifer Westacott and most recently Heather Ridout. Everyone is saying we do not have the money. We have to raise revenue in Australia and the Greens are prepared to do that and we certainly want the mining industry to pay its way.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t the problem is that with the Olympic Dam site it is not feasible at this stage, it looks like it will be at least 5 years before more plans are drawn up, how can we generate more revenue when the Coalition are accusing the Greens of trying to shut down the mining industry?

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CHRISTINE MILNE: The Coalition needs to start to learn to read for start before they go into economic analysis of a project. We’ve had the leader of the Coalition, Tony Abbott, who didn’t even bother reading what BHP had to say. It is a classic case of let the facts get in the way of a prejudice that you are going to go out there and try to scare people with. The fact is as Marius Kloppers has said it’s increased construction costs, it’s the high Australian dollar, but he also went on to say that it is softening demand around the world for uranium and that is on the back of the Fukushima disaster. What Australia needs to get into its head is that the rest of the world is changing, the mega trends are away from uranium, the megatrend is away from fossil fuels and if you do not absorb the megatrends you are going to make very big mistakes and invest heavily in projects that turn out to be white elephants and that is a real vulnerability in Australia. If you look at the level of subsidies we’re putting into the mining industry in particular and these railways that are being built to transport coal you could end up with a destroyed Great Barrier Reef, huge infrastructure half built, look at the Pluto scheme, they had all kinds of claims about Pluto and then the gas did not prove up. This is a really huge, vulnerable track Australia is taking and we need to get with the global trends and go green.

JOURNALIST: The Government's seems keen to give away environment powers. If it did give away those powers will Tony Burke be able to intervene in issues like the Great Barrier Reef that we saw with Campbell Newman or in the alpine grazing issue that we saw in Victoria.

LARISSA WATERS: Exactly why the Federal Government should not be giving its environment powers to the states is illustrated by the fact that Campbell Newman bungled the mine assessment of Alpha. Tony Burke had to take that Alpha mine assessment back off Campbell Newman and do it properly because the states do not do a good job looking after our environment. We’ve seen that with alpine grazing, we’re seeing that with coal mines and with our Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately the Prime Minister at the behest of the Business Council of Australia agreed in April to give away federal powers to the states. If Minister Burke wants to be able to protect the Reef and wants to be to protect our Kosciusko National Park from alpine grazing then I’m afraid his hands will be tied if this plan through COAG goes ahead. The Federal Government’s simply should not wash their hands of its responsibility to protect our natural environment. The states will not look after the interests of Australia's environment. They’ll look after their own interests, that’s their job, they’re the states. That is why we need the Federal Government to be looking after our national environment and that is why it is such a travesty that COAG and the Prime Minister have agreed for the Feds to just completely step out of their responsibilities to look after the Reef, to look after our national parks, to look after all the places that people in Australia holds so dear and are fought over years to protect. All of that is at stake and I do not know what the Federal Minister is going to be doing around here if he’s got no responsibilities for the environment. He’s doing himself out of a job frankly.

JOURNALIST: You said you saw Gillard made a deal with the Business Council, do you think Burke’s been rolled?

LARISSA WATERS: Who knows, you’d have to ask Minister Burke about whether or not he is supporting the decision but unfortunately for him he’s not in charge of that decision. The Prime Minister and COAG have agreed that Burke will no longer have half of his responsibilities come March next year. So I certainly hope that Minister Burke is listening to the community and all of the environment groups who want strong national laws that protect the places that we all love and I

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certainly hope that the Government will listen to all of the Australians out there that actually want a healthy, clean, productive environment for our grandkids and wants the Federal Government to do its job to protect it.

End