A year as leader

It has been a dismal 12 months in politics, but as I look back at the last year since Christine retired and I became the Greens leader, I see so much for the Greens to be proud of. Here are some of the highlights…

By Richard Di Natale
Thursday, May 5, 2016

Joined Adam and Larissa to RenewAustralia

“The difference between the Greens and the mainstream parties is that they have actually mapped out a plan to get us there.” That quote, from Renew Economy describes the vision and ambition that the Greens have brought to this nation's debate about global warming and the fundamental transition to a new economy that will strengthen our nation in the century to come.

In December, I joined Adam Bandt and Larissa Waters to launch RenewAustralia, our roadmap to deliver at least 90 per cent renewable energy by 2030 and drive employment, innovation and industries that will move our economy away from the industries of the past.  As the Liberal and Labor parties linger on global warming and economic transformation and rely on donations from the fossil fuel sector, the Greens know that the only way we can meet our international climate obligations and strengthen our economy in the years ahead is to face up to the reality of global warming and a structural decline of dirty industries such as coal.

Attended COP21 in Paris

Richard and Larissa with David AttenboroughI was honoured to join Larissa at COP21 in Paris, to show the world that there are some politicians in the nation whose parties are genuinely committed to addressing catastrophic global warming. This was an amazing coming together of nations and experts — scientists who have committed their lives to work in this area, and leaders of nations who are already dealing with the impacts of rising sea levels and the changing climate.

The 1.5 degree target arrived at in Paris is ambitious and means moving away from coal and embracing clean energy — something our government lacks the courage to do. But this ambition shouldn’t be shied away from. In fact, a standout for me in Paris was to speak to leaders in the international business community (and David Attenborough, as you can see above!) and learn just how fast they are moving in this direction in other countries. This century belongs to those who embrace the transition to a cleaner economy and who get there fast. Australia has the capacity to be a global superpower in this area. We have the natural resources and the potential for research, innovation and industry to lead the global move to clean energy technology.

Secured a crack-down on multinational tax avoidance

On the final sitting day of 2015, we ensured that legislation passed the parliament that sees Australia join 30 other nations in an agreement to combat multinational tax avoidance — an opportunity that would otherwise have been lost. This law ensures that 1500 foreign and public companies have had to disclose the tax they have paid (or in many cases, not paid), while the richest 300 private Australian companies have also had to reveal their tax affairs under greater scrutiny. Without us, that would not have happened. Tax avoidance costs our nation billions and contributes to growing inequality, which is why we’re taking the next step and have announced the nation’s largest anti-tax avoidance package, which we’re proudly taking to the election.

Stood with the community in support of people seeking asylum

Richard Di Natale and Jenny LeongWith Australia’s offshore detention policies in shambles and a global humanitarian crisis underway, it has been the Greens’s priority, especially through the work of Sarah Hanson-Young, to show that our nation is strong enough and compassionate enough to offer a better way for people seeking asylum to receive the protection the deserve. Heartbreakingly in this past year, we have seen too many cases of death, abuse, self-harm and suicide in our offshore detention network, and yet the Liberal and Labor Parties remain in lockstep over this policy.

The Greens have supported and stood with thousands and thousands of people across the community — the Let Them Stay and Bring Them Here campaigns included. We announced our Strong Enough plan to provide an emergency intake of Syrian refugees a move that helped pressure the government into action. We’ve now announced A Better Way — our policy to end offshore detention once and for all, and to provide a pathway and the resources needed to ensure people are not forced into boat journeys by a lack of action and unmanageable uncertainty.

Delivered Senate voting reform… above and below the line

Greens Senators during the OPV DebateIt’s a great feeling to finally secure a reform that has been more than a decade in the making. Bob and Christine championed senate voting reforms during their time as leader of the Greens, while Lee Rhiannon saw them implemented in the NSW upper house before helping us secure their passage through the Senate after a 24-hour straight debate.  

People sought to attack us for our stance — including Labor and Sam Dastyari — despite their previous support for the measures, as they caved to their own self interests. We’re in parliament to get things done and by delivering on this long-standing Greens’ policy, we’ve ensured that the next election will be decided by the voters, not by secretive backroom preference deals.

Stood up to Andrew Bolt

It’s hard to know what to expect when you sit down to some interviewers, and Andrew Bolt is no exception. His reputation precedes him, so I went on the show intent to get the Greens’ message across — be it on global warming, on people seeking asylum, on vested interest in politics. I’m always proud of any opportunity to break through the huff and puff of some commentators and put the Greens’ policies to the fore, where they stand up for themselves. I’ll let people judge the interview for themselves, but with his show now off the air, I like to think that my career record against Mr Bolt will remain an undefeated 1 — nil.

Lead a national conversation on drug law reform

Parlimentary Drug Law Reform SummitFor a politician to be talking about drug reform in the lead up to an election could be euphemistically described as a “courageous” choice. Well, as I’ve said — the easiest thing to do in politics is not to talk about something.

In 2015 I travelled to Portugal to learn more about that nation’s strong move to address serious drug related harm. It crystallised to me the need for us to change the way we thing about drugs, and to treat drug addiction and drug related harm like the health issue it is. To drive this agenda, we’ve hosted a series of meetings and roundtables around the nation, including the first Parliamentary Drug Law Reform summit in Canberra, and have positively engaged with MPs from the Liberal and Labor parties.  

Along the way, we’ve faced the tedious and predictable attacks from people who care only about sensationalising an issue to attack the Greens, or blaming drug users for the health problems they’re experiencing. Though this process, the support from the community and our supporters has been resolute — and it will drive our ongoing efforts to save lives and protect people from harm.

Set the pace on tax reform

The Greens continue to lead the pack when it comes to tax reform — with the Labor party lagging behind and the Liberals nowhere to be seen. We put comprehensive tax reform on the agenda more than a year ago, with Scott and Adam identifying negative gearing and capital gains tax as benefits that overwhelmingly benefit Australia’s most wealthy, distort the housing market and deny the nation much needed revenue to fund schools, hospitals and infrastructure. Adam has also been at the forefront of the campaign to end the fuel rebate for mining giants and to comprehensively reform superannuation — something the government squibbed in their budget.

When we launched our negative gearing and CGT campaigns, both Labor and the Liberals went on the attack, while leading economists backed out approach. Now, Labor are making all-too-gradual moves towards our policy — a course of action that would have been impossible without our courage to take this issue on in the first place.

We are continuing to drive tax reform, and will do so through the election, but proposing real tax reforms and revenue measures that reduce inequality in our tax system and our economy.

Led the other parties to take significant steps toward legalising medicinal cannabis

In February the Parliament passed legislation to to establish a national licensing scheme for the cultivation of medicinal cannabis. This is an important step forward to ensuring medicinal cannabis needs to be available to every patient who needs it. It’s only the first small piece of a much larger reform, but the Greens know that more needs to be done.

The legislation passed as we marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Dan Haslam, who campaigned for medicinal cannabis reform in the last few months of his life, and whose mother Lucy and their family and friends continue this important work. I’m proud to continue to work with the Haslams, health professionals, patients and other MPs to deliver this important reform, and I’m to lead a party that had the vision and courage to put the issue on the agenda.

Stood up for marriage equality on Q&A

Richard Di Natale on QandAIn August, I joined the panel on Q&A, when marriage equality came up, including some disturbing comments from self-described bigot Katy Faust. The Greens could not be stronger advocates for marriage equality, and we strongly support a parliamentary vote on this issue as a matter of priority, not an unnecessary and divisive plebiscite, that will raise the sort of claims that came up on Q&A.

I’ll repeat what I said then, and look forward to a vote in Parliament as soon as possible. “The issue with marriage is this for me: marriage is an expression of love and commitment between two people. Why do we say that one couple should be entitled to express that love and commitment publicly and yet another couple can’t do that? The only justification is that you think that the love between those people is somehow lesser, it’s worth less, it’s not as important and it’s different. And that’s what prejudice is.”

We secured a register of foreign owned land and water

Global warming and extreme weather events are a key threat to Australia’s farmers and growers, and are poised to disrupt food production worldwide. We secured an Australian-first register of foreign owned water entitlements, ensuring we can better protect Australia's agricultural land and water — which are key natural assets — and prevent them from being sold off recklessly.

The work of Peter Whish-Wilson in these negotiations delivers on the tireless commitment of Rachel Siewert in the agriculture portfolio, and supporting this legislation means that the Foreign Investment Review Board has greater scope to check if sales of Australian land to overseas buyers is in the national interest. The trigger for FIRB reviews drops significantly as a result of this legislation down from $252 million to $15 million — greatly enhancing the level of transparency and oversight in how Australia manages our land and water.

Farewelling friends and welcoming new faces

The Federal Greens MPs TeamWe were deeply sad to farewell Christine Milne and Penny Wright from the Senate during the past year, but equally pleased to welcome Nick McKim and Robert Simms into the Party Room as part of our team. Nick brings a wealth of experience from his time in the Tasmanian parliament, and Robert has already made a name for himself in the Senate, working with Janet Rice to stand for equality and to oppose the government’s cuts to Safe Schools.

And finally

(Unwittingly) became a fashion icon

Richard and the WigglesSo the turtleneck might be back. I don’t know if this is an “achievement” as such — it’s never one I aspired to and one to which I hope never to return. That said, the internet (and my colleages and family and friends) enjoyed it… so I had to put it on the list.