Lee appeared on Channel Ten's Meet the Press on Sunday, 3 July 2011. You can view the interview online, or read the transcript here.
HUGH RIMINTON: Welcome back. This is Meet the Press. Our next guest is no stranger to politics, but she is new to the Senate. The former NSW State representative now part of the Green tide to Canberra, Senator Lee Rhiannon. Welcome to the program.
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON, AUSTRALIAN GREENS: Good morning.
HUGH RIMINTON: This wasn't the reason that we asked you onto this program, but I want to clear it up and get it out of the way - did you write for and edit a newspaper in the 1980s called 'Survey' that was funded in whole, or in part, by the Soviet Union?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: Yes, I assisted with it to some extent. You're referring to Christian Kerr's article yesterday?
HUGH RIMINTON: There've been reports in the media that this was something you've not been entirely frank about?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: I've always been frank about my work. Absolutely. What we've just seen here is another one of these articles. I mean, when you read it, it was a little bit hard to get to the end, but it was sort of like being hit with a wet sock. I'm quite proud of my history. I've always been very open about it.
HUGH RIMINTON: If you're proud of it, why isn't it part of your official Senate biography?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: Not everything is part of my official Senate biography. When I was young, I also worked at Regent Park Zoo. I've travelled widely. I've done a whole range of jobs in different countries.
HUGH RIMINTON: But the argument is that, for a number of years, you were working for an organisation that was being funded by the Soviet Union as a communist entity, and that's not on your official Senate biography, and there is a view that perhaps people should be aware that that is part of your past?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: Well, firstly, I'm quite proud of my past. I have no problems in discussing any aspect of it. But I think we also need to see it in the context of why this carry-on is occurring - it's because the Greens are in the balance of power, and that's why I'm being targeted. We've also seen these comments from Tony Abbott this week where he made the extraordinary statement of likening the carbon tax to socialism masquerading as environmentalism. So we're going back to Cold War rhetoric that is really out of place.
CLAIRE HARVEY: Senator, we've learned today that the Government is planning to insulate motorists from the impact of a carbon price. Isn't the whole point of a carbon price to change behaviour by sending price signals?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: Very much so. That's why our team have been advocating, as Senator - Bob Brown and Adam Bandt - have been advocating that petrol should have been included. As Bob has clearly stated, we knew that there would be compromises along the way, and I obviously don't know the final package, but I've heard that that one's out.
CLAIRE HARVEY: If everyone continues driving between jobs, driving to work, if they're tradies during the day - are we going to make an impact on the carbon emissions in the environment?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: Oh, we clearly need to, and that's what our team has been very clear on - as well as having the price on carbon, the carbon tax, we need the package where there is investment in renewables so we can drive that transition. These need to go together, and that's why we give such strong emphasis to working on wind and solar, and big projects.
MARIUS BENSON: Can I just clarify - are the Greens on side with that Government proposal to exclude petrol?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: I don't know what the decisions have been within those negotiations, and I'm obviously looking forward to hearing the full package.
MARIUS BENSON: You've said yourself, I think, that you want to see coalmines closed in 10 years. Is that your view?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: Look, our party room is that there's no time line here. We believe that it needs to happen as quickly as possible. I certainly personally believe that it could happen in 10 years if we had the political will of governments. We're seeing enormous changes around the world. We know that both solar and wind are commercially and industrially viable. We've seen large-scale base-load solar thermals in many countries. Australia's lagging behind here.
HUGH RIMINTON: You think that a city like Sydney or Melbourne could be done without coal, without nuclear, just on solar and renewables?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: Certainly there - well, not immediately, but certainly that is possible. I've been told that it could occur within 10 years. There's authorities who work in this area. Now, again, I'm acknowledging that that's not our party-room position, but I've been obviously following this closely. It's very relevant to NSW and will be a big part of my work, because 89% of the power in this state comes from coal-fired power. So we need to get serious.
MARIUS BENSON: Is it fair to say that your positions are more radical than the Greens as posited under Bob Brown in Canberra?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: I think there's a range of viewpoints. What Bob has been very clear - he's delightful when he speaks about this - is that we can have diversity and a united party room. Certainly my 11 years in State Parliament showed that style of work - that obviously we had differences, but we voted together, and we got some great outcomes.
CLAIRE HARVEY: One of the Greens' long-expressed concerns is with foreign investment and foreign ownership of Australian assets. Doesn't the renewables sector rely entirely on foreign innovation and foreign money?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: It certainly largely does, and unfortunately it's shifted more that way because of Australia's failure to hold many of those innovative programs in this country. We've seen some of them go to China, to California. This is something that is a real setback, and some of that innovation programs that Christine Milne has been working on hopefully will help reverse that. We also need to be looking at the impact that the mineral industry is having in this country. Now, Bob made a fantastic speech last week, but again, we saw those scare tactics from the industry kick in, trying to make out we're trying to close it down. It was not that at all. All Bob said is we need the mature debate that is looking at the levels of extraction, the possibility of value-adding in this country, profit levels, levels of foreign ownership. He was talking about a debate. That's what's needed. Again, particularly in NSW, we're losing out under the current mining boom.
HUGH RIMINTON: Let's go to something that came up in the speech. He mentioned what is a bit of a bogey - this notion of a world government. Let's take a quick listen to a bit of what he said.
SENATOR BOB BROWN, GREENS LEADER (WEDNESDAY): So why shouldn't we now join vigorous moves in Europe and at the United Nations for a global people's assembly based on one person, one vote, one value?
HUGH RIMINTON: This is to decide global issues, which includes military spending and a defence budget. We'll give that over to someone voting in China or any other part of the world. This is lunacy, isn't it?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: Not at all. One of Bob's great strengths that he brings to his leadership is his vision. Let's remember, in 1996, when he gave his first speech, he spoke about climate change and was heavily ridiculed at the time. Now it's recognised that he was giving leadership back then. I have the portfolio of democracy, and this is one of the issues that I look forward to working with Bob on.
MARIUS BENSON: Can I ask you about another issue you've spoken out about - political donations. You've been critical of big political donations. You say this is not motivated by a love of democracy. People want something back for what they pay. What did the electrical trades unions union of Victoria get back for the $325,000 they gave the Greens for the last election?
SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: I don't believe that they got anything back. It -- at all. Because our position is that we shouldn't have any of those political donations going to political parties from organisations or corporations. That's our policy. In NSW, we've agreed to apply to ourselves - I don't have any trouble that happening in other states, but I do think we need to have a clean-up, and I'll be taking that issue to Canberra.
HUGH RIMINTON: Thank you, Senator Lee Rhiannon. Good luck in the weeks and months ahead. Thanks also to our panel, Claire Harvey and Marius Benson. A transcript and a replay of this program will be on our website and the Facebook page. So, till next week.