Back to All News

Richard Di Natale's National Press Club Address

Firstly let me acknowledge that we are meeting here on the land of the Ngunnawal peoples and I pay my respects to my elders past and present. I also want to thank the National Press Club for the invitation to speak today and I was just saying I think it was to Morris that I can't wait for the invitation to speak at the next national leaders' debate in the lead-up to the election. I'm looking forward to that.

I want to acknowledge my fantastic parliamentary team, and my two deputies Larissa Waters and Senator Scott Ludlam, and the rest of you scattered around the room. Each of you make an enormous contribution to the country and I want to thank each of you for that.

I stand here before you today as a result of that wonderful Australian experiment called multiculturalism. My mum left a small village called San Marco in southern Italy. She came with her parents and they set up a grocery store in Brunswick well before it became trendy.

Dad on the other hand came in his late 20s from Sicily. He learnt English while he was doing his electrical apprenticeship and spent the best part of his life on building sites really creating the opportunities that have allowed me to stand here before you today and their story is an incredibly common one.

Our nation's prosperity has been built on the back of millions of families just like theirs and we owe a lot to them, to those families who have come from every corner of the earth and it is thanks to those families that our nation is as prosperous as it is today. So this sacrifice has allowed me to study medicine and that's given me some incredible opportunities.

I have worked Aboriginal in environments as diverse as Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, I worked with people who live with HIV in north-east India. I spent time in regional Victoria treating people who had problems with substance dependence, and it really was those experiences that allowed me to really grasp that if we're to make progress in health we have to address those factors that lie outside of the health system. Things like access to housing, education, clean air and water, meaningful participation in community life.

So people often ask me, why did you make the transition from medicine to politics? And for me it seemed like a logical progression. I moved from clinical general practice to public health and then into politics because improving the health of the community requires progress towards a much fairer and more caring society and that is in large part a political project.

And in May this year I was given the honour of becoming only the third leader of the Australian Greens and I've been thinking a lot about leadership in recent months, what kind of leader I want to be. How I can help restore some trust and faith back in politics. My role in helping shape The Green's vision for a prosperous, more caring and confident Australia.

And leadership requires courage and conviction.

It's about being clear about your core values. It's about knowing who you are and what you stand for. It means treating people with respect, it means consulting widely and listening to the community. It's being prepared to compromise when you can achieve an outcome that you know is good for the community regardless of the genesis of the idea. It's knowing that on some issues you can't compromise, because compromise represents a betrayal of everything that you believe in. Sadly, many of those qualities are absent from our parliaments today.

Those of us who were elected in 2010 have now seen five prime ministers in five years, three of them ruthlessly dispatched in their first term. So while it's unprecedented for Australian politics for those of us elected in 2010, it's all that we know and it worries me that our democracy is in deep trouble and that our Parliament is simply incapable of responding to the challenges that face us as a nation.

I've thought a lot about why that's the case and I think there's a convergence of factors that are responsible for the current malaise. If you look at the decades of under regulated turbo-charged casino capitalism that's resulted in a powerful coalition of unelected vested interests and rent seekers who are now more determined than ever and more powerful than status ever, who want to protect the status quo.

You've seen this gradual ideological convergence between the two major parties over many issues. You've seen the breakdown of tribal loyalties and there's a need now to manufacture difference often where it doesn't exist through the day-to-day tactical battles. There's the emergence of a professional political class, people who see each problem as something to be managed rather than holding strong convictions about how we tackle the challenges that face us as a nation. And, of course, there's the emergence of the 24-hour news cycle.

Now I accept that some of these tensions are as old as democracy itself. Partisan and special interests have always been a feature of democracy and the good old days weren't always that good. But I do share many people's concerns that something deeper and more fundamental is going on in our democratic process. The level of disillusionment and disengagement with our political establishment is unprecedented.

It's often said that people are apathetic, but I don't believe that's true because apathy implies indifference. They're not apathetic, they're angry and they have a right to be angry. You only need to look at the community's reaction to the entitlements scandal to know that it wasn't just about helicopter rides to Geelong and taxpayer-funded weddings as outrageous as those things were, it was a very clear symptom of outright hostility that people feel towards our politicians.

Now whether Malcolm Turnbull, the fifth Prime Minister in as many years, can change any of this is an open question in my mind. I have to say it's pretty hard to imagine that things can get any worse. You know things are pretty cook when someone like Morris Newman, a climate denier... look, he's a tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist, when Malcolm Turnbull says he's not going to be reappointed as his business adviser and as a community we celebrate that decision, you know things are pretty crook. You know that the benchmark has been set very low.

But if the Prime Minister is genuinely interested in ditching the mind-numbing 3-word slogans, in having a mature debate about the direction of this country, I welcome that. Eventually, though, he'll need to put some meat on those bones. It's one climate thing to talk a good game on climate change, on marriage equality. It's another thing altogether to deliver on those things.

Now whether the new Prime Minister can deliver will depend on whether he's done a pact with dinosaurs that have locked him into the Abbott Government's agenda. Nothing's changed and some of the early signs are not good. Malcolm Turnbull has already backed in Tony Abbott's very weak climate targets. Targets that are, let's be frank, amongst the worst in the developed world and he supported Tony Abbott's last century approach to marriage equality. And my only advice to Malcolm Turnbull is this, is that there are very few things as dangerous in politics as high expectations without the capacity or conviction to deliver on those expectations. And on no other issue is conviction and courage more important than on issue of global warming. We're now disrupting the world's climate systems and quite literally changing the conditions for life on earth. Now I'm not going to speak for very long on this issue. I suspect that for many of you if you don't know this already, nothing that I say will make a big difference, but the science is telling us that we are on a trajectory that puts us on track for a 3.5 degree temperature rise. That is incompatible with civilisation life on earth as we know it. Some nations will be wiped out altogether. Our major coastal cities will be inundated. We'll see food supplies disrupted, we'll see the collapse of entire ecosystems. People will endure unprecedented heat waves. We're going to witness the spread of infectious diseases and resource wars will become inevitable. The world will be unrecognisable. So unless we get serious about tackling global warming, everything else Malcolm Turnbull is just background noise.

Malcolm Turnbull can't be taken seriously on his plan for an economic transformation unless at the heart of that plan is a credible attempt to address global warming and the economic transition that it demands. Now in one sector of the Australian economy that transition is well under way despite the best efforts of successive governments to prevent it from happening. Thermal coal in Australia is in structural decline and no-one is more exposed than Australia. As we saw dramatically yesterday with the collapse of Glencore, ignoring the demise of coal poses a huge threat to our economy. Earlier this week, the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis reported that our major export markets for thermal coal are disappearing and there are no new growth markets appearing on the horizon. A great bulk of coalminers are, at coal mines are operating at a loss and many are closing down with a massive one-third of the coal workforce lost in the last 18 months since data's been collected. I'll say that again, one-third of the coal workforce has already been lost over the past 18 months.

Now the Government wants to blame those communities who stand up in support of clean air and water.

They want to make this the problem of those people who care about their environment, rather than the decisions of coal companies and their executives and governments who have failed to understand the declining markets are costing us those jobs . We're now seeing coal mines sold for $1 to avoid remediation costs and the hardest hit from all of this would be those coal workers who are thrown out of work. We've got State governments who are deeply exposed by not holding bonds anywhere near the cost of rehabilitation. And we know that the public purse will bear the costs. We are on track for a repeat of the James Hardie abandon era where companies flee and abandon their workers and leave the public to clean up the mess.

This shift is happening right now and we've either got to have a plan for coal workers and the environment, or we need to leave it to the future of the whims of an industry that is on the way out. Coal workers deserve more than that. Our plan, The Greens' plan is for an audit of mine rehabilitation liabilities to ensure that each coal company meets those costs before they go bankrupt or leave shelf wealth companies behind and transfer wealth overseas. Our plan ensures that workers can transition either into new industries or be employed in mine rehabilitation to provide a reliable bridge into retirement. Now if you're driving a dozer or an excavator it doesn't matter whether you're digging a hole or filling one in. It's employment with the same skills that are being utilised.

Sadly, the national wealth that came with the past two mining booms has made our leaders lazy and they've stayed lazy. We gave the mining industry very generous tax concessions on the way up, but we've collected very little on the way down. The world's appetite for our resources saw a huge rush of capital pour in. It inflated our dollar, it hollowed out and tossed aside other export industries and we're now left with a highly concentrated export base, leaving us vulnerable. The end of the mining boom should focus our minds more than ever on what comes next, but as yet, our leaders have no plan.

Our governments are betting Australia's fortunes on the assumption that our trading partners will prefer cheap energy over taking action on climate change. But the fatal flaw in this assumption is that they're no longer two different heading things. Where the world is heading is obvious to anybody who is paying attention. It's hardly a surprise that the share prices of old energy companies like Glencore or Peabody or Santos are crashing or Tesla which makes only 40,000 electric vehicles is valued by the sharemarket at over half the price of General Motors, which makes 9 million vehicles. But despite the attacks on the clean energy economy, our clean energy businesses are pushing through. We're now exporting solar inverters to Germany. We're at the cutting edge of new battery technology. Car parts manufacturers like Excel which of has been rocked by the closure of the car industry is now building infrastructure for solar farms. In Portland, wind tower manufacturer Keppel Prints is employing hundreds of people, many of whom were on the dole queue for years. Tragically many of those people lost their jobs when this Government wound down the renewable energy target.

There are huge and exciting opportunities in this sector of the economy and we have a proud track record of unlocking this potential. Christine Milne my old boss was the architect of the Australian renewable energy agency and the clean energy finance corporation which were created to roll out cutting edge technologies and break down barriers for financing new products. Arena and the CFC not only investing in equity, technologies through debt and equity, but they bring experts together. They bring skills together. They partner public and private institutions. They add value to the entire clean energy marketplace. The clean energy finance corporation is making a profit for the Government from its investments. Those investments are being directly invested in early technologies through Arena so that the cycle of innovation and development and jobs grows exponentially.

So I say this to the new Prime Minister. These are good news stories. They're moving us into the 21st century. Look, if your politics demands it, just ignore the fact that they are green initiatives, just ignore it. Stand up to some of those dinosaurs in your party and walk away from your plans Energy Finance to abolish Arena and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. And beyond the clean energy revolution, our vision is for an innovative, entrepreneurial, cleaner and fairer economy. One that works for people and for the environment.

Central to this vision is investing in education. It's investing in research and development and making it easier to establish the industries of tomorrow. We want to apply the same creativity that we use in establishing the clean energy package to areas of the digital economy, in health research, the service economy, agricultural innovation, high-end advanced manufacturing. Infrastructure, robotics, and those future technologies that we can't even conceive of right now. These new horizon industries are the pathways to a high-tech jobs-rich pollution-free future. Let's embrace it.

But if we're to be successful we need to bridge what the chief executive of the CSIRO Larry Marshall calls " the valley of death" , that gulf between fundamental research and commercialisation. Australia can't afford to have a graveyard of terrific ideas. We can't afford for our best minds to leave our shores, to take opportunities somewhere else. But to achieve that, we need to recognise that the marketplace alone won't deliver this economy of the 21st century, that there is a strong role for governments to play.

Indeed if we're to learn the lessons of past decades it's to acknowledge that blind faith in unregulated markets is a mistake.

Let's look at the National Broadband Network, it's a publicly built and owned piece of vital infrastructure for an innovative and clean economy and sadly our new Prime Minister, someone who given his background should know better is delivering a second-rate network, one that falls well short of what Australians need to make the most of the digital revolution, and our window is closing. If we don't progress over the next decade, we won't our GDP catch up. Let's commit 3% of our GDP to that area, let's reward risk taking and entrepreneurship. Let's think creativity about how we access some of the massive investment that exists within our superannuation funds to unlock venture capital. But let's also recognise that increasing prosperity is not an end unto itself, and this is where the key difference between The Greens and those on the Conservative side of politics is most stark.

We believe in building prosperity for the public good, to help fund those services the Australian community expect and deserve. On the other side of politics, they persist with the nonsense that a balanced budget can only be achieved by cuts to services, ignoring the evidence that revenues as a share of GDP have declined sharply over recent years. Just like his predecessor, the new Treasurer continues to ignore the basic rules of arithmetic and I suspect if he continues down that path he'll meet the same fate.

Now in the spirit of putting policy ahead of politics I've written to the Prime Minister to set out a series of specific policies fully costed by the parliamentary budget office that would increase revenue fairly. Let's start by reforming our superannuation system so it's no longer a tax haven for the wealthy. $10.16 billion over the next 4 years. Let's end negative gearing for new housing investments, $4.6 billion and let's reduce or remove altogether capital gains tax discounts which would bring anywhere between $2-10 billion. And what about abolishing the fuel tax credit which says if you're an ordinary punter we expect you to pay 36 cents in the dollar for your fuel. If you're Gina Rinehart you get a massive discount. Let's abolish the fuel tax credit which subsidises fuel use in the mining industry and bring in another $9 billion. They're just a few of the important achievable reforms that are within reach and that the Australian public can reasonably expect of a co-operative professional and functional Parliament. A fairer tax system allows us to pay for those things that we expect from our national governments. Funding health care and education, aged care, public transport and infrastructure, social security, a decent child care system. Social services, including domestic violence services.

How is it that at a time we have domestic violence on the national agenda that we are cutting funding for some of those critical services? Let's address the issue of housing affordability and, of course, let's protect the environment. These are the key elements of a fair and caring society.

Now the Government argues that spending is unsustainable and it uses health as an example to argue its case. But whether health spending is sustainable or not is a value question, it's a value question. Health spending is as sustainable as we want it to be.

We currently spend 9% of our GDP on health care. The United States spend 17%, almost double what we spend. What we spend is projected to increase by about a percent over the next decade, but most of that is not coming from the ageing population, it's coming from improving health care technologies. Technologies that allow us to live longer, healthier, happier lives. Now with health as a call superior good as economists call it, then it makes sense to spend more money on health care as our national wealth increases. That is what governments should do. The question of whether we're getting value for money from our health spend, that's an entirely different question and the current debate confuses sustainability with efficiency. Of course, we do believe that we can spend our health care dollar more wisely and that's why we've supported a clinician-led review of the was medical benefits schedule. It was one of the first things I took to the new Health Minister. Rather than putting in out of pocket costs that make it harder for people to access health care, let's make sure we don't waste the money we're currently spending, and we can reinvest those savings in cost effective areas like prevention, like primary health care, better chronic disease management, and we'll drive our health care dollar even further.

Let me finish by confident talking about what I mean by a confident Australia. I think a confident Australia is one that engages with the world, that looks outward, and yet this Government has turned its back on the world. A confident Australia recognises that being able to offer people protection is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. It doesn't persist with a cruel and expensive refugee policy that no other nation on earth has adopted despite being confronted with the movement of more people than we are.

And I say to the new Prime Minister, work with us to get children and families out of detention as a very small first step towards restoring compassion in this country.

A confident Australia does not commit our men and women to wars on the other side of the world, conflicts that have no plan, no exit strategy, conflicts that history tell us make things worse rather than better.

A confident Australia recognises that we should be increasing our international aid budget rather than slashing it. It recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities must be at the forefront of decisions that affect their lives and it takes the opportunity through constitutional recognition to take one small, but really important step to right some of the wrongs of the past.

So let's redouble our efforts, let's get it done properly and make sure it's led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A confident Australia recognises that when things aren't working we try new approaches and nowhere is a new approach more needed than in how we respond to the issue of illicit drugs.

A confident Australia understands that multiculturalism is one of this country's enduring successes and that rather than dividing us, it compels us to be clear about the things that unite us as a nation.

A confident Australia's not afraid of democratic engagement and wouldn't attempt to suppress environmental organisations acting to protect our wonderful environment, or indeed any other organisation seeking change for the better through peaceful means. I say to Karen, we're right behind you.

A confident Australia does not need to wait for the Queen to depart before we finally embrace a Republic.

I'll just finish by saying Australia is still a wonderful place to live. Our egalitarian spirit lives on, despite a lack of political leadership over recent years, we are a proudly multicultural nation, much to be proud of. We have some of the most spectacular natural environments anywhere in the world. We've got a thriving arts and sports culture, our quality of life is exceptional. But if we are to keep it that way, we have to meet the challenges that lie ahead, and we Greens are up to that the challenge, the challenges of the 21st century.

We have the most talented, intelligent and hard-working team anywhere in the Parliament and I want to thank them for their incredible support.

Our future's bright, we are raring to go at the next election. Our party continues to grow, we've made huge gains in support over a short period of time and we'll make many more. We've got extraordinary members and supporters, some of them here today, with all the passion and enthusiasm that any political party could wish for.

We Greens are the antidote to the toxic political culture of the old parties. We are the party for a confident, prosperous and caring 21st century Australia.


Back to All News