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Press conference: Christine Milne responds to PM's Afghanistan statement

Christine Milne 31 Oct 2012

Christine Milne held a press conference to respond to the Prime Minister's statement on Afghanistan. The Senator also responded to other issues of the day, notably the Government's treatment of asylum seekers and Joel Fitzgibbon's call to reduce the Renewable Energy Target.




Subjects: Afghanistan, asylum seekers, human rights, Sri Lanka, Joel Fitzgibbon, RET, ACT elections, Newspoll

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Prime Minister today has made an important speech about Afghanistan, but she hasn't told the Australian people that our troops are coming home as quickly and as safely as possible. What she has in fact presented to the Parliament is no plan to end the engagement of combat troops in Afghanistan. What she said is the SAS troops will continue and stay on there and it will continue to have a wrong combat role. People in Afghanistan want foreign troops out of the country. It's no use the Prime Minister trying to continue the line that by supporting the Americans in Afghanistan we are keeping it as a safe haven from terrorism. The terrorists have left Afghanistan, they are now in Yemen, across North Africa. Terrorism has spread to other parts of the world. Our troops are being killed in Afghanistan. The green on blue attacks continue. It is a very dangerous situation our troops are in and as Major John Cantwell said recently having overseen operations there, there is no good reason for our troops to stay in Afghanistan. It's not going to change in Afghanistan between now and 2014, but it is going to make a huge difference to our troops who are there and what's more the Australian community recognises we are in an uncomfortable situation we need to get out and we need to get out as soon as possible. Civilians are being killed in Afghanistan, when we hear about the casualties Australia has lost 39 troops in Afghanistan and there have been at least 30,000 Afghan people killed since 2007. It's not going to change in the short term, the Prime Minister should bring our troops home as quickly and safely as possible. The future of Afghanistan needs to be determined by the people of Afghanistan.

It's also interesting that the Prime Minister cited very clearly upfront the relationship with the US, the US alliance as been a major reason why we are in Afghanistan. It's also relevant that in the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper that she asked Allan Gyngell to come in and rewrite it at the last minute because the Government didn't feel there was a sufficient recognition of America and America's role in the region. That already undermines our position in the Asian region. People are saying they want Australia to have an independent foreign policy. How independent are we looking to our Asian neighbours when we have as an agreement for American troops in Darwin, where we have a statement upfront that our American alliance is a major contributor to our staying in Afghanistan and now a rewriting of the White Paper.

In terms of our relationship with the Asian region and the rest of the world, we've now been elected to the UN Security Council, so what Australia does will become of greater interest and we will be under a lot more scrutiny than we have been previously. Our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and our refusal to adhere to international law, to the Refugee Convention by excising the whole country from the migration zone is not going to be lost on people around the world. We're on the Security Council but we're saying that we're not prepared to uphold human rights and the Refugee Convention. That will undermine our capacity to be able to speak loudly and strongly for human rights in the region and around the world.

In terms of human rights and asylum seekers, we have a tragedy with one of the Sri Lankans asylum seekers in hospital I understand, having been told he would be sent back to Sri Lanka. The British have already put an injunction through the court there to prevent asylum seekers being sent back because of recognition that there are human rights abuses going on in Sri Lanka at this time. Through the Estimates process I have asked the Government about the extent of human rights abuses and what we do to track people when they are sent back to Sri Lanka to make sure that they are not tortured or abused in any which way. We really have a responsibility to make sure that if we say we value human rights that we actually pursue it not only here in Australia but in the region and excising ourselves from our responsibilities under international law is appropriate, it is a shame. As Mr Bowen had said previously, it's a stain on national character. It is now a stain in the character of the Labor Party that they have so badly abandoned our responsibilities under international law and our responsibilities to vulnerable people.

On another issue Joel Fitzgibbon, or Coal Fitzgibbon as he probably should now be known across the Parliament, is really out on a limb with the ALP Right now wanting to undermine the Renewable Energy Target. Just after the Climate Change Authority has come out having reviewed the RET and said it's really good policy, we complimentary policy to emissions trading to drive transition in the energy sector, here you have and the right of the Labor Party coming out and saying that they want to change the RET, reduce the RET, or in the case of Coal Fitzgibbon, it is get rid of the RET altogether. What this shows is you simply cannot trust the Labor Party to run a consistent line when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or indeed on asylum seekers, or on the environment. We have seen today threatened species responsibilities to be handed over to the states and who would want Campbell Newman or Lara Giddings to be responsible for our threatened species, you cannot just the Labor Party on environment either.

JOURNALIST: Senator can I just ask about the result of the ACT poll, it looks like the Greens have lost about three quarters of their representation in the parliament. I'm just wondering whether you think this shows that the Greens representation is vulnerable to small swings. I know you are worried given Newspoll is about 10% now down from about 11.8 at the last election.

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well certainly it's true that there was a swing to the Liberals in the ACT and a swing away from the Greens and we did lose representation, but equally if you look at the Melbourne and Victorian council elections this last weekend there was a big swing to the Greens as high as 10% for example in the area of Richmond, in the Yarra Council which also was incredibly well for Adam Bandt, showing that the Green vote in areas that overlap in the seat of Melbourne is very strong and growing. So whilst every political party is subject to swings and roundabouts in terms of votes what we are going to see is a renewed effort across the Greens vote in the ACT and around the country to keep building our vote between now and the federal election.

JOURNALIST: How much do you think local factors have come into these sorts of things? To be clear the Greens have a broad political philosophy, do you think that broad political philosophy is being weakened and we're seeing local factors come into play and play a more decisive role now?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well it's not surprisingly in local government elections you might have local issues on the go or indeed in the ACT elections that there would be ACT specific issues but what was really interesting in the ACT is far from abandoning the Green principles and Green policies and people moving away from them, the ALP actually grabbed those policies and agreed that they would implement light rail, that they would move to a huge greenhouse gas reduction target in the ACT. So what we saw here was the Territory Government decide to take on Green policies because they were popular. So I don't see a swing away from core Green principles because this century they're going to be even more important. Sustainability in the face of climate change is going to be the major issue we all have to deal with and trying to make it go away or pretend it's not happening is not going to prevent the natural world from actually delivering extreme weather events, not only here in Australia but elsewhere in the world.

JOURNALIST: Senator you mentioned Mr Fitzgibbon and the New South Wales Right and you link that more broadly position in New South Wales Right. Just given the Senate ticket dispute in South Australia with Senator Farrell as well, do you think that there is a factional problem in the Labor Party that needs to be addressed and how soon does that need to be addressed?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Labor Party will identify its own problems and it has the power to deal with them. I certainly think that it's a very bad sign for Labor that the right is flexing its muscles in the way it has, we have seen in New South Wales a major attack from the New South Wales Right on the Greens in July, we've seen that carry on throughout the country, but it's not just an attack on the Greens, it's an attack on policies like clean energy, on reducing recent greenhouse gas emissions, these are the dinosaurs of the Labor Party who want to stick to very conservative social policy and who want to go back to maximising fossil fuel energy in Australia and minimising renewable energy and that's where the New South Wales Right, in fact the right of the ALP right around the country is at complete odds with what the Government says, that it's interested in when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is internally divided and that is a bad place for Labor but they have to address that, whereas the Greens clearly understand that climate change is the overwhelming challenge and getting to 100% renewable energy as quickly as possible is something that the whole country would benefit from and would be so excited by because it brings so many jobs and so much innovation.

JOURNALIST: Doesn't Mr Fitzgibbon just have a point with demand going down 4000 gigawatts per hour target isn't it he is right that it is effectively going up, that that target is going up to about 25-26%?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Unlike Joel Fitzgibbon I think the whole country will be celebrating the fact that we set ourselves a target of 20% renewable energy by 2020 and with the rate things are going with demand falling and the bringing on of renewables, we are likely to meet about 25 or 26% of our energy by 2020 from renewables, that means that we can get to 100% even faster. The Greens want to see set a 2030 target for at least 50% if not more by 2030, we don't want the target to end in 2020, there's now going to be a review  I think in 2015-16, and we're hoping that will lead to long-term target. So I think the Greens with the rest of the country are celebrating that in 2020 we set ourselves a target of 20% and we've gone so much further. What excitement there'll be when we get 100%.


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