Subjects: revenue raising, medical research funding, parliamentary reform, asylum seekers, Morris Iemma, Trish Crossin
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the word for today has to be revenue raising, not just cuts. The Prime Minister has talked about the need to make further cuts in order to fund things like national disability, Gonski implementation and also things like dental care. And whilst the Greens are quite prepared to look at where we might find savings across the budget the issue is that business leaders, community service organisations and the Greens have been saying we need to raise revenue, it is not just about looking for savings, we actually need to raise money. Now the Prime Minister for a long time talked about spreading the benefits of the boom. We haven't heard much about spreading the benefits in recent times in spite of the fact that the mining industry in 2011-12 made $70 billion in profit before tax and of course we know that 83 percent of the profits that the mining industry gets goes to overseas shareholders. If we're going to spread the benefits of the boom then we have to get real about raising revenue, taxing the mining industry appropriately, and getting rid of the fossil fuel subsidies. A report out recently showed in total about $10 billion goes to fossil fuel subsidies and of that $2 billion alone goes to the fuel rebate to the mining industry. So if we want to spread the benefits of the boom then it means taking on the big miners and actually getting some money from them. As it stands, far from spreading the benefits of the boom, what the Prime Minister is doing is protecting the mining industry and protecting their profits and allowing the profits to keep filing into their pockets rather than into the services that the community wants and needs.
So I'll be interested in the response that she has today but from the Greens' point of view we want to see some revenue raising, we want to see a reality check in Australia. You simply can't have the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott running around saying what they are going to spend money on without saying where it's going to come from and for Tony Abbott to then go on and say oh well he's going to get rid of the mining tax, he's going to get rid of pricing carbon, then the question is how many jobs are going to be lost across the public service in order to fund more profits going to the mining industry and the greater acceleration of global warming. They are the critical issues that need to be faced up to and the Greens are more than happy to do our share to make sure we genuinely spread the benefits of the boom and raise the revenue to get Denticare out the door. High-speed rail - I've just come back from Spain where I travelled from Madrid down to Seville, high-speed rail, 300 km an hour - fantastic, great public infrastructure. And in China rolling out thousands of kilometres of high-speed rail. The Greens have got as far as having the Government actually have a feasibility study but we want much more than that. If we want to do things in Australia that will make us competitive, that drive innovation, we have to fund them.
I have to say unusually though I do agree with one of Tony Abbott's announcement yesterday and that was that the Coalition would protect medical health and research funding and not go into any further cuts. Adam Bandt has been campaigning on the issue of research funding, the Greens have across the board saying if we want to move from a resource-based economy to a knowledge, information, service based economy, we have to fund research and development. In agriculture we have to support R&D because we're seeing the issues of climate change, particularly affecting productivity. We need to know how we are going to produce our food into the future in changing conditions and more money needs to go into R&D. Adam Bandt has a motion in the House of Representatives for next week which he has sought and gained Coalition support for, but that goes beyond medical health and research funding, it talks about science. And the challenge for Tony Abbott is you cannot pick and choose on science, what we're going to see no doubt is Tony Abbott support medical science research, but abandon research in terms of the climate science in particular, so therein lies challenge him.
On another matter we've got Christopher Pyne talking about parliamentary reform of Question Time. Well rather than hear what the Coalition has to say that they might do, let's look at what the Coalition did when John Howard got control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. He immediately tore apart the Senate committee system, he put all the chairs of those committees, Coalition members and amalgamated the committees - completely undermined the Senate's ability to scrutinise government programs. So rather than hear what they might say they'll do let's look at what they did do. And that change of giving Howard control of both houses also lead to work choices. So I think if Christopher Pyne and Coalition members want to raise the issue of parliamentary reform then people should look back and see what we saw last time was a complete lack of accountability, a complete trampling on established mechanisms of the Parliament and the best way to avoid that is of course to maintain the Greens in balance of power in the Senate and not allow the Coalition to get control of both houses and tear down long-established parliamentary structures and democratic processes.
JOURNALIST: Senator, Morris Iemma according to reports is expected to be parachuted into the seat of Barton - do you think that his elevation to federal politics is welcome or do you think a less well known person should take that seat, who is more across the local issues?
CHRISTINE MILNE: That's a matter for the party itself, I'm not going to comment on Mr McClelland deciding to abandon ship in favour of the speculated return of Morris Iemma to politics, that's something for them.
JOURNALIST: Do you see why he may have abandoned ship though considering his demotion since he supported Kevin Rudd?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The other parties can determine who and what they do with their own candidates, I think the only warning out there is people are beginning to see just how cynical this process has become, and the commentary on what's gone on in the Northern Territory, and now with Mr McClelland suggests we are going to see quite a scramble of self-interest over the next six months.
JOURNALIST: So do you not think they're looking out for the community, they're more concerned with themselves?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Any realistic look at what's going on at the moment is it's all about maintaining seats and maintaining power or gaining power depending on whether you are talking about the Government or the Coalition. The issue here is we need to be talking about the policies and how we are going to fund them so that when people go to the polls they can make decisions knowing that if they vote for a particular political party this is what they're going to get. And with the Greens we will be saying what our policies are, we will be saying how are we going to pay for them and we will be holding both the Government and the Coalition to account. It's no use making hollow promises, you have to say where you are going to get the money from.
JOURNALIST: Senator, an asylum seeker boat had sunk off the coast of Indonesia, at least two people have been killed, can I get your response to that, and also are you seeking assurances from the Australian Government there are reports which they're denying that the boat was turned back from Christmas Island.
CHRISTINE MILNE: Certainly we are seeking clarity as to what actually went on there but of course it is another tragedy. And what the Greens have said all along is we need to accelerate the number of people coming from the camps in Indonesia and we need to be also putting a lot more money into the processing and assessments in Indonesia and all of the focus has tended to be on the big picture 'turn back the boats' rather than on what we know works and that is giving people in the camps in Indonesia the confidence that they do not need to get on boats because there is a proper process to enable them to seek refuge in Australia. My colleague Senator Hanson-Young is currently on Manus Island, she reports the conditions there are even worse than we expected and of course in Tasmania we now have I think it's something like 85 unaccompanied minors have been sent to the Pontville detention centre. I think Australians really need to reflect on the idea that the Parliament of Australia, that is the Coalition supported the Government and with the support of the Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, to say to the Federal Minister that he no longer had to be the guardian for minors, unaccompanied minors, and the reason for that was if you are the guardian, the High Court had said you can't send children, unaccompanied minors, offshore into detention centres like Manus Island for Nauru because that wouldn't be in their best interest. So the Parliament of Australia allowed the Federal Minister to abandon his responsibility for looking after unaccompanied minors so they could be sent to overseas detention centres indefinitely. Now that is cruel and it's all now playing out offshore and also in detention centres like Pontville in Tasmania. So I really think it's time for the Government and the Coalition to admit that they have got this wrong, that the policy needs to be that we recognise that we have to be fair and compassionate and take up our responsibilities internationally. And it's appropriate to reflect on this when we consider the Young Australian of the year was an Afghan refugee who came to Australia as a child and look what a great contribution he has already made our country.
JOURNALIST: So how are you seeking that?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Greens in all of these cases go to the Minister's office to try to establish what is going on. Sarah Hanson-Young is out of the country at the moment but we will be pursuing that before the Senate, trying to get the information before the Senate resumes next week.
JOURNALIST: Senator, you are saying that you want the campaign to be about policy in particular, how do you reconcile that now with reports that Bob Brown has written to Canberra residents saying he hopes the Greens keep the Katter party out of control of the Senate?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I understand that the letter that's been written in the ACT was in response to the homophobic comments made by the Katter party candidates. The point here is that Bob Katter has established a party and preselected candidates who have come out with the most appalling statements in relation to gay people around the country and what the Greens have said is that there's no place in Australian politics for homophobia, there's no place for that. Bob Katter's party is not some sort of joke of a man with the big hat, there are very regressive, awful social policies that Bob Katter's party is actually out there advocating. Now what former Senator Brown has done is written to people in the ACT saying that the best way to maintain a very progressive, open Australia is to vote for Greens in the Senate and maintain balance of power in the Senate.
JOURNALIST: Would you support cuts to the middle class welfare programs which will be announced by the Prime Minister?
CHRISTINE MILNE:I have no warning at all about what the Prime Minister will announce today in terms of cuts that she is looking for and as always the Greens will have a look at those and analyse them when they are announced. My main concern is that the Prime Minister says she wants to spread the benefits of the boom, she wants to take on the rich to give to the poor, and yet the richest, the most profitable and the most powerful are being completely insulated from paying their proper share. The mining industry in the richest in this country, they spent $20 million in their campaign against the super profits tax and saved themselves twice that much in terms of billions, in terms of not having to pay the super profits tax. It is no use for Wayne Swan to talk about taking on the rich, it's no use for the Prime Minister to say this is about Labor values if they are not prepared to take on those companies which are making big profits and actually return some of that money to the community for health and education funding.
JOURNALIST: The Greens would support cutting tax concessions for the rich though?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens have supported a number of initiatives to make the taxation system more equitable, superannuation more equitable, at the moment we have a proposal for a millionaire's tax. We have said that it is appropriate that we have a millionaire's tax and be able to put money into Newstart so that we can give those people who are really living on the poverty line, below the poverty line in many cases, a chance to engage and hopefully get work. So certainly the Greens have a very strong commitment to caring for people, caring for the environment and promoting equity in Australia, but let's see what the Prime Minister actually proposes.
JOURNALIST: Coalition frontbenchers are in Sri Lanka at the moment trying to stop the flow of boats in this direction, wouldn't the measures that they're proposing have stopped the boat from crashing near the Indonesian coast yesterday?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The measures that the Government and Coalition have proposed have led to more people coming to Australia by boat than ever before. This is the irony of what went on last year. There was a cacophony of noise about saying that these policies would somehow stop the boats. The Greens stoop up and said no they won't stop the boats because people are running away from appalling circumstances and the only way to deal with this is to recognise that under international law we must take refugees and the best way of keeping them safe is to give them a certain path way so that they don't take risks. The reason people are taking risks is because of the policy platform put in place and supported by the Coalition with the Government.
JOURNALIST: One last question on Trish Crossin said yesterday that the Northern Territory Stolen Generation should be compensated - do you support that call?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I found it very interesting, we asked Trish on many occasions to vote with the Greens against the Northern Territory intervention, against the so-called Stronger Futures which will lead to weaker futures for indigenous people, and she never ever crossed the floor to do that nor propose this. I am glad that she now feels free to be more outspoken about her own views, we will certainly have a look at the proposition that she's put forward and in Tasmanian context some work has already been done in the past in this field but I would like to look at the specifics of what's proposed.