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Joint press conference: MYEFO

Christine Milne 22 Oct 2012

Christine Milne and Adam Bandt held a press conference to respond to the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook and responded to other issues of the day




Subjects: Afghanistan, MYEFO, ACT elections

CHRISTINE MILNE: I would like to begin this by expressing the condolences of the Australian Greens, to the family and friends of the Australian soldier who has died in Afghanistan. I can only begin to imagine the pain that the family and friends are suffering, and also the families of the rest of our troops in Afghanistan. The Australian Greens have long said that the conditions in Afghanistan are becoming more and more dangerous and we really need to bring our troops home as quickly and as safely as possible. But today our thoughts are with the family and friends of our fallen soldier.

So now we'll move on to MYEFO. Well today the Treasurer Wayne Swan has demonstrated that far from being dressed up in some fancy dress of Robin Hood he's demonstrated that he's much more a man of the coal country than he is of a caring or clever Australia. This mid-year economic forecast has built into it the fact that we'll get to a surplus on the back of the cuts to single parent support payments, it's on the back of those who are most vulnerable in that the Government has not made any provision to increase the Newstart allowance by $50 a week which everybody recognises is necessary. So you have a whole lot of people out there who are desperately trying to seek work, who are being driven further into poverty and we're told by Wayne Swan that he is actually doing this without hurting the most vulnerable. Well he's not. Where he hasn't gone is to plug the revenue gap. If you were serious about taking on the miners he would have plugged the revenue gap, the shortfall that has occurred because the states have increased their royalties and the Commonwealth has not gone and pursued that shortfall. We have actually seen a write-down of almost 1.8 billion at one level from the mining and oil companies and on the other hand a cut of 1.8 billion to education, training and research. If there is one thing Australians know we need to invest in it's education, training and research. I have just come from the NFF, the National Farmers' Federation conference, everybody there recognises that if we are to achieve the kinds of levels of food production we need in this century we need a massive increase in research and development and yet 499 million has been cut out of university research funding, not to mention the whole total of 1.8 billion in the whole education area. So we've lost on the clever country, we've lost on the caring country driving the most vulnerable closer to poverty and we have failed to raise the revenue that is out there that we could be raising from the resource sector.

ADAM BANDT: Labor's surplus is built on the back of cuts to single parents and research funding while wealthy miners are let off the hook. This mini-budget also delivers a hit to Australia's productivity growth with $1.8 billion in cuts coming from skills, training and education and research. The universities of Australia will be particularly hard hit by this budget, they will lose half a billion of essential research funding over the next few years. Given that Australia's future prosperity when the mining boom is over will depend on science and research, not only are these cuts unjustified but they're a false economy. The cuts to universities and to research will be particularly hard, it will be a bitter pill for them to swallow. We need to plug the holes in the mining tax so that we can secure this country's science and research based future.

JOURNALIST: The surplus forecast has been cut from 1. 5 to 1.1, is it time to forget about the facade of a surplus and just move on to actually funding services?

CHRISTINE MILNE: So many economists have been saying exactly the same thing as the Australian Greens have been saying and that is, look the surplus has taken on a political significance, everybody agrees that you could delay achieving the surplus. If you were really serious about taking leadership in terms of nation building you would be investing in research and development, in education and training, in getting our National Disability Insurance Scheme up and running, in making provision for the implementation of the Gonski review to get more money into public education. You would be doing all those things if you were looking at nation building. Instead of that the Government said that it would return to a surplus in 12-13 and it's as if that is the Holy Grail for the Government. The question has to be asked - what is the economy meant to deliver? It's meant to deliver the well-being for the nation. Now if we all know that we need to invest in education and training, that we need to get people out of poverty, that Newstart needs to be increased, that it's ridiculous that we can't find $50 a week for the most vulnerable, then we need to get on and do it. I think it would have been much better if the Government had come out and said look, in view of the economic circumstances, in view of the slowing and the uncertainty in the global economy, I think it's reasonable to extend the surplus and actually spend the money in places we need it like in alleviating poverty, like investing in research and development, but at the same time actually raising the revenue. It's all very well for Wayne Swan to quote Springsteen, to be out there with the guitar and the T-shirts and trying to build this persona of a Robin Hood character when in fact all he's doing is protecting the resource-based industries at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable. That's not a Robin Hood act.

JOURNALIST: What's your view on the cuts to the private health insurance rebate and the baby bonus?

CHRISTINE MILNE: We're going to have a look at all of the proposed changes, those that require legislation and those that don't and we'll go into those in some detail. Our initial response is to look at it in overall terms and to say the opportunity has been lost to raise revenue, the opportunity has been lost to defer the first surplus, tragedy that they've decided to cut education and training and we'll look at the specifics that will have to come through the Parliament as we get an opportunity to look at the details.

JOURNALIST: So you're reserving your right to vote down some measures including some changes to the private health insurance rebate?

CHRISTINE MILNE: We're reserving our right to look at all of the measures the Government is proposing. Our whole principal base is on equitable distribution of resources. We want to make sure the gap between the rich and the poor in Australia is reduced and that is a lens we bring to it, and we want to also make sure that we're investing in the future when it comes to higher education, education and training and in getting people out of poverty so we'll look at all the measures that are proposed with that sort of frame.

JOURNALIST: What's your view on the changes in the payments to the company tax?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well let's see how real it is. I want to actually go and have a look at the detail of that. Adam, do you want to comment on that further?

ADAM BANDT: Oh look, the real question is whether it's an accounting measure or whether it's going to deliver structural change in the economy to make the tax system fairer. We need to secure this country's tax base into the future and this mini-budget is a lost opportunity in that respect which is why it still goes ahead with cuts to single parents, so we'll have a look at all that when the legislation comes.

CHRISTINE MILNE: - it's technically bringing forward rather than changing the structure, there will be some advantage presumably in terms of increased interest perhaps but let's see how substantial it is rather than just seeing it as an accounting tool.

JOURNALIST: What kind of impact will this have for aboriginal families out bush or poor families across the board and also what kind of damage potentially could this have on the Close the Gap campaign which has bipartisan support in the Parliament?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Australian Greens voted against the Government's decision to cut the payments to single parents across the board. We said that that was a very bad signal to send because it's actually condemning people to poverty. We've been campaigning hard to increase the Newstart allowance to support people who are currently unemployed to help them into employment and the Government has chosen not to do those things. So indigenous communities across the country as well as other communities are going to be looking at this and saying why is it that the Government didn't take the opportunity to plug the gap in the mining taxes and instead chose to either cut payments to the most vulnerable or not move to actually get people out of poverty.

JOURNALIST: Senator Milne just to clarify, are there any measures at this point in time that you would vote down in the Senate?

CHRISTINE MILNE: We want to look at all the measures, we reserve our right to deal with them as they come through, we haven't even established yet how many of them will have to come through as legislative measures so we are having an open mind about that but we will use the lens of equity and nation building when we look at these projects.

JOURNALIST: Finance Minister Penny Wong said that the cuts to education, or in trying to defend the cuts to education saying that universities are much better off now than under the previous Howard Government do you concede that given that universities could be in a much worse position, and that some cuts of some description are needed in this day and age?

CHRISTINE MILNE: What this mid-year economic forecast shows is just how vulnerable the Australian economy is because it is disproportionately dependent on the resource-based economy. The Greens have been saying for a long-time we need to diversify the Australian economy, we need to make the transition away from so great a dependence on digging up, cutting down and shipping away, and we need to massively invest in education. That is very clearly what we need to do. It is not an adequate excuse for the minister to say oh it's better than what John Howard did. It might well be but it's nowhere near what we need to do in this nation. I sat next to a young couple on the plane flying to Tasmania last Friday night. They were both Ph.D. students, the first question they said to me was what's happening to the research funding? And then across the aisle an academic picked up his ears to say yes what is happening? Right across the country we have our brightest and our best in our university sectors saying we need that money, we need certainty in the education sector but we absolutely need it in the research and development sector. This is the wrong move to cut this funding.

ADAM BANDT: If I could just to add on education, we are falling behind in world terms. Our post-mining boom economy is going to rely on research and development. We only spend 2.2 per cent of our GDP on research and development. President Obama is saying that if he wins the next election he'll increase research and development spending in the United States to over 3 per cent. We should be going forwards, we shouldn't be treating research and development funding as a honeypot that the Government can come back to every time it needs a bit of extra money to fund the surplus. We should have long-term, secure and increasing funding. And just on another aspect of education -Victoria especially is going to be hit hard. We've already been the recipients of Premier Ted Baillieu's cuts to TAFE. Well on top of that the Labor Government is giving a $300 million funding cut to trades training in schools. That is exactly the area where we should be boosting funding and states like Victoria are going to suffer as a result of the Government's cut to the forecast funding.

JOURNALIST: Senator you've said that you're going to wait until you decide on some of these decisions but generally the Treasurer says that most parents by the time they have their second child have got the pram in justifying the baby bonus being cut, do you think that is a fair argument?

CHRISTINE MILNE: We will have a look at these things in detail and we will look at each of them as they come through the Parliament. So I'm not going to comment one by one on all of the measures that the Government is proposing. Suffice to say the priority for us is in terms of nation building and equity and they are the issues we want to look at very clearly as we look at each of these measures as they come through.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that piece of legislation though or that decision could hurt Labor in terms of I guess their heartland in delivering these sorts of bonuses?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I think what will her Labor in its heartland is this continuing mantra about what they're doing is not hurting the most vulnerable when what they're actually doing is protecting the coal companies and taking it out on single parents and on the unemployed. Whichever way you look at it, if you bring down a mid-year economic forecast which refuses to increase the Newstart allowance, which is on the back of the payments for single parents being cut, how can it be anything other than protecting the coal industry on the backs of the most vulnerable and that's what will hurt Labor in its heartland.

JOURNALIST: Senator there's a business tax working group under way at the moment, this company tax change is coming suddenly today, shouldn't it have been part of the consultation process? Is it unfair for business for the Government to suddenly change the rules?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well if they have a tax working group you would hope that the tax working group would have been consulted by any changes that might have been forthcoming. I have to say there's a lot of cynicism around that tax working group because rather than just being given a free hand they have been told that whatever they come up with in terms of reduced taxes or charges they have to find and make up the money elsewhere in the budget. So I don't think that group was ever going to be destined to come out with any particularly innovative changes. But nevertheless if you set up a group then you do owe them the courtesy of consulting them and listening to their opinion.

JOURNALIST: Mr Bandt just one for you if I may,  obviously the Greens have not been happy with the Government saying it wants a surplus, do you accept any the reasons Wayne Swan has given for saying it's to protect Australia in the event of further global shocks and others and obviously because it helps the Reserve Bank deliver cuts.

ADAM BANDT: Well it's important to balance the budget and ultimately bring it back to surplus but what economists and senior business figures and the Greens are saying is that it is potentially damaging to bring it back artificially early simply for political reasons. If the Government is determined to bring it back, bring the budget to surplus this coming year the only way they will be able to do it is on the backs of some of the most vulnerable people in our community, like single parents and like the employed. So there is every good reason for deferring what is a wafer thin surplus by a year or two so that we can look after those in our community who are doing it toughest and so that we don't cut those areas of our economy like education, like research, like science that are going to deliver economic growth for Australia into the future. So I think the Government's reasoning is missing some long-term analysis of what is going to make Australia's economy strong in the long-term.

JOURNALIST: Senator are you happy with the Nielsen poll today that the Greens vote appears to be holding up, although in the ACT it's fallen back over the weekend?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Australian Greens vote has been pretty steady between 10 and 12 per cent right through the year. We had an outlier of 8 and an outlier of 14 but generally it's in the 10 -12 range and we are working hard to try to increase that primary vote and I think as people realise the extent to which the Labor and Liberal parties are getting together to destroy environmental protection measures around the country so that we are going to end up with some of our most wonderful natural places like the Great Barrier Reef and the Tarkine destroyed over the time because we don't  protect them I think that vote is going to hold up.

As to the ACT election yes it's a disappointing outcome but we haven't given up on the third seat in the ACT. The Hare Clark system is such that you don't actually know until the button is pressed.

JOURNALIST: Senator what do you attribute the swing away from the Greens in the ACT to?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I think the whole country has been going conservative for a while. If you have a look at the outcome in New South Wales, Victoria, then Queensland, Northern Territory, and now the ACT there seems to be a bit of a swing to the right across the country. I think some of that has been based on a negative campaign of a lie. In the national context that was Tony Abbott coming out making the lie about carbon pricing and he hasn't gotten away with it because he didn't force an early election. In the ACT Zed Seselja came out with his total misrepresentation on rates and so based his whole campaign on one frame which was inaccurate. Now that really misled people in the ACT but that wasn't able to be tested outside the election context. The Greens have worked really hard with a positive campaign, light rail in Canberra, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and terrific energy plans for the ACT, cleaning up the lake, really positive things and of course the issue of the very fast train. And that's ironic because the Greens have been the ones campaigning for the very fast train, we had in our agreement with the Prime Minister, we managed to get the feasibility study out there and the second stage of the feasibility study is due to be released at the end of the year. We've got 20 million into a unit in Canberra, the Greens want to see very fast trains across Australia and it's ironic that a party that purported to represent the very fast train didn't then say give the Greens your second preference and I'd be interested to know why.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it has anything to do as well with Bob Brown leaving the party?

CHRISTINE MILNE: No I think the change of leadership of course people speculated about that but if you look at the trend between New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland elections it all occured before Bob left and what we've seen is a pretty consistent 10 to 12 per cent. I think the challenge out there is to go out and really engage the community with exactly how the Greens differ from both the Liberal and Labor parties. We have delivered on carbon pricing. I was fascinated to see the changed frame that the Government is now trying to use on carbon pricing suggesting that this was a courageous decision of the Prime Minister. On the contrary we wouldn't have carbon pricing in Australia if it hadn't been for the Greens in balance of power and that's been the case all around the country, where you have bold moves in Parliament it's because you've got Greens driving them.




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