Fighting the Great Recession with a Green New Deal

Adam Bandt's address to the National Press Club – 13 October 2020

Australian Greens Leader Adam Bandt gives his Post-Budget Address to the National Press Club, outlining how a Green New Deal should underpin the investment needed for a Green Recovery that tackles the climate crisis and COVID economic crisis together.
 

 
13 October 2020

 

I want to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people whose land we meet on today and acknowledge elders, past present and emerging.

I also want to acknowledge our newest Senator Lidia Thorpe who was sworn in last week and will bring fresh energy and a fierce determination into the Senate.

Senator Lidia Thorpe raises a fist as she enters the Senate for the first time on 6 October 2020She has said loud and clear that the priority of restoring relations between our First Nations and settlers has to be a treaty and the recognition of sovereignty that was never given away.

We are the only English colonial country that doesn’t have some form of treaty and recognition of ongoing sovereignty. This can’t continue.

There remains widespread racism in this country. It is sometimes openly promoted in our media, but it is also quietly accepted and reinforced in our political decisions. It shows itself in our offshore detention policies, our isolated position alongside Trump in foreign affairs and our failure to respond to Black Deaths in Custody.

I want to say clearly and for the record that I believe “Black Lives Matter” and that the Greens believe “Black Lives Matter.” 

 

Introduction

When I became leader of the Greens, I said we were facing three crises: the climate crisis, an inequality crisis and a jobs crisis. I also said that the answer to all three is a Green New Deal, a government-led plan of investment and action that creates secure jobs by investing in a clean economy and making Australia more equal, including:

  • getting dental into Medicare; 
  • making public schools genuinely free; and 
  • a renewable energy grid to power our country, process our metals and export our sunlight as well.

Now, as we start to emerge out of a pandemic that has seen the rich get richer, more than ever we need a ‘great equaliser’ of public investment to transform our economy and society. 

After a promising start of free childcare and real support for those out of work through Jobseeker and JobKeeper, the Coalition has reverted to type with cuts to these programs and a Budget that will increase inequality and pull us deeper into a climate catastrophe. Tragically, Labor last week supported most of it.

If you look at what they did and how they voted rather than what they said in their speeches, last week was not a clash of ideas, but Labor and Liberal together fast-tracking billions of dollars to millionaires and big corporations, prolonging the recession and laying revenue-side booby traps for future governments.

That is why we desperately need an alternative vision for the country and a plan for the future that is a genuine alternative to neoliberalism.

Today in discussing the Greens response to the Budget I also want to talk to you about the next plank in our Green New Deal plan, the unwinding of privatisation. More on that later.

 

Climate Emergency

Less than 12 months ago, our country was actively debating the government’s failure to act on the climate crisis.

At the time the Greens pointed out that Scott Morrison had done everything in his power to make last summer’s bushfires worse and should bear his share of the blame for the country’s terrible losses.

Hector, 6, wrapped in a blanket in San Francisco, California in an orange smoke-filled sky. 9 September 2020. Photo by Gabrielle Lurie.  Finn, 11, drives a boat in Mallacoota with an orange smoke-filled sky, Victoria. 1 January 2020. Photo by Allison Marison.Since then, we have all had to drop everything to deal with the immediate threat of the COVID pandemic. The Greens have been consistent backers of an immediate, health-first response to the virus, including pushing very early for upgrades to intensive care and for public investment in vaccine development. 

Faced with a repeat of the Prime Minister’s bushfire debacle as he went off to the NRL during the first wave, we joined with experts and State Premiers in pushing the Morrison government to take the pandemic seriously.

But while we have all been battling the pandemic, the climate crisis has gotten dramatically worse and Australia’s pollution from gas drilling is rising.

The COVID crisis is a disaster, but the growing climate crisis will be far, far worse. 

But what the pandemic has shown us is that if we act with urgency on the advice of experts, we can save lives and avoid unimaginable damage. 

The evidence of the escalating climate crisis emerges daily and here is just one example. Last month, a 110 sq km chunk of ice broke off from Greenland, and in the Antarctic a crucial Britain-sized ‘hinge’ is melting so quickly, that it may soon collapse. 

This glacier alone would lead to sea level rises of about half a meter. But scientists call it the ‘doomsday glacier’ because of how much ice it holds in place. If this glacier goes, the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet could go causing an irreversible 3-metre sea-level rise. All during the life of today’s primary school students.

I lie awake some nights wondering what this means for my children. 

My daughter told me last week she’s going to have seven children and be an astronaut, ballerina, teacher and a mum when she grows up. Distressingly, an increasingly more plausible prospect is that when she hits thirty, cities might be going underwater and large parts of the planet will be becoming uninhabitable. And the process may be irreversible by that point. 

I just don’t see how my daughters - or anyone else - survives to live a good life. And that tears me up inside.

That is why we are in a climate emergency. 

And that is why the government’s actions over the past weeks including last week's Budget are criminal. 

The government has been advised by the Bureau of Meteorology that Australia is on track for 4.4 degrees of warming under their current targets. As a result some scientists warn that on the current pathway we will face a future world unable to sustain more than half of the current global population. This is a terrifying catastrophe, it could lead to civilisational collapse.

Scott Morrison’s Paris targets mean 95% of irrigation farmers in the Murray Darling Basin will be forced to leave or go bankrupt. Northern Australia will be uninhabitable from oppressive monsoonal heat and southern Australia will watch as the desert sprawls outwards.

When it comes to climate action, delay is the new denialInstead of arguing about whether the Liberals will meet their 2030 targets, we should be pointing out what will happen even if they do.

Currently, Australia’s carbon budget will be blown by 2028. Delay is now the new denial. 

And Labor is aiding and abetting these climate criminals by abandoning 2030 targets, taking short-term action off the political table and letting Morrison off the hook. Giving people false hope that we don’t have to act urgently is in many ways far more dangerous than outright climate denial. 

I desperately want to turf out this government, and during Budget week Labor should have been with us fighting the government for climate action, for a green recovery, but instead backed in a Budget that is all brown and trickle down, including the PM’s gas rush.

My plea to you in the Press Gallery is not to let the two establishment parties set the parameters of the climate debate by arguing over 2050 targets. The most important thing for reporting on the politics of climate is to follow the science about the necessity for action in the next 10 years - the critical decade - because otherwise we pass tipping points. 

The facts are, anything less than a 75% reduction by 2030 is simply not consistent with the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, and anything less than 48% is inconsistent with 2 degrees.

Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese’s climate targets - paid for and set by $9.3 million in donations from the coal, oil and gas industry - will have us passing tipping points, making global heating an unstoppable chain reaction. 

Currently we’re heading towards a cliff at 200 km/hr, the Liberals want us to slow down to 180 km/hr before we go over the edge and Labor is debating amongst themselves if it should be 150. In an emergency, you put your foot on the brake and drive off in a new direction. And - this is the critical point - you have to do it before you reach the cliff edge.

 

The 2020 Budget and a Green Recovery

Last week’s Budget should have been an opportunity to change direction and put in place a Green Recovery.

Depression era challenges need a depression era response - Adam Bandt, Leader of the GreensThe government could have followed conservative Boris Johnson’s lead in Britain, who is planning to power Britain’s homes with wind energy, or looked to Europe or South Korea who are putting in place a Green Deal.  

Instead we have been served up another trickle-down trifecta of tax cuts skewed to the wealthy, massive corporate welfare and a plan for high unemployment and stagnating wages for the next decade.

Half of the so-called tax cuts for people on low incomes are not even real tax cuts but a one-year-only deal, a temporary extension of a tax offset for another year while wealthier Australians including people earning a million dollars a year get twice as much in a permanent cut to tax. Meanwhile stage 3 tax cuts remain legislated, voted for by Liberal and Labor, giving massive cuts to the super wealthy.

These measures are all about winning the next election and not, as economists have pointed out, the best or fairest way to stimulate the economy or set us up for the future.

Now, we know this Budget is built on a house of cards with unbelievable assumptions. But even if you are willing to accept the government’s estimates, we are looking at more than 6% unemployment for years. That’s at least 2 million people without enough work. This means our recovery is going to be slower than both the 1980s and 1990s recessions. 

Business profit share of income is at its highest in 60 years, and the share of workers’ wages are at their lowest, and now the government is also choosing another decade of zero wage growth. Before the recession, the Reserve Bank said 4.5% unemployment was needed to spark wage rises. The Treasurer's 6% unemployment plan is also a plan to keep wages low and let big business pocket the windfall.

And this, the most important Budget of a generation, has screwed over the next generation.

Instead of a proper jobs guarantee, such as we proposed in April, the government’s youth hiring credit plan will push young people into low wage, insecure jobs. It will not create the jobs the government claims. This is just another transfer of public money to their corporate mates. This is a subsidy for McDonalds, instead of giving young people decent jobs on nation-building projects that tackle the climate crisis and make Australia a more creative and caring place. 

But persistent unemployment and insecure work are not beyond our control. 

The Treasurer and the Prime Minister are deliberately choosing high unemployment and underemployment. With this budget and its commitment to debt, they could have chosen government-led investment to create jobs and boost aggregate demand, to drive unemployment down to a level of our choosing and create secure, well paid jobs. 

Instead Liberal and Labor have us going into debt to give millionaires a tax cut and McDonalds a handout. 

As someone who spent years representing low-paid workers before getting elected to Parliament, I know the damage done by insecure work. Under my leadership, the Greens will be a party that champions full employment, and wage increases, which means we will fight for 2% unemployment - like it was on average between WWII and the 1970s - well as 2% underemployment.

Summary of the jobs created by the Greens' Invest to Recover planThe Greens’ comprehensive ‘Invest to Recover’ plan which I released in April and which we have distributed again today is a roadmap for government lead job creation, by investing in big projects like 500,000 new public housing homes, free childcare, Australian manufacturing, 100% renewables and high speed rail and other sustainable infrastructure instead of bringing forward tax cuts. Our plan would create 870,000 new jobs while tackling the inequality and climate crises.

Our Green New Deal takes its inspiration from FDR’s New Deal, where the government was prepared to borrow to invest the country’s way out of depression. 

It has happened in Australia too. The immediate post-war period coincided with the highest levels of public debt on record. A full employment strategy was pursued by government-led investment. Within a decade of the shared economic prosperity that was created, public debt was reduced back to regular levels and economic inequality was lower than at any time before - and sadly, ever since. It is entirely possible to do it again. 

But this time, the recovery must be pink as well as green.

56% of those who have lost their jobs have been women, but the government’s recovery is all about business handouts and gas fields. And as we pointed out opposing the Liberal and Labor two-tiering of JobKeeper, women are twice as likely to be in those low-hours sectors where support is being cut. And there was virtually nothing for women in the Budget. The increased responsibilities for unpaid caring have been lumped on women, but free childcare has been removed.

There are two other essential components: the recovery must also start right now, capable of being expanded today, while also being ready to withstand a second or third wave of the pandemic. 

In short, the recovery must be green, pink, quick and safe.  Fortunately, we have at our disposal a means of quickly providing jobs that:

  • is low-emissions
  • will employ women
  • can be rolled out quickly
  • can be performed in a COVID-compliant way

It is called government. To meet very real community needs and to help get us towards full employment again, the Greens are calling for an expansion of the public and publicly-funded not-for-profit sector.

With Labor’s backing, the government has outsourced the recovery. But right now, the most efficient way of creating jobs to get us out of this economic crater is to directly employ people. We don’t need to go through big corporations or hope that money will eventually trickle-down.  

"The last four decades of economic rationalism and trickle-down economics advanced by Liberal and Labor has failed.  It has left us more unequal, less able to withstand shocks and teetering on the edge of civilizational collapse." – Adam Bandt In fact, the best way to get the private sector back on its feet is through public sector investment and lifting demand. If government doesn’t step up now, the private sector recovery will take longer.

 

War on privatisation

A new approach is needed because, on any measure, the last 4 decades of economic rationalism and trickle-down economics advanced by Liberal and Labor - what goes under the broad heading of neoliberalism - has failed. It has left us more unequal, less able to withstand shocks and teetering on the edge of civilizational collapse. 

We’ve been told that the private sector can always do it better, but the evidence just doesn’t stack up. The effects have been felt at every stage along this COVID crisis. 

We’ve had to rely on the army, the only growing sector of government employment, to do the things that public servants once specialised in. This is what happens when you hollow out the public service to the big consulting firms who are even bigger donors.

The second outbreak in Victoria was set off because quarantine, security management and contact tracing was privatised and outsourced. 

Covid was able to spread through workplaces because people either had no right to sick leave or were too scared to ask for time off. 

Meanwhile, our contact tracing system was largely a patchwork of private contracts. Neoliberalism was the vector that spread this virus throughout my home state of Victoria. 

In aged care, all these neoliberal elements converged. Rampant casualisation forced carers to shuttle back-and-forth between providers, spreading the virus further and faster. We now have for-profit aged care homes legally obliged to improve profits, and in a sector that is by definition labour-intensive, that means cutting cost cuttings which can only come from reducing quality and safety or cutting staff. 

Likewise, high unemployment is great business for the private JobActive providers, who get to share in an estimated additional $210million dollars in payments from the recession alone. 

Big, private corporations made $10.7 billion in profit because of public investment in: Private health, Vocational education, Employment services, Aged care, Contracting out of the public service and Electricity.  "That’s money that should have gone into public services and wages instead" – Adam BandtWhen we cast a longer look back, we see that in these areas of: aged care, employment services, private health, vocational education,  contracting out of the public service, as well as in once publicly-owned areas like electricity transmission, our essential services have delivered big corporations massive profit at public expense.

The Greens estimate that just last year, in these 6 essential service sectors alone, the public has delivered big corporations $10.7 billion in profit. This is profit delivered either in the form of direct subsidies or through laws that let corporations force people to pay higher prices than they otherwise would.

I want here to repeat the crucial point. These aren’t corporations that have made their own way in the private market – they have grown rich by taking money out of the public purse, money that should now go directly to jobs, services and recovery.

We also estimate from the Budget Papers that over the next year, in aged care, private health care, employment services, education, the public service and banking, where we bankroll cheap lending for the big 4 ‘too big to fail’ banks, the public will be delivering private entities $52 billion to prop up their profits.

Add to this the subsidies going to prop up coal, oil and gas industries and we see $99 billion a year is being shovelled upwards from everyday people into the pockets of big corporations.

This money should be going directly into job creation and service provision, not to the profits of big corporations. 

It’s time to wind back privatisation. The Australian people hate it and it has been a demonstrated failure.

It is time to stop putting the big corporations ahead of people, to stop putting the millionaires ahead of the million unemployed.

Introduced to Australia by Labor and furthered by the Liberals, neoliberalism has shifted wealth upwards while hollowing out the very public sector we have relied on to get us through this pandemic. 

So although we are a party that prides itself on non-violence, today we declare war on privatisation. 

We will seek the Senate’s support for a wide-ranging inquiry into the failures of privatisation. Given the likely supportive views of the cross-bench, we hope we can shame Labor into backing it so that it begins before the end of the year. This will be the first ever comprehensive inquiry into 4 decades of privatisation, contracting out and deregulating essential and public services. 

The review will help make the case for bringing some essential services back into public and community hands.

It’s time to chart a different course, where the public comes first and where we put the millions ahead of the millionaires.

 

Conclusion

With a Green New Deal we can recover from the Great Recession and fight the climate crisis together and set our country up for the 21st century.

It's time to wind back privatisation, it's time for a Green New DealIn the coming months leading up to what looks like an election year we will outline more elements of our Green New Deal.

We know that people are increasingly sick of politics as usual and are ready for a fresh approach. 

We will make the case that The Greens are the only ones who can fix our country's problems because we’re the only ones not taking donations from the people causing the problems.

Ten years ago, the people of Melbourne elected me for the first time. With the Greens in shared power in the lower house and in the Senate, we used our votes to work with Labor. As a result, 2.7 million children have gone to the dentist with their Medicare card. We saw Australia’s pollution drop at the fastest levels ever recorded while our economy continued to grow and $13b has been invested in clean and renewable energy through the CEFC and Arena. 

Every Parliament I’ve been elected to, except one, was a tight Parliament of a few seat majority. Change in seat allocations in Victoria and Western Australia look to further reduce the Coalition’s lead going into the next election. 

But even without those changes it would take only a swing of less than 1% for two or more seats to fall and we’ll be back in shared power territory.

This time around we will be pushing to leave neoliberalism behind, restore our essential services, pursue full employment, tackle the climate crisis and get the government to invest directly in job creation so that we can have a government, economy and society that puts the millions ahead of the millionaires. ▲

– Adam Bandt, Leader of the Australian Greens
National Press Club address · 13 October 2020

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