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Speech: Greens in Parliament: Overhaul the system

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 1 Dec 2015

The Greens are a necessary force in parliamentary politics. Lee slams the treatment of Parliament as a game by the major parties. 

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (23:33):

I have been in the Senate for more than four years. I am grateful to Greens party members for all their support, and to the people of New South Wales who voted 1 for the Greens. Their vote has given me the privilege to represent them. I never thought I would be in parliament. It is an honour to be here, in one of the places where we can struggle to make the world a better place. There have been many highlights. One standout was the success of tertiary education workers and students whose hard work put a stop to the Liberal National government's university deregulation plans. We won. We beat back a policy that would have made access to education dependent on wealth and privilege. That is a win worth celebrating. Our victory against $100,000 degrees shows why we need Greens in this parliament. And it is not just because our votes can help defeat bad legislation; that matters, obviously. But that is only as significant as the campaigns which our votes here in this place represent.

The truth is, Australian politics-especially in this parliament-is too often a game between the major parties. It is about who looks after those who own most of this country. Meanwhile, the players pretend to look after the majority of ordinary people. But I am not in Canberra to play games. It is not a game to raise the GST while keeping the tax loopholes that give massive concessions to the rich. It is not a game to have a climate policy that will not cut emissions fast enough but will satisfy coal and gas corporations. It is not a game to turn back boats of desperate people seeking asylum and turn people, indefinitely, to show how tough you are on so-called border security. It is not a game when young people cannot get a job that is not permanently casual, while supporting calls to cut weekend penalty rates. And it is not a game to have a policy that inflates housing policies and rents so high that most people cannot live anywhere near their work, their friends or their family.

We, in the Greens, want a different society, a society where the government solves problems with ordinary people instead of making life harder, a society where progress means people feel more secure, relaxed and comfortable. Next year's federal election will mark 20 years since John Howard deceived the Australian people with his claim that electing him would make us relaxed and comfortable. What a disastrous 20 years it has been for the majority of people in this country. Anxiety has gone through the roof and people feel less supported, less valued and less connected to one another. The situation is the direct result of Liberal, National and Labor governments starting from the question of: is there room in the budget? What they really mean is: how will the CEOs respond? Will we be criticised? What will the financial journalists report? For the Greens this puts things the wrong way round. The question for our party of over 10,000 members supported by over one million voters is: what do people and our precious environment need?

I travel all over New South Wales and people, very readily, tell me what we do need. They tell me we need to fix the tax system so corporations and rich individuals pay their fair share. They tell me we need 100 per cent renewable energy in public and community hands. They tell me we need guaranteed, permanent, secure and rewarding jobs for everyone who wants one. They tell me we need to increase support for the unemployed and single parents-even the Business Council supports this one. They tell me we need free, well-funded public education from preschool to TAFE and university. And they tell me we need affordable housing, with a massive injection of money by the federal government to build new homes.

The Greens believe that if something is needed for a fair and sustainable society it is the job of government to deliver it. If this means governments need to borrow, then governments should run deficits and manage a larger public debt. The idea that government budgets are like household budgets, where debt is always bad, is either deeply economically illiterate or deliberately deceitful. What I have outlined, here, will probably be criticised as not realistic or not possible in today's economy. Yet, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it is Labor, Liberal and National parties that are out of touch with community expectations.

There are two reasons that Greens, like me, are in parliament: the rise of planetary environmental consciousness and the unfortunate but steady drift of the Labor Party away from a belief that things can and should get better for ordinary people. These reasons are not going away, and neither are we. More and more people are joining the Greens. We have the courage to undo the damage caused by the economic policies of the old parties-policies that have been making life harder and the planet dirtier for 30 years. We are the party that has the energy to create a more democratic, sustainable, just and peaceful future.

 

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