The way forward

As we head into the 45th Parliament, the government of course will argue it has a mandate to implement its entire agenda, but it's a facile argument. 

By Richard Di Natale, Senator for Victoria, Australian Greens Leader
Wednesday, August 31, 2016

People cast their vote for a party for a variety of reasons and motivations. No government can claim to have popular support for each and every issue they hold, especially one elected with the slimmest of majorities.

The Greens also have a mandate to honor and respect the wishes of more than one million Australians who voted Green at this election.

They supported us because we believe in tackling dangerous climate change as a matter of urgency or we risk leaving the planet uninhabitable. Unless we act now we will see entire nation states disappear, coastal inundation affect homes and food production and our cities bombarded with heatwaves and sea-level changes messing with our sewerage systems. We have to live within the earth’s natural limits or we risk our survival and the survival of all species that share this great planet with us.

They supported us because we believe in a country that cares for people irrespective of their background and life circumstances, whether they've arrived here by boat or by birth. Because we believe that poverty and inequality are corrosive, that trickle-down economics has failed and we need to make decisions that narrow the gap between the rich and poor. Because we believe in a country that enshrines equality in its national laws, whether it be the right to marry someone you love or to live a life free from hate speech.

Caring for people and the environment that sustains us — that is what the Greens believe. That is what we will fight for in this 45th Parliament — and we believe in the power of politics to change these things.

A turning point

We are at a critical juncture in Australia and globally yet we see a government totally unprepared to tackle the challenges. This Government is not mitigating catastrophic global warming, destroying harmful inequality or ending the needless suffering of those seeking our protection.

We’ve seen the world-leading carbon price legislation scrapped. We’ve seen the renewable energy target wound back and we are on the cusp of Renewables Research ending in this country with $1 billion slashed from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. No other country has gone backwards on clean energy policy — we are swimming against the global tide of investment.

And under this government poverty is growing — people who need support are falling further behind every year as a result of trade deals that further concentrate wealth within privileged cliques. Out-of-pocket costs for Australians to get medical treatment continue to rise as universal access to health care is being gradually eroded through freezes to Medicare and increased co-payments. Household debt is now the highest in the entire world while the astronomical explosion in property prices mean aspiring first-home owners can never hope to keep pace with the gains enjoyed by propertied investors, yet the government refuses to tackle negative gearing or CGT reform.

We may tell ourselves about the great tradition of Australian egalitarianism and the fair-go but they are slowly becoming a thing of the past. We are being told that we need to cut support for the vulnerable; that those with limited means are the ones that have to pay so the government can live within its means. Don't believe it. There are choices.

It all comes back to priorities. Why do we have a 2 per cent target for defense spending and no targets for health and education spending? Very few everyday Australians could support that, but it is the policy of both major parties.

We could stimulate investment in the right places through investing in productive infrastructure, investing in people to break entrenched inequality and by pricing externalities so that the community no longer has to wear the costs. Solid, stable revenue means we can create jobs and prosperity in areas that the private sector won’t invest in — like public education, Indigenous rangers to care for country, preventative health and research. These are all jobs-rich pursuits that enhance the national interest.

We can also choose whether to unite this nation or to divide it. I fear that we are on the precipice of damaging multiculturalism, one of the greatest all-time achievements of our nation.

We can achieve far more for this country’s benefit by being united against harmful views that treat people as inferior. People who advocate such division may do so because they feel frustrated, marginalised and left behind. They need to be engaged and have their social needs heard, but outside of addressing the social challenges that are their lived experience, their hurtful and divisive views on people from different cultures or parts of the world should be called out and shamed, not given a silent nod of approval or used in a proxy war to weaken the Racial Discrimination Act.

Brave choices

The Greens stand ready to offer a brighter future. We offer the Australian community a voice for a long-term vision for this country, and we have the courage to take up the difficult challenges that lie before us and turn them into our national advantages.

We do not fear being the lone advocate in Parliament for the thousands of innocent people locked up under immigration laws sanctioned by this government. We will not tolerate knowingly and willingly punishing these people to send a message to another group of people. We do not fear the political cost for advocating against the damage being done to innocent people in our country’s name.

We do not fear making the case for pricing pollution again. We do not fear arguing forcefully that the economic opportunities of shifting our national profile to thrive in a carbon-constrained world far outweighs any costs of us leaving the fossil fuel era behind as the global economy moves forward — with or without us.

We do not fear spending increases on quality health and education — what is the entire purpose of raising revenue if not to provide universal, essential services to its citizens? We have options available to fund public services Australians want and deserve, whether it be charging mining companies excise on their fuel, just like everyone else pays, charging the big four banks for the funding advantage they receive, putting a price back on pollution, cracking down on tax avoidance by companies and wealthy individuals or removing the wasteful private health insurance rebate.

The Greens 2016 election platform shows that we can create a fairer society, one that protects its environment, cares for people and invests in public infrastructure while reducing the budget deficit faster than all others. We won’t let the two old parties make the Australian people believe that the options for the future are limited. We can re-create the Australia of the fair-go and this is the vision that the Australian Greens will put forward in this 45th Parliament.