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Bob Brown: The Greens, Hanson And The Death Of The Two-Party System

This is the text of a speech given by Senator Bob Brown to the National Press Club.

Senator Bob BrownThe Prime Minister will be asking Parliament before Christmas to hand 42 percent of Australia to less than one percent of the people. In fact, 42 percent of Australia to fewer than one tenth of one percent of the population. From Cape York to Kalgoorlie, from Dubbo to Darwin, most of Australia’s great red heart will go to a brace of millionaires, pastoral and mining companies at the expense of every other Australian. Amongst the beneficiaries of the upgrading of pastoral leases will be Kerry Packer and Janet Holmes a Court.

Mr Howard’s plan opens the way for this vast region to be converted from leasehold – that is rented property restricted to cattle-grazing, to effective freehold – with far wider potential uses, without Aboriginal permission. Mr Howard’s 10 point plan provides for a transfer of money as well as land – where required, compensation is to be paid by the taxpayers of Australia to the dispossessed Aboriginal people. So the rich landholders take it free of charge, and the taxpayers foot the bill. There is no nicety or cover-up or embarrassment about this monstrous land grab such as Australia has never seen before, not even in the age of squatters and colonial land grants. Mr Howard’s hinterland clearance of Aboriginal rights is Australia’s version of the highland clearances.

Though this conversion is to be by decree rather than guns, it is one of the lowest acts in Australian history, one which will take decades or centuries to unravel, rectify and recompense. One for which every Australian will pay. It carries, in addition, huge environmental costs.

We need only to look at the Queensland developer who, courtesy of a National Party state government in the eighties, had his 42,000 hectares of pastoral leasehold converted to freehold and then bulldozed millions of trees in the Mitchell River region, to see how Mr. Howard’s plan will open the way for a new round of destruction in Australia’s fragile rangelands in the nineties. The environments of the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Brigalow Belt, the Flinders Ranges, Cape York and the Kimberley are all at stake.

Of course it is easy to take a perversely narrow view of the environment and point out, as Pauline Hanson has done, that Aborigines sometimes leave bits of paper blowing around untidily near their settlements. Never mind the fact that the rest of us Australians dump one million tonnes of paper into wastelands near our settlements each year. Pauline’s argument is as effective as it is spurious — conformity, rigidity, wowserism, hate, all come in her same bundle of snakes.

But who is worse in the new wave of divisive politics. Ms Hanson who is an expert on lolly paper racism? Or John Howard who uses parliament to rob Australia’s indigenous nation of its rights, its freedom of movement, and spiritual and cultural connection, to 42% of the continent? It is John Howard who has written into his 10 point plan a decree that when it comes to negotiating fast-track developments, Aboriginal spiritual attachment to the land will be specifically banned from consideration. John Howard is not black arm banding but he is banning black spirituality! His is the nasty face of this new right Australia. It is he who deserves the protests.

This was brought home to me last week when I visited the Ganggalida people in the Gulf country. There, the community has been divided by CRA’s Century Zinc mine and its 300 kilometre slurry pipeline across Aboriginal land to the Gulf port of Karumba. The pipeline is totally unnecessary. The ore should be going via the existing railway to the port of Townsville. But the corporate might has insisted on the pipeline with its huge environmental threats to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Well, John Howard’s 10 points to give the corporates even greater power in such cases, becomes 10 barbs for black Australia — and none so barbed as his specific ban on Aboriginal spirituality when it comes to fast-track developments.

And where is the Labor Party, the party of social justice? Well, back-flipping and belly-upping at the shallow end of the pool. Who knows what it will do over this 10 point plan? Who would have guessed its cave-ins on compulsory work for the dole, Hindmarsh Island, mandatory greenhouse gas reduction targets or, coming soon, uranium mining?

Which brings me to the title of this Press club speech: “The Greens, Pauline Hanson and the death of two-party politics”.

Labor and the conservatives are not driven by parliamentary representation per se. They feel assured of that. Their main game is to win government, to win the Treasury benches. To do that they need one or other of the media barons on side. It is awesomely difficult to win elections with both Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer off side. Now neither of these multi-billionaires is going to foster real social equity, let alone environmental excellence. So for Labor, good old-fashioned social justice is incompatible with government. It’s a dead duck. Leave it to the Greens.

In this age of economic fundamentalism, where dollars dictate and materialism is religion, both the old parties are slavish adherents. The holy trinity is cut income taxes, cut services, and cut loose on transferring power from parliament to the stock exchange.

Of course I am shorthanding. Politics is manifestly more complex. But both parties are quite incapable of giving up the corporate donations which these days sees them taking millions each year from the big companies. It is a corrupting influence. The huge political donation may be legal for the parties, but it is also lethal for democracy. It makes a joke of the ideal of one person, one vote, one influence.

Australians at large think differently to those donors. So the two-party institution which we inherited from Westminster is haemorrhaging. As voters despair of a fair go for all people rather then the millionaire set, they are cutting loose themselves. Whereas twenty years ago only 6 percent of Australians voted away from the major parties, today it is up to 18 percent. We are following continental Europe into the age of multi-party parliaments and multi-party governments. And we are on a road of no return. Not even Australia’s archaic and unfair British system of single-member electorates will save it.

For, rather than the merging Conservative and Labor politics constricting choice, they are spawning diversity outside themselves: in the form of independent parties, clearly identifiable and free to innovate around an identifiably different credo from economic fundamentalism.

So One Nation has grabbed the attention of the redneck, blue-rinse set of older conservatives, those fearful, strident and narrow-minded Australians at the purple end of the new spectrum. The Greens on the other hand have grabbed the attention of the egalitarian, eco-oriented and utopian younger Australians at the other end of the spectrum. Besides Liberal and Labor, in between the purple and the green, struggling for identity but nevertheless durable, are the Nationals, the Democrats and a diverse ever-changing and non-durable set of independents, almost always splintered from the old parties.

That’s the new face of Australian politics. Multi-party and giving more real options to the voters. It is breakout politics.

We see it in the Northern Territory election campaign now underway, where the two Greens candidates, both Aboriginal, June Mills in Milner and Thomas Maywundjiwuy in Arnhemland offer Territorians a totally new and different voice on the floor of their Legislative Assembly.

We will also see it in Australia’s renewed tax debate. The Coalition and the ALP are both fixated on the GST. We Greens say let’s have everything on the table. But, let’s first remember that our taxes pay for services that governments provide — education, health, looking after the environment, transport, social security for example. And let’s also remember that taxes are a powerful mechanism for governments to help create the kind of society we want. Most Australians are not aware that already the balance is weighted against average taxpayers so that for every dollar of company tax, Australians pay four dollars in personal tax.

The society that we Greens want will be equitable, environmentally sustainable and enterprising. So we will fight hard for ecological tax reform, to reap a double dividend by reducing taxes on labour and increasing taxes on resource use and pollution — replacing payroll tax with a carbon tax for example. We reject Mr Howard’s push for lower personal income tax and his attempt to constrict and constrain the debate before it even starts. Let’s use this opportunity for reform to turn around the growing gap between rich and poor in Australia and to stimulate enterprise, jobs and environmental excellence.

In this breakout politics, the Greens are the new global political movement at this end of the century. With Green parties in some 100 countries, the role of Australia has been formidable. On March 23rd this year, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the world’s first Greens party which arose in Tasmania to oppose the Labor-Liberal plan to flood Lake Pedder in 1972. In April, the world’s first national Greens party, which now has three MPs, celebrated 25 years in New Zealand.

The now universal appellation ‘Green’ for our brand of long-sighted politics seems certain to have also derived from Australia – from Sydney in fact. In the mid-seventies, Petra Kelly visited Sydney and was galvanised by Jack Mundy and the BLF’s Green Bans which, amongst other things, saved the now revered Rocks area from destruction. Petra took the label ‘Greens’ to Europe and, in 1979, the world’s first Greens parliamentarian was elected there. Now there are Greens in many parliaments – most recently five national deputies plus a senator elected in Mexico, eight MPs including the new Minister for the Environment (Dominique Voynet) in France, and two Green members to the Irish Dail.

Here in Australia the Greens are surging again. We have twelve state and federal MPs, eight of whom are women and all of whom handle some degree of balance of power. Christine Milne leads Tasmania’s four Green MHAs in the Tasmanian house of government, where, besides proving a courageously stabilising factor, the Greens have paved the way on gun control, gay law reform, Aboriginal reconciliation, local employment initiatives creating 800 jobs, and the redirection of the economy to the clean, green, labour-intensive small business sector.

In the Senate, one twenty-four hour period in the last session saw three totally unreported votes which set the gap between the Greens and the rest, including the Democrats. Dee Margetts and I called divisions; firstly against the $800 million diesel fuel rebate handed over to the big mining companies at this time of cuts to education, health and just about all other services; secondly, we voted against the second reading of Amanda Vanstone’s bill to privatise big parts of the Commonwealth Employment Service; and thirdly we moved to censure Environment Minister Robert Hill over his failure to produce the documents which he used to give the nod to the destruction of grand Karri forests in Western Australia. Each time we looked across the Senate at a wall of Liberal, National, Labor and Democrat opponents.

If you are a young Australian, or indeed any Australian, looking at that wall of politics, those three votes are a clear show of how determinedly the Greens offer a strong and coherent alternative to the politics of materialism. Green versus greed.

Mr Howard’s narrow imagination sees tax reform as the height of adventure. The Greens’ imagination spans the neighbourhood and the world.

It’s time for a specific Aboriginal voice in our parliaments and recognition of the first Australians in our constitution. When the Wik debate comes to the Senate, I will be moving for an Aboriginal person to have the time allocated for my second reading speech.

It’s time to recognise local government in the constitution, time for the republic, time for freedom of information laws that extend to the private sector where it is taking over public functions.

It’s time for local, national and global greenhouse gas reduction targets and time for the Sun Fund to promote renewable energy.

It’s time to move towards a democratically elected world parliament so that we don’t leave de facto global government to the transnational corporations. Why not campaign to host it here in Australia?

Tomorrow the Orbost Magistrates Court in East Gippsland will consider a charge against me of obstructing logging operations last June. I will plead not guilty. Robert Hill, the lousiest Minister for the Environment this nation has ever had – and that is saying something – had his hand on the chainsaws sent into the beautiful Goolengook forest with its statuesque tree ferns, ancient tall eucalypts, lyre birds and mountain brushtails, while I and 140 like me are being tried for trying to do his job of protecting the nation’s environmental amenity.

The destruction of Goolengook – and protesters are still on site – shows what a sham John Howard’s promise to protect Australia’s high conservation forests and wilderness is. It is a warning that this Friday’s Regional Forest Agreement, between Mr. Howard and Tasmanian Liberal Premier Tony Rundle, will also be loaded towards the job-shedding woodchipping industry and against key areas of Tasmania’s world heritage value rainforests and tall eucalypt forests. This Tasmanian forest decision is another defining moment for Mr. Howard’s administration and the nation’s future.

Tomorrow’s preliminary court hearing will set the date for our trial, but it is not me or my fellow protestors who should be in the dock – it is John Howard and Robert Hill who should be facing the magistrate for contempt of the nation’s forest heritage.

Yet I am a Green optimist. Besides the rise of the Greens, I applaud the more recent stirring of campus restiveness and of interest by young Australians in parliamentary politics. A month ago I attended the Townsville conference of Students and Sustainability — 500 students from universities all over Australia. It was alive with zeal for action. Six busloads of students took off to protest the invasive mega-resort at Hinchinbrook. Another busload was hosted by the traditional owners at magnificent Jabiluka, the proposed uranium mine site in Kakadu whose fate also depends on a government decision expected in the next day or two.

These students have their wider sights set on a civil society, a sustainable environment and how to grapple with this economic fundamentalism which has Australia by the throat. They have a new focus on parliaments. Since the old parties are abrogating more and more government responsibility for society and the environment to the multi-nationals, the growing idea is that rather than protest against Liberal and Labor it is better to replace them. That is the aim of the Greens worldwide.

In young Australia is burgeoning the search for a post-materialistic world where six billion people rediscover how to live in peace and fairness with themselves and with this tiny planet Earth, so that we leave it better, not the worse, for all the generations who will follow us. Everyone, the future is Green.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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