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Greens Senator Kerry Nettle’s First Speech

Social change starts in the hearts and minds of committed and passionate individuals, according to new Australian Greens Senator Kerry Nettle.

Nettle was giving her first speech to the Senate. Elected at the November 10, 2001 Federal Election, Nettle took up her seat on July 1, 2002.

She represents New South Wales and is the second Australian Greens senator. She joins Senator Bob Brown who was elected in 1996.

Text of Senator Kerry Nettle’s first speech to the Senate.

NettleI revel in the opportunity to deliver my first speech during a debate about bargaining fees, where people on this side of the chamber rise to speak in the defence of Australian workers being able to organise collectively in the workplace. I start by paying my respects to the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of this land. I acknowledge the pain and the suffering that so many Indigenous Australians have suffered as a result of the European invasion of this country. I acknowledge that the price for the prosperity and the peace that we enjoy today has been overwhelmingly borne by the first Australians. On behalf of the people that I represent in this parliament, I say sorry for these past injustices. The Greens look forward to continuing to work with Indigenous Australians to address both past and current discrimination. Only when Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians work together can the true potential of our multicultural society be realised.

The Greens bring a vision to politics in Australia and around the world that is based on four core principles: social and economic justice, ecological sustainability, peace and non-violence, and grassroots democracy. Communities in Australia and overseas are increasingly turning towards the Greens because we offer an optimistic and caring vision for the future. People are sick of a lack of choice at election time. They are sick of an emphasis on self-interest and the predictable surrender to the power of profit. Increasingly, there is a need to restate the fact that we are not simply a collection of individuals but people who live in a society where a sense of community strengthens our connection with humanity and the environment on which we depend.

As a young activist concerned about issues such as public transport and proposals to extend the tragedy of uranium mining in Kakadu National Park, I became interested in the Greens, because I saw the Greens as a political party that was made up of community activists—people who were interested in the same sorts of issues as I was and who brought an activist approach to the work that they did in parliament and also in the community. I define this activist approach as a belief that progressive social change is not only possible but vitally necessary. I see this approach reflected in the work of Greens MPs in chambers across this country and on every continent. Greens MPs are community activists first, before they enter this chamber, and they bring that energy, passion and commitment to their parliamentary work.

History shows us that social change does not start in chambers like this; it starts in the hearts and the minds of committed and passionate individuals. It builds strength on the streets and in the community and only then can it enter this chamber. I recognise and I celebrate the symbiotic relationship between activism inside and outside parliament, and I look forward to playing my part in achieving progressive social change through the work that I do in this chamber with other Greens MPs and the work that I continue to do in the community.

The enormous array of community activists that I have had the opportunity to work with over the last few years has been a constant inspiration to me. The commitment of individuals working in local resident action groups across the country truly reaffirms one’s belief in community spirit. Every weekend, countless Australians engage in activities in their local areas and people daily in the management of their land show that they care and recognise the need to live sustainably with the planet. The dedication from grassroots communities on environmental issues is not in question, but we are yet to see genuine commitment from the government and corporations to addressing the environmental crises that we all face.

I would like to draw this chamber’s attention to the shameful fact that Australia has the highest land clearing rate of any developed nation. Over 500,000 hectares of native vegetation are destroyed in Queensland each year. In my home state of New South Wales, agribusiness is bulldozing rare woodlands and wetlands with no intention of complying with federal or state legislation. This archaic approach to environmental management must be stopped, and the government must play a key role in ensuring that this happens. For every tree that community or government programs plant, 100 more are bulldozed.

The community cannot respond to this unprecedented disaster alone. We need national legislation to end land clearing, especially in key areas such as the Murray Darling Basin. But we must not stop there. We need to go further and embark on a program of land rehabilitation. This means financial incentives to assist farmers in making the transition to sustainable agricultural practices. The ecological vandalism that is inherent in our current land clearing patterns is part of a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly familiar to all of us. It is part of the economic fundamentalism that has blighted much of Australian society and rages now at a global level through the destructive policies of the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Again, it is the tireless work of community activists who are attempting to halt this ever increasing drive towards the corporate free-for-all that has misleadingly been dubbed `globalisation’. This process is, in fact, not globalisation but centralisation—the centralisation of power into the hands of a small group of corporate elites. There is nothing inherently global about this transfer of economic and cultural power. A diverse multitude of people have taken to the streets to raise their voices against this corporate takeover and they look on as vitally important decisions are taken out of the hands of representative, democratically elected parliaments and placed into the hands of unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats and CEOs of transnational corporations. Many people are outraged about this loss of democratic control over decisions that affect their lives. This is an issue about which parliament should be ecstatic. People are actually jumping up and down about the importance of parliament and yet our legislatures are complicit in the silencing of the elector’s voice.

The rise of corporate globalisation is the greatest threat to our current democratic systems, and the increasing role of corporations in our governments and our democratic institutions amounts to nothing less than a creeping coup d’etat. At the moment on the horizon sits the General Agreement on Trade in Services. The neo-liberal ideologues have repackaged and expanded the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which was defeated by community pressure in 1998. The new brand name is `General Agreement on Trade in Services’. It is back on the international trade negotiating table, to which you and I are not invited. The Greens are a part of that same international community movement that defeated the MAI in 1998 and we are back preparing to defeat those same ideas as they appear in the General Agreement on Trade in Services. GATS is a treaty which seeks to bind national governments to deregulating and privatising their public services.

Public ownership has historically proven to be the only way to ensure that essential services are provided to all citizens in an equitable way. This is done by providing the service on the basis of social need rather than trying to pursue private profits. The Greens recognise that the seemingly endless pursuit of privatisation is a form of social theft on a grand scale, with the transferring of wealth from the citizen to the already rich. Decisions that are made on trade issues have a very real effect on people’s everyday lives. Yet this government continues to shroud these decisions in secrecy. The Australian government is going to the next round of negotiations at the World Trade Organisation behind an absolute veil of secrecy. It will not allow this parliament or the Australian people to know which of our public services it intends to trade away. Final decisions that affect our basic services will be made in the cabinet room—or perhaps in the corporate boxes—but not in this parliament.

We already know that the government intends to sacrifice Telstra at enormous cost to the bush. And from leaked EU documents we know that it is under pressure to trade away Australia Post and our water services. But we do not know at the moment whether health and education are also at the top of the government’s hit list. We know that this government favours private education and private health over the provision of these public services, but does this government intend to make public funding of schools and hospitals effectively illegal by labelling it as an unfair subsidy under WTO trade rules? GATS is designed also to remove the rights of nation states to set environmental, labour, local content or human rights standards. This will lead us to a situation where it becomes impossible for Australia not to accept an international nuclear waste dump.

Australia has the opportunity to take a progressive role, to show some leadership and some courage as a responsible global citizen not only on trade issues but also in relation to international conflicts. Right now, more than at any time in our recent history, it is vitally important that we speak out in the name of peace and that we articulate a message of true global justice that is based on equity and not on power. It is nearly a year since we were all horrified by the attacks on Washington and New York. The time immediately after September 11 could have been, and still can be, an opportunity to reflect calmly and rationally on the reasons behind the attacks on the World Trade Centre. We need an international effort that recognises the growing inequities between the haves and the have-nots of this world and then seeks to redress these imbalances. Instead, we have seen an arrogant unilateralism from the United States through their so-called war on terrorism and the response of the Australian government has been sycophantic. In trying to out-swagger the cowboys in Washington, we have only succeeded in making ourselves look foolish at a time when we could have and should have been a calming voice in our ally’s ear.

A war on Iraq cannot be justified. The hypocrisies and the inconsistencies of such an aggressive policy are obvious for all to see. We do not live in George Bush’s comic book world of goodies and baddies. Trading with oppressive regimes is commonplace, and more weapons of mass destruction are developed and held illegally in Western countries than in any axis of evil. A war would also be blatantly naive in a political sense. It would be tantamount to throwing a Molotov cocktail into the Middle East peace process. On a practical level, armed intervention simply will not achieve its stated aim of establishing democracy, and it is even more unlikely to achieve its strategic aim of ensuring total US dominance in the region. It is certainly not going to win any peace, love and freedom for the people of the US or the people of Iraq.

A war on Iraq would be illegal under international law; it would also be blatantly inhumane. The Greens will continue to fight any extension of this so-called war on terrorism. We recognise that we need a program for peace, not a rush to war. The first step in this program for peace is for John Howard, Alexander Downer and George Bush to step back from their warmongering rhetoric. There is a place for weapons inspections in all countries that develop weapons of mass destruction, but there will be no lasting solution in Iraq or similar countries until we restore their dignity and their autonomy so that their people can pursue democracy and prosperity like any other nation.

The Iraqi people must be given back not only the right but also the capacity to decide their own rulers, without intervention from the United States, who firstly armed and supported Saddam Hussein and who are now only interested in controlling oil supplies, not in achieving democracy in Iraq. We need an international effort to rebuild Iraqi society and infrastructure, which was deliberately destroyed to undermine the civilian population. Sanctions that have caused immeasurable suffering must be lifted. Peaceful solutions will always seem more complex than a simple attack, but it is only through peaceful solutions that we can achieve long-term success.

Of course, these solutions do not apply only to Iraq. It is our responsibility to address the appalling inequalities wherever they occur around the world, and the way to do so is through support for local communities and their organisations so that they can determine their visions of democracy for their country. I had the honour recently of meeting a 24-year-old Afghan woman by the name of Tahmina. Tahmina and her organisation travel around the world speaking about the need to liberate the women of Afghanistan. They have the solutions to the problems that affect their everyday lives. They suggest a range of measures, including ending the international financing of fundamentalist schools on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have not met the Tahminas of Iraq, but these are the voices that we should be listening to in the current debate—the local voices that have the solutions to the problems in their community.

I find it constantly inspiring to be around so many people, Greens and others, who believe that progressive social change is not only necessary but is possible and who work so hard to achieve that end. I would like to say thank you to all of the Greens’ campaigners and supporters who have made it possible for me to be part of striving for this change, not only in the community but now also in the parliament. Social change has always happened because of committed and hardworking individuals, working together to achieve change. That is how we will achieve change now. Together with my colleagues, inside and outside parliaments around the world, I am proud to be part of a movement that is about so much more than opposing the self-interested and profit-oriented views of the major parties. Our movement is about vision, responsibility and an optimism for the future. I look forward to working with Bob Brown to present the Greens’ vision in this parliament and to building a movement that strives for a more just, equitable and sustainable society here in Australia and around the world.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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