Christine Milne's speech to the Sydney Institute - the Greens, balance of power and climate politics

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This is a speech I delivered to the Sydney Institute last night. You can also listen to it here or download a pdf here.

Sydney Institute, October 27th 2008.

Green Politics, the Balance of Power and the Green New Deal.

Good evening. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this evening about Green Politics, Balance of Power and the twin global meltdowns of climate and finance. There has never been a more critical time to be a Green and there has never been a time when the philosophy and experience of Green politics - based on forty years of environmental, social justice, peace and democracy campaigning - has been more important. The decisions that will be made in the next five years are crucial for the future of life on Earth.

In acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting, the Eora people, I want to reflect on how their enduring message - that a physical, emotional and spiritual connection to the land is central to well being - is resonating widely. People everywhere are simultaneously reaching the same conclusion amidst the collapsing ecosystems in which they live from the Murray Darling to the Arctic, from Tuvalu to the Maldives. They want to maintain their connection to country. They yearn to get back in touch with the Earth's realities.

As we speak, Australia and the world are in meltdown, teetering on the edge of political, economic and environmental tipping points. Whichever path we choose, the world will never be the same again. In the coming decades, either we will have successfully reshaped our political and economic structures and be heading towards a new healthy, happy, prosperous and safe future with an environment under repair and a strengthened civil society, or we will have chosen to stick with the current model which is reshaping our environment and climate in ways that will lead to system collapse, huge population movements and widespread conflict. The choice is ours - we can make a change for the better, but we have to make it now.

Victor Hugo once said "There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come". The idea that is swirling around the planet right now is that the solution to the financial collapse is the same as the solution to climate change. To rescue ourselves socially, politically and economically, we need to invest heavily in healing and repairing the Earth's ecosystems and in the transition to a net carbon zero economy. As Sir Nicholas Stern said last Thursday, "Now is the time to lay the foundation for a world of low carbon growth."

Last week in London there was a call from the United Nations Environment Program and Deutsche Bank, backed by the governments of Germany and Norway, for a Global "Green New Deal ". Echoing Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" to lift the USA out of the Great Depression, a "Green New Deal" seeks to rebuild the global economy based on four pillars: renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean alternative transport and protection of ecosystems. In order to achieve this, we need a massive injection of funds into education and training to take full advantage of human innovation and ensure that we have a workforce and a manufacturing sector ready to make it a reality.

In terms of protecting ecosystems, UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, noted that logging costs the world over $2.5 trillion a year in lost ecosystem services such as clean water and air, stopping soil erosion and storing carbon. This is more than the $1.5 trillion the economic crisis has so far cost.

A "Green New Deal" would stop logging our old growth forests and value the carbon they store, as well as the biodiversity they shelter. It would help farmers and indigenous people in remote communities be the best possible land stewards, bringing together protection and productivity on the land in a way not seen in much of the world for centuries.

A "Green New Deal" would help redesign our cities around urban villages, linked by fast, convenient and safe buses, trains, trams and ferries. We would all be healthier and happier in cleaner cities, exercising more and spending more time with our families and communities.

A "Green New Deal" would use guided research, development and commercialisation funding, alongside industry support policies such as feed-in tariffs, to bring renewable energy onto the market fast. It would work with communities and local governments to pre-permit the best sites for renewables development and take the energy grid out to them. It would roll out energy efficiency upgrades to our entire housing and commercial building stock and drive low emissions industrial alternatives to today's biggest polluters.

With a "Green New Deal", I agree with Al Gore that it is both necessary and possible for us to build a new zero emissions energy network, based on energy efficiency and renewable energy, in just a decade. If that seems impossible, think how fast mobile communications technologies, which now dictate every aspect of our lives, have leapt onto the scene. Back in 1989, when I first ran for Tasmanian Parliament, I was the only candidate to have a mobile phone - and it was so large that it took up most of the boot of my car! No-one - no-one - had email. Just a decade ago, mobiles and email were less widespread than renewable energy is now. Who would have thought even a year ago with the collapse of the car industry that Australia would be aiming for a plug in electric vehicle network by 2012?

The "Green New Deal" is not a new idea. It has been at the hear t of Green politics since the beginning of the Environment movement in the 1960s. It was central to the Greens Business and Industry Strategy published in 1992 as a recipe for transforming the Tasmanian economy from a resource based to a knowledge- and information-based economy prioritising protection of the environment and promotion of our unique high quality food and beverage products. It was central to Re Energising Australia which I released in early 2007 as a transformative proposal for the Australian economy.

So why has it taken a financial crisis and not the environmental crisis to allow this idea to burst through to the surface of political debate as it has now done internationally, even if it has not yet done so here? What has been holding it back?

The answer is simple. By the 1960's when we realised that the Earth is a finite planet, governed by a complex system of feedback loops and ecosystems and with a finite ability to provide resources and to absorb wastes, we had already invented political, social and economic systems which were underpinned by the opposite assumption, namely that our finite planet has infinite resources to sustain an infinite population and can absorb unlimited wastes. Unlimited economic growth, coupled with increased energy consumption and ongoing increased resource use and pollution were and remain the hall marks of the modern economic systems and were and still are vigorously defended by those individuals and nations who have benefited.

To admit that the system in its current form is ecologically unsustainable and that new economic, social and political tools and models need to be developed and applied is to admit that the world needs to change dramatically. Change delivers winners and losers and as Machiavelli once said, "There is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating change. The innovator makes enemies of all those who prosper under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is lukewarm partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the existing laws on their side and partly because men are generally incredulous never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience." The Prince 1514. Sound like the ETS?

The tug of war between those who want to change the basic assumption and those whose vested interests rely on no change being made is the history of Green politics for the past 36 years.
Greens around the world have been developing policies and models designed to overcome the disconnection between this constructed world of traditional politics and economics and the real world of nature and natural ecosystems for decades.. As the Ecological crisis deepened, Green politics with its strong philosophical underpinnings started to appeal to greater numbers of people. Just as the Labor party in the early 20th century grew out of the need for justice for working people and their representation following the exploitative Industrial Age and the Shearers strikes of the 1890s, so too the Greens have grown out of the excesses of environmental destruction and injustices wrought by industrial capitalism in the last 30 years of the last Century. Whereas traditional politics is in denial about the problems that exist, The Green Party is proposing solutions.

This is hardly surprising since we have been thinking about these issues for thirty years. We are developing new ways of governing the relationship between people and nature so that it becomes genuinely ecologically sustainable. This means changes to economic thinking and transformative new economic tools and financial mechanisms. No less than a change to the economic system is needed , and the current financial crisis is the opportunity to do it.

But as Machiavelli warned, it will not be easy. Just as Labor began with a few individuals being elected and then achieved Balance of Power and then Opposition and Government so too it will be for the Greens. We are on our way to government. But not before Labor, Liberal and Nationals combine to do everything in their power to thwart the rise of the Greens. They are different only by degree. None advocate or want systemic change. Interestingly in 1924 Vere Gordon Childe in his "How Labor Governs" observed, "The Labour Party started with a band of inspired idealists and degenerated into a vast machine for capturing power but did not know how to use that power when attained except for the profit of the individual". The community understands that now. It is why we have personality politics substituting for philosophical difference. It is why Grant Hackett can say that he wants a political career but has not decided which party he wants to stand for. This says more about the two old parties than it says about Grant Hackett.

The world's first Green party , the United Tasmania Group , was formed in Tasmania in 1972 and the turmoil at the time was part of my political awakening. Its Charter, The New Ethic remains as insightful now as it was then in formulating a new social contract which was global in its thinking, "United in a global movement for survival," and which had at its heart environmental sustainability and the nurturing of values consistent with justice, equal opportunity and peace. The UTG was followed in 1975 by the Values Party in New Zealand and then Petra Kelly, following a visit to Australia, took the ideas to Europe where she formed a Green Party in Germany and contested the European elections as a Green.

I am always amused when I see commentators saying that the Greens have broadened their policies to appeal to a greater number of voters. In reality the Party was founded on the four pillars of ecology, social justice, peace and non violence and participatory democracy and The Party throughout the world has advocated these values for the past 36 years. It is only now that a wider audience is listening, facilitated by the ability of the new media to communicate directly with constituents.

The Greens are the only truly global party at the beginning of this century. At the first Global Greens conference held in Canberra in 2001, we adopted a Global Greens Charter and at the second Global Greens Conference held in San Paolo Brazil this year, a decision was made to establish a Global Greens Secretariat which we hope will be hosted in Australia.

The Party is contesting elections in more than 70 countries of the world from Columbia where Ingrid Betancourt was our Green Presidential candidate when she was kidnapped, to Russia where Greens are actively prevented from running, to Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, most European countries, and the Americas and New Zealand. We have over 300 national MPs and tens of thousands of state and local government representatives. We have held ministries in several European countries including the German foreign Ministry and the French Environment Ministry and we currently hold three Irish, three Finnish, 4 Czech and one Latvian Ministry. Green Parties are forming in our region with the latest being in Indonesia and Fiji. Green candidates are in touch with each other, and parties are talking about policies and political experiences. At the UNFCCC conference in Bali last year for example there was a get together of Green Party MPs from around the world to discuss the state of the negotiations and it was valuable for me to talk to them about what was really happening in Australia behind the hype surrounding the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

At the national level, the Greens have 21 state and territory MPs and now have representation in every State parliament and in the ACT. We have five Green Senators and are close to breaking through again into the House of Representatives especially in the seats of Melbourne, Sydney and Grayndler. At local government level we have more than 100 local government councillors around the country.

There is a great deal of interest in how we will use political power, how we will govern. Responsibly and with courage and commitment to system wide change is my answer. We will not make the same mistakes as Labor did. We are not after power for power's sake. We are seeking power to transform the way we live, to make a happier, healthier more sustainable world for us and for future generations. We have 13 Private members bills in the Senate now. We stand by our policies, our commitment to transparency and community engagement. Our political record is a distinguished one across the country. As former Liberal leader in Tasmania, Bob Cheek said of us, "At least they were true to their word, which is more than you can say for a lot of politicians."

I have been in Balance of Power on three occasions. I was part of the Labor Green Accord in Tasmania between 1989 and 1992, I was Leader of the Tasmanian Greens in Balance of Power with a Liberal minority government between 1996 and 1998 and I am now in balance of Power in the Senate. During the Accord the Greens brought about several great reforms including the introduction of Freedom of Information legislation. We also doubled the size of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area in negotiating the Accord.

Significantly the Greens supported the Field government in addressing the near bankruptcy of the State. The most fiscally responsible periods of government in Tasmania have been during minority governments.

The Majority Liberal government of Robin Gray had driven the State into a parlous economic situation and the Labor Green Accord had to turn it around. It was a difficult period of protests and unrest as the public service was slashed and public spending was cut. The Greens never wavered from the task. Nor did we do so with the Rundle government when again we had to rectify the reckless spending of the Groom majority Liberal Government.

With the Rundle Liberal minority government, the Greens achieved gay law reform, gun law reform, an apology to the Stolen generation, the only Liberal government in the country to do so, and a vote for the republic leading up to the Constitutional Convention. It was a socially progressive period but we were unable to achieve environmental outcomes because Liberal and Labor voted together against any moves to protect marine or terrestrial ecosystems. This dynamic of the old parties voting together to stop ecological solutions is common to both Liberal and Labor minorities and is of concern as we approach the emissions trading legislation.

Where old politics looks at the economic meltdown and the planetary meltdown as two separate political challenges, the Greens see an opportunity to deal with two aspects of the same problem simultaneously and to rebuild our economy for a cleaner, safer, fairer and more prosperous world.
Old politics takes each individual problem and seeks to solve it individually. Because of this approach, the solutions chosen frequently make other problems worse, and obvious alternatives which would solve multiple problems together are missed.

The emissions trading scheme proposed in the Government's Green Paper is an obvious example. Instead of looking at the underlying goal of the scheme - to reduce greenhouse emissions and therefore prevent catastrophic climate change - they decide that those who will bear the costs must be compensated through the allocation of free permits or cash payments. Because of the resulting chaos, with threats from polluters that they will relocate offshore unless they get the most compensation possible, they decide we also need a slow start and a weak target.

In a misguided attempt to make the system easier to deal with, they undermine its very purpose.
The Greens, on the other hand, see the coordinated solutions, enabling us to look at the problem with optimism. Our emissions trading plans would make "compensation" not about free permits or cash handouts, but about helping reduce emissions. We would reduce the carbon costs people and companies face by reducing their carbon emissions. We would auction all permits - ensuring that the biggest polluters get the biggest price signal - and use a significant proportion of the revenue to improve energy efficiency across the board, extend our electricity grid to renewable energy hot-spots, build new busways, train lines and cycleways. Industrial energy users might get accelerated depreciation or other help meeting the up-front capital costs of new, more efficient plant.

So a Greens-designed emissions trading scheme looks at where problems arise and seeks to deal with them in ways that create positive feedback instead of friction. With this kind of scheme design, there is no need for slow starts or lax targets. We can aim as high as we know we need to go given the urgent threat of climate catastrophe, safe in the knowledge that our social and economic support mechanisms are also helping achieve the goal of the scheme instead of undermining it.

The politics of climate policy and Balance of Power in the Senate are challenging. The government has the opportunity to green up its policies with our support or it can brown them down with the Coalition. At this point I am concerned that the Rudd government wants the latter course - and the community is certainly getting that message as the opinion polls reflect. There is a real possibility that the Government while feigning concern, will be happy to blame the coalition for a weak target as it perceives that such a price will make it less politically painful at the 2010 election.

At the same time the Government will try to blame the Greens for being too ambitious. This is politically risky. Our targets of a 40% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020 and net carbon zero as soon after that as possible are the targets that the scientists tell us are necessary and they are also the targets that will build competitive advantage in jobs, skills and innovation in the carbon constrained world. After all, JFK did not put a man on the moon in a decade by prevaricating about whether America could ever do so.

There are also the complementary measures of energy efficiency, renewable energy (particularly the gross feed-in tariff, EASI, Farming Renewable Energy )and the protection of native vegetation to be considered. The Rudd government and the Coalition must engage on these issues as these measures are the ones that will deliver real Greenhouse gas reductions. This is where the Coalition can step up and do a David Cameron and leap-frog Labor or deal itself into irrelevance. If Labor refuses to move on these critical issues it cannot meet any real reduction in emissions.

It is rapidly reaching the point where the community is throwing down the gauntlet to the Liberal and Labor parties on the urgency of climate change and the opportunities that a Green New Deal entails. There is a very real prospect of a major political realignment with the Nationals in decline, the liberals in flux and Labor disappointing its voters. The community is beginning to take on Ted Turners message: "either lead, follow, or get out of the way" and the election of four Greens in the ACT is symptomatic of things to come.

It is worth noting that when no party has all the power, every party shares the balance of power. Seven cross benchers can do nothing alone.When the Conservatives are in minority government a combination of Labor and the Greens can force progressive social reform either by use if numbers or by use of political strategy. But when Labor is in minority it is difficult, but not impossible, to achieve either social or environmental reform as the Conservatives oppose both and do not create the space for the government to move. This is where Oppositions have to be held to account. Therefore any environmental reforms have to be agreed as part of the negotiations to deliver government.

So if the Greens have been so responsible, why have we had to withstand all the advertising by Chambers of Commerce and the old parties about the need for majority governments to deliver stability? Why have we had to withstand the efforts of shadowy groups like Tasmanians for a Better future who refuse to say who they are or who funded them in their attacks on the Greens.

Stability for them means no parliamentary scrutiny or donations disclosure and no public input or unrest. Majority governments can and do do backroom deals and rubber stamp them with their numbers in the parliament whereas minority governments bring the issues to the floor of the House and generally better legislation and outcomes follow .It has been minority governments which have shone a light onto the backroom deals of majority governments. It is no wonder that industries like the logging industry in Tasmania and property developers in NSW love majority government. They like things just as they are.

It is why they combined with the Liberal and Labor Parties in Tasmania to change the electoral system to try to get rid of the Greens. They did not succeed but instead destroyed the Tasmanian parliament and the people's democracy. Now the island state is torn apart by corruption and incompetence. It is a salient lesson nationally. I have no doubt that, as the Greens make way nationally, there will be similar attacks on democracy. However, as in Tasmania, they will not succeed. They have been overtaken by global imperatives.

So in conclusion, the Green party is here to stay. Our collaborative ways of working, our belief in co-operative politics and our ecological ethic are aligned to the challenges of the times. We are prepared to work with the other parties to secure better outcomes as we have done for years, most recently with the luxury car tax and the Medicare levy. We have the solutions to address the problems of the time and we are confident that we will be given the chance to implement them.

As Einstein said, you cannot solve problems with the mentality that created them. The Greens have a new way of looking at the world. We provide hope that things can be different and that is why we are the politics of the future.