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Transcript: Christine Milne press conference

Christine Milne 11 Apr 2013

Subjects: Extreme weather inquiry, fossil fuel subsidies, high speed rail, asylum seekers

CHRISTINE: I've just been at the extreme weather events inquiry, hearing yet again that Australia is unprepared for the extreme weather events that are currently occurring, let alone what's coming, and quite compelling evidence, particularly from a doctor who had been through the Cyclone Yasi experience and also the evacuation in Bundaberg, just talking about there's a real lack of preparedness and coordination in how to manage evacuations and how to manage having the right personnel still available whilst they are worrying about their own families as well. It's obvious that we need to do a lot more in coordination and there was a strong recommendation that we that we have a national plan for dealing with a terrorist emergency but we don't have a Commonwealth role, and national planning in dealing with extreme weather events. Really compelling evidence today.

But I'm actually here to talk about the need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies, particularly as they pertain to the mining industry. Australia signed up to the G20 to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies, it's something that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been arguing needs to occur. Australia will be taking on the presidency of the G20 later this year and the meeting will be in Brisbane next year. There is compelling evidence around the world that if we are to deal with global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions then we need to bring on renewable energy as quickly as possible and it makes no sense to be introducing a whole raft of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time subsidising the extraction, exploration or use of fossil fuels.

In the Australian context everybody is talking about what they want to spend money on and the Greens certainly want to spend money on the implementation of a fair funding model for Australian schools, we want to see the National Disability Insurance Scheme rolled out, we want to see the very fast train, there are so many things we think money needs to be spent on but that means the money needs to be raised, and the Greens are the only ones standing up identifying areas in which we could raise revenue. The Parliamentary Budget Office has done an estimate looking at the elimination of the diesel fuel rebate, the tax credit that is given for fuels, particularly to the mining industry. It's looking at getting rid of accelerated depreciation on assets and also on exploration activities and the result of that would be $13.8 billion over the four years of forward estimates. $13.8 billion is there to be had and so we are saying let's actually go for it, let's actually raise that money so that we bring forward the spending on things like a fair funding model for education. And both the Government and the Coalition have now abandoned the surplus, and I think that's the right decision, but it's a wrong decision to then get complacent about also raising. We need to raise money at the same time and this is a prospective area. It will mean we give a boost to the transformation to the low carbon economy and it will mean that we have some money to be able to spend on the things that people want.

JOURNALIST: Senator, how important is it to have a high speed rail network across the eastern seaboard of Australia?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens are very excited about high speed rail. This is something that clearly is a nation-building project, it is the sort of thing that the Europeans have been doing for a long time, the Chinese have just rolled out thousands of kilometres of high speed rail, we all know about congestion in the air around Australian cities, we know about the length of time business people in particular are travelling through airports, this would make an amazing difference and it would be an enormous stimulus package to so many places along the eastern seaboard through which the train would go. It would dramatically change the amenity of travelling in a big country and you only would have to have gone on high-speed rail in Europe or in China to see, and of course in Japan for a very long time, to see what a difference it makes. It is a great nation-building project, it's why we made it part of our agreement when Prime Minister Gillard took over in government. The Greens put it fairly and squarely on the agenda and now we want to see it implemented. We do not want to see yet another consultative process, we haven't yet seen the detail of the report but what we want to see is the Government set up an implementation unit, get on with allocating funding in the budget for acquisition of land. I understand a preferred route has been put in the report, we want to see environmental impact assessments start immediately on the preferred route. We want to see progress on this, we do not want to see another consultation, another consultancy put on the shelf and another decade while Australia then talks about another Sydney airport for example. Why wouldn't we be looking at the cost savings that can be achieved, the better competitiveness of our cities and just a much better way to travel in Australia to have high speed rail.

JOURNALIST: The report identified a really feeble rate of return, (inaudible) do you have a problem if it's a government funded project?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I haven't seen the report, the media obviously has access to more detail than I have, but I would expect that it would be overwhelmingly government funded, and I don't have a problem with that because I see it as a nation-building exercise, I understand that it's estimated the return for every dollar that is spent you would generate something like $2.30 is the estimate and that has to be a good outcome. I want to have a look at the options for funding it, particularly as we are aware superannuation funds in Australia are very well cashed up so we would want to see what the proposition is, or why not, but nevertheless I think this is really a nation-building project, and I can tell you from talking to people out in the community, citizens are really keen to see governments invest in major infrastructure, that's why people are really keen on the National Broadband Network, they want to see it done properly in the first place and get on with it and I am sure that if you went out on the streets and said do you mind governments paying for a high speed rail that will have all these benefits for the community, for business, for  competitiveness in this century, people would say go for it. When they understand what the money is to be spent on and they see the merits of it, people are keen to have it done.

JOURNALIST: On superannuation funds, what exactly do you mean by that it terms of would it be earnings on superannuation accounts? How exactly could that be involved?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I haven't yet seen the analysis of the funding opportunities for a high speed rail network around Australia so I can only say that I'm aware that superannuation funds have enormous amounts invested in them and they are looking for long-term serious investments with a certain rate of return. That's why I've talked in the past about some engagement with superannuation funds, particularly in improving the grid for example, the electricity grid in Australia is another way in which there could be government collaboration with superannuation funds. I'm just putting it out there as a vast amount of money waiting for a secure investment and I haven't seen the reasons, if that has been rejected what the reasons for that are, but that is one thing I would want to look at.

JOURNALIST: You wouldn't want super in a 0.8 % rate of return

CHRISTINE MILNE: No well that's right, but let's have a look at what that actually means or other opportunities in that regard.

JOURNALIST: Senator, can I get your reaction to suggestions that drones may be used to patrol for asylum seeker vessels.

CHRISTINE MILNE: I think we're going to see all kinds of weird and wonderful propositions come out in terms of now trying to beat up a debate leading into the election to try and run a replica if you like of the 2000s where we turned border security, fear, security, ridiculous notions of surrender on the agenda to try and advantage one side of politics. This is a very bad idea. What we need to be doing is recognising that in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka there are serious human rights abuses, people are being persecuted, they are going to leave seeking asylum, and Australia is a place that they will come. What we need to do is make sure that we offer safe pathways so that they are not on leaky boats and that we actually live up to our international obligations. I just think we're going to see a lot of propositions either put out there or debated for base political reasons, not because they're ever likely to happen

JOURNALIST: But if Sri Lanka is saying it will welcome boats that are being turned back, surely it can't be a such a bad idea?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Sri Lanka is a terrible case of human rights abuses and when you hear the Sri Lankan navy saying out there saying Australia can't police its borders, well the Sri Lankan navy has a case to answer, and there are a lot of allegations of bribery, of the relationships between President Rajapaksa and other members of his family who are in the navy, there is a lot of discussion, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution, which Australia supported only a few weeks ago, and which Sri Lanka rejected, in terms of having an in-country examination of what actually happened at the end of the war. So I think it's time Australia went to the source of the problem and actually started to take a much higher profile in looking at what human rights abuses and what we can do as an international community in Sri Lanka, rather than be cooperating with a regime which is perpetrating atrocities against people who are then seeking asylum

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