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Bob Brown and the Dalai Lama

A Rock of Security in the Senate

Bob Brown's National Press Club Address

"Is there any reason why Australia cannot be a beacon of light and beauty in an otherwise dull and uniform world?"

"Conversely, the mishandling of the Tampa affair and the asylum seekers by both Mr Howard and Mr Beazley has damaged this nation's reputation around the whole world."

"With one sinking boat in the South Java Sea, Mr Howard sank Australia below the horizon of world respect."

The Greens: a Rock of Security in the Senate

"Today, Mr Howard and Mr Beazley's parties are working in the Senate to ram through 7 bills cutting not only the rights of asylum seekers but of those Australians who want to help them. The bills overrule access to the courts, bring in mandatory sentencing for the first time in federal law and, retrospectively, cover any illegal act Mr Ruddock or his officers may have committed during the Tampa fiasco, these are more steps towards the Australia of Pauline Hanson. That Mr Howard has moved her way may not surprise some. That Mr Beazley has gone with him is astonishing."

The Greens: a Rock of Security in the Senate

National Press Club Address
Greens Senator Bob Brown
26 September 2001

Members of the Press Club, my fellow Australians,

I honour the Ngunnawal people on whose land Canberra was founded;

I honour this planet, Earth: this speck of green in the universe which gives us our life, wellbeing and purpose.

At the dawn of the Twenty First Century, our human world has more knowledge, more technology and more power than ever before in history. This means we also face far greater danger of annihilation, at our own hands, than ever before in history.

In 1963, President Kennedy said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Yet now, as back then, fear is rampant around the world. Most recently, the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania have changed our world. In those attacks, modern technology - fuel laden passenger jets - was used to act out ancient and negative urges: those of frustration, anger and hate. The terrorists were not poverty stricken. Their profile is one of relative privilege, education and access to money.

But neither vengeance nor war will be the best way to bring their terror organisations to justice. The established code for keeping the peace in all democratic countries is an independent police and legal system. It must be independent from both the criminal and the victim. In world affairs we have to build the same. That is why the United Nations was established after World War II. That is why the United Nations is the best vehicle to coordinate bringing the terrorists to justice now. And when captured, the criminals should be brought to the International Court of Justice for trial.

Australia, an influential and democratic middle-order nation, should take a lead. We should have a strong and responsible hand on the shoulder of President Bush. We should strongly advocate the UN to coordinate the community of nations in not only bringing the terrorists to justice, but in preventing more needless destruction. This is the best way to keep the world together against terrorism and to stop the slide into war.

The terrorists killed more than 30 Australians. That demands a response from our nation. Yet, our nation's leaders, all of us, must be extremely wise, certain and longsighted in risking other Australian lives to President Bush's call for war against Afghanistan and, potentially, other Islamic nations. Australia's parliament should be consulted as well as President Bush before landforces are committed again in Asia.

Mr Howard must reflect that World War I began with a single terrorist act and ended in insufferable misery, with 40 million people dead. Why is there no Australian minister in Washington where the war preparations, to which Mr Howard has made Australia committed to the limit of our nation's ability, are being made? That commitment should involve an equally large say from Australia.

I urge the Government to also hear the voices of experience: the daughters of World War I veterans, those whose kith and kin went to World War II or indeed those who went to Vietnam.

I endorse the call by Kofi Annan, for cool heads to prevail. Besides seeing the UN as the best way to keep the world together against terrorism, rather than fragmenting into war, I urge Mr Howard to do more to keep his own colleagues like the Member for Fisher, Peter Slipper, temperate and constructive.

Charting a secure future for our children, for the long term, will require much more: in particular, the closing of the gap between rich and poor on Earth. That gap is a recipe for social chaos.

The planet has ample resources for everyone to meet her or his basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, education and a role in shaping the world's future. It is the failure of the rich, not the poor, that for billions of our fellow citizens in the world those needs are not met. The rich make most claim for what goes right, but we are also most responsible for what goes wrong. The Greens are committed to fixing it. To that end, I need colleagues in the Senate and predict that there will be 2 to 5 Greens Senators after the imminent elections. As we approach the start of my second term in the Senate for the Greens, I am joined here today by our lead Senate candidates for NSW: community worker Kerrie Nettle, for the ACT: barrister Gary Corr. And more immediately we are a also joined by our great Greens candidates for the ACT election Kerrie Tucker, Shane Ratenbury and Kathryn Kellly who face the polls on October 20.

To extend the words of Tasmania's famed adventurer Olegas Truhanas, is there any reason why Australia cannot be a beacon of light and beauty in an otherwise dull and uniform world? Conversely, the mishandling of the Tampa affair and the asylum seekers by both Mr Howard and Mr Beazley has damaged this nation's reputation around the whole world. With one sinking boat in the South Java Sea, Mr Howard sank Australia below the horizon of world respect. Notice how Pauline Hanson has gone off the front pages because the Liberal and Labor leaders have taken up One Nation's policies: first to turn the boats around and second to have Christmas Island's status changed. It would have saved $100 million, as well as our standing in the world, had the Tampa's rescuees been processed on Christmas Island.

Today, Mr Howard and Mr Beazley's parties are working in the Senate to ram through 7 bills cutting not only the rights of asylum seekers but of those Australians who want to help them. The bills overrule access to the courts, bring in mandatory sentencing for the first time in federal law and, retrospectively, cover any illegal act Mr Ruddock or his officers may have committed during the Tampa fiasco, these are more steps towards the Australia of Pauline Hanson. That Mr Howard has moved her way may not surprise some. That Mr Beazley has gone with him is astonishing.

On top of global events hitting the economy the mishandling of the Tampa affair will cost Australia dearly in terms of both dollars and jobs in the months ahead.

That brings me to the GST. Until three weeks ago, both Mr Howard and Mr Beazley were highlighting taxes as the election issue. On the one hand cutting taxes to the already rich; on the other rolling back the GST. The Greens fought against the GST and we would still abolish it.

But accepting that it is there, we don't want to just roll back the edges of the GST as Labor does. We are starting to see the toll on large retailers like Daimaru and Coles-Myer. The impact on the smaller is less noticed but equally pernicious. The Greens insist that the GST compliance burden should be reduced and made fairer.

So while the GST is cheap for the Tax Office to collect, it is creating an unfair and depressing burden for small business and community groups who see themselves as unpaid tax collectors.

We will help by allowing businesses and community groups with a turnover of less than $2 million per annum (the same threshold as for the 'simplified BAS') to keep the first $1,000 of the GST they collect each year. This is a real contribution to their compliance costs. It will cost treasury $2 billion - a fraction of the GST-generated surplus but very positively stimulate business.

Alternatively, this GST stimulus could be funded by removed the fuel rebates from mining and the native forest logging industry, saving $2 billion per annum. This is a fine way to transfer a slab of corporate welfare from the big companies to small business and community groups where far more jobs are created.

Tax restructuring is also a positive way of moving to a non-polluting, carbon free economy.

In August, the OECD commented that: "To achieve significant greenhouse emission reductions, structural adjustment towards a less greenhouse gas-intensive economy is required, and putting a price on emissions, either through an economy-wide tax or a permit trading scheme, would be the most efficient way to achieve this".

The Australia Institute has calculated that a carbon tax of $25 per tonne of CO2 emitted would raise $6.8 billion per annum. The Greens would use this to reduce pollution and increase jobs.

We would equip every house in the country with solar hot water, and a "green" fridge by 2010, through a combination of financing arrangements and incentives. The benefits include a 3% reduction in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and savings of around $170 pa in household electricity bills, plus the creation of thousands of jobs, including jobs in regional Australia.

Our carbon tax would also enable the government to:

Besides taking the GST off public transport, this tax on polluters would also help the nation's rail systems to be modernised offering its quick, quiet, cheap, clean public and freight transport alternative.

I not only challenge Mr Beazley on this, I challenge Senator Stott-Despoja to commit to the Greens GST tax relief for Australian businesses which have been so hard hit by her party's pro-GST policy.

At global level the Greens advocate an international agreement for a less-than-one percent tax on currency speculation on those who make huge profits out of completely non-productive stock exchange transactions. That is a Tobin Tax on speculators who do nothing but make trillions of dollars out of buying and selling money.

This Tobin tax, would raise billions of dollars each year: enough to ensure every child in the world could be fed and go to school.

There is more we can do for a fairer world, including forgiving debt to the poorest countries. Here the Howard government has been very mean and lags far behind the governments of the UK, Canada and the Netherlands.

And instead of putting millions into the polluting coal industry, Mr Howard should have stimulated clean, green technology. For example, the government should have invested much more in solar technology in which Australian scientists lead the world. This technology is perfect for our island neighbours to the north who, in their millions, need reliable mini-power sources for their villages; not huge coal, nuclear or hydro stations with massive grid systems but no local control.

Talking of hydro power takes me to my home island of Tasmania. What King Island brand is to Australia, the 'Tasmania' brand can be to the world. The Greens have led Tasmania's rethinking from hydro-industrialisation to the new job-rich clean green vision for this century. But now the Bacon Labor government has come up with Basslink, a cable across Bass Strait to plug Tasmania's hydro system into Victoria's brown coal grid. The mainland gets Tasmania's clean green power. Tasmania gets the mainland's polluting coal power. And we pay $90 million dollars a year rent to a British cable company for the privilege!

Basslink is a regressive idea. It cuts right across Tasmania's clean green image. If power prices rise in Hobart, Launceston and Burnie - and consultant economists believe they will - they will flatten job prospects in just the sector the Greens want to see boosted: home-grown small businesses.

Premier Bacon's Basslink brainwave, backed by John Howard, gets worse. It understraps forest furnaces. The plan is to feed up to one million tonnes of woodchips from Tasmania's old growth forests into three furnaces - one in each corner of the island - to produce electricity for sale to the mainland as 'renewable' electricity under the Howard Government's Renewable Energy Act.

Scientists warn that the pollution from the Smithton forest furnace in the northwest may rob Tasmania of its title for having the world's cleanest air as measured at the nearby Cape Grim air monitoring station, since 1975. And far from renewing nature, Basslink threatens Tasmania's wild rivers with twice-daily surges as the turbines are switched on to power Melbourne's toasters and airconditioners.

Mr Howard has earmarked $80 million to degrade Tasmania's wild environment. In November 1997, he flew to Tasmania and signed the Regional Forest Agreement, the death warrant on the world's tallest hardwood forests, as well as Australia's largest temperate rainforest which is in the Tarkine wilderness. Instead of world heritage listing, these forests and their wildlife are being blitzed by the woodchippers' clearfelling routine of logging and fire-bombing the forests and then laying 1080 poison. Many Australians are unaware that Tasmania's old growth forests are being destroyed at the greatest rate in history, for the lowest prices in history, for the fewest jobs in history.

The Styx River's Valley of the Giants, just 70 minutes drive from Hobart, has the tallest forests in the world outside North America. These are being destroyed right now, under the Liberal-Labor Regional Forest Agreement. This year alone, 150,000 log truck loads will take Tasmania's monumental forests to the woodchip mills, to be sold for a pittance to the paper mills of Japan and Korea.

RFA Bill

And it's all so unnecessary. Australia has two million hectares of plantations, much of them mature and able to meet all this nation's needs for commodity wood including for paper manufacturing and home building.

Mr Beazley should break with Prime Minister Howard and Forest Minister Tuckey as his Labor colleague Premier Gallop did to win office in WA, by promising an end to the old growth forest slaughter. He will get Greens backing if he does.

And he will get Greens backing if Labor really makes a leap forward in funding public education. We challenge Labor to return Australia to the OECD average of spending by similar nations - that means injecting $4 billion per annum extra into public education.

We say reverse Mr Howard's tax cuts to the big corporations and restore corporate tax levels to 34%: that will supply $3 billion. And if Labor carries out the bipartisan promise, ducked by Mr Howard, to tax trust funds: there's another $1 billion for public schools. So all-up you have $4billion.

Put that to public schools, to TAFE and to the independence of our nation's universities.

This Greens' plan would also ensure pre-school education for all Australians and it would guarantee adult education. It would give teachers the ability for work training and re-skilling as part of their job.

It is not enough for Labor to promise a return of category one richest private school fund increases to the public schools. This formula offers just a $2 dollar per student improvement: not near enough to offset even the Democrats enabled GST impost on education of $200 per student. The Greens plan, with a hold on private school fund increases until public schools, where 70% of Australian students go, catch up, would ensure a $700 per student lift in funding. That is not excessive: it simply returns federal funding on education to 1983 levels and average OECD performance.

Yesterday's Senate motion

The Greens would immediately reinstate the Commonwealth Dental Health Program which Mr Howard abolished.

We will continue to defend Medicare against privatisation which is undermining one of the world's best health delivery systems.

We oppose the corporate creep backed by the misdirected private health insurance rebate, taking over hospitals and family medicine services and the infiltration of the pharmaceuticals benefits scheme with drug company sympathisers.

Instead, the great 'fair go' system of Medicare should be expanded to include dental services. The Howard prescription whereby poor people, including senior citizens, go months or years without denture services is deplorable in modern Australia.

The Greens are a constructive political force. Let me list just a few of our Senate wins:

Now Let me mention some other good Green policies:

I have been tough on the Government's failures today. But what of the Opposition? Well let me refer to John Curtin, as Barry Jones did in his 'Light on the Hill' speech in Bathurst last week - PM Curtin said:

"I believe that Labor voters could have no respect for a party, certainly not their own party, if in a time of crisis it seeks no alternative, but to carry out the policy of its opponents"

His wisdom is cause for Labor to reflect now, 60 years later.

Let me say something about preferences. First to the Senate, and while I read in the Canberra Times today that Senator Despoja thought it was na´ve for the Greens to pursue preference swap with the Democrats in the ACT, I can tell you that as of yesterday our parties have reached an agreement to exchange preferences in the Senate. That is great news as it will maximise the possibility of Greens or Democrats being elected. Similar arrangements have been reached in WA where I expect that Rachel Siewert will be elected for the Greens WA - our best chance of winning a new Senate seat this election. Go Rachel.

We are 7 weeks from an election. Greens preferences are going to be critical. Six to 12 seats would go to Labor if we were to direct preferences to them. And we will if they come good on: Education, Forests & land clearing, global warming and nuclear issues. We will use preference leverage to obtain the best possible social justice and environmental outcomes for Australian voters. My challenge to the Democrats is to join us in this: that we can achieve even more!

In the House of Representatives, preferences for the Greens are decided at a local level, but nationally the Greens have decided that we will be basing our preference decisions on some key issues. Our recent national conference decided these would be: public education, forests and land clearing; greenhouse reduction and ending Australia's involvement in the nuclear industry and uranium mining.

In the Ryan byelection earlier this year when we said we would preference the party that made good commitments on land clearing we advocated that Green voters give their preference to Labor after Kim Beazley and Nick Bolkus came good with their promise. We estimate that of the 5000 odd Greens votes in Ryan an extra 800 flowed to the ALP because of that decision. Labor won the seat by less than 300. Our preferences were critical.

The reverse is true in Aston where neither major party came good on any of the Greens suggestions on ratification of Kyoto, public transport or the burning of woodchips for renewable energy. Had the ALP come good they would have won Aston on the back of Greens and independent preferences.

After the election the Greens are likely to share the balance of power in the Senate with the Democrats. They have 5 continuing Senators so the real question is will the Greens or One Nation be the other force sharing balance of power. One Nation or the Greens: Take your pick.

I give these commitments about the balance of power:

Balance of Power

And I tell you this. We will be a rock of security in the Senate for voters looking for a strong humanitarian, environmental party in the Senate. The Greens voters know what they are getting in the Senate. We wont fold, we are reliable we are dependable and we are creative.