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Christine Milne: Abbott's vision for the future: small, selfish, inward looking & isolationist

Speeches in Parliament
Christine Milne 13 Nov 2013

The Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Christine Milne, responds to the Abbott Government's vision for Australia, describing is as small, selfish, inward looking, isolationist and back to the future.

Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (10:11): I rise today to respond to the Governor-General's speech outlining the Abbott government's agenda for this term of parliament. Usually such a speech sets out a vision for the nation. Yesterday there was no vision in the Abbott government agenda for Australia except to confirm that, during this period of government, Australia will be on track to be regarded as a small, selfish, inward-looking, isolationist, 'back to the future' quarry Australia. That is where we are going. It is right back to mid-last-century, when Australia saw itself as separate from the rest of the world and thought that brawn was better than brains and that digging up, cutting down and shipping away was all we had to do to essentially make ourselves prosperous. There was no futuristic thinking, and that is exactly where we are now.

The agenda of the Abbott government, set out in yesterday's speech, can be summarised with the repeal of the carbon tax; the bringing in of a commission of audit to signal smaller government; massive deregulation, allowing business to do whatever it wants; and the higher productivity agenda, which is likely to be an attack on workers receiving the minimum wage and on workplace relations. We had talk of strengthening border protection, and that is code for isolationism and being seen internationally as a global pariah. Finally, 'building the roads of the 21st century' really says it all. The infrastructure vision of quarry Australia is to just build more roads. Yet here we are in 2013. A vision for the nation should be about our people and our future. In the second decade of this century, we should be looking out for the next 100 years.

As we do that, we are beginning to reflect on the last 100 years, because we are coming into, of course, the anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. People will be looking back over the last 100 years and thinking about, as former Prime Minister Keating said in his address at the War Memorial earlier this week, how the First World War was a war without virtue. He also indicated that it was a war that heralded one of the most appalling centuries in terms of the level of violence brought upon people because of the technological revolutions that allowed disaster on a scale that had not before that been possible. He also talked about the inscription which will now be on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: 'He is all of them and one of us.' And that is the way Australians are going to be thinking about the last 100 years and thinking about those young Australians who gave their lives at that time so that the rest of us could benefit from a better life, from freedom, from democracy. There was great hope and optimism that the sacrifice was worth it. That is the perspective in which we have all looked back over the last 100 years.

In thinking about that, I wonder what people in 100 years are going to say looking back on those of us now facing the challenges of this century as we asked our youth to face in 1913. When we look forward from here in terms of intergenerational equity and what people will say in 100 years, I do not think they will be able to look back on 2013 and say that we were honest with ourselves, bold, courageous or thoughtful in terms of facing up to what we know the world is going to have to deal with.

The first thing you would ask yourself now if you were looking forward for the next 100 years is: where are we as a nation right now globally and domestically? How are we placed as a nation? Domestically we are a rich country. It is extraordinary when we hear the level of critique in terms of what it is like in Australia. We have never been so well off. Of course that is not to say there are not serious issues of poverty, homelessness, disadvantage and intergenerational inequity; but, nevertheless, compared with the overwhelming majority of the world's population, we are an extremely rich country. Globally we are a country that is capable of leading because we are a rich and developed country capable of facing the challenges that are in store. And the greatest challenge in store is that of global warming. That is what we are not facing up to as a parliament.

I want to draw the attention of the Senate to the meeting that is taking place right now in Warsaw at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference of the parties. It is the 19th conference of the parties, where the world has come together to face the realities of the challenge of actually making sure that people can live through this century and centuries to come. I draw to the attention of the Senate the speech that was given this week-and which has had very little publicity in Australia-from Yeb Sano, who is the spokesperson from the Philippines. He made a very powerful speech, especially since his speech coincided with the shocking disaster that is Typhoon Haiyan, which has hit the Philippines and left at least 10,000 people dead.

In that speech he said:

This will have profound implications on many of our communities, especially who struggle against the twin challenges of the development crisis and the climate change crisis. Typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan) and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change. In Doha, we asked "If not us then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?" (borrowed from Philippine student leader Ditto Sarmiento during Martial Law).
He went on to say that we should be asking exactly the same questions in Warsaw:

What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness.
... ... ...

By failing to meet the objective the Convention-
that is, to keep global warming to less than two degrees-

we may have ratified the doom of vulnerable countries.
He spoke about the fact that 'we have entered a new era that demands global solidarity in order to fight climate change and ensure that pursuit of sustainable human development remains at the fore of the global community's efforts.' He goes on to say:

We must stop calling events like these as natural disasters. It is not natural when people continue to struggle to eradicate poverty and pursue development and gets battered by the onslaught of a monster storm now considered as the strongest storm ever to hit land. It is not natural when science already tells us that global warming will induce more intense storms. It is not natural when the human species has already profoundly changed the climate.
He finished his speech by calling for concrete pledges to ensure mobilisation of resources for the Green Climate Fund and, in particular, the pledge for $100 billion that has to be made to help developing countries. That is the context in which we are now speaking about the next 100 years from 2013, and I would say that we in Australia need to ask ourselves: if not us, then who? If not now, then when? And, if not here in the federal parliament, then where? Where are people going to face up on behalf of current and future generations of Australians, everyone else we share the planet with and every other species on this planet? When are we going to stand up, accept the science and act?

Today is historic because today is the day that the Abbott government introduced legislation to tear down the only framework of action on global warming that is reducing emissions in Australia, and that is our clean energy package. That is why responsibility has to be taken for this. By doing that, you are acknowledging that climate change is driving extreme weather events which are killing people and sending species to extinction, and you do not care, because you do not accept the science. It is as simple as that. That is the challenge that is facing this parliament. That is the challenge that is facing Australia, and the Australian Greens are up to that challenge because we are prepared to stand up and say, as leading economists around the world are saying, 'Economic growth must be decoupled from environmental degradation and resource extraction.'

Equally, climate change is having a massive impact on food security around the world and it is why we are now seeing countries going around grabbing land and water-they know they are going to have to feed their own people. That completely undermines the whole so-called free trade agenda, and yet in the Abbott government's back-to-the-future 1950s outlook it is all about free trade. It is no longer about free trade; it is about fair trade and maintaining ownership and control of your own land and water so that you can not only provide for your own food security but also enable other people to do so as well.

Australia is situated in the right place at the right time for this challenge. As we see this profound development in the Asian region, this is the first time in our history that we have been located, in a physical sense, in the right place in the world. I ask: will we lead or will we undermine progress in the world on critical issues such as human rights? On human rights in Sri Lanka we have already abandoned the page, with the Prime Minister saying that it is not for us to lecture other countries-even though we know that people are disappearing in white vans in Sri Lanka as we speak and that there is no press freedom. We know that, and yet this government is prepared to turn its back. On democracy in Cambodia, it is exactly the same. We should have been calling for the international community to investigate the election abuses in Cambodia, but we did not; we turned our back. On sustainability, we have had the International Energy Agency come out overnight and say that Australia is going to be the biggest coal exporter in the world by 2035 and that we will be contributing not to green growth in Asia but to black growth. The International Energy Agency has been damning by saying that a golden age for Australia will set the world on a path of dangerous climate change as fossil fuel sourced emissions soar. That is Australia's contribution to the Asian century.

I go on: how could we have an address from the Abbott government without mentioning the G20? In a couple of weeks, we take the presidency of the G20. What are we going to do with it? What is the Abbott government's vision for the G20 and for our leadership of the G20? We heard from Greg Hunt, the minister, before the election that he was going to put climate change on the G20 agenda. How interesting is that going to be, with world leaders flying into Brisbane being told that Australia is abandoning any kind of global responsibility and is only going to stick with a miserly five per cent, which is an insult to the rest of the world, and will not contribute a cent to the Green Climate Fund. So, is climate change going to be on the G20 agenda or not? If not, what is? The G20 is in a precarious position. It came together through the global financial crisis. It is struggling to know what its purpose is. If its purpose, as the leader of the global economy, is to address the major trends in the global economy then climate change has to be front and centre of that. If it is not, Australia stands to actually undermine the whole future of the G20.

What about the Security Council? We heard nothing in the speech about the Security Council. What is Australia's agenda on the Security Council? Do we accept that security in this century is about securing our borders, as the Prime Minister said? Actually, it is about securing our planet. Every other defence force around the world is looking at the impacts of extreme weather events and the insecurity and conflicts that are going to arise because of that. Australia's whole agenda on security seems to be trying to demonise refugees rather than face up to the fact that this is going to be a century of people being dislocated for a range of reasons in countries around the world. We have to come to a way of accommodating the fact that people are going to be moving. We have to do our fair share and play a role in dealing with that humanitarian crisis.

I go beyond that to the environment. All we heard on the environment in the speech yesterday was about green tape and deregulation. All that is code for is give Australia to big business, give Australia to quarries, and give the Institute of Public Affairs and the old agendas the green light. Let them go and trash the environment as much as they like. A one-stop shop for the states means disaster and no more so than in Tasmania. This whole notion of a new economic package for Tasmania, which has a one-stop shop to enable major development approvals, spells community conflict and environmental destruction in Tasmania. It will not work. It sounded just like Robin Gray at the end of the 1980s. That is exactly what his agenda was, and now we are having Tony Abbott deliver it.

Far from being a careful, consultative and straightforward agenda, this government's agenda is radical and ideologically-driven. It is going to be secretive and implemented by stealth. We are already seeing it. As I indicated, this is isolationism in how we are treating the rest of the world on climate change. It flows through to AusAID, as we have heard. Abandoning AusAID is abandoning one of the main tools we have for peace, engagement and building sustainability. You either help people and build friendships or you build up the defence forces and expect to fight. I think it is a ludicrous proposition that we want to pour money into the defence forces, ignore global warming, ignore those global people movement shifts and global emergencies and instead rip out the money from AusAID, which is our main diplomatic tool for being a good global citizen and building strengths and friendships that will stand by us in difficult times. It is a backward and foolish move. It is handing the puppet master role over to the Institute of Public Affairs and to big business in Australia.

I end on infrastructure. Unless you live in a quarry, the government's imagining that the infrastructure of this century is roads just shows the limitation of their thinking. The resource of this century is imagination. The infrastructure of this century has to be building human potential and capacity. That means massive investment in education and research and development-building capacity so that what we export is not what we dig up and cut down but capacity and capacity building.

We export through the arts as well. There was not a mention in the speech of creative culture as a transformative influence. If you accept the trends of this century, that we need to change, you have to understand that investing in the brain rather than the brawn is what Australia needs to do. We need to invest in creativity, in imagination, because that is the resource of this century. Words in a speech that say that your aim is to see cranes over cities and bulldozers on the ground say that you are right back in the 1950s. If you were serious about infrastructure what you would be envisaging is fast broadband and the fantastic education infrastructure in this country which is reaching out to share capacity with our neighbours and around the world. That is the infrastructure: building the health, education and capacity of our community to be able to deal with and assist people around us-not only in our own communities but in our regional community-and that is where we need to be going.

I return where I began. We have no vision but an ideologically driven agenda for quarry Australia: small, selfish, inward looking, isolationist and back to the future. It is a missed opportunity for Australia and we will pay heavily for it in years to come not only because of the impacts of global warming but because the rest of the world is going to see us for what we are. 


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