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Put a smile on your face: vote Green!
Hello. I attended the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday to hear Bob Brown. Here is his speech.
Up front in 2007, Australia will be voting to decide who will be Prime Minister for the next three years – John Howard or Kevin Rudd?
SENATE BALANCE OF POWER
There are three possible outcomes in the Senate:
• First, the Coalition could hold all of its seats and retain absolute control of the senate, even if the ALP wins government. That would mean a hostile senate and possible double dissolution, cutting short the next three-year term.
• Second, the Greens could hold the balance of power outright. As Labor’s Deputy Leader Julia Gillard has stated, it is “mathematically impossible” for the ALP to win the 38 seats required for a senate majority in its own right.
• Third, the Greens could share the balance of power with the Democrats, Family First’s lone Senator, or an independent.
In any balance of power configuration, the Greens will have a major role to play. But remember that, if the Greens do achieve the balance of power, our vote will only matter when the major parties disagree with each other.
For example, if the ALP in government supports changes to climate change policy and the Coalition is opposed to it, the Greens in the balance of power will determine the result. Alternatively, if the ALP and Coalition both support further tax cuts for high income earners instead of pensioners, then the vote of the Greens becomes irrelevant.
It is important to note, therefore, that the Greens would be unable to prevent any legislation being passed, or to insist that any legislation be passed, unless we had the support of either Labor or the Coalition.
We will restore the Senate’s role as the people’s House of Review, beginning with its vital committee system. We will ensure that Australians have their right – robbed of them by the Howard government – to be heard before vital legislation is debated and voted through the Senate.
Either major party willing, we will have more Senate sitting days to allow for better scrutiny and debate of this nation’s laws and affairs. The Greens will move legislation to ensure fixed 3 year terms of government and so end the Prime Minister’s ability to manipulate election dates. We will move to stop government advertising unless it provides truly essential public information and ensure all taxpayer-funded ads show, along with an authorisation, just how much they cost. We will restore people’s rights to be safely enrolled at election time. On a more comprehensive plane, the Greens will work for a Bill of Rights as in most similar countries around the world – like the United States which achieved this goal two centuries ago.
And we will pursue a new referendum based on the Greens 1999 formula, and then opposed by the major parties, of a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ from Australians to the question: “Do you want our nation to be a republic with an Australian as head of state?”.
We welcome Mr Howard’s proposal for a referendum recognising First Australians at the heart of the Constitution – but it must come from real consultation with the nation’s Indigenous Peoples.
The Australian Greens are now the only party committed to abolishing the Work Choices regime. We opposed Work Choices at the time it was rushed through Parliament and it has become clear since then that Work Choices is hurting many workers in Australia. We are seeing lower wages, reduced conditions, less job security and less representation at work. Labor now agrees with a surprising amount of Work Choices. But the Greens believe a fair and just industrial relations system must provide a framework that values workers, has collective bargaining at its centre, gives all workers unfair dismissal protection, provides a fair dispute resolution process and acknowledges the important role of unions.
We will negotiate to amend Labor’s workplace laws in the Senate to improve them. But I want to make it very clear: The Greens will not block Labor’s workplace legislation if it means Australians will be left with the unfair and extreme Howard WorkChoices currently cutting workers out of a fair go.
The Howard-Costello priorities are, as Mr Costello himself says ‘radical’. I call on Kevin Rudd to resist the urge to get into a tax cutting auction with Peter Costello. Building the nation’s services and infrastructure is a much better and more popular option.
Labor wants an education revolution. The $34 billion in tax cuts could fund it. The Prime Minister compares our tax rates with the OECD average, but he should look instead at our spending on education. If Australia invested another [$5 billion] in education that would bring us up to best OECD practice and it could also eliminate the future HECS repayments, totalling $645million, made through the tax system each year.
We can build and equip schools for the twenty-first century and attract and keep highly qualified teachers in public education – as well as guarantee pre-school learning for all Australian children – but not tax cuts draining public funds away continued.
The big end of town is doing well. But Australia’s 2 million aged pensioners are sidelined. They remain John Howard’s forgotten battlers.
We Greens are determined to put pensioners back on the election agenda.
The government just relaxed the aged pension assets test so that people who own their own home and have up to $800,000 in super can qualify for a part pension and a health concession card.
This generosity to wealthier retirees costs around $1 billion per year, an amount which will balloon as the number of wealthy retirees increases rapidly over the next ten years.
Come on John Howard and Kevin Rudd: give Australia’s aged pensioners a fair go!
No Australian child or adult should live with dental caries by 2010. The Howard government torpedoed the $100 million concession cardholders’ dental care program in 1996. Now there are an estimated 650,000 Australians on dental waiting lists. Australians who can’t afford the high costs of private dental care wait for years on public lists to get the care they need. This includes the most vulnerable members of our community – the elderly and people with disabilities. They wait two to three years to have their dental problems cared for – and unforgivable neglect from a government that announced $34 billion in tax cuts just two days ago.
The Greens call for a Commonwealth Dental Scheme for low income earners and their families, to ensure essential dental care and a full dental examination every two years. The prospect of a national Denticare system, paralleling Medicare should be followed up. We will investigate mechanisms to increase access to primary dental services for everyone. Good dental care means healthier citizens and it saves taxpayer’s money otherwise needed for health and hospital services.
The government continues down the path towards an American-style two-tiered health system. The Greens would abolish the taxpayer-funded private health insurance rebate scheme. The current scheme serves the nation so badly that the government top-up for this private system blew out by $283 million last year alone. Yet recent studies show that this expensive rebate is not taking the pressure off Australia’s 750 public hospitals. We would return the $3.5 billion rebate to the public health and hospitals system. This would make available $100 million extra for Tasmania, $100 million for the ACT – and much more for the bigger states. It would provide a big boost for beds and equipment as well as many more trained nursing and medical staff for our public hospitals.
INDIGENOUS HEALTH AND HOUSING
And the Greens will do everything we can, based on a commitment I renewed last Australia Day, on Palm Island, to provide health and other services essential to end the 17 year shortfall in life expectancy faced by all First Australians.
The Northern Territory intervention has not been accompanied by a long-term plan to close that dreadful gap.
Health experts, including the Australian Medical Association, agree that $500 million per year is required. Taking this figure, Tom Calma, the Social Justice Commissioner, has proposed a plan to lift life expectancy to parity within a generation. The Greens back him.
• Developing an integrated national carer strategy that formally acknowledges the role and contribution of carers and provides co-ordination of carer policy across government.
• Financial security for carers – we will double the Carer Allowance to $197 per fortnight at a cost of $927 million per annum.
Climate change is not a future event – it is here, it is now, and it is already having a costly impact on us all.
The Greens have a comprehensive plan to tackle climate change. Its aim is to make sure Australia plays its part in preventing global temperature increases going beyond that perilous 2 degrees.
Our Six Step Plan:
1. Sets greenhouse gas emission reduction targets at 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and at 80 percent by 2050.
2. Increases energy efficiency.
3. Ensures 15 percent of Australia’s energy comes from clean, renewable sources by 2015 and 25 percent by 2020.
4. Supports a ‘polluter pays’ emissions trading scheme.
5. Immediately ends the logging and burning of old growth forests in Australia.
6. Ratifies the Kyoto Protocol, so Australia can participate as a full member in global negotiations on post-Kyoto targets.
We will release more detailed policies in these areas as the campaign continues. But let me highlight one area where the Greens are the stand out party: energy efficiency – redirecting currently wasted electricity to new users without more coal mines or coal-fired power stations being needed. We would retrofit Australia’s 7 million households – everybody’s – with energy-saving measures like insulation and solar hot water, within a decade. The Greens Energy Efficiency Access and Savings Initiative (that’s EASI!) will be funded up front by the government. But it will also cut everyone’s power bills and a percentage of that saving will go to repay the government.
This nation-building scheme will create thousands of jobs in metropolitan and rural Australia and, besides cutting everyone’s power bills, it will cut Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution of the atmosphere by a whopping 10 percent.
Already Australia’s 250 biggest energy users, who effectively consume 40 percent of our electricity, are doing energy audits. The Greens would regulate to require those audit recommendations to be implemented. Compare that with Environment Minister Turnbull’s $8 million allocation to change light bulbs, which will eventually reduce greenhouse emissions by four million tonnes per year, equivalent to taking 8 percent of cars off roads. Our energy audits scheme will save roughly eighty-four million tonnes, - 21 times as much as Turnbull’s scheme and more effective than taking every single car, truck and bus off the road.
We would also work with the states to put a rainwater tank in every backyard. We will pursue the rapid implementation of water collection, recycling and reuse schemes in every suburb, town, house and business.
Australia’s water emergency has been made much worse by human- induced and Howard-enhanced climate change. But using Australian technology, organization and long-sightedness, befitting our ‘wide, brown land’, Australia can ensure future water security. Our policies would remove the need to dam the lovely Mary River and its farmlands in Queensland, for example.
GUNNS’ PULP MILL
What will use an incredible 40 billion litres of fresh water, wreck more than 200,000 football fields in area of wild forests, put out 100 million tonnes of greenhouse gases and contaminate the airshed of a valley which is home to 100,000 Australians? What will pour 64 million litres of effluent containing toxic chemicals into Bass Strait every day and yet, just two weeks ago, was licensed to operate for the next 50 years by the nation’s top environmentalist Malcolm Turnbull? You guessed it - Gunns pulp mill!
Howard and Rudd both back the mill. Turnbull and Garrett both back the mill. Well, the Greens and everyone else I have spoken to in the streets of Tasmania, oppose it. Gunns’ prospectus says the pulp mill will create 284 jobs. That’s about half the jobs shed by the logging companies since that wondrous pre-election October day in 2004, when John Howard proclaimed he would save the timber workers’ jobs. It turned out, by the way, that Mr Howard didn’t and he won’t. His party will, however, go on accepting election donations from Gunns.
This massive, jobs-sparse, pulp mill project threatens hundreds of established jobs in the Tamar Valley’s vineyards, farmlands, tourism businesses and fisheries. It will be a job loser. Add to that the predicted health problems from pollution which have lead the Australian Medical Association to oppose the mill.
We Greens would support a chlorine-free, closed-cycled pulp mill, based on existing plantations and sited well away from the populous, beautiful Tamar Valley.
The 2007 election will be decided by voters weighing up a mix of important issues like health, education, interest rates, climate change, transport and housing. Yet voters will also have this Gunns pulp mill burden on their shoulders. It is a litmus test of how well Australia’s lifestyle, and neighbourhoods will be managed by the big political parties.
It bears repeating: if you vote Liberal, you vote for the Gunns pulp mill. If you vote Labor, you vote for the Gunns pulp mill. But if you vote Green you vote for clean air, clean green food and wines, and fisheries, and you vote to save Tasmania’s forests and endangered wildlife.
Mr Howard and Mr Rudd, what is the sense in you subsidising Gunns to log and burn the wild forests at a return of $10 per tonne to Tasmania when, by saving those same forests, you would protect a carbon bank keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere worth $40 per tonne, in an age of carbon trading. Why not ensure the forests of Southern NSW, Victoria and Tasmania are kept as an economically sensible hedge against global warming and to ensure our wildlife heritage.
The Australian Greens go to this year’s election offering a plan for Australia which is more far-sighted than either that of the Coalition or Labor. We would build this country as a world leader in science, ecological innovation and good green business; guaranteeing domestic jobs, export income and pride in country in the century ahead.
Ten years ago Coalition senators laughed when I warned of the dangers of climate change. They are not laughing now. Ten years from now this nation can be transforming. But that needs a different hand on the helm. My job, our commitment as Greens, is to accelerate that transformation.
We Greens are better prepared and placed than ever before in our short but brilliant history.
We have a growing membership, near 10,000 with 20,000 more listed supporters and at the last election in 2004, 917,000 Australians put us first on their ballot papers.
In each state and territory The Greens have Senate teams headed by intelligent candidates who are or would make excellent senators. They are: in NSW my fellow Senator Kerry Nettle, who is up for re-election and certain to win a big increase in her primary vote as the reward for her top performance in the Senate these last six years. In Victoria, Dr Richard Di Natale; in Western Australia, Scott Ludlum; in the ACT, former Greens leader in the Territory’s Legislative Assembly, Kerrie Tucker ; in Queensland, Larissa Waters; in the Northern Territory, Alan Tyley and in South Australia, Sarah Hanson-Young.
I am up for re-election in Tasmania where, I must say, the street feedback and warmth I receive from Tasmanians these days point to a good outcome in 2007. My good feeling is boosted a little more by odds for a win offered on me by Portlandbet. Better still, next on my Tasmanian senate team is Andrew Wilkie, the intelligence officer who exposed the Prime Minster’s false excuse of WMDs in Iraq before the 2003 Bush-led invasion .
The last 5 years have witnessed inexcusable suffering, including a massive civilian death toll in Iraq. We Greens will bring Australia’s troops home from combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be available for service in our own sometimes unstable region. We will take off the Howard Deputy Sheriff’s badge, while remaining great friends with America, and call Australia, proudly independent and Sheriff in its own affairs.
There is a fundamental difference between the Greens and the old parties. We look 100 years ahead, not just 3 years to the next election. Because if you can put a smile on the face of your grandchildren, you’re soon smiling too.
In Tasmania, a short time back, Kevin Rudd eyed the wild forest with the loggers and proclaimed “I’m 100 percent with (Howard)”. Well we Greens are not. We are his real opposition. We are the plum in Australia’s political pudding.
And remember, voting Green is double value voting. It sends a strong message to whoever is elected. And if that’s not your Greens candidate, your vote carries on at full value to the major party candidate of your choice. You don’t have to vote twice to get double value – simply vote Green.
In 2007 we’re giving 15 million Australian voters the climate – friendly, people friendly, nation-building best option. Ladies and gentlemen of the National Press Club: no one will ever know if you vote Green – except for the smile on your face as you leave the polling booth.