Building a positive, sustainable, equitable future

Author: Janet Rice is the lead Senate candidate for the Victorian Greens

I’ve got a confession to make tonight. I want to share with you my initial inspiration for my years of dedication to The Greens. Thank you Graham Richardson.

I was a forest campaigner back in the 1980’s. You might remember forest protest actions in East Gippsland at Brown Mountain on the edge of the Errinundra Plateau in the lead up to the federal election due in early 1990. Labor was positioning itself as the greenest thing since Kermit, and having forest protesters making the headlines didn’t fit. Richo who was Federal Environment Minister got involved pretty quickly, and negotiations began to find a resolution between us, the state and federal governments to get us off the front page. After some long hot days of negotiations we struck a deal – there would be a moratorium on logging whilst a study was done to determine whether there were ‘prudent and feasible alternatives’ to the logging of these magnificent heritage forests.

We knew that any study which had sensible terms of reference would find that of course there were prudent and feasible alternatives. It all rested on the definition of prudent and feasible though, so that had to be clearly defined before we agreed to stop protesting. A letter from Richo to the Victorian Minister defined it in a way we were happy with, I remember the phone call from him telling me ‘Don’t worry Janet, those national estate forests will never be logged’. We pulled up stumps at the protests, sat back and waited for the March election.

 

The Hawke government was returned by a whisker with 49.9% of the two party preferred vote.

But Richo was no longer Environment Minister. And then it transpired that the critical letter defining what ‘prudent and feasible’ meant didn’t exist. It had never been signed. We had been completely sold out. ‘Whatever it takes’. The study came and went with terms of reference determined by the foresters. It found of course that there were no prudent and feasible alternatives and logging resumed.

I was devastated.  But I’d had my eyes opened to what pure pragmatic politics was about. My experience fitted into a litany of other people’s experiences, other campaigns, other sell outs, from funding for public education, to support for people with disabilities.

And it was made very clear to me when lobbying Labor MP’s around that time that ‘we don’t have to deliver on what you want, because the people who care about the issues you are campaigning for are going to vote for us in the end anyway.

It was true. We needed the Greens. We began to build the party, and I got into politics because I’m a pragmatic idealist. Forming The Greens was the best way to achieve outcomes on the issues I was passionate about, and I think most of you are passionate about too; creating positive healthy lives and futures for people, our environment and all the other species we share our planet with.

Without The Greens these policies weren’t being implemented.

With The Greens they are.

Greens values are summarised by our four pillars.

  • Social and economic justice
  • Democracy
  • Peace and nonviolence
  • Environmental sustainability

They reflect mainstream values of a fair go for people and the environment.

We stand for

  • a fair go for everyone regardless of background, race, religion, gender, sexuality, income, level of political influence. We believe in redressing inequality through measures such as high quality public education, healthcare, housing and transport.
  • We support a fair days pay for a fair days work, aiming for full employment in meaningful and satisfying work and high quality working conditions. Jobs are key, but they have to be jobs that have a future, part of the new economy not the old.
  • The employment and economic growth potential of the new economy are huge. We need to be transitioning as quickly as possible to a net zero carbon economy. That means a huge level of investment, and economic growth as that transition unfolds. We need to be supporting the car industry yes, but for building electric cars, and support for building trains and trams and electric buses too. Remove the $12 billion in subsidies going to coal, gas oil and redirect that to renewable energy production and energy efficiency, which creates more jobs per MW produced and $ invested than fossil fuel investment. (See for example here and here).  And boosting investment in education to give us the engineering and technical skills and the innovation we need to support this transition.
  • As part of that new economy we believe in progressive taxation. If you earn more you can afford to share more with the rest of society, to help create a tax base sufficient enough to pay for social equity and sustainability measures. The mining super profits tax comes to mind…
  • Caring about people in the workforce is equally important. A recent example is the Bill Colleen Hartland is about to introduce into the Victorian Parliament that will enable firefighters to be compensated for work related cancers, building on the bill that Adam Bandt successfully introduced into the Federal Parliament.
  • A commitment to a fair go for all goes hand in hand with the Greens commitment to working collaboratively, and aiming for policy outcomes that we all can live with rather than winners and losers. If it’s a fair go for all, then people need to be empowered to be engaged in decisions which affect their lives, and you can’t just dump someone because they haven’t got political power or influence
  • Importantly our fair go extends to beyond our shores. We are globalist – we won’t trade off others’ suffering for our luxuries, no matter how far away from us they live, no matter how disempowered and forgotten they are. If it’s a fair go for all we are talking about why should it stop at our borders, and just concern those of us who have had the amazing good fortune to be born here or migrate here, benefiting from our enormous natural wealth, and the land and resources, taken without recompense, I have to say, from indigenous Australia. 

    That’s why we can’t support off-shore processing of refugees. It’s not humane, fair or just. Accepting more refugees as part of a regional plan is the only humane response we can have, alongside being much more active and effective globally to build peace so that there isn’t such a need to flee.
  • Our fair go also extends to the people of the future. That’s why given science is telling us serious urgent action is needed to reduce global carbon emissions to zero within a space of decades to ensure our planet remains inhabitable for humans, then we have to get serious. We have to roll up our sleeves and do it.
    And don’t give me any hogwash that Australia is only a small player. We punch above our weight. We get the gold in emissions per person, we are up there in the top tier for total emissions, and we have a quarter of the world’s coal resources, and a big chunk of the natural gas in the world too. We have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, including fossil fuel exports very fast, and lead the way in applying pressure to laggard recalcitrant nations to do the same. We need to be investing in public transport not freeways, put the brakes on property-developer-led urban sprawl; things Labor hand in hand with the Liberals are reluctant to do.
  • Which of course brings me to environmental sustainability. I know the Greens commitment to the environment is shared by many in the Labor party. But not shared by others. Who seem to have the upper hand when it comes to what happens on the ground. Paul Howes, for example, arguing the case for open cut mining of the Tarkine wilderness in NW Tasmania–the largest tract of temperate rainforest in Australia, the refuge for healthy Tasmanian devil populations, I could go on. The Tarkine had its emergency heritage protection lifted by Minister Burke. Who has also failed to protect areas like James Price Point in the Kimberley.

Most of what gets painted as Green ‘extremism’ is in fact popular with the electorate. Think Denticare, investment in renewable energy, removal of subsidies to fossil fuel industries, marriage equality, restrictions on coal seam gas mining.

It’s been the Greens having balance of power in the House of Reps and the Senate who created the political window for the price on carbon and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

We put marriage equality firmly on the political agenda and gave the community campaigning for this a political voice and home. Congratulations to the Tasmanian Labor- Green government for moving on this.

What The Greens won’t do is to privilege short term economic benefits above social and environmental sustainability. The old parties do this over and over again even where these benefits are clearly at the expense of social justice or environmental protection, and even where the benefits only largely accrue to wealthy powerful business interests - the mining companies, property developers aided and abetted by media magnates, and even where that economic activity could be readily achieved other more sustainable ways.

This explains why people who are concerned about progressive policy, who have a vision of a fair, just, equitable, sustainable democratic society are increasingly voting Green.

At every election the Greens have stood since 1992 the commentators have said our vote has peaked. In contrast, at every election it has continued to grow.

The segment of voters who want to see progressive policies implemented is not going to decrease. The problems are going to get worse; the need for our focus and commitment to create a healthy sustainable future is only going to be more urgent.

So get used to it. We’re not going away. We’ve spent 20 years getting to where we are today, and are continuing to grow. We mightn’t have won Melbourne last month, but we won the primary vote and will win the seat in the future. We will win more seats; and holding the balance of power as we do in the national parliament; having an agreement as we do in the ACT; being in Coalition as we are in Tasmania will become the norm. Two party politics, as much as it has ever existed in Australia (remember the Nationals and the Liberals have formed coalition governments for ever essentially and no-one even notices) is on its way out.

And that’s good news for everyone who wants to see implementation of progressive policies that lead to a positive, sustainable, equitable future. You should be very pleased we are here.

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