An economy that serves people and nature, not the other way around

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26 Sep 2012 | Christine Milne
Treasury
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Thank you, Lyndal, distinguished guests, friends. I begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I also undertake to keep campaigning for indigenous recognition in our constitution because it goes to the heart of who we are as a nation: a country big and generous enough to acknowledge where we have gone wrong and what we need to do better.

That leads me to today's question:

How do we build an economic system that serves the needs of people and nature, both for today and for tomorrow?

That our economic system is broken and needs fixing is not just the view of the Greens. It is the view of the World Economic Forum, which in its report "More with Less: Scaling Sustainable Consumption and Resource Efficiency" of January this year said:

"Current trends clearly show that business as usual no longer works. Unless the present link between growth and the consumption of scarce resources is severed, our resource base, governance and policy structures are unlikely to sustain the standard of living societies have grown accustomed to or indeed aspire to. Action to decouple business and economic growth from resource intensity and environmental impact, has never been more critical to the long term success of business."

In Australia, this is heresy. Witness state and federal governments massively expanding coal mining and coal ports, approving the destruction of the Tarkine and Great Barrier Reef seagrass beds.

Surely it's time that those who advocate economic growth derived from resource extraction and pollution as the major path be the ones labelled "wacky", "loopy", irresponsible, divorced from reality or connected to the CIA.

Australia's economy is described as the envy of the world. We've have just posted our 21st consecutive year of economic growth with Australia outperforming most of the rest of the world , the unemployment rate is low, inflation under control, and Australia is one of only seven countries in the world to have maintained its AAA credit rating.

And yet, millions of Australians feel uncertain about the future, uncomfortable, under pressure. There are many reasons for this. The two speed economy is frequently cited, as is the GFC. Another is the relentless negativity of Tony Abbott, talking the country down with his catalogue of complaints. This is not just a political line - as economists will tell you, negative expectations become self-fulfilling, impacting on investment across the economy.

But I want to focus today on the underlying reason, and that is that short term profits and this year's carefully manipulated budget surplus are overriding the basic human need to care for one another, to plan for a secure future, and to protect the natural world which sustains us. In other words, our much envied economy is on borrowed time.

The economy is a tool; a tool we humans invented - like democracy and politics - to help govern our relationships between each other, and between ourselves and the world we live in. If our economic tools are not getting the outcomes we want, making us happy, safe, healthy, better educated and fulfilled and protecting and preparing our country for an increasingly uncertain future in a world on track to be 4 degrees warming, then it is time our economic tools changed.

Yet they remain entrenched. Despite Wayne Swan's rhetoric, Gina Rinehart, Twiggy Forrest, Clive Palmer and their companies pay little tax, benefit from multi-billion dollar handouts to their mining operations, and still have their hands out for more. We're told day in and day out that it's vital for the economy that they are given every break they demand and every environmental protection be set aside for their benefit - something the Gillard Government plans to deliver by devolving environmental power to the states later this year.

But who does this actually benefit?

The single mum not knowing how she's going to put food on the table once this Labor government cuts her support payments to below the poverty line?

The stressed parent rushing through peak hour yet again to pick up kids from after school care and feed them a quick dinner before trying to catch up on bills and housework?

Or the older professional men and women stressing about their own retirement whilst trying to access aged care for their parents?

Does it help the young parent looking despairingly at graphs of Arctic sea ice melt, reading that it is a tipping point for the climate, wondering what kind of planet her child will inherit?

Or the farmer whose greatest wish was to pass on healthy land to his children but now is fighting to keep it from being riddled with coal seam gas wells while struggling with farm-gate prices that Coles and Woolworths have driven through the floor?

It's clear from this list alone that, whilst the economy is growing, our quality of life is stagnating, our environment is suffering, and we are failing as a country to invest seriously in the things that we value, the things we need now if we are to have a better future: a fair education system where you can get a good start in life regardless of how much money you have or where you live; a zero emissions energy network that doesn't pollute the air and drive global warming; a health system which takes care of all of us, from the state of our teeth to our state of mind.

It is time to change, to diversify our economy, clean it up, and invest in a future that doesn't rely on digging up, cutting down and shipping overseas.

The old parties are grounded in a belief that  the economy is an end in itself, and that we have to 'balance' the need to care for people and the need to protect the environment against the needs of the economy.

When you think about this, it simply makes no sense. Tasmanians recognised that as early as 1972 and established the world's first Green Party. The idea reached mainstream by 1987, when, after an exhaustive three year process involving scientists, economists, governments, research institutes, industrialists, NGOs and the general public around the world, the Brundtland Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, was published.

The Brundtland Report revealed that world leaders were able to think rationally and caringly about the present and the future. It's probably most famous for articulating the concept of ecologically sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". This is a concept that Tony Abbott, Gina Rinehart, Campbell Newman, Martin Ferguson and many of their ilk have utterly failed to understand.

One of the Brundtland Report's most forgotten insights is that there are only two real things in the world: people and nature. The economy is not a physical thing; it is not something that exists in its own right. Rather it is a tool we invented for governing the relationship between people, and between people and nature.

When the Brundtland Report went to the World Bank, tragically, the insight that the economy is a tool for people and nature all of a sudden turned into a triangle where the three - people, nature and economy - were all real and equal. And we were plunged back into the old view of the world where nature lost every time, traded off against people's short-term benefits and "the economy".

The next iteration will be the Murray Darling Basin Plan, where a short-term economic focus will trump physical science and long-term needs of communities.  The economic tools are delivering a bad environmental, social and economic outcome.

Most of the battles of political philosophy over the last two centuries have been about competing views of how to run an economy. Where the old economic right, broadly speaking, has sought to create a 'strong' economy and the old left sought to create a 'fair' economy, neither has grappled with how an economy can be strong or fair when ecological limits are being reached: "without environment there is no economy".

In Australia, the old parties emerged at a time when it was believed that the planet had an infinite capacity to give us resources, and an infinite capacity to absorb our waste. That was never, of course, true, but at a time when the Australian population was under 4 million and the global population was 1½ billion, it was a lot closer to being true than it is now. So we can forgive Edmund Barton, Ben Chifley and Robert Menzies for not speaking about ecological sustainability, but instead focusing on how the bounty of this great country should be divided between owners of capital and providers of labour.

What is not excusable is that the old parties continue to do so. They have failed to keep up over recent decades when the huge ecological challenges of the 21st century - from accelerating global warming to food and water shortages, from air and water pollution to energy crises and resource depletion in a world headed to 9 billion people - have become overwhelming. How can we say we are working towards a strong or fair economy when we aren't addressing these challenges? Just as we hit the limits, the big old parties are moving closer to each other and further out of touch with what people and the real world need.

Tony Abbott's Liberals want to pretend that we can keep going the way we did in the 1950s, exploiting resources and exploiting those worse off than we are, dismissing global warming as crap.

The Labor Party, on the one hand, wants to embrace transformative policies and the benefits they will bring; on the other hand, it wants to cling to the past. Witness its contradictory policies on pricing pollution whilst bending over backwards to expand the coal sector, expand coal seam gas and protect fossil fuel subsidies.

Both the old parties still see the economy as an end in itself. The Prime Minister overnight described her job as "keeping the economy strong". They demonstrate time and again that they will sacrifice people's health, the environment that sustains us, and vital support for the people who are doing it toughest of all, in order to maximise short-term profits and election-cycle budget surpluses.

Are we supposed to give Treasurer Swan and Minister Wong a tick because the budget is in surplus when, to achieve that, they denied the unemployed a $50 a week increase in Newstart, locking them and their children, as 4 Corners showed this week, into cycles of poverty?

Tony Abbott has taken his surplus fetish to "loopy" levels, adopting the US Tea Party strategy of attempting to block lifting the debt ceiling. While objection to debt bears scrutiny in the USA where the debt to GDP ratio is over 100%, or Japan where it is well over 200%, Australia's debt is a remarkably low 29% of our GDP - the fourth lowest in the OECD. Not only was this stunt based on wilful economic ignorance, but success would have had devastating consequences for real people. Pensioners, unemployed people, customs, even hospitals would have faced going without, bringing the country to a grinding halt. That is what Tony Abbott tried to engineer in his quest for power.

Tony Abbott accuses Julia Gillard of "spending like a drunken sailor", but in reality both of them are caught in a surplus fetish that countless economists and business leaders have said is not only unnecessary but counterproductive. While the Greens support running a balanced budget over the economic cycle, trying to hit a political surplus target when an economy is already weakening has serious consequences for people's lives, for small business and for our future if it defers essential investment in education, health and innovation. The surplus fetish must end. We need a proper debate about what is good for the country, over what time frame and how to raise the necessary funds to deliver it.

The Greens are calling on the Government to either work with us to find savings and revenue in a forward-thinking, caring manner, or use the upcoming MYEFO to delay their ill-advised quest for a surplus at all costs to closer to 2015-16.

The irony is that commentators continue to attack the Greens as not being as credible on economic policy when we are the only party willing to grapple with investing in our future while transitioning towards living within our means. We are the only party willing to take on the vested interests and the rent seekers and represent not only this generation but those who come after us.

So where does this lead us?

Einstein said "You don't solve problems with the same thinking that created them".

To set us on our new path, a path to an economy which serves the needs of people and nature, both for today and for tomorrow:

  • We will need new economic tools;
  • We will need to learn to do more with less;
  • We will need to reprioritise our investments; and
  • We will need sensible management of taxation and revenue to fund these investments.

It is a case of rethink, reduce, reuse and recycle.

For most of us going about our daily lives, the new, caring and ecologically sustainable society will look very similar in most ways to the old one. Yes, it will be powered entirely by clean, renewable energy - including electric cars, buses, trains and trams - and there will be more cycleways and better designed homes and offices. Witness here in the ACT, with the Greens' light rail proposal in their upcoming election building on the 40% greenhouse gas reduction target and renewable energy support.

But in most ways, it will look the same but perform better. Any job can be a green job, with a slight shift in focus.

What will be different is that we will have replaced the idea that Australia's wealth is dependent on digging-it-up, cutting-it-down and shipping-it-overseas with the knowledge that our prosperity depends at a personal and collective level on our brains, on our health, on our creativity and on a healthy environment.

Of course, that challenges those who have gone unchallenged for generations, those at the heart of current power. For that reason, our vision is labelled unrealistic or whacky by people who cannot or will not imagine a world different from the one in which they are currently powerful or comfortably making a profit.

This isn't surprising. I often quote Nicolo Machiavelli, who wrote 500 years ago that:

"there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things; for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order."

So how would the Greens recalibrate the economic tools? How would we make them enhance our natural, human, social, manufactured or financial capital?

Contrary to what you hear from some of our more excitable detractors, the Greens do not want to dismantle the market economy. Our view is encapsulated neatly by Hunter and Amory Lovins and Paul Hawken in their book, Natural Capitalism: "markets make a good servant, a poor master, and an even worse religion." Take a look at global financial markets today, following the catastrophic failure of some of the world's most sophisticated asset markets, to see what happens when we stop regulating and allow what Keynes described as "animal spirits" to run unchecked.

Markets are useful tools to achieve an outcome. The Greens adopted one in our long push to put a price on pollution through an emissions trading scheme. But markets need to be constantly evaluated against the outcomes that society and the environment require of them. The ETS has to drive a transition to a low carbon economy or be corrected for market failure by increasing the renewable energy target, for example, to at least 50% by 2030 to get us to where we need to be to tackle accelerating global warming.

The other accusation our detractors often throw at us is that we are anti-growth and therefore want everybody to go back to living in caves, sipping nettle broth and whittling Huon pine condoms, as former Tasmanian Premier Tony Rundle famously pontificated.  Given we are some of the country's strongest proponents of new technologies, from broadband to smart grids to 3D printing, the caves jibe has always been nonsense.

But are the Greens actually anti-growth? That depends on what you are growing and how it is measured. I am for growing natural, human, social, manufactured and financial capital and I am against growing global warming, species extinction, poverty, poor health, inequality, conflict and corruption.

As John Stuart Mill wrote in 1848:

There would be as much room for improving the Art of Living, and much more likelihood of its being improved, when minds ceased to be engrossed by the art of getting on.

The Greens want to see everyone given the opportunity to "practise the Art of Living", we want to see people lifted out of poverty, and we know that unless this is done while protecting the environment which sustains us it can only last a very short time. That is what growth is supposed to achieve. The problem is, we measure it with the wrong tools; tools which tell us we're growing when in fact we're not.

If economic growth as it is currently measured isn't actually making us happier, healthier, cleverer or safer then it isn't real growth. If we are growing our economy in defiance of physical limits, that isn't real growth: it's a confidence trick.

On the other hand, if people are getting happier and healthier; if we're protecting and restoring the environment which sustains us; if our schools, universities and research institutions are thriving; if we're helping unemployed people find worthwhile jobs and we're addressing structural inequities such as illiteracy; surely that is real growth, regardless of what our GDP numbers show.

GDP measures what we make and consume, not who we are (our human and social capital) or where we live (our natural capital). It ignores work done in the home and volunteer work across society. It disregards the entrenched gap between rich and poor. It loves a catastrophe like a car accident or the Queensland floods because they generate economic activity, regardless of the human cost.

GDP is useful for its purpose - for predicting tax revenues, for example - but it cannot be seen as the definition of our progress as a nation.

As Robert Kennedy put it:

...the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

There is work being done on this around the world. Within the existing national accounts, measures such as real net national disposable income per capita address some of these problems. The Australian Bureau of Statistics' dashboard "Measuring Australia's Progress", along with its involvement in global efforts to construct environmental accounts are steps in the right direction. South Australia has indicators in a strategic plan and Tasmania had Tasmania Together until it was corrupted by Premier Bacon. Fairfax's work with Lateral Economics in establishing and publishing a Wellbeing Index brings the concept to a large audience regularly.

But none of these efforts go to the heart of government decision-making.

We have to limit our use of GDP to those purposes it is suited to and measure our true progress as a nation with different tools. The Greens will redouble our efforts to support development of the best possible economic tools and work to see them adopted across government and society so we can build and measure the well being of people and nature for the long term.

In short, the Greens do want to see growth, but growth in quality of life, growth in equality of society, and growth that plans for the long term.

Central to that is the need to "decouple" growth from resource use and pollution. In short, to do more with less - or, as economists would say, to increase productivity.

Productivity is a word that suffers terrible abuse at the hands of prominent business lobbyists and the Liberal Party. Contrary to what they say, there is no evidence that allowing workers to be treated more harshly and unfairly does anything to improve society.

Productivity gains are best found through investing in the future of the economy - through education, R&D, better health and better resource efficiencies. All these are central Green goals and my team of Greens MPs are working on policies in all these areas .

Healthier people are more productive workers, with fewer sick days. If we invest now in publicly-funded dental care, we will save billions of dollars in other health care costs into the future. And we know that healthy teeth make a huge difference to how we feel about ourselves.

A better educated population is a more productive population. That's one reason why the Greens have been such strong supporters of the Gonski recommendations for fairer school funding and opponents of cuts to TAFE and university funding, especially in this Asian century.  Better schools and a fairer funding system might seem expensive now, but the benefits of making that investment accrue to millions of people - the child who goes to good school gets a good start in life, has more opportunities to get better jobs and is likelier to be healthier and happier. And the benefits accrue to the whole economy through improved productivity, higher tax revenue and lower costs to support people struggling because they had a poor education.

If you're living on support so low you struggle to afford food and rent, how can you prepare yourself to get back into the workforce? The Greens are working hard inside and outside parliament to lift Newstart and the Youth Allowance by $50 a week. Spending the money to lift Newstart to a liveable level is not only the right thing to do but it also will help the economy by helping people get off welfare and into jobs. We don't need John Howard-style punitive measures - we need to help people and they will help us all.

Innovation is vital for learning to do more with less, and Australia has historically punched above our weight in this field. But we still spend below the OECD average on R&D, and have always fallen short in commercialisation - allowing others to take advantage of our smart ideas. You only have to look at our world-leading solar power technology being commercialised in China, Germany, and the USA. Did you know that our CSIRO was behind the development of wireless computing technology, and had to fight tooth and nail to get royalties for the invention which was commercialised overseas.

The Greens want Australia to set a goal of increasing R&D funding from 2.2% to 3% of GDP, with a greater focus on commercialisation. This would still be less than some innovative countries like Sweden, Finland, Japan and South Korea allocate. This will require continuing to use and better target tax measures to support R&D, as well as better funding research institutions.

The need to do more with less is obvious to farmers, who know they have to keep producing more food, fuel and materials but without any more of the traditional inputs - there is no more land to find, there is ever less water and petro-chemical fertilisers are too expensive - both in dollars and in biodiversity. Farmers know they need R&D to help them to produce more food, to protect and enhance their land to increase carbon in the landscape, and to protect biodiversity on farm. That's why we drove the Biodiversity Fund. Greens and farmers have plenty in common?

In industry more broadly, as well as in homes and businesses, energy and water efficiency are not only vital for a sustainable future, but they save money and improve productivity. Yet many of the easy energy efficiency opportunities still haven't been taken up by industry or householders.

Clearly we need to get our priorities straight.

Why, for instance, are some jobs seen as more equal than others? Jobs in mining and manufacturing are important - of course they are. But why are people who work in the public sector, delivering the services we rely on day in day out, including doctors and nurses and teachers, seen as expendable so that the Commonwealth Government could cut 4200 of them this year alone? Why do we give billions to multi-national corporations and not more assistance to jobs rich small businesses, such as our proposal to increase the instant asset write off to $10 000? Why is it more important to support the parts of our economy that dig things up, cut them down and ship them overseas than to invest in creating a smart, diverse economy? It's not complex economics to know that having all your eggs in one basket is simply bad risk management.

Just like \energy efficiency saving us money and cutting pollution, policies that care for people and protect the environment also help the economy. This is not only true if you rethink economic goals, it is also true in the existing economic paradigm.

Food, clothing and housing are human essentials yet we have abandoned housing in public policy. 18,600 people sleep in crisis accommodation around the nation. Surely we can help people to live in highly energy efficient homes connected to public transport instead of promoting cheap inefficient housing on the edges of cities, unconnected to transport and displacing agricultural land.

Of all things that are precious, time is paramount. We long to have more of it to improve our lives. Yet a Greens work life balance bill attracts condemnation. The experience of thousands of small and large business owners is that if you give your employees flexibility and treat them with respect as human beings with families and private lives, they will work harder for you and do a better job.

Treating refugees as new and valued members of the Australian community instead of as criminals who need to be locked up or shipped away is not only the right thing to do but it costs 90% less. That saving to the budget, frankly, is worth less than the immediate benefit to all of us of helping people who have fled persecution and the threat of death to become productive members of our society - which is all they want to be!

Investing in the arts might seem frivolous to some, but it brings joy to millions of Australians every year. What's more, our major performing arts groups earned $1.57 for every dollar of government funding in 2011. Chamber music earned $3.75 for every dollar of funding. As well as working to ensure artists young and old, established and cutting edge, are supported in their work, the Greens want to see the Location Tax Offset for films increased to 30%, in line with global practice. Attracting blockbusters to be made here ensures that we keep the skilled workers and technology we need for a flourishing domestic film industry to entertain us and tell our stories to the world.

Then there are so many examples of how working to protect the environment also helps people, creates jobs and helps the economy.

Despite what coal companies want you to think, investing in renewable energy brings power prices down, helping householders and the economy at large. Experience shows that, because solar and wind power have marginal costs close to zero while coal and gas have much higher costs to ramp up production, the more renewable energy we have in our system, the cheaper wholesale power prices become. Ignore claims that we need coal to keep power prices down. Solar and wind power is the path to more affordable energy bills, more jobs in local manufacturing, and less of the pollution that drives global warming. The Greens' success in establishing a $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation is Australia's biggest ever step in this direction. Far from watering down the Renewable Energy Target, now is the time to set our sights on 100% renewable energy, with a target of at least 50% by 2030.

Meanwhile, investing billions of dollars in expanding coal ports is extremely short-sighted when a simple examination of our major markets for that coal - China and India - shows that they are both moving away from coal as they see solar outcompeting it in the next few years. Government funding of coal export infrastructure should cease immediately. It's not only bad economics, not only does it lead to higher insurance premiums, but it is terrible environment policy.

Long term jobs in tourism and fishing depend on a healthy Great Barrier Reef, as does our national self identity. We would be shamed by a world heritage in danger listing.

On the other hand, planning sensibly for a transition away from jobs in old, polluting industries that are already in decline is much fairer and more economically sensible than propping them up until eventually they collapse. Whether it is in coal fired power or car manufacturers, a planned transition is better for people than unplanned collapse.

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All of these changes in priority will make for happier, healthier people, will see us planning sensibly for the future and will make sense for the economy as they pay very handsome dividends. But it's true that many need a huge investment up front to become a reality. That brings us to the need for raising revenue and reducing spending.

Tax is not a dirty word. It is part of being a fair and sensible society that invests in caring for its own and preparing for the future. And the great majority of Australians agree with that.

We've heard calls to boost tax revenue in recent weeks from Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson, his predecessor Ken Henry, BCA head Jennifer Westacott and many more.

Unfortunately, many of the calls for a broader tax base from business figures very quickly turn into a form of NIMBYism: we need more revenue, but "don't tax me"! Instead, they want to lift and broaden the GST, causing more pain to people already struggling to afford food and bills. They say we can't tax them for fear of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. The problem with that metaphor is that the goose is not much use to Jack and his mum if the ogre at the top of the beanstalk keeps all the eggs to himself and refuses to share.

Despite what some commentators want you to believe, the Greens are the most economically responsible party in the parliament, even on the old measures, supporting the stimulus package and putting forward billions of dollars of sensible revenue and savings measures to match the investments we need in order to care for people and nature.

Removing four big fossil fuel subsidies, including making sure mining corporations pay the same excise on the fuel they use that you and I do, would create an additional $2.8 billion dollars in revenue in next the financial year and would have created $7.6 billion in revenue from the 2012/13 financial year until 2014/15. Reforming superannuation tax concessions to encourage those doing it tougher now to also save for retirement would save $2.6 billion in its first year.

The total additional revenue the Government could have raised through these simple and Treasury-costed steps is $13.2 billion over three years.

In addition, a suite of more ambitious proposals - such as closing the mining tax loophole that is seeing State Premiers gouge royalties out of Commonwealth funds, broadening the base of the tax to what Ken Henry originally proposed, a fair increase in the top marginal tax rate for millionaires to 50%, removing free carbon permits from coal fired power stations, removing support for coal export infrastructure, and a very small 0.1% tax on financial transaction - could raise many billions more.

The Greens negotiated with the government to establish a Parliamentary Budget Office to independently cost each party's policies. The PBO has now been established and we have committed to full transparency through it, to release more of these costed proposals as we get approach next year's election. Will Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey also commit to doing so?

The other aim of tax reform that the Greens are focussed on is continuing the progress towards a system which encourages more forward-thinking, cleaner investments; one which taxes bads and rewards goods. The Clean Energy Act is a prime example of this: putting a price on the pollution which drives global warming and balancing that out by tripling the tax free threshold so that people who earn less than $18,000 pay no tax at all. The price on pollution is only a first step, but it is a hugely significant step towards the zero emissions economy of the future - the only one in which people and nature can survive and flourish.

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The Greens' vision is becoming mainstream globally, with Australian politics and commentariat playing catch-up. The ideas I've set out today are all from established economic theory, based on the early 20th century work of Arthur Pigou and John Maynard Keynes as well as more recent Nobel Prize winners from Joseph Stiglitz to Paul Krugman to Amartya Sen. They also encompass vital scientific work being done by the CSIRO and others that we either need to grapple with or be left behind.

We can make this vision a reality, but only if we recognise that the economy needs to serve the needs of people and nature, not the other way around.

 

 

LYNDAL CURTIS: Thank you Senator Milne.

Now, it's time for some questions from our media members. And given I've got the microphone and the list I'll take the first question.

Senator Milne, you mentioned that you will have policies costed by the Parliamentary Budgetary Office. Since the last election you've been able to have your policies costed by Treasury. How often have you taken advantage of that and will you be releasing those costings publicly either now or as your policies come out?

CHRISTINE MILNE: We've taken advantage of that opportunity to have some of our policies costed and I've related some of those today. We've made most of them public, almost all I think, and we will be in the course of the lead-up to the next election, but we're certainly undertaking that we will go to the next federal election with our policy platform fully costed by either the Treasury, in this case, or the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The Government will have its policies actually costed by Treasury. It is the Coalition running away from actually having its Budget propositions costed.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And you'll release those costings in full?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Yes. We've been releasing them so far in full. The 10,000 tax write-off, for example, has already been released. So, we've been doing that and we'll continue to do so.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Our next question is from Mark Kenny from the Adelaide Advertiser.

QUESTION: Mark Kenny. Is that on? Mark Kenny from The Advertiser, Senator Milne.

You mentioned a good health system should have - should fix problems of the mind and the teeth. I fear I may have cavities in both, so I preface my question with that. But Lindsay Tanner today has revealed that he planned to quit politics even before Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd. And it seemed that he was of the view that the Greens are coming for the Labor Party in these inner metropolitan seats.

I wonder if you could comment on that? Is that something - a trend that you see as inevitable that the Greens will come to replace Labor in those seats?

And just quickly if I could on something you said in the speech. You mentioned that Australia's debt to GDP ratio is 29 per cent. Now, the Government says that's more likely to peak at around 9.8 per cent as I recall. I'm just wondering if you could explain the difference?

CHRISTINE MILNE: So, on the first point about Lindsay Tanner, Lindsay Tanner also said that the Labor Party hasn't come to grips with issues like asylum seekers, that it hasn't come to grips with issues like ecological sustainability and that is one of its big problems. That is why it will continue to lose and continue to lose its way, because it's not actually taking into account the major trends of the century.

If you have a look at the CSIRO's megatrends, the first one is do more with less, the second one is going, going, gone which is about species extinction, biodiversity loss and so on. The Labor Party is still taking the environment for granted. They can't be trusted on the environment and that is going to continue to be a driver of votes lost to them and picked up by The Greens.

As to your second point about the debt to GDP ratio, they are the figures that I've been given. I don't know where the Government's figures are coming from. Happy to check, but I don't know why there's a difference

LYNDAL CURTIS: Next question is from Andrew Probyn.

QUESTION: Senator, Andrew Probyn from The West Australian newspaper.

During my lovely two years down in Tasmania, I remember former Premier Jim Bacon saying that the F-word never to be mentioned in his household was forestry. He used the other F-word more liberally, I might add.

But on that topic...

[Laughter]

On that topic, and this is a yes or no answer hopefully from you, would the Greens support a chlorine free closed loop plantation only feed stock pulp mill? Yes or no?

Before you answer that, on the W-word - wheat - what is the Greens position on the full deregulation of the wheat industry? And if it gets through the House, what would the Greens do in the Senate?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Okay. So, on the wheat industry, that's straightforward. We signed onto the dissenting report from the Senate committee. We don't support the full deregulation of the wheat industry, we support the ongoing - we might support some changes to the way that the Wheat Export Authority currently works, but we're not going to support full deregulation. So, that's clear.

Back to the issue of Tasmania and forests, Gunns, as everybody would be aware, has now gone into administration. That has led to a major discussion in Tasmania. I have to say, it's an enormous weight that's lifted from the shoulders of all Tasmanians now that that project is finished. We have an opportunity to draw a line under it, to move forward to the kind of strong and diversified economy Tasmania can have.

And in terms of jobs, we have 600 scientists as a marine and scientific hub in Hobart. Fantastic, and people keep talking about wanting some great white elephant project to come across the horizon and recognise Tasmania. That is the wrong way to go. We've now got the opportunity for a resilient, lots of medium/small-scale businesses and so on.

As to your issue about a pulp mill, a pulp mill in Tasmania is not the right way to go. We have moved on from that. The question now is what are we going to do with the existing plantation estate and part of the problem with that is that Eric Abetz oversaw a ridiculous managed investment scheme roll-out of plantations in the wrong places. The Commonwealth invested in Forestry Tasmania which planted the wrong species of trees.

So, the issue there is what are we going to do with the existing plantation estate? But it won't be a pulp mill.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The next question is from David Wroe.

QUESTION: David Wroe from The Sydney Morning Herald, Senator. Thanks for your speech.

I can't think of too many people who would disagree with the proposition that we need a broader set of criteria than only GDP to measure our success as a nation. But listening to you I was, sort of, wondering if there was a shoe to drop here in terms of whether there are sacrifices to be made in achieving that. Now, whether it's a slightly faster car or a slightly larger house and leaving aside the Huon pine condoms and the nettle - I can't imagine. Maybe I don't lead a very adventurous life but I can't imagine how those would actually operate.

[Laughter]

Leaving all that aside and those clichés about the Greens, are you prepared to acknowledge that perhaps some sacrifices do need to be made? And, you know, are there things that we feel as if we've become entitled to that we should actually be prepared to sacrifice? And can you give us a sense of what you think those things are?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Okay. So, to the last thing first, what's really encouraging is the number of people who have now said, and this is one of the CSIRO's megatrends as well, people now want experiences more than things. So, people are actually asking for society to create more opportunities for them to be fulfilled as a person rather than more things to put in their house or their office or to measure their wellbeing by.

So, that trend is already happening and creating experiences for people ought to have less of an ecological footprint than having more stuff as such.

In terms of how society would change, there are huge opportunities to retro fit houses to make them more energy efficient, to regulate to have higher standards on whitegoods, for example, to make them more energy efficient.

So, I - things won't change dramatically, but in terms of - there will be transitions out of some of the old industries. That's absolutely the case and we have to find new ways of engaging with industries.

And one of those - let me go to the car fleet for example and in particular, the millions that we've spent subsidising the car industry. Adam Bandt has been saying, and we've been saying for some time, if we're going to subsidise car making in Australia let's actually make it an electric car. Let's actually go to a futuristic concept rather than keep subsidising business as usual. And there's a huge opportunity there.

If you actually think about getting a critical mass of electric cars built in Australia and linking that to actually putting that energy into the grid and shaving off the peaks in the afternoon, actually doing it as a strategy, you'd have amazing uptake not only of the cars, but actually of greater savings in energy.

So, I see there will be changes, but most of them will be good. People want to be healthier, they want to be happier and everywhere you've seen investment in better designed cities, cycleways, urban gardens and the like, you've had greater attraction for people wanting to live there. And the places that are becoming less attractive to people are those that represent the old inefficient way of using resources and city planning for example.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Next question is from Paul Osbourne.

QUESTION: Paul Osbourne from Australian Associated Press. Thank you for your speech, Senator.

My question is about media reform. It's a triple barrelled question. You seem to be a little less critical of the media, particularly the press gallery, than your predecessor who had some very colourful battles with the hate media in particular.

Is this a strategic decision on our part? And will you be urging the Government to act on media reform in this term given that it appears to be going towards the too-hard basket for Labor? And just a third question which is a follow up, where do you stand personally on trying to improve the quality of the news media?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Okay. So, to the first question, it's not a strategic decision to engage the media one way or the other. I think - I've been described as the sort of person, you know, what you see is what you get, and I hope that that's the way I'm able to engage with most of the media. I think that we have an obligation to work as co-operatively and collaboratively as we can with the press gallery and I would hope that the same would be in return. If it's not, well we'll work out a new way of working after that.

Secondly on media reform, yes, we want to see changes to media reform - changes to media. We've outlined that previously. Yes, it's going too slowly. We've had the Finkelstein Review, we've had the Convergence Review. We now need to actually work on those.

And the third thing - just remind me?

QUESTION: Improving quality of media.

CHRISTINE MILNE: Oh, improving quality of media. Well that's - it's an interesting thing that's going on in the media at the moment. I was really alarmed when I saw the number of experienced journalists who are losing their jobs from various media outlets. I was alarmed to see specialist arts writers, science writers and so on losing their jobs from the mainstream media.

On the other hand, I'm greatly encouraged by the quality of journalism on some of the online sites, conversation in particular I think is making a major contribution in the energy sector. I think Joel Parkinson's work is fantastic.

So, I think what we're going to see is people making choices about congregating around some quality outlets and we're going to see different ways in which media is going to be defined. How that's going to play out in the long-term nobody really knows.

Twitter, for example, is making a big difference. Attaching - you can access to so many in-depth pieces from all over the world. Journalism is changing. There are new opportunities, but nevertheless I regret the loss from the mainstream of some of the specialist writers in those papers, because I think the public debate is worse off for that

LYNDAL CURTIS: Next question from Michelle Grattan.

QUESTION: Michelle Grattan from The Age.  Senator Milne, the polls indicate that an Abbott Government is likely next year. I wonder if you could speculate or tell us how you see the mandate of that Government, the limits of the mandate and the extent of it?

And what would you say to a voter who intended to vote for a change of government, but would like a Senate that provides some check on that government, however, does not want a Senate that frustrates a new government?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Thank you Michelle.  So, as to the first one with an Abbott-led Coalition, I've been saying for some time and I still say it, that I don't think Tony Abbott will lead the Coalition into the federal election next year and I say that because business in Australia can't afford the recklessness with which he approaches the question of what to do about emissions reductions in Australia.

He has a $70 billion black hole. Business must surely be shaking their heads, and they want certainty. They have been given certainty with the framework that's been delivered in the clean energy framework that the Greens negotiated with the Government. And I think there will be many business interests around Australia saying, for goodness sake you have to change your policy. If they did that they'd have to change their leader, because he's so clearly identified with it.

Having said that, though, if indeed he did lead them into the election, the Greens will play an absolutely critical role in holding the balance of power in the Senate. I think so many people have seen that the Greens in the Senate have been an influence for innovation and for stability.

And it doesn't matter whether you go back to the Rudd Prime Ministership when it was the Greens who supported the stimulus package and the Coalition who voted against it. And so it was the Greens who helped stave off recession in Australia at that time.

It has been the Greens who have put forward innovative policies throughout in addressing climate change, for example, as I just indicated, the Parliament Budget Office, Denticare - people are looking at what the Greens are doing and I think what they could be guaranteed about is you've got a highly intelligent, dedicated group of people with very clear policies and a group of people who will stand up for those policies, won't change them and will stand up to Tony Abbott on it.

And we will be saying clearly to all Australians there is no way we will be repealing the Emissions Trading Scheme. There's no way we will be supporting getting rid of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation or the Biodiversity Fund, and we will not be changing our position on saying that we want to embrace the asylum seekers and refugees who come to Australia and make them a part of our community.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Next up, Simon Grose.

QUESTION: Simon Grose, from Science Media. You've endorsed the role of science in general, and CSIRO in particular today, but lately you've been dumping on science. When it came to the advice that CSIRO and other experts gave to AFMA that underpinned their judgement to give the super trawler a quota, you rejected that summarily. When it comes to the risk assessments from Biosecurity Australia on potatoes from New Zealand, apples and pears from New Zealand, you've questioned that. I think you might have even questioned their judgement on the imports of fresh ginger from Fiji.

When you do that, when you take those stands, you're actually questioning the integrity of the individuals in those agencies, and the agencies themselves. Do you think those agencies have allowed themselves to be compromised, and if so, how?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Okay. So, to the science on the super trawler, you only have to look at the experience around the world, where you've had super trawlers fishing, you have seen a collapse in the fisheries. And it doesn't matter whether you look off Africa, whether you look in the Pacific, you see a collapse in the fisheries. 

As to the science, there is now an admission that the science that was done on the quota was not the best that might have been done. In fact, there has been clear evidence that AFMA's processes were not up to the mark, there were conflicts of interest. I mean, how is it that someone from Seafish Tasmania, who was to benefit from the increase in the quota, could have been part of the decision to increase the quota?

So, on these issues it is up to the Greens to of course challenge and ask the questions. Science in fact is about challenging and asking the questions, that's the whole process of peer review. The whole process is for scientists to put the hypothesis out there, and have it challenged.

In terms of Biosecurity, it has been a longstanding concern of mine that the way that risk assessment is done in Australia doesn't take into account the latest science, and that is the problem, that the departments actually don't take into account the latest science. And that has been the case with ginger, and it all comes back to Free Trade Agreements.

When push comes to shove, the decision is made to maximise trade in the negligible risk category, rather than take on the latest science, when it comes to biosecurity.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And the next question is from Christian Kerr.

QUESTION: Christian Kerr from The Australian, Senator.  Lindsay Tanner again, he says that the Greens can always outbid us, and I'm quoting directly from him here. The Greens can always outbid us because they are not weighed down by the need to deal with material concerns, and to win majority support in order to form government.

I'd like to know your response to that, and also when Adam Bandt won his old seat of Federal Melbourne, that was due to Liberal preferences. When the Greens fell short in the state seat of Melbourne a couple of months ago, that was because you are unable as a party, to garnish the preferences needed to capitalise on your primary vote.

There's a growing push in both the Labor and Liberal parties to put the Greens last. Do you have a card up your sleeve you can play, to make them reconsider this decision?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well, Liberal and Labor clearly will get together to do the best they can to try and destroy the Greens. One of the advantages of being in politics for a long time is that history tends to repeat itself in terms of the strategies that people use.

In the Tasmanian context, Liberal and Labor got together to try to destroy the Greens and change the electoral system, and it is, as I have said many times, as Ghandi has said, you know, first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you, and then you win.

And we're in the attack phase, we know that. Labor is mounting major attacks. Just yesterday we were getting messages that Liberal and Labor in several city councils in Sydney for example, were getting together to prioritise a mayor from elsewhere rather than allow a Labor Green mayor, for example. So, we're going to see this strategy played out time and time again.

The card I have up my sleeve is that the future is on our side. As I've said today, the key thing we have to do in this century is look after people and nature, in the face of accelerating global warming.

This is a huge task. We are putting our minds to it, and the others are ignoring it, and that is a problem. And as a result, what we have to do is renew our efforts to lift our primary vote, that is the only option in the face of these kinds of strategies, you actually have to lift your primary vote.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The next question is from Catherine Murphy.

QUESTION: Hi, Senator. Just on your savings revenue calculations and ideas that you had in your speech, just a couple of things that weren't mentioned that I'm interested in your attitude to. What's your attitude to first homeowners grants, for example? What would be your attitude to putting a capital gains tax on the family home? What would be your attitude, for example, to death duties?

Also, in terms of the Greens and the critique of the Greens, some of which you raised in your speech, one of the persistent critiques of the Greens is that your party forums are closed, you have no party room debriefing process for example, your decision-making forums aren't open to the public.

Given under your leadership you're taking the party in your own direction, do you think it's time to apply a bit more transparency to your decision-making and processes?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Thank you. As to the first, the whole issue of housing is something that's under active discussion in the Greens. We're going through a policy review process to take us into the next election, and so we're having a serious look at this. But, as I said in my speech, with 18,600 people sleeping in shelters just in the - reported in the last couple of days, we are not doing enough on homelessness, we're not doing enough on housing affordability, we're not doing enough in terms of city planning. And that is something that we will be looking at.

And so of course we recognise if you're going to spend more in terms of encouraging liveable housing you're going to have to fund it, and that is something that's under active consideration.

As to the specifics, we are not there yet on those. We have of course done away with the death duties policy. We did that at a recent policy review meeting. But we haven't yet come up with a range of fundraisers in relation to those particular - or revenue raising in relation to that particular policy.

But rest assured housing is going to be critical because food, clothing and shelter are fundamental to caring for people and it has to be in the most sustainable way.

Second set of questions in relation to transparency, the Greens are a member-based party and that makes us

quite different from the other parties because we actually involve our members in policymaking. It's not something that's made by the national executive of the ALP or not something that's held up by the courts, as in the case in New South Wales at the moment. Ours is actually a grassroots based party and people make a decision as to whether they want to conduct their discussions around policy issues in private. That is the members' right. I've said that I think it would be a good idea to have those forums open because actually they're really interesting forums, as we've just seen in the Tasmanian context where we had a terrific economics forum, and I think that people would actually enjoy them. So, that's going to be a decision of the party though as to whether that occurs.

Debriefing from the party room, generally we do that by way of a media conference as a result of decisions that are made.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And a question from David Speers.

QUESTION: David Speers from SKY News.  My question, Senator, is about foreign investment from China. You've been pretty critical in the past of particular investments, Cubbie Station and the like. Can you specify what rules you think should apply? Where would you draw the line? And what is your concern about Chinese investment?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Thanks David. Look, I'm really pleased that you've asked that because the focus that I've had is on agricultural land and water licences. I do, unlike Saul Eslake, consider there is a difference between investment in infrastructure, investment in renewable energy projects or the like, and actual buying of the farm or selling of the farm. That is a - in my view they are two different things.

So, in Tasmania for example, the Chinese invested in wind energy and I see no problem with that, but I do have a problem with selling land and water. And the reason for that is that everybody up until now who has invested in agribusiness in Australia has invested in the market economy. They buy in order to produce into a market.

Things changed in 2008 as a result of the global food shortages. And so what happened was the Chinese, the Saudis, the Qataris - all those countries that are importers of food - realised that no matter how much money they had, they wouldn't be able to access food because other countries abandoned the market like the Russians, and banned the export of grain. The Brazilians banned it. Vietnam banned rice exports. So, suddenly countries realised that no matter how much money they had, they wouldn't be able to buy the food. And, as a result, they started what is known as land grabbing. And that has occurred across the planet where these countries in particular are going to buy agricultural land and water, not to engage in the market in periods of shortage but to send it straight back home. So it's actually outsourcing food production.

Now, no-one has actually looked at what are the consequences for Australian land prices, water prices; what is the consequence for the market, what's the consequence for revenues in Australia if we sell off part of our land and water to outsource that land and water for food production elsewhere.

It's also about vertical integration. They want to buy the farm, they want to buy the processing facility, the transport, and ship it straight home. And therein lies the problem.

So what I've said, clearly, is that the Foreign Investment Review Board should change its rules. The national interest test should be specific, not just a subjective thing from the Treasurer. We should have a limit which refers any land and water purchase to the Foreign Investment Review Board, and that there should be a clear register kept so we know exactly what the situation is.

So I do make a difference - make a clear distinction in my mind between types of investments. It's not about the country, it's about the outsourcing that is my problem.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And that brings us to the end of today's address. We like to send our guests home with something to remember us by, so we present you with that and some encouragement to return; membership to the National Press Club.

Would you please thank Christine Milne.

 

Download 2012-09-26 Christine Milne at NPC