Australian democracy is at the crossroads. Our future as a nation, our sense of who we are and what we want for our society and local community is now being determined by mining billionaires in boardrooms for themselves and their overseas shareholders, and what they want, is being delivered through our state and federal parliaments.
The mining industry has become so powerful that the lines between business and politics have become blurred to the detriment of people and the well being of our society.
No group of people is suffering more than our Indigenous people, the traditional owners of the land who are seeing their land, their country decimated and cultural sites like the archaeological treasury on the Burrup Peninsula and at James Price Point being sacrificed to Woodside's bottom line. In acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and in paying my respects to their elders past and present, I am proud to say that the Greens have driven for them the parliamentary process of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a result of our agreement with the Prime Minister.
But it is not enough.
With it must come respect for culture and country, by standing up to the mining boardroom greed that sees both as expendable. For Premier Colin Barnett to threaten indigenous communities with the compulsory acquisition of their land in the interests of Woodside is wrong and shameful.
The revelations of ICAC in NSW, with a former Labor minister accused of granting mining leases to mates for million dollar profits, the conflict of interest in the Environmental Protection Authority in the Barnett government in WA regarding James Price Point, the sanctioned release of polluted water from coal mines in the Bowen Basin into rivers and into the Great Barrier Reef, the refusal of the Federal Minister to take the advice of the Australian Heritage Council to protect the Tarkine handing it over to the mining industry instead, the trip to India to coal magnate Reddy's family wedding on Gina Rinehart's private jet by Deputy Leader of the Coalition Julie Bishop and the Nationals Barnaby Joyce are but a few examples of why the faith of people in their parliaments has been replaced with disillusionment.
Trust has gone.
What we are seeing is the mining industry versus the community. The greed of billionaire miners versus the public interest. The ALP government and the Liberal and National Opposition lining up to protect the interests of the mining corporations against the interests of the Australian community. It is the Australian Greens who are standing with the people, for the environment and for a safe climate.
As Robert Kennedy Junior said recently,
"Wherever you see large-scale pollution, you will also see the subversion of democracy, you will see the compromise of public officials, the capture of the agencies they are supposed to protect; they become sock puppets of the industries they are supposed to regulate. You see that in the political system, the kowtowing of the politicians who become indentured servants in the US and in Canada."
This is exactly what has happened here in Australia.
I know farmers in the Felton Valley, Darling Downs and on the Liverpool Plains, farmers from Moree to Doubtful Creek, people in Gloucester, Maules creek and the Boggabri forest, Indigenous communities in the Kimberley, horse-breeders in the Upper Hunter, tourism operators in North West Tasmania are cheering because they know I am speaking the truth.
They know that in Australia today, it is the mining industry and its parliamentary indentured servants in both major parties versus the people and the Greens and today's decision on coal seam gas in NSW has put this up in lights.
With an election on September 14th Australians will turn their minds to the state of the nation - where we are heading and whether or not, we are on the right path.
The debate on the Minerals Resources Rent Tax is a microcosm of the choices before us in the clash of interests between the mining industry and the people.
We have a Labor government refusing to take on the mining industry, to work with the Greens, to fix the mining tax so the mining magnates pay their fair share and we have Tony Abbott's Opposition wanting to give the mining industry a free ride by having no tax at all.
Labor refuses point blank to fix the loopholes in their dud of a mining tax that has only raised $126m of the supposed $2b it was to raise in its first year. It is foregoing the revenue needed for key reforms - including implementing Gonski and dramatically increasing funding to our public schools, fully implementing a National Disability Insurance Scheme, expanding Denticare or building high speed rail.
Labor is refusing to increase support to those on Newstart whilst taking more money out of the pockets of single parents than it has collected from the mining tax. This is immoral. As Oscar Wilde said, "To recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less."
The Coalition not only supports this but would go further. The Coalition has a $70 billion black hole and, to fill it, the axe will fall on community services, the public service and low income earners.
If the Gillard government is too scared to take on vested interests, then it is the people who can't afford ads in the paper on or television, who can't afford expensive lobbyists to walk the halls of parliament house, people who can least afford it - people like single mothers - who end up paying.
Well the Greens aren't afraid. We are standing with the people against the interests of the big miners. We recognise that Australia needs to raise more revenue and that it should not come from the poorest in our community but the wealthiest.
According to the Nielsen poll released yesterday, as Mark Kenny noted, many Australians agree with the Greens - the tax is a dud. But it can be fixed and a majority of Australians want a mining tax.
It is the loss of billions in revenue to the people of Australia that has driven the Greens to pursue the government on this issue. I have raised the flaws in the mining tax in public and in private with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer on numerous occasions and we have introduced a Bill to fix them. It is now clear that they, like Tony Abbott and Warren Truss are just not prepared to act in the national interest.
That's why I will be moving in the Senate next week for an inquiry into the Minerals Resource Rent Tax to get to the bottom of exactly how flawed this tax is and what needs to be done to fix it, how it was able to be developed in the interest of three of the biggest mining companies in the world, and what will be the impact of its failings on the budget and the future of the school and disability reforms if it is not fixed.
Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition both addressed this room to launch this election year. Both of them spoke at length about how people around Australia are feeling under pressure.
And they are right. People I speak to right across the country tell me about the pressures in their lives, the sense that the world is becoming a harsher place, a less caring place. Different to the analysis of the major parties though, the Greens understand that these pressures are not just about money, but about time and a sense of losing connection to community and the environment. Not just about finding work but about finding work-life balance. Not about building more roads, about spending less time on the roads. Not just about how to benefit from the boom but asking, is there a future after the boom.
Neither of major parties acknowledge the real source of those pressures and that is the disproportionate power of the mining industry and the damage the exercise of that power is doing to Australian governance, the Australian economy, jobs, the environment and communities right around the country.
Not standing up to the miners means we are creating a less caring society; a society in which people have citizenship, the right to vote but feel they have no power vis a vis the rich and powerful. The young are beginning to give up on democracy. Is that a price Australia wants to pay?
The mining boom has led to the persistently high Australian dollar and has done major damage to our manufacturing, agricultural and tourist industries.
Manufacturing has lost 125 000 jobs over the last four years and once we again on the weekend we saw the government lack the courage to put genuine obligations for local content on the on-going multi-billion mining investment projects, let alone propose slowing down the boom to ease the structural adjustment pressures.
The boom ignores the rich job creating potential of keeping our natural landscapes intact and not having them dug up, cut down and shipped overseas. The tourism industry employs almost double the number of people than mining - 4.5% of Australians are employed in tourism compared to only 2.3% in mining.
Jobs is the mantra of the ALP and the Coalition. Listen with scepticism. How do we believe Tony Abbott when he says the Coalition values jobs when it is prepared to put up to 20 000 public servants out of work and send the CSIRO and any number of remaining public servants north of the Tropic of Capricorn. That is why the people of the ACT need Simon Sheikh to take the Liberal Senate seat and stand up for the public service and Canberra's economy and families.
As well as the detrimental economic impacts just discussed, the mining industry is not so much creating jobs as taking them from other parts of the economy. The mining boom has been tearing local communities apart all over the nation as a result of the fly in fly out culture.
But the biggest opportunity cost of the mining industry in capturing the Labor party and the Liberal National Coalition is that they are all actively preventing the transition to the sustainable, secure, happy and prosperous society and the economic framework necessary to underpin it in a world on track for 4 degrees.
They still don't get the fact that we live in a society not an economy and that economic tools driving the fossil fuel age have to change because they are not delivering what society wants. Instead, they have delivered market failure and accelerating global warming. As IMF boss Christine Lagarde said recently, "Unless we take action on climate change future generations will be roasted, toasted fried and grilled."
A nation can either be serious about climate change, serious about the transition in the economy and serious about getting the huge opportunities that are there in 100% renewable energy, in new solar power, in supporting communities as they put photovoltaic panels on their roofs, or you give in to the fossil fuel industry
As British Prime Minister David Cameron has recently said "it is the countries that prioritise green energy that will secure the biggest share of jobs and growth in a global low-carbon sector set to be worth $4 trillion by 2015."
But both the Coalition and the Labor Party are exposing the Australian economy to huge risk as the world moves to reduce emissions. Already the Chinese have capped coal at 4 billion tonnes by 2015 and the Indians are likely to leapfrog the age of centralised grids and large fossil fuel generators in favour of decentralised, localised energy. If Australia continues down the path of massive coal and coal port expansion, we risk stranded assets, jobs collapse, dislocation on a grand scale and super funds losing badly. Fossil fuel companies cannot burn all of their reserves if the world is to have any chance of reining in climate change.
And don't we know it in Australia. People have suffered from the extreme weather events of this summer - the horrific bushfires in my home state of Tasmania and NSW and Victoria and the devastating floods returning in Qld and the heat waves across the country.
Refusing to acknowledge the link between the intensity of these extreme weather events and climate change; and the link between subsidising the mining and export of these fossil fuels and a four degree global temperature trajectory is studied ignorance. To acknowledge these links would be to break them and the fossil fuel industry will do everything in its power to maintain the status quo.
Labor cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue that they take the climate science seriously and at the same time subsidise massive mining and export of fossil fuels to the tune of $10 billion knowing that they are condemning our children and their grandchildren to a world of conflict, scarcity and climate disaster.
When Australia takes over the G20 presidency at the end of the year, its continued support of fossil fuel subsidies will be at embarrassing odds with the G20's commitment to phase them out.
But Tony Abbott and the Liberal National Coalition are right there beside the government backing these decisions and indicating they would go even further. Tony Abbott wants to deliver Gina Rinehart's wildest dreams of different tax zones to benefit her even more, undermine labour standards and conditions, bring in more 457 visa holders to exploit, dam the rivers, dig even bigger mines with even less environmental oversight.
Tony Abbott and the coalition are the party of the past. They are not equipped to deal with the Australia of the future. Mr Abbott has pledged to abandon emissions trading, abolish the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and other elements of the Clean Energy package including the biodiversity fund and compensation to low income earners.
It's time that the critical mass of Australian businesses which now depend on the transition to a low carbon future stand up and be counted. Get over denial and stop cowering because, just as the Abbott opposition is destroying business confidence now, an Abbott government will try to destroy your business, will wipe out the fastest growing innovative business and jobs growth sector. That is why the Greens must be in balance of power in the Senate.
Labor, Liberal and Nationals have made their choice. It is for the big miners and the green light to environmental destruction.
Minister Burke sold out the Tarkine to mining interests at the behest of NSW Right Paul Howes, and was applauded by Labor premier Lara Giddings and the Coalition. Only the Greens are standing up for the Tarkine, the largest tract of temperate rainforest left in Australia.
Three days after that decision, Minister Burke and the Prime Minister decided that they would prefer to advance the interests of the coal seam gas industry and coal miners rather than look after farmland and water resources in Australia, local communities and further putting at risk the survival of the koala in NSW. Coal mines and coal seam gas wells emitting 47 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of 8% of our national carbon emissions at Maules Creek, Gloucester, and Boggabri were granted approval with the flick of a pen. Now to garner votes in Western Sydney both Labor and the Coalition are suddenly worried about coal seam gas but even as they speak Paul Howes and the NSW right is driving for full on expansion. The farmers are left high and dry. You can't trust any of them to care for the environment.
How can PM Gillard or Tony Abbott pretend they care about food production and mouth support for the food bowl while destroying agricultural land and allocating vast quantities of ground water in the Murray Darling for coal seam gas?
The Great Barrier Reef is not only on track under the federal ALP government and the Liberal National state Government to become a coal super highway, its very future being threatened by bleaching and acidification as well as pollution from dredging in Gladstone Harbour and run off from the polluted mine water. How will Australians feel if the Great Barrier Reef is put on the World Heritage In Danger list because the mining industry is deemed more important.
What we have got is the whole Labor cabinet and the entire Liberal and National parties prepared to ditch environmental regulation and hand it over to the states knowing full well that they cannot be trusted to look after the environment. The plan to hand back power to the states has gone quiet but it hasn't gone away.
Without the Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate Australia risks:
- repeal of the mining tax, giving up on any chance of the Australian community receiving its fair share of the bounty of our mineral wealth.
- Farmers being driven from their land by mining companies without any resistance from the Parliament and the loss of huge swathes of food producing land and contamination of water at a time when food security is confronting the whole world and a future in which food is the new gold and land and water are the new oil.
- a harsher, less caring society, with massive public sector job cuts, young people being thrown into poverty by an Liberal party prepared to cut their income support payments completely, and a conservative agenda antithetical to a diverse, multicultural, and respectful Australia.
- and environmental protection being taken back 40 years.
In this term of minority government, the Greens have consistently provided stability, integrity and a caring and responsible approach in the public interest. We have worked with the government to improve and then pass the vast bulk of the legislative agenda as well as several of our own bills. We have been outspoken on issues many people care deeply about, whilst being cooperative wherever opportunity for agreement existed.
By contrast we have an Abbott led coalition with thought bubbles mired in the past running away from serious questioning and spreading lies about global warming and carbon pricing.
The threat of an Abbott-controlled Senate is real.
That is why it is critical to support the Greens outstanding Senate team around the country as a bulwark against an Abbott government.
If the Coalition is to be dragged back to a more humane agenda and into the 21st century, we need strong voices like that of Sarah Hanson-Young fighting to maintain compassion, human decency and international law in relation to asylum seekers. In an Asian century, Australia's cruelty at this time will not be forgotten and The Greens will be remembered as the caring face of Australia in the region.
We need Scott Ludlam standing up for digital freedom and big solar and against nuclear, and Peter Whish-Wilson advocating for the new economy, including light rail in Hobart. We need Adam Bandt promoting high speed rail and stopping cuts to science and research funding. I am confident the people of Melbourne would prefer to keep that strong Green voice than abackbencher controlled by Labor's factional bosses.
We need the Greens to continue the fight for marriage equality in spite of both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott acting to maintain discrimination.
To avoid an Abbott controlled Senate, it is important for people who value public education, our civil society and respect for people from all walks of life, who care about our children and future generations, a smart economy based on innovation, who want to see poverty alleviated not entrenched in our society, who want to see the arts promoted and funded as an indispensable part of creative culture and life, to stand with the Greens.
Finally I want to comment on the current parliament.
The Greens have demonstrated our public policy credentials. We have driven and delivered the biggest environmental, economic and social reform for decades and the one for which history will judge this period of government kindly, namely the clean energy package of which we are immensely proud, and make no mistake would not have happened without Adam Bandt securing the balance of power in the House of Representatives together with Greens in balance of power in the Senate. That is why it is critical to re-elect Adam and make history in Melbourne again.
We also delivered the first plank of Denticare - and we will not stop until all Australians can access dental care through Medicare. Equally, after years of work, we are proud to have passed through the parliament Senator Siewert's bill to properly tackle the scourge of petrol sniffing in Aboriginal communities.
The Greens also drove the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office - a new vital institution that will strengthen our democracy by not only costing election promises but in providing independent analysis of government budgets. And to make it clear the Greens will, unlike the Opposition, present a fully costed election platform this year and we have already started releasing policies with costings.
These achievements were part of our Agreement with the Prime Minister based on the key principles we agreed to. These were to work together to pursue:
- transparent and accountable government
- improved process and integrity of parliament
- policies which promote the public interest and
- policies which address climate change.
I spelled out earlier the ways in which the nation's future has been put second to the interests of the big miners. The Tarkine decision, the attacks on single parents and the unwillingness to act on the mining tax, CSG and fossil fuel subsidies send a clear message that Labor's priorities lie with powerful interests not with the people and the Greens.
What has become manifestly clear is that Labor by its actions has walked away from its agreement with the Greens and into the arms of the big miners.
Let's call a spade a spade.
By choosing the big miners, the Labor government is making it clear to all that it no longer has the courage or the will to work with the Greens on a shared agenda in the national interest.
By choosing the big miners, the Labor government is no longer honouring our agreement to work together to promote transparent and accountable government and the public interest or to address climate change.
Labor has effectively ended its agreement with the Greens. So be it. But, we will not allow Labor's failure to uphold the spirit of our agreement to advance the interest of Tony Abbott.
We will not walk away from the undertakings we gave to the government in the Agreement and the people of Australia to deliver confidence and supply until the Parliament rises. We will see this parliament through to its full term.
The Greens will not add to the instability that Labor creates for itself every day. We are moving beyond the agreement as the key debates and outcomes left in this 43rd parliament fall outside it. We will continue to vigorously pursue the rapid transition to a clean green and clever country, reforms to the mining tax, a $50 a week increase to Newstart, increased funding to public schools through the Gonski reforms, implementation of the NDIS, and protection of Australia's precious environment.
We Greens understand what matters to people - the place they live in, the health of their family, the air they breathe, work-life balance, a safe global climate not plagued by worse and worse extreme weather. Caring for each other and we will campaign for them every day between now and September 14th .
The founder of the Greens world-wide, Dr Richard Jones, stood before the United Tasmania Group 40 years ago and said, "We do not believe that our time is the best time ever, but it is our time and we owe it our prime duty and affection." We Greens intend to do just that right up to polling day and beyond.