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Richard Di Natale at the National Press Club

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Richard Di Natale 15 Mar 2017

Firstly let me acknowledge that we are meeting here on the land of the Ngunnawal peoples and I pay my respects to their elders past and present. I stand here before you today, giving my first National Press Club address since the Coalition was narrowly returned to Government and the reemergence of One Nation, since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, and since so many columns and articles and tweets have been written trying to make sense of it all. Many of them written by you in this room.

The National Press Club describes itself as “an institution that reaches the influencers and decision makers of Australia; be they Federal or State Parliamentarians, political advisors, Government Heads of Departments, academics, legal, health and other professions, journalists including the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery” It occurs to me that these are the groups that Donald Trump railed against during his now infamous presidential campaign. And he won.

So why is it that the media establishment is so mistrusted by such a large section of the community? Most Australians firmly believe that we need a fiercely free and independent media to hold power to account. They just wish they had one. 

Yes we have some outstanding journalists in this country, they’re mostly women by the way, but as an institution, the media, like politics, is in real trouble.  The model for funding independent journalism has broken down. When I first took my seat in July 2011 there were a number of extremely experienced journalists dedicated to health, for example, but they’re almost all gone and the few who are left are spread an inch deep and a mile wide.  We don’t have enough media diversity so, if you’re a punter living in a capital city, the Murdoch press accounts for two thirds of all circulation. 

In some ways, Donald Trump was right about the notion of “fake news” but not in the way that he meant it. Much of what passes for news now is opinion, speculation, gossip or cheerleading for your side. It’s anything but news.  The public square has shrunk, our debate is polarised and fragmented and we now talk at each other not to each other.

But this speech is not for you the “influencers and decision makers of Australia”.I t is for young people who are being screwed over and see their future being ripped away. It’s for those people who have come to our island continent to make it their home and have made us a better nation. It’s for those people who won’t tolerate injustice, like locking up our fellow human beings indefinitely in offshore hell-holes or kids in adult prisons. And it is for those people who understand that we are custodians of this fragile planet that sustains all of us.

Now anyone who stands at this podium, or in our Parliament, and tells you they have all the answers is lying to you. What we do know is that the system is broken and that politics as usual just won’t cut it. The politics of wealth and privilege, separated from the people it is supposed to represent, can’t begin to offer a persuasive diagnosis, let alone the right treatment.

For decades we’ve been in the grip of neoliberalism, an ideology based on the singular assumption that humans are selfish individuals, always in violent competition. An ideology defined by the sale of any public asset that isn’t nailed down, that sees taxation, regulation and trade unions as the enemy.  An ideology that believes if only we relinquish total control to the market, wealth will magically trickle down to everyone. 

It’s why the Coalition wants to give $50 billion in tax cuts to their business mates rather than to those people who really need it. It is an ideology that is now so thoroughly discredited, the impacts so widely despised, that the people of America were prepared to elect a dangerous, unstable, narcissist as their president to overturn it.

But a different path is still open to us. A path that does not turn Australians against each other; A path that recognises our economy exists to serve us and not the other way around; A path that is based on love and compassion for each other, not hatred and division.

I have great faith in our shared humanity, in our fellow citizens to choose the path of decency and civility. It is a faith informed by evidence, by our origins as a cooperative species. Cooperation gave us our evolutionary advantage and it is woven into our very being. The principle of caring for others is, after all, a fundamental tenet weaved through all our world’s religions.

And it is a central theme in all our human stories. It is our economic and political system that is the problem, not our fellow human beings.

Just as we can choose love over hate, we can choose to fix a broken system that privileges the rich and powerful over the rest of us. Our job is to stand up to those powerful vested interests, to bring people together and to fix it.

If we are to do that, our biggest challenge is not the budget deficit, it is the democratic deficit.

The first step has to be an end to the corrupting influence of political donations from the big end of town. Let’s call them what they are – state sanctioned bribery. Corporations aren’t philanthropic entities; they donate because they expect a return on their investment. People often say they can’t tell the difference anymore between the two major parties - the Coles and Woolies of politics. That’s because regardless of who is the prime minister after the next election, the big donors will come knocking to collect the rent.

The Greens have led the charge to establish a national corruption watchdog, something that both Liberal and Labor have frustrated for many years. Corruption watchdogs have unearthed serious misconduct in state parliaments. Does anyone really believe that federal parliament is any different? Comprehensive donations reform and establishing a national corruption watchdog will be key priorities for the Greens in this term of parliament. But we won’t stop there. Just as we led the way with senate voting reform and an end to the rorting of parliamentary entitlements we will work to strengthen our democracy through proportional representation, fixed parliamentary terms and trialing techniques such as deliberative democracy that puts everyday people at the heart of government decision making. Neither of the old parties is interested in tackling the democratic deficit because it doesn’t serve their own narrow interests.

Instead, when the Prime Minister and Opposition leader stood here only a few weeks ago they promised jobs, jobs, jobs. It was a case of “trust us, have we got a deal for you." But neither party was honest enough to say to you that our labour market has changed for good. Rapid globalisation and a culture where employers see wages as nothing more than a cost to be pushed down to raise profits, means that hundreds of thousands of Australians have found themselves out of work and scared senseless about what the future holds for them and their families.

The rise of digital and automated technologies means that up to 5 million existing jobs in this country will be lost in the next ten years. We want to kick off a conversation about the future of work and start by questioning the entrenched political consensus that a good life can only come from more work. And it’s a discussion that should include the things we really value in life, like relationships and being with our loved ones, leisure, sport, volunteering, creativity and all the simple things that make us happy. You know, the important things. 

We rightly talk about the 16 per cent of people who want to work more hours, but we never hear about the more than one in four Australians who want to work less. A four day work week, or a six-hour day might actually make us happier and create more opportunities for others, not to mention reducing the costs of full-time childcare. Some companies have even implemented three day working weeks. As part of that discussion, let’s also talk about guaranteed adequate income. Many other countries are trialing models of a social safety net designed to look after everyone in a 21st century economy where work has changed radically.

Why are we so quick in Australia to create a trial for quarantining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders welfare despite the evidence against it. But we won’t even seriously discuss the outcomes of the international trials examining universal basic income.  A secure income could drive research, innovation and creativity and reset what is meaningful in our lives, rather than assuming we are all just units of economic output.

Pair this with greater investment in education, re-skilling those in declining industries and a focus on Australia’s natural strengths in services, in health and aged care, in renewable energy - and we have all the ingredients we need to re-think the future of work in a way that takes care of people and the planet that we depend on. The very people who created the dog eat dog society; that so many of us now resent; will tell us these things are pipe dreams. Don’t believe them.

They want you to believe that you don’t have a choice, that we can’t change course, because it serves their own narrow self-interest. Housing, jobs, universal education and healthcare, a decent social safety net and a healthy planet to sustain us –this was the compact with my generation, but the drawbridge is being pulled up behind us. I refuse to be part of a generation of political leaders who will be the first in modern human history to hand down worse living conditions than we enjoyed. Nor one that presides over a political and economic system designed to entrench rising inequality but selfishly refuses to act. 

That’s why the Greens’ comprehensive plan to address housing affordability, which we’ll release shortly, not only includes reform of negative gearing and capital gains but also a transition plan for the states to remove the third tax barrier to affordable housing: stamp duty. Stamp duty raises the price of housing and stops people from moving between homes even when they want to, so it’s about time we levelled the playing field and got rid of it.

And speaking of levelling the playing field, if we are to avoid the intergenerational divide turning into a chasm, it’s time for a discussion around inheritance taxes for the super wealthy. Australia is one of the few countries that does not tax pre-existing wealth. Someone who has worked hard and earns a solid salary gets taxed more than someone who inherits a string of ‘old-money’ assets.

During my last speech at this podium I announced the Greens plan for a Buffett rule that closes loopholes that allow the wealthy to avoid paying their fair share of tax, or in many instances to avoid paying tax altogether.

As we did with negative gearing, capital gains tax reform and a banking royal commission, I’m pleased that we’ve helped to trigger a rethink inside at least one of the major parties.  But I say to all sides, words are wind if you say you care about inequality and then you vote to give tax breaks to the wealthiest 20% of Australians. The old parties need to realise that people have worked them out. They know that the privatisation of essential services has increased the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands and left customers to foot the bill.  That’s why we believe that the time has come for a people’s bank, one that injects real competition into the banking system.  Imagine real help for people buying their first house, jobs for people in regional areas and a bank that pursues social objectives, like housing affordability, not just profit-driven ones. Which bank? A people’s bank.

A few days ago we detailed our plans to increase the Medicare levy for high income earners, raising more than 13 billion dollars over the forward estimates. We did it because providing a tax break to high-income earners who take out private health insurance does not take the pressure off the public hospital system and just forces people to buy a product they don’t want or need.  Let’s face it. For most people Private Health Insurance is a waste of money because every year the cost of premiums goes up while the amount of cover they provide goes down. And when people do need to make a claim they are often faced with huge out of pocket costs. When it comes to health care the US is not a model we should be following. It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten to have the courage to stand up to the corporate lobbyists and start looking after people rather than subsidising the profits of the private health insurers.

Of course we can have all the reforms in the world to address inequality, but they will come to nought if we don’t find the political will to address the great existential challenge we now face as a species. We are reaching a tipping point in our climate system where it will soon spiral beyond our control, but because this is a crisis of our own making it’s also one that we can solve with concerted action. There is no longer a technical limit to moving to a renewable energy future, to powering our lives with clean energy from the sun and wind. We can choose to live in a world where we protect our ancient forests and mountain ranges, our flowing rivers and precious reefs. Or we can choose coal and gas. Almost everyone accepts that coal does not have a long term future. Right now, all we are really arguing over is the funeral date.  But while Labor and Liberal accept those massive corporate donations from Big Coal they will remain hell-bent on approving the Adani coal mine - a mine that, if it goes ahead, will contribute to the death of the Great Barrier Reef, plain and simple.  The obstacles to making the transition to a clean energy economy are political not technological.  But we need to act now. We Greens know that to do this we need to work both within the system and from without.

In the

Senate we have stopped some of the worst government policies, including its cruel budget cuts which would have seen people pay more to see their doctor, and young people forced to pay up to $100,000 for a university degree. And Greens in Parliament have delivered climate change laws, free dental health for kids; we’ve passed laws to crackdown on multinational tax dodgers, to make our parliament more democratic and help farmers get their fruit to market by finding a way through the backpacker tax.

However, one of my proudest moments has been leading our team out of the Senate in response to Pauline Hanson’s hateful first speech. It was a gesture of protest, of resistance in the nation’s parliament. And it was an act of solidarity for those millions of people, who would hear the echoes of their own past in her words.

People like my mother who don’t just hear a bigoted woman attacking Muslims, but hear the catholic nun on her first day at high school spitting out the words “not another boatload of you bloody Italians”. These words have consequences. Over the last twelve months, I’ve spoken to many young people who have shared the impact that the current debate is having on them. One of those people is Nada. It’s time we started to listening to young Australians like Nada. Wouldn’t it be great if the media gave as much space to her story as it gives to the people who don’t want her here.

Young people like Nada give me hope for the future. I genuinely believe in the decency of people to rise above hate.

I believe that most people want to do the right thing for others, not just themselves. I believe people want to do the right thing for future generations and for the natural world.

I believe that we share the same hopes and dreams and we are all connected to a greater whole. I believe that retreating from the world is not the answer. Our challenges are global in nature; climate change, refugees, the failed approach to drugs, nuclear disarmament and the spread of disease know no boundaries.  Instead of turning inwards and building walls let us look outwards and build bridges.

That’s why in a few weeks I’ll attend the Global Greens conference in Liverpool, where Green parties from around the world will meet to continue building a progressive international movement. I look forward to telling you about this important and inspiring work upon my return.

It is our system that is broken. It is what is not working for our common humanity. But we don’t have to accept this.

We know that the global people-powered movements of the last century, where millions marched and campaigned together for women’s rights, for civil rights, for workers’ rights, for peace, for nuclear disarmament and for environmental protection, showed us that we the people, collectively, can turn the tide of history. 

Now is the time to turn that tide again, by resisting the story about us and the world that those vested interests would have you believe, and choosing who we are and the world that we want to achieve together.

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