The time has come for a Green New Deal

2019-11-22

At our National Conference in Canberra last weekend, the Australian Greens committed to the development of an Australian Green New Deal. In his opening speech, Richard Di Natale (delivered in his absence by Adam Bandt) explains why we need a big, bold, transformative plan to get us out of the mess we’re in. 

By Richard Di Natale


I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people as the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. 

I acknowledge that we stand on stolen land and sovereignty was never ceded and pay my respect to a culture that has cared for country over the last 60,000 years. 

The murder this week of Kumanjayi Walker in Yuendumu up in the NT reminds us just how far away we still are from genuine reconciliation and why now, more than ever, we need to engage in a genuine process of truth-telling and tackling unfinished business that gives a real voice to our First Nations people.

I also want to acknowledge my wonderful party room colleagues, as well as the ACT Greens, especially Shane and Caroline as Greens members of the ACT Assembly. Most importantly I want to acknowledge all of our members for their work and support, and also for coming to this conference which has a great program of presentations and discussions.

Bushfires

I want to start by acknowledging that right now, communities across New South Wales and Queensland are experiencing the most catastrophic days of fire danger either state has ever experienced. To those who live in those areas, and to those who have lost their loved ones, their homes and livelihood – we’re thinking of you during this time. 

To the more than 3000 firefighters who have been out there on the frontlines, thank you for everything that you do and for the support and care you have shown to everyone who has been affected by the fires already. It's tough to imagine any higher form of courage than defending homes and towns in these unprecedented conditions. 

But as both Adam and I have said this week, thoughts and prayers are not enough.

The Morrison government had been using every trick in the book to avoid being drawn on the link between the climate emergency and the bushfire emergency. In spite of the science, the deputy PM has even gone so far as to call those of us – myself included – who believe that we need to highlight the link between catastrophic bushfires and climate change “disgusting” and “raving inner-city lunatics”.

But, if now is not the time to highlight the government’s disgraceful lack of action on the climate crisis, when is? Just as lobbyists for the US gun industry trot out calls of ‘too soon’ after every mass shooting, so too are the pro-coal advocates attacking anyone who dares connect these fires to the climate crisis. To be silent now is to endanger the lives of Australians.

You know, I live in regional Victoria, and every time that I leave my family during bushfire season, I have to worry whether they are going to be safe. Those of us who have experienced the kind of devastation taking place in parts of the country today, like former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins, get the connection between the climate crisis and bushfires. It’s only the Coalition that seems incapable of seeing it. 

Well, the prime minister may want us to keep our mouths shut, but I have news for him: not the Greens, not the community, not the scientists and not the emergency services community. 

The growing movement

This has obviously been a dark week for our country, but it is so good to be here with you today at such an exciting time for our movement. These past few months it’s really felt like you can hardly turn on the telly or go online without seeing news about the growing people-powered movement across the community for genuine action on climate change.

It was the momentum they have generated that helped us to finally drag Labor kicking and screaming to join us last month in moving for the declaration of a climate emergency in the federal Parliament. And as that momentum continues to grow, it’s only a matter of time before the government has to allow a conscience vote that will see a climate emergency declaration passed. 

But the most amazing things haven't been happening in Parliament – they’ve been happening in the streets. In cities across the world, millions of people from all walks of life have made it clear that they’ve had a gutful of business as usual and are demanding that governments pull their fingers out and take genuine action to address the climate crisis now – not ten or twenty years from now when we know it will be too late. 

Taking my two boys to march alongside 150,000 climate strikers in Melbourne was truly one of the highlights of my time as leader. Seeing people from all walks of life making their voices heard filled me with optimism and hope, which is something I know we all needed more than a little bit of given the election hangover we’ve been living with in Parliament House. 

The right to peaceful, non-violent protest is at the core of our democracy, and those members of the community who have been engaging in these actions are carrying on a proud and effective legacy that includes the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela in apartheid-era South Africa and local Australian examples like Bob Brown during the Franklin Blockade.

Whether it’s a student blocking traffic, a mum and dad walking off work for a climate strike, a business divesting from polluting investments or a person calling their local council to voice support for a climate emergency – the movement is growing and the Greens are going to be there to back it 100 percent. 

And let me be absolutely clear: we will not accept for one second any attempt by Scott Morrison to wind back our right to peaceful protest. The Greens will never allow our fundamental rights to be stripped away at the behest of polluting fossil fuel companies or anyone else.

The big lie

The reason people are taking to the streets is because they can see that we are facing an economic, social and environmental crisis. 

They see through the big lie that government and big business have been peddling for decades – that we can’t have a safe climate and a healthy economy at the same time. 

The fact is, our climate is heating dangerously. We have a decade to cut our emissions in half, but instead of phasing out the biggest source of climate pollution – the mining, burning and exporting of coal, oil and gas – our government, with the support of the Labor Party, is expanding it. 

While the community, scientists, students, unions, farmers and emergency service workers and even many business leaders are joining together to call for change, the major parties refuse to listen or act. 

Why is that? Simple: because Australia is the largest exporter of coal and gas in the world and the Labor and Liberal parties take millions of dollars in donations from fossil fuel corporations.

These massive corporations don’t donate out of charity; they want the government to pass laws to protect their business interests, and the billions of dollars in super-profits they’ve generated in recent years shows that those donations were a wise investment. 

It’s a lie that the media continue to push in the wake of the election, when they talk about the Labor Party having lost because they took too strong a stance on climate change. Labor didn’t lose because they took too strong a stance on tackling the climate crisis, they lost because they tried to have it both ways – spruiking coal up in Queensland and renewables in Melbourne.

And the bad news is that, while the Coalition continues to deny the science, Labor seems to be taking all the wrong messages from their loss. As we saw in their recent election review it seems that Anthony Albanese is trying to have it both ways, promising that we can keep digging up, selling and burning coal and also tackle the climate crisis. 

The reality is, our climate dysfunction is actually a symptom of a much bigger illness facing our society – one that goes beyond the environment and touches on every area of our lives. 

Inequality, poverty, housing prices and living pressures are rising, while governments continue to hack away at funding for public services and our social safety net.

As a result, our community bears the brunt of an increasingly unfair system; a system that cuts taxes for the extremely wealthy while leaving others in desperate poverty. A system where some of us are working harder and longer, while others are shockingly underemployed in insecure work. A system where we’re paying impossible prices for the basics like housing and electricity and more and more of us are stressed and struggling to make ends meet. 

The problem is clear: successive Australian governments have prioritised greater and greater private profit at the expense of everyone else and are steering us towards a completely preventable social, environmental and economic disaster. And while we are already experiencing what the future holds – more heatwaves, drought, bushfires and storms – the government and Labor continue on with business as usual.

We need a Green New Deal

Let’s face it: we’re stuck. 

It’s time for a big, bold, transformative plan to get us out of this mess. 

A plan that smashes the big lie that the environment and the economy are at odds. A plan that acknowledges, in fact, that they must work in harmony if we’re to have any chance of solving the major crises facing us as a nation and a species.

What we need is a Green New Deal.

The Greens know that a fair future is one where the economy serves people and the planet so we can all enjoy a good life, a safe climate and a healthy environment. 

It is a blueprint for dealing with the overlapping crises of climate destruction and economic inequality. 

A Green New Deal recognises that we should not have to choose between climate policies and policies that improve the life of working people.  

It’s a recognition that you can’t just phase out destructive climate – and environment – destroying industries without a plan to replace them with jobs-rich, cleaner alternatives in renewable energy, infrastructure, transport, housing, manufacturing, public and social services and repairing our environment. 

A Green New Deal recognises the significant and urgent government investment needed to create the scale and speed of change that we need to address the climate crisis. 

That, by investing in new technology, infrastructure, social and public services and caring for Country, we can create millions of new jobs and prioritise universal public services.  

A Green New Deal also recognises historical dispossessions and provides justice for First Nations people – which means treaty, voice and truth-telling – and a leading role for them in driving this transition.

Government has a responsibility to make sure this transition, which is happening whether we like it or not, delivers climate justice and ensures no one is left behind. No matter what our major parties would like you to believe, we cannot continue to dig up, burn and sell our coal and tackle the climate crisis at the same time. 

What’s next?

The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one – that’s why we need Parliament to declare a climate emergency – but it isn’t enough if we don’t also provide people with genuine hope that an alternative is possible.

A Green New Deal can be that concrete plan to tackle climate and inequality, to create meaningful work for those who want it while transitioning our economy to the clean industries of the future – like hydrogen exporting or battery manufacturing. 

We aren’t the only country to recognise the need for a Green New Deal. Canada, the US, the UK and several other leading economies are looking at how they can turn the danger of the climate crisis into an opportunity to transform their societies for the better, much like Franklin Delano Roosevelt did with the original New Deal during the Great Depression.

All across the world progressive movements are recognising that the real lie isn’t that we can’t have a healthy environment and strong economy; it’s the idea that the political, social, environmental and economic dysfunction we’ve seen in recent years are all just a coincidence and can each be treated separately.

It’s time that all of us admit what has been clear for a while now: society is not functioning the way it’s meant to – for the benefit of the people and the planet instead of a few wealthy individuals – and quick fix solutions aren’t going to cut it anymore. 

We need systemic change, and I believe a Green New Deal is the way to do it.

But I need all of you to be involved if this is going to work.  And that’s why – over the next twelve months – the Federal Party Room are committed to engaging in a wide-reaching engagement process with you – the members – as well as stakeholders, experts and the wider community to understand what a Green New Deal means in an Australian context.

Conclusion

The message coming loud and clear from the climate protesters is a positive one: that we can turn this crisis into an opportunity if we can just find the political will.

Despite the challenges we see ahead, I’m optimistic. A tide of change is coming and you all are a big part of that. Thank you very much for all that you do for our movement. 

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