Christine Milne and Richard Di Natale addressed the press to discuss the unwanted surplus, the government's plans to excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone, superbugs and alcohol taxation.
Subjects: Asylum seekers, Nauru, superbugs, alcohol tax reform.
CHRISTINE MILNE: It's time the Government abandoned its political surplus. People have been talking about this around kitchen tables right around the nation and the Newspoll is just the most recent to confirm that the community is saying it's time to prioritise what we need for nation-building in this country. What we need to do in the face of an economy weakening is to actually recognise it's a very, very bad strategy to drive more people into poverty. The decision by the Government to cut single-parent support was bad enough but now its failure to recognise that so many people are in casual work, there is a big churn between people being put out of casual work and going on to Newstart and Newstart being way too low and confining people to poverty. In this country we ought to be looking at what we can do to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor not actually entrench it. For all Wayne Swan's talk about taking on the big miners, the billionaires, it has come to nothing in terms of actually redistributing income. What has happened though is it's on the back of and at the expense of our poorest and most vulnerable people. Today I've met with the Catholic Social Justice providers, their concerns are about what's happening to people in the community through homelessness, what's happening as a result of the mental health issues in rural and regional Australia, poverty is actually stalking the country and we need to actually say let's abandon this political surplus let's return to the surplus over the economic cycle but let's actually invest in what we need to do for a fair and decent country and also get ourselves on to the front foot in terms of education and training. Now is not the time to be cutting research and development budgets, nor is it the time to be delaying and delaying the investment in education that we need because it is that investment in education which will see this country better positioned in the Asian century.
Speaking of our position in the Asian century Prime Minister Gillard has done what even John Howard couldn't do and that is Prime Minister Gillard has wiped Australia off the map when it comes to our global obligations under the Refugee Convention. John Howard tried this but even he couldn't get away with it. His own backbench revolted and people around Australia back in 2002 just stood up to him and said that is just way too far you can't take away Australia, pretend it doesn't exist as far as the UN Refugee Convention is concerned and our obligations under international law. This is even more critical now not just because of the appalling treatment of people on Nauru and Manus Island but Australia has just been elected to the UN Security Council, we're going to be under scrutiny as we have never been in terms of our human rights record and now is not the time for the Gillard Government to humiliate Australians, to wipe us of the global map when it comes to issues of responsibility under international law and responsibility for refugees. Having said that the Government should also now actually do as we ask them to do when this went through the Parliament and that is make transparent the contracts associated with Transfield and the running of the detention centres outside Australia. How is it that the Australian Government is allowing people on Nauru to be paid $4 an hour when an equivalent job in Australia exactly for the Australian government will be paid $40 an hour? What's going on here, who is making the profit? Is it the Federal Government making the cost savings or are we allowing a global, a multinational company to make even greater profits at the expense of the most vulnerable people in the world? Critical issue. Everyone thought John Howard was the most extreme you could possibly get in cruelty and in embarrassing Australia in global fora. Well Julia Gillard has gone further. At least John Howard's backbench stood up and said no. The Labor Party it seems has rolled over.
Speaking of nation-building, we need to invest not only in education, in research and training, in a more equitable level of opportunity for Australians, but we also need to invest heavily in health and Richard is going to make some comments in relation to that.
RICHARD DI NATALE: I'll be brief. Christine's absolutely right. The Government has got to put aside the short-term politics of surplus, of boat people, and it's got to start looking to our long-term future. And one area where there has been huge concern amongst the medical community has been the issue of superbugs and antibiotic resistance. This is an issue that's been of concern for me for some time. Prior to taking this job I was a medical practitioner myself and it's been very clear for many, many decades that the problem of antibiotic resistance and superbugs has been growing apace, and we recognised this 10 years ago. 10 years ago we set up an expert committee. The expert committee looked at the issue, set up a terrific strategy for how to deal with it and it was completely ignored. Completely ignored. So I'm going to be calling for a Senate enquiry into the issue of superbugs and antibiotic resistance so that we don't make the same mistakes again. We've got to ensure that we take a long-term view, put aside this short-term politics that's (inaudible)... alcohol research and education where they make it very clear that the Henry tax review was absolutely right, we do need to reform the way we tax and price alcohol, that it's a no-brainer both in terms of the savings in healthcare, the savings to the community at large in terms of the prevention of harm to others. It makes perfect sense to have a much more rational approach to the way we price alcohol. At the moment the taxation system - it's a dog's breakfast. Henry recognised that and that's why he proposed that we change the way we price alcohol. It's not just good for public health, it's also good for the industry. At the moment we have these perverse incentives that drive the production of really cheap wine and this damages our international reputation. What we should be doing is supporting the production of quality products, supporting those small businesses, the small wineries that produce really quality Australian wines, that have given us this international reputation overseas but it's been slowly tarnished because of this irrational taxation system, so we want to see the work done by the preventative health agency which will be calling for pricing reforms and we look forward with interest to seeing this debate progressed by the Government.
JOURNALIST: Senator Milne, just in regards to the migration zone, Labor argues that it's just following the recommendations from the Houston review and to discourage asylum seekers from travelling to Australia, a longer distance than say Christmas Island, do they have a point?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Deterrence doesn't work, it should be clear to the Gillard Government now and to the whole Australian community that all this talk about Draconian measures, punitive measures deterring people is just that, it's talk, it's political spin, it is not what actually happens. We've had more people arriving in Australia seeking asylum since the introduction of these draconian measures than before. So it makes no sense. What we need to be doing is, as the Greens have been saying, and supported by the United Nations and international law and that is let's invest in Indonesia in assisting the UNHCR to process people and assess them as refugees more quickly, let's provide a safe pathway, let's increase the humanitarian intake and let's actually address what needs to happen to make people's lives safer. All that we're seeing here is a response to the politics. This is about the Government trying to outdo the Coalition in how punitive you can be. How cruel is it to be able to send an unaccompanied child to an offshore detention centre indefinitely. How cruel is that? We've already seen the early footage of the consequences of the big rain events as they've been occurring on Nauru and the unhappiness and the mental health issues that are going to emerge from this treatment of people who ultimately overwhelmingly are found to be refugees in end up coming to Australia in the longer term. So let's have some rational discussion, let's think about what sort of people we are and surely Australians think of themselves as pretty decent, and yet I don't think many people could be very proud of the way we are treating people who are seeking to make a new life in our country.
JOURNALIST: If you describe it as more extreme than John Howard what Julia Gillard is now proposing to do, would it ever prompt you to rethink your agreement with the Government?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The problem we have is that Julia Gillard is going even further than John Howard and Tony Abbott is happy to go with her. It seems like Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott do not have any barrier as far as they go to the right. It seems that Genghis Khan is a pretty moderate figure when it comes to how far Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott will go. So they're interchangeable on their policy on asylum seekers and that's where the Greens have stood up very strongly for the right thing, for helping the most vulnerable people and for international law and our obligations under the human rights convention and I think increasingly globally people are going to start asking some very serious questions about the level of disrepute that both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are putting Australia in in a global context.
JOURNALIST: Would this cause you to rethink your alliance with Labor?
CHRISTINE MILNE: When you talk about agreements to form government, they are there in order to deliver on the outcomes. We've done that in most cases but are you saying that the Greens ought to exchange the extreme position of Julia Gillard for the even more extreme position of Tony Abbott? It's not as if there is a choice between them, the choice in Australia at the moment is between Abbott and Gillard and no barrier to how far they'll go on the right, and the Greens have an alternative view.