Christine Milne addressed the press in Hobart today to issue a statement on the Afghanistan war, and then responded to questions from the media.
Subjects: Afghanistan, Newspoll, healthcare and education funding, public service job cuts, sheep on the Ocean Drover, super trawler
CHRISTINE MILNE: The tragedy in Afghanistan continues and Australia's soldiers are in danger all the time and it is absolutely the point at which we need to bring our soldiers home and as quickly and as safely as possible. Today I have written to the Prime Minister asking her to bring on a debate about the war in Afghanistan in the first week that we return and that is next week. With New Zealand now bringing its soldiers home, setting a date for the withdrawal for next year, early next year, it is essential that Australia does the same. When you look at what's actually going on in Afghanistan, the level of trust in all sorts of areas, not only President Karzai and the corruption in that regime, but there are an increasing number of green on green attacks where there are fights within the security forces in Afghanistan, not to mention green on blue attacks with the security forces attacking Australian and other soldiers. It is time we brought our troops home.
2014 is a totally artificial date. There is going to be no magic about 2014, it is just a decision that was made with the Americans that Australia would bring our troops home then. On the ground in Afghanistan there is going to be very little difference between now and 2014 but what we do know is that there's a high probability more Australians will be killed. That's unacceptable. There is nothing more responsible or having such long-term and profound effects than to commit people to war. And you had better be really sure that that war is in the national interest. There can no longer be any claim that the war in Afghanistan is going to significantly change Afghanistan between now and 2014 and on that basis we need our troops to come home.
JOURNALIST: I think New Zealand is bringing its troops out five months early. Are you wanting Australia to do a similar thing or to get them out right now?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I want to see the troops come home as soon as they can be safely brought home. I'm not going to put a date on that, that would be up to the defence chiefs to determine how to withdraw them as quickly and as safely as possible, but I would like them brought home as soon as possible and I'm calling on the Prime Minister today to bring on a debate in the Parliament on Afghanistan.
When we signed the agreement to provide Government to Prime Minister Gillard, having a debate on Afghanistan, a parliamentary debate, was part of that agreement. We are one of the very few parliaments in the world that has no say as to whether our troops are committed to a war or not. We have legislation in the Parliament to say that the Parliament should determine whether our troops are deployed to war and that needs to be a parliamentary decision. It certainly needs to be a parliamentary debate about bringing them home.
JOURNALIST: To what extent do you think the Newspoll results today are a sign that Australians are not warming to your leadership?
CHRISTINE MILNE The poll today, it's disappointing, of course, especially since we've delivered one of the biggest injections into health care in Australia in decades with dental care - $4 billion into dental health across the country and the first step towards universal access to Denticare, and I know that Australians are delighted that that is going to change. So I'm disappointed that that perhaps is not reflected in the poll, but from my point of view, I'm in the Parliament to lead a party and to engage in the serious issues of the day. Delivering Denticare was one, linking with the European Union is another, and now bringing the troops home from Afghanistan and also investing in education. These are the issues of the day, the Greens have a very strong perspective, and we will continue to argue them.
JOURNALIST: Do you think this poll shows that perhaps the Greens made the wrong choice in choosing you as a successor to Bob Brown?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens have made a choice about my leadership. I noticed that none of you were saying when the polls remained the same and went up after Bob left that that was any kind of reflection on him. Come on, it's one poll, it's disappointing but we've got work to do in the Parliament on Afghanistan, on education funding, we've delivered on dental care, we're working on carbon pricing, and I intend to continue.
JOURNALIST: Do you put any of it down to sticking so steadfastly to things like the asylum seeker issue?
CHRISTINE MILNE: It's always hard to know what people take into account as they're rung up by a pollster. It may well be that people have misunderstood I think a lot about the asylum seeker debate. I think they weren't aware that the Greens are the strongest advocates for increasing the humanitarian numbers and actually putting money into Indonesia to assess and have much better regional assessment processes. We are the ones calling for codification of lives at sea and often there is a lag between what happens in Parliament and community's understanding of it. But we will continue to prosecute the right thing for refugees. And that is prioritising safe passage to Australia and other countries and making sure that people recognise deterrence does not work, what will work is informing people in Indonesia, in the camps that now the humanitarian intake is to be increased, they don't need to get on the boats. We do not want them on those leaky boat, the best way of stopping them is to tell them there is hope, there is hope that you can come and be resettled in Australia.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned the Gonski reforms indirectly, obviously with the budget situation in Canberra being tight, how would you suggest the Government raises the revenue to fund that and other commitments?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens have been the only political party who are prepared to bite the bullet and to raise money. We were the ones who opposed the tax cuts to big business, we're the ones now saying if you're really serious about addressing climate change then you need an internally consistent approach, we should be getting rid of the $7.2 billion in fossil fuel subsidies that we pay out each year but also we're staying close the loop on the Mineral Resource Rent Tax because that would mean another $10 billion out to 2020. So we have plans to actually raise money but I cannot believe that both the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott in a more extreme version want to attack the public service so viciously. If they get their way you are going to see thousands of public servants out of work. They are real people, those job cuts hurt in the community just as much as people losing their jobs from various factories that close or mines that close. Public servants actually work in the public service - in our interest as a community, and I think we have to stop this idea that if you want to raise money you can just axe thousands of public servants. And Tony Abbott also has to say where is he going to get the money to do what he wants to do. He hasn't said how he's going to fill the $70 billion black hole. On Gonski you've got the Prime Minister saying she adopts the framework but the money not really flowing until 2020. That's way too late, but Tony Abbott is also saying he wants to put money in schools, well where is the money going to come from? He was in the Howard Cabinet that brought in this absolutely unequal funding model that currently exists. Our public schools around Australia are desperate, and so we want to raise the money to implement Gonski as quickly as possible, but if there is going to be such a long phase in as the Prime Minister is suggesting, we want to see money brought up front and invested in public schools because the majority of students are in public schools and the greatest need, particularly for disabilities, for special needs, for supporting communities, so that students are ready to learn, we need that money to go into public schools.
JOURNALIST: Just on finding those revenue streams, I just wonder whether one might be looking at superannuation and for example high income earners, tax breaks for them?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well it's clear that the Prime Minister has signalled that she is going to look to raise some of the money from higher income earners. The Greens have already been part of proposing more equitable arrangements in terms of superannuation. We also have a policy to say that if people earn more than $1 million then the tax should be increased to them, so we are already out there prepared to talk to the Government about raising revenue rather than slashing jobs in the public service. But it's also about raising revenue to nation build. We need money in education now, we're falling behind the rest of the world, we have to give our students the best opportunity in life by investing in our schools. That is critical. But equally, national disability insurance - long overdue, the community wants. Denticare, putting that into a Medicare arrangement it's something that the community has wanted for a very long time. If we want good social outcomes for people, good environmental outcomes, you have to find the money to pay for them and the Greens are prepared to do that.
JOURNALIST: Have you had any discussions with the Government along those lines, on super or other areas where there's no means tests for benefits like child-care rebates?
CHRISTINE MILNE: We haven't had any discussions with the Government to date on some of the measures that the Prime Minister might have in mind. But we have certainly put to the Government that we are prepared to close that loophole in the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and I'm introducing a private member's bill to that effect and we have certainly argued to the Government ad infinitum that we should get rid of the fossil fuel subsidies. So we are on the record and we are prepared to put our costings and our proposals through the Parliamentary Budget Office, and this is a challenge for Tony Abbott. Not only has he no plan in terms of raising his $70 billion but he's running away from proper scrutiny of where he might say he is going to get the money from in the context of the next election.
Achieving a Parliamentary Budget Office and getting that set up this part was part of the Greens' agreement with Prime Minister Gillard because we knew it's critical that everybody in the Parliament gets their election policies properly costed, not just the Government. Last election the Coalition ran away from proper costing, this time they have no excuse. The Parliamentary Budget Office is set up, the Greens will put all our costings to it and we're calling on Tony Abbott to do the same.
JOURNALIST: And the child-care rebate, is that an area where you think that should be looked at?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well we are not going to engage in hypotheticals about what the Government may or may not propose, but we will talk to the Government on what is necessary to raise the money for things like the implementation of Gonski.
JOURNALIST: To the situation in the Middle East where there are thousands of sheep on the Ocean Drover and it is unable to dock, does that show that that Memorandum of Understanding that was signed isn't really up to scratch?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well quite clearly the Memorandum of Understanding is not worth the paper it's written on. It's very clear that those sheep should have been unloaded within 36 hours. That hasn't happened, so all of the talk about proper management and concern about animal welfare is just that - talk. We now have a situation where the Government simply can't deliver on what it says it will do in terms of the live export trade and that is why the Greens have always opposed it.
JOURNALIST: what could happen immediately, what could the Government do immediately?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Government should be in touch immediately with the relevant authorities and see what they can do to have that ship unloaded. It is unacceptable I think to all Australians to think that the animals are left on board that boat indefinitely, it is cruel and we have to do something about it and that means the Government has to put its shoulder to the wheel and make sure something is done.
JOURNALIST: Minister Burke seems happy with the by-catch conditions for the super trawler.
CHRISTINE MILNE: Peter Whish-Wilson gave a press conference on that in Launceston, but anyway I'll make a quick statement about that, but he's got carriage of it and will have done a lot with it.
JOURNALIST: Did they go far enough, what he's announced?
CHRISTINE MILNE: If Minister Burke wanted to stop the super trawler, all he had to do was make it a requirement of the conditions that no turtles, no seals, would be caught in the nets, in which case that ship would not proceed. Having said that, the Government still has the option, as does the Coalition of stopping the super trawler by disallowing the quota. The Greens have got that legislation in the Senate, it's already under debate and will be when we go back and the issue here is do the Government really want to stop the super trawler? I don't think so. Do the Coalition want to stop the super trawler? I don't think so. It is only the Greens out there saying no to the super trawler. And as for Minister Burke's suggestion that they won't be catching any more fish than otherwise would have been the case, perhaps he can explain why the quota was increased specifically for the super trawler. Super trawlers will suck out of the ocean huge volumes of fish and the long-term consequences for the marine food chain are serious. We've seen depletion of fish stocks everywhere they've been, from West Africa and into the Pacific and Australians simply do not want these super trawlers in our waters.
JOURNALIST: Isn't it the case with fishing that there is always a possibility of by-catch with a boat when you've got a net involved? Sometimes you do get by-catch.
CHRISTINE MILNE: The by-catch in the case of the super trawler, when you look at the size of the nets, the enormity of what they're actually dredging, to say that the punishment for catching seals or turtles is pull up the net and you can't put it in for 50 kilometres, well how many minutes later is that? That's really not a very great stick if you like, to doing the right thing by the marine environment. What we need to do is stop it before it begins. What we're hearing from Minister Burke is a wringing of hands, 'I can't do anything, we'll just watch and see what goes on'. There's no actual management plan that tells you about localised depletion and if the Minister really wanted to stop it, then he would say no threatened species, no licence.
JOURNALIST: One of the conditions that Sea Fish has agreed to is to have two government officers, personnel, on board observing what goes on. You must think that's a good thing at least?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Of course it's good to have observers on board. But what are they going to do? Are they going to observe as the nets are brought up and the by-catch is there? And then at best you'll have the net pulled out and moved 50 kilometres, that's all.