Senator Christine Milne, Leader of the Australian Greens
National Press Club Address, 1 April 2014

I begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and acknowledge their elders past and present.

And in doing so, I commit to the constitutional recognition of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and reject immediately any question over the need to retain aboriginal history as part of our curriculum. Can you believe it, we have a national effort to close the gap between aboriginal health, education, life expectancy and the wider community and, at the same time, a Government that is set to remove indigenous history from our classrooms, abandon the Gonski education reforms which direct funding to the children most in need and repeal laws that protect people from racial abuse.

It is any wonder people are asking: “What on Earth is going on?”

One of the most loved lines to make it into our collective culture in recent decades was from the classic Aussie film, The Castle,

It’s the constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe, and … no that’s it … it’s the vibe. I rest my case.

And that is what I am here at the Press Club to explore today as Western Australia goes back to the polls in an historic Senate by-election. The vibe.

The vibe of the nation right now is something you can’t quite put your finger on but it’s there, it’s real, it’s powerful, and it’s building.

It is manifest in the thousands who gathered at the March in March rallies.

It’s in the 850,000 people who have watched our WA candidate Greens Senator Scott Ludlam’s inspiring speech to the Senate admonishing Prime Minister Abbott for his hollow three word slogans and the intolerance, discrimination and climate denialism embedded in them.

It’s in the conversations I have been having in offices, on the streets, in markets, taxis and hospitals. People are telling me they are despairing, how they have stopped reading papers, or listening to the news because they can’t stand what the Abbott Government is doing to our country and the speed with which it’s doing it.

It’s there in the thousands who are standing up against coal seam gas and for farmers right to say no; it’s there in the hearts of millions who have woken up today feeling good that the ICJ has ruled to stop Japanese whaling, but distraught by what’s coming with climate change, and it’s there in the laughter and ridicule of the millions who now see Tony Abbott with his knights and dames and climate denial as yesterday’s man.

The vibe is manifest in the reaction to the call for door knockers and campaign volunteers for the Greens in WA. More than 27,000 doors have been knocked on and 30,000 phone calls have been made by hundreds of Greens volunteers, with more to come in the lead up to Saturday. These are people who care about our country, who know what defines us as a nation is hanging in the balance in this period of government. These are people who are committed to taking strong immediate action to address climate change. I know you are there in Perth today with Senator Scott Ludlam and Senator Rachel Siewert and I say go for it!

It’s to all of you and to the thousands of others sitting at home genuinely worried about the way Australia is going that I am appealing today.

Don’t give up, don’t despair. Instead, as German poet Bertolt Brecht said, “don’t start with the good old things but the bad new ones”. Get active and help bring home the vibe to the heart of the Parliament, to the Senate. Make the WA election the turning of the tide; make it the defining moment where Tony Abbott’s radical, extreme agenda is stopped. Make it the moment, as Scott Ludlam said, “when we take our country back”.

In the seven months since the election there has been a wholesale assault on Australian values. We’re starting to see Tony Abbott’s real agenda unfolding. Things that people regarded as certainties, like our rights and our values, are being trampled.

First is love of country, our natural places that are too precious to lose. Abbott and his Government are there for the big end of town tearing up environment protection in the name of getting rid of red tape.

Wherever we live, we all love the Great Barrier Reef, now under pressure as never before, from the consequences of climate change and coal mining. Our Reef is dying as Tony Abbott gives the tick to the dumping of dredging spoil from Abbot Point coal terminal; adding to pollution from Clive Palmer’s nickel refinery and agricultural runoff, on top of the coral bleaching and acidification from warming seas heated by burning the very coal we are digging up.

Tasmania’s magnificent high conservation forests listed in 2013 as World Heritage are to be delisted and logged if Abbott has his way, in addition to high country grazing in Victoria’s National Parks, and shooting in NSW and now considered okay for WA’s national parks. Shocking but hardly surprising as our Prime Minister has said that “the environment is meant for man”, an insight into Tony Abbott’s Old Testament, Bob Santamaria philosophical view.

Farmers and rural communities across Australia continue to be pushed aside by the Abbott Government for coal mines, coal seam gas and non-conventional gas regardless of the contamination of ground water supplies.

Tony Abbott is delivering for big mining companies and his big business mates, sending the profits of the big three iron ore miners (RIO, BHP, Fortesque Metals) soaring with collective half yearly profits of more than $US14 billion from their West Australian iron ore mines.

All this made worse by Tony Abbott handing back environmental oversight powers to state premiers, like Colin Barnett whose Government has a proven record of conflicts of interest in approving destructive developments like James Price Point and whose cruel drum lines are killing sharks as I speak. It has to stop.

Another value under assault by Abbott’s cruel, secret and tricky Government is our love for our community and our belief in decency and respect in the way we treat each other. Australians do think of ourselves as decent, compassionate people who will help one another out in hard times.

Reza Berati’s murder on Manus Island was a line in the sand.

Things have gone too far. The secrecy, driven by Scott Morrison’s refusal to allow lawyers and journalists onto Manus Island, on top of cruel failures to investigate claims of maltreatment by the armed forces, the removal of legal support services, and news today that the AFP has refused to send officers to help interview suspects in Reza Berati’s murder has deepened misgivings that there is a shocking ‘cover up’ going on.

Australia’s refusal to support a UN war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka and not to hold an authoritarian regime to account for war crimes and crimes against humanity is wrong. Forcibly returning more than 1000 asylum seekers to Sri Lanka in the past two years, exposing them to continued persecution, and gifting two patrol boats to boost its anti-people smuggling capability shames our nation. We are becoming a global pariah in Human Rights, environment, and climate and now relations with Indonesia are at an all-time low.

People are beginning to be frightened of a reckless, cruel, out of touch government, and a maverick PM. They’re asking where are we headed as a nation? Are we headed back to the 1950s era of racist, anti-gay Australia where women were treated as second class citizens, where LGBTI people hid, where abusive racist name calling was okay, an era dominated by ‘old rich white men’ born to rule, as Mona Eltahawy said on Q&A last night, who wanted to be knights in a colonial aristocracy looking to London.

We have a Government with its head buried in the 19th and 20th centuries without a plan for the nation in the 21st century.

With no plan for the future, Tony Abbott will fail as Prime Minister.

No one can lead at this moment without a plan to address global warming. It is a defining characteristic of leadership to identify the risks and threats to the nation and lead people to address them. The IPPC has made it clear. Time has run out, we are suffering already and are on track for 4 degrees of warming and we are not prepared. The Greens are the only party in the Australian Parliament who recognise the two possible futures, as the IPCC has said:

One of inaction and degradation of our environment, our economies, and our social fabric. The other, to seize the moment and the opportunities for managing climate change risks and making transformational changes that catalyses more adaptive and resilient societies where new technologies and ways of living open the door to a myriad of health, prosperity and job- generating benefits. The path of tomorrow is undoubtedly determined by our choices today. We must decide which path to follow.

The Greens have chosen the future of transformational change – the Government has not.

Nowhere is this lack of a plan for a climate change dominated future more obvious than in WA.

Yesterday’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasised the enormity of the global task to avoid climate. In WA, the south west of the state is drying out, and Perth recently recorded its second hottest summer on record and sweltered through their hottest night on record ever, at 29.7 degrees, life will get harder with more heatwaves and extreme fire danger days resulting in loss of life and reduced productivity.

Tony Abbott is a fool to pretend climate change is not happening and even more foolish to try to prevent action that would help people, create jobs and create a future for WA, and the country, after the mining boom.

People around the nation are worried that they already work hard yet things are getting tougher. People are worried about everything from casualised jobs, long commutes to work, congestion, fly in fly out, too little time with their families and anxiety about the future as construction gives way to production and lost jobs.

In WA people without work or who are underemployed worry that they won’t be able to afford to rent a place to live and see the waiting lists for crisis accommodation blowing out. WA has one of the least affordable and most pressured housing markets in the whole world.

Two weeks ago, I visited Foyer Oxford in Perth, which has the capacity to house up to 98 young people, including 24 young parents and their children. The youth I spoke to who are living there think it is awesome but the service providers are left high and dry with no guarantee of a new partnership agreement on homelessness. Abbott’s last minute stop gap measures on the weekend do not provide the certainty of funding over the forward estimates which is needed and could be viewed as a cynical exercise to neutralise the issue before this Saturday’s poll.

Abbott says, trust me, but why should they when so much of what he says is hot air. People’s gut instinct is telling them something is not right. When a PM says only to believe it when it’s written down, and even then it is still negotiable.

Trust your gut instinct fellow Australians. Don’t trust Prime Minister Abbott to deliver for you.

The Abbott Government is not governing for all Australians. He is governing for the greedy few, the vested interests of yesteryear, not the Australia of tomorrow, like a CEO delivering for only one division of his company.

Make no mistake this is the Abbott, Murdoch, Rinehart collaboration directed and promoted by the Institute of Public Affairs. Abbott said in April 2013, “that is a big ‘yes’ to many of the specific policies you urged upon me” referring to the IPA’s 75 radical ideas to Transform Australia which are being delivered so fast that they’ve had to add another 25. Do we really want to live in an Australia fashioned by Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart and a forelock tugging Prime Minister?

Take the big four banks and what they stand to gain from the Future of Financial Reforms for example. Give a few political donations, and what do you get? – “to not act in the best interest of the client.”

The Financial Services Council has donated over $42,000 to the major parties over the last few years.

Two decades of unprecedented boom and what do we have to show for it? The mining boom is being squandered. Seven in ten WA voters don’t feel Tony Abbott has a plan for new jobs in Western Australia in light of the mining boom slowing, and they’re right.

Take the mining tax as another example. Abbott is governing for the wealthy, billionaires, and overseas mining companies and letting every day Australians take the hit. Joe Hockey said “everyone in Australia has to help to do the heavy lifting on the Budget” – everyone except the big miners and polluters who benefit from fossil fuel subsidies, polluting for free and maximising profits.

If “everyone has to take a hit” Joe Hockey, then release the Commission of Audit now!

If Abbott repeals the mining tax, he will strip 353,613 West Australians of around $27,000 of retirement income by repealing the low income superannuation guarantee.

If you want to create jobs in Australia the best way to do it is to fix the mining tax so it does raise revenue for all Australians and use the income to create the Australia of tomorrow.

So where does this leave Australia with a new Senate due to take office in just a few months? A Senate in which the Government will have to rely on an inexperienced, uncertain, and policy free few.

At last year’s election the community voted against the incumbent government. People voted, as Rupert Murdoch railed, to ‘kick this mob out’.

Rather than voting ‘for’ what Abbott offered, they voted against the Rudd- Gillard-Slipper-Thomson spectacle. That showed up clearly in the Senate vote.

Having voted Liberal in the House of Representatives, people wanted insurance against Abbott getting total control of the Parliament. What the 25 per cent of the population didn’t and couldn’t have known was how voting for a raft of micro parties would play out. Instead of stopping the Abbott Government getting total control, the gaming of the electoral system made the Senate and the nation vulnerable to the very thing people voted to avoid.

Australia is now subject to the whims of people who secured less than 1pc of the vote and who will be tempted to give Abbott everything he wants in exchange for who knows what?

The Senate crossbench is now a right-wing circus. Even before the results of the WA election are known, we have:

  • One from the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, who will want four wheel drive vehicles in our national parks and precious environmental areas and who has signed secret MOU with mining millionaire Clive Palmer – what’s the deal – did money change hands, and for what?
  • One from the Liberal Democrats who benefitted from the donkey vote and who left the Liberal Party because he was opposed to John Howard’s crackdown on guns following the Port Arthur massacre.
  • One from Family First who will oppose every effort to achieve marriage equality.
  • Two unreliable, unpredictable Palmer United Political Party Senators who are there for Clive, not for the community – one says one thing, Clive says another.

The numbers in the Senate matter and will determine whether Prime Minister Abbott and the conservatives get absolute control.

If the voters of Western Australia don’t risk their vote on a micro party and this Saturday’s election returns 3 Liberals, 2 ALP and 1 Green then WA has changed the ledger. One vote will have shifted from the conservatives to the progressives.

It is this one vote, this one seat that makes this by-election so important and it’s why Western Australia has the chance to change the direction of the nation.

There has never been a more timely election or one with such clarity about what outcomes can be delivered. One very live example of transferring one seat from the conservative side of politics to the progressive side is fate of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. With the Greens, the ALP, Senators Madigan and Xenophon committed to retaining the $14.9 billion worth of investment in 179 renewable energy projects if WA returns 3 Liberals, 2 ALP and 1 Green, then this investment and all the jobs which go with it is saved. It’s as simple as that. Who WA votes for really matters.

Clive Palmer has declared his conflict of interest in carbon pricing. His company owes $8.4 million under the Clean Energy Package, with the potential for the penalty interest of $35.8million. In fact he has said that he wants the price retrospectively repealed so that his company does not have to pay.

Where does this coal billionaire’s conflict of interest leave his two senators and where does it leave all the other companies who have abided by the law? Surely his two senators cannot vote to personally and directly financially advantage the Leader of their political party to the tune of $8.4 million. If it’s good enough for him to abstain in the House, then it is good enough for them to abstain in the Senate. Otherwise the precedent is for corporations to use their profits to have their representatives directly elected to Parliament to change laws that adversely affect them. Forget the national interest. It is democracy for sale.

Abbott does not have the skills to handle an unstable cross bench. It will be a crossbench which will put the last minority government in the shade. And this will be Tony Abbott’s undoing. The Prime Minister’s strategy has always been to crash through but he will just crash because he simply doesn’t have the leadership skills to negotiate with the Senate he cannot avoid. He didn’t tell his own party about his knights and dames, how is he going to keep his word?

That’s where the Greens Plan fits in. Only the Greens can make the Senate work after July this year. We have done it before and we will do it again. We have a long history of responsible delivery; from the climate change package to Denticare to Parliamentary Budget Office.

Why the Greens, and not Labor or any of the other micro parties? Three reasons.

  • The Greens are a party with a full suite of economically credible, costed policies. We’re not it in to repeal economic policies for our own personal financial benefit or who knows what.
  • Our agendas and values are clear and voters can trust us to stand by them.
  • Our holistic vision for a caring nation supported by a healthy environment in a rapidly warming world is one that will make Australians lives easier, not harder.

The Greens are the only party who voters can trust to stand up to Abbott’s harsh agenda, without question.

The Greens are the only party with a vision for the future and we will work hard to deliver it.

We have a credible, exciting plan designed for the future, designed to deliver for people after the boom. We want to build new homes, affordable rental homes, including more than 21, 000 in WA. I am delighted that the Planning Institute of Australia awarded Scott Ludlam their prize for because of his excellent work creating a vision for the city of Perth from public transport to better more accessible housing. Just goes to show that Scott Ludlam is too precious to WA and the country, as well as the Greens, to lose.

We want to fix the mining tax, end the corporate welfare. We want people to pay less for their power, and solar can do it!

Scott Ludlam’s energy plan for WA demonstrates that his home state can be powered by 100pc renewable energy by 2029 for the same costs as business as usual and, create 26,000 jobs.

We have a plan for the future and we can be relied upon to deliver in the community’s best interests.

Not for us is the corporate self-interest, or delivering for vested interests or mates at the IPA.

Not for us is the blast from the past, the knighthoods and boards and trappings of office.

Not for us is the trade-off for more four wheel drives or shooters in national parks.

That is what you get if you vote for parties that have no policies for the nation.

This election offers WA the chance to vote for a future which takes the science of climate change into account, delivers billions of dollars and jobs in renewable energy, public transport, housing and education, saves money on power bills by supporting solar and gives hope and the promise of happiness to this and the next generation by standing up for people and the environment in the face of the biggest power grab for the greedy seen in generations.

If you’re feeling the ‘vibe’ Vote Green!