All good things must come to an end, and this week marks the end of one of the best. In this excerpt from his valedictory speech to the Senate in August, Richard shares his highs and lows from ten years in office, and his enduring hopes for a future for all of us.
By Richard Di Natale
This week, I resigned from the Senate and delivered my final speech in a virtual parliament, from a locked-down city amid a global pandemic.
A pandemic that is causing untold suffering and hardship across the world.
A pandemic that follows a devastating summer of bushfires.
And a pandemic that concludes my decade in parliament.
Like many people across the country, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect these past few months and I leave the Senate knowing that despite the turmoil of the past decade, our nation is a better place because of what we Greens have achieved.
One of the first votes I cast in this place was one of my proudest as we delivered the world’s best climate laws. The Clean Energy Act was the result of the power sharing arrangement involving Labor, The Greens and independents and it showed what could be achieved through cooperation in the national interest.
Soon afterwards I negotiated a $4 billion dental package to provide millions of children free medicare funded dental care.
‘How good is this’ I thought. Thanks to the Greens we had a price on Carbon, billions in funding for renewable energy, and the first stage of our plan to roll out medicare funded dental care for all Australians.
Of course, the Abbott government that followed is infamous… Every election millions of people vote for the Greens because they share our values - but they also elect us to hold bad governments to account and that was never more important than during those Abbott years.
I had the great privilege of taking on the leadership of the Australian Greens during the dying days of that government and I like to think that those two things are connected.
I'm proud that along the way the Greens delivered real wins for Australians.
Securing $100 million in funding for Landcare as part of our solution to the Backpacker Tax standoff was a good day.
It took a 28 hour sitting to democratise voting in the Senate after Labor reversed their position and threw everything at us. The Greens policy was based on the novel idea that in a democracy the outcome of an election should reflect how people vote, not on backroom deals done by political parties.
After years of campaigning against multinational tax dodging we negotiated important laws that increased penalties on corporations for tax avoidance and profit shifting.
Leading our team in walking out of parliament during Senator Hanson’s first speech rather than sit in quiet acceptance of her racist views, or worse still shake her hand afterwards, remains one of my proudest moments. Within hours our office was flooded with calls, mostly from Australian Muslims, many in tears just thankful that they were not alone. Often during my time in parliament I felt like I was shouting in the wind, but in that moment I knew that our message of solidarity was heard where it mattered.
I am proud to have led the party that supported marriage equality long before it was a popular cause and worked tirelessly with campaigners from across the community for decades until it became law.
Our work exposing the corporate greed in our banking and financial sector was critical in helping to secure a banking royal commission.
Greens legislation for a National Integrity Commission to root out corruption was rejected outright by both sides for decades before we finally won. Now it’s time to make sure that a new anti-corruption watchdog is up to the job and not just window dressing.
Medicinal cannabis would still be illegal in Australia if it wasn’t for the Greens. We’ve been a lone voice for sensible drug policy with reforms like pill testing, supervised injecting facilities and adult use of cannabis.
But if I’m being honest, I also leave knowing that successive parliaments in which I have served have failed to achieve lasting reforms on the things that matter. Climate change, homelessness, job insecurity, mental illness, protecting our precious environment.
It’s easy to put this down to the personal flaws of individual prime ministers but the failings of the past decade are bigger than that. The very structures that underpin our democracy, many of them established a century ago, have been incapable of responding to the threats before us.
We are currently living through a pandemic for which we were warned but unprepared. Our national medical stockpile was inadequate. Health workers were unable to get enough masks and we lack the basic capacity to make our own. Victorians are now locked up in their houses because of a quarantine system that failed due to a culture of deregulation, outsourcing and privatisation. Ongoing outbreaks in aged care facilities have revealed the ugly truth of how we care, or don’t care, for the elderly.
We were warned about the threat of a global pandemic just as we’ve been warned about the threat of catastrophic climate change.
Our institutions no longer reflect who we are or who we want to become.
We urgently need a new era of sweeping political and economic reform and it starts by making our democracy work for people, not corporations.
We need more women, more people from different cultural and economic backgrounds and more young people in our parliament.
It shouldn’t take a pandemic to force the introduction of technologies like video link to engage in politics.
Despite the disappointments of this past decade, I leave parliament hopeful that things can change.
Unlike the response to climate change, state and federal governments have ditched the partisanship and have been guided by evidence in responding to this pandemic. While it’s true that some terrible mistakes have been made and they deserve scrutiny, it’s important to acknowledge the many sensible, life-saving decisions too.
There is a strong sense of solidarity in the community. It’s been a bloody tough year and many people are struggling, but the vast majority of people do understand that this shared sacrifice is required to get us through this.
This moment has given people time to think deeply about what is important in life. We are social creatures who need human contact. We rely on each other. People are questioning the dog eat dog, rampant individualism that has formed the basis of our politics for far too long.
Social movements continue to build around the world. Throughout history these movements have driven societal change and right now collective action against climate inaction, racism, sexism and inequality is gathering steam.
I remember leaving parliament feeling especially demoralised after a horrible sitting fortnight and it was the tens of thousands of passionate, engaged young people at the climate strike the following day that gave me the strength and energy to keep fighting.
I leave politics feeling confident about the Greens. I joined the Victorian Greens two decades ago when we had no state or federal representation and over that short time we have elected dozens of state and federal MPs and local government councillors right across the country. Our party is strong and resilient. We have the support of millions of Australians and we are the only party with genuine solutions to today’s problems.
To everyone that has knocked on doors, made calls, stood on polling booths in the middle of winter, demanded change at rallies, shown solidarity at vigils and done so much more to make this country better, thank you.
In my first speech almost a decade ago, fresh faced and optimistic I quoted Martin Luther King who said “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice”.
Now older and greyer after a tough decade in parliament, my faith in that idea is a little shaken but not broken.
Sure there have been some setbacks this past decade but it will bend towards justice again.
It will bend because we will bend it.