image

CHRISTINE MILNE
Australian Greens Leader


Friday 31 August 2012

Press conference
Transcript

Subjects: Afghanistan, marriage equality public service job cuts, mining tax, sexism


CHRISTINE MILNE: With all Australians grieving for the soldiers who have been lost in Afghanistan we’re also thinking about the parents and families and friends of the troops who are currently serving there, and the increasing level of danger in Uruzgan and other parts of Afghanistan as a result of the increasing number of deaths that are being caused by the so-called allies in terms of the Afghan forces. This number has increased in recent months, about a quarter of the casualties and the deaths have been because of Afghan soldiers who are turning on allied soldiers, and I really think it is time that Australia rethought the whole strategy.

I’m calling on the Prime Minister to bring our troops home as quickly and safely as possible. It is not appropriate to leave them there until 2014. Other countries have made this decision. Already Canada and the Netherlands have brought their troops home. The French are bringing theirs home. The New Zealanders are bringing theirs home earlier than projected. Australia needs to bring our troops home now in the safest way that we possibly can. I would like the Prime Minister to rethink this whole strategy. She has seemed committed always to leaving Australia’s troops there until 2014 as other countries draw down their commitment. Even the Americans have withdrawn 23,000 troops. It’s time Australia brought our troops home.

JOURNALIST: What impact would it have on stability in Uruzgan province if these troops were brought home immediately?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The question is what difference would it make if the troops came home now or they came home in 2014. Everyone who’s looking at Afghanistan is saying that the resurgence of the Taliban is there, there is instability, there is corruption in the country, the Afghans are going to have to sort it out for themselves in the longer term. So I think it is appropriate to bring the Australian troops home now, as safely as we possibly can, consistent with what other countries are doing. We have suffered from a real creep if you like in terms of the scope of the exercise. We went into Afghanistan because of Al Qaeda and because of Bin Laden. Now we are supposedly there to build a new regime in Afghanistan. That wasn’t why we went there. What we now need to do is bring our troops home, it’s increasingly dangerous and I think all Australians are getting to the point where they want to see Australia’s troops home as quickly and safely as possible.

JOURNALIST: is it your position that Afghanistan does need to sort this out for itself out now?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well it’s very clear Afghanistan will have to sort out its own domestic politics over time. There is corruption in the government there, but equally the Taliban are resurgent. The overwhelming view of the Afghan people is that they do not want the foreign troops in their country any longer and that is probably one of the things that is fuelling these attacks on the Australian and other forces in Afghanistan. So let’s face the reality of how dangerous it is, let’s face the reality that this will not be sorted out in the next two years and let’s bring our troops home now as quickly and safely as possible.

JOURNALIST: Andrew Wilkie is saying that Prime Minister Julia Gillard and also Kevin Rudd, and John Howard have blood on their hands because they haven’t brought the troops back earlier. Do you agree with that?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I certainly think that we should be bringing our troops home now as quickly as possible. The Greens have argued this for a very long time. We have been consistent in the Federal Parliament calling on the Prime Minister to bring the troops home. Calling people names in the context of war is inappropriate. What I want to see happen is our troops to come home and I’m calling on the Prime Minister to face the fact of what it’s like in Afghanistan, to be aware of the sorrow that people around Australia are feeling and the anxiety of the parents and friends and families of those who are serving there, and say let’s bring them home.

JOURNALIST: What impact would that have on Australia’s strategic relationship with the US and other allies if we were to pull out now?

CHRISTINE MILNE:  Many countries have already pulled out of Afghanistan. We have got the Netherlands pulled out their troops, the Canadians, the French are bringing theirs out this year, the New Zealanders are bringing theirs home earlier, they are all global citizens and thinking about what’s best for the planet but also what’s best for their own domestic national interest.  I don’t think it’s going to make any difference at all. What Australia has to have is an independent foreign policy we are not a vassal of the United States. We need an independent foreign policy, and I think we need to assess the situation in Afghanistan and on that basis bring our troops home now as quickly and safely as we can get them here.

JOURNALIST: What responsibility does Julia Gillard have to the families of the soldiers that have died?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens have argued that it ought not to be the Prime Minister that commits our troops to war, that we should have an act of parliament so that the entire Australian parliament makes that decision, and that there is a broader discussion about committing troops to war. However, as it currently stands, it is a decision that is made by the leadership of the day, and the country responds accordingly. I think it’s now up to the leadership of the day, Prime Minister Gillard, to bring our troops home quickly and safely and get them here as soon as we can.

JOURNALIST: Do you think distancing ourselves from other countries with which were allied could actually backfire though and mean that if we were to come under some sort of attack or threat then we wouldn’t have them to back us up?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Australia has got many allies around the world but I think we need a much more independent foreign policy. Other countries have made decisions to bring their troops home and it hasn’t altered their standing in relation to the allies that they might have. They have made strategic decisions in their own national interest and I think that is what Australia has to do.

JOURNALIST: If the Taliban did come to power again because of an Australian withdrawal and other allies, who’s to blame if they do come to power in a bloody fashion?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Whatever happens with the Taliban in the future will be decision of the Afghani people. They will sort it out for themselves, they have got a corrupt government there at the moment. There are many problems in Afghanistan including the Taliban. The people of Afghanistan have to sort this out for themselves and frankly another two years of the allies in Afghanistan is not going to improve the situation dramatically, in fact the Afghani people are saying that that is one of the things that is driving the level of insurgency and violence that is there at the moment.

JOURNALIST: But if they’ve got a corrupt government, do you think it’s fair to say that the Afghani people will sort it out for themselves because if they have corrupt government then they’re not going to be listening to what the people actually want anyway.

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Afghani people are saying we do not want the foreign troops here anymore, we want the ability to sort this out for ourselves. That is going to be responsibility of the Afghani people. Our responsibility is to look after our own armed forces and that is why they should come home as quickly as possible, as safely as possible, and that is the challenge to the Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe the international community does have a role to play when there is a crisis for example in Afghanistan, or Kosovo, does it need to assess each one on its merits? What role does the international community have?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The international community meets through the United Nations and the Security Council and makes decisions in the best interest of the global community to the best of its ability. Often that doesn’t happen in the way people would like because there are various strategic self-interests expressed on the Security Council and I would argue that that has occurred in the Syrian crisis. But of course the global community has to meet to try to uphold human rights wherever it can. In the case of Afghanistan though we are now at the point where we are losing young Australians in that conflict and we need to bring them home now as quickly and safely as possible, that’s the challenge for the Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: Not long after Australia pulled out of Vietnam, a few years later we started accepting a higher rate of Vietnamese refugees, do you anticipate the same thing happening if we pulled out of Afghanistan?

CHRISTINE MILNE: There are already a large number of Afghani refugees seeking a new life in Australia and it is inevitable when you are involved in a conflict that there will be a spike in the number of refugees.  When the allied troops leave it difficult to know whether there will be a surge of people leaving Afghanistan or whether people will feel like they want to stay and be part of rebuilding the nation. However the Greens have argued we need to increase our humanitarian intake and naturally there will be Afghanis as part of that intake.
I wanted to just make some of the comments if I can. Firstly I really welcome the passage in the Tasmanian House of Assembly of marriage equality. What a great day of Tasmania that the Parliament has really shown the way, this shows how progressive and inclusive this community in Tasmania is and the challenge is now on the Legislative Council to follow suit and to pass that Bill. It’s just fantastic to think that in 1997 Tasmania had the most draconian laws in the country, people could be jailed for 21 years for being homosexual in Tasmania in 1997, and we’ve gone from that to now leading the way. That’s a pretty exciting transformation and I’m looking forward to the Legislative Council doing the right thing, passing the bill, and showing the rest of the country what a great place Tasmania is.

JOURNALIST:  What are you doing on the federal level to help the passage of the same sort of legislation?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens have been the strongest campaigners and advocates in the Federal Parliament for marriage equality. We have a bill currently in the Senate, currently being debated. The big problem for marriage equality in Australia is both Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard. That is the problem, they are on the wrong side of history. Both of them refuse to remove this discrimination and both of them are holding back the tide in Australia. That’s given Tasmania a window of opportunity to show what we can do but of course we would like to see this being a national reform, but sadly and unless Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott change their mind that’s unlikely to be the case, but we will continue to drive for that at the federal level.

JOURNALIST: Will you be seeking an assurance from the Prime Minister that there won’t be a High Court challenge against Tasmania’s laws?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I have been calling on the Prime Minister for some time now not to go to the High and try to do anything to overturn this when the states move on it as Tasmania has done and as South Australian has indicated that it would like to do. The Prime Minister has said nothing publicly so let’s have a clear statement from the Prime Minister that she will respect what Tasmania has done in leading the way around the country on marriage equality.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident that is what she will say?

CHRISTINE MILNE:  We’ll see what the Prime Minister has to say as a result of Tasmania really taking the lead on marriage equality but let’s hope that she is not going to stand in the way and hold the country back when it is overwhelmingly what the community wants.
There is no place discrimination in Australia and furthermore there is no place for misogyny like we had from Alan Jones coming out saying that it’s women that are causing problems in Australia, that have ruined the joint I think he said. Alan Jones needs to realise it’s women coming to power around the world and in Australia who are fixing the problems that people like him have created.
And they just want to make a final comment on the public service. The Prime Minister must move immediately to close the loophole in the Minerals Resource Rent Tax so that the states don’t gouge the money from that and have the Commonwealth having to pay back the mining companies. It is already clear that there is going to be a big hole in government revenue at the federal level. We have to move to stop that happening otherwise the Prime Minister is moving to slash the public service. I cannot understand a government’s that rushes to pour money into saving jobs in the car industry facilitating jobs with massive fossil fuel subsidies to the mining industry and then turns round and slashes the public service. We’ve already lost 4,500 jobs in the public service in the last two years and the Prime Minister is now saying that there will be many, many more in so-called efficiency dividends as the mid-year economic forecast is being developed. We can’t allow the sacking of so many jobs in the public service. We have to get away from being a country that just digs up and cuts down, we have to make the transformation to a knowledge and service-based economy and we need to support the people who are acting in the public service, they are doing this in the public interest, they’re supporting people through the services that are being provided, for advice that is being given to Government, we cannot allow Julia Gillard to start what Tony Abbott will then inevitably finish and that is a massive rout of the public service.  Instead we need to raise the money in order to be able to deliver what governments need to deliver in terms of dental care, in terms of implementation of Gonski, national disability insurance and the like.

JOURNALIST: Would you be prepared to sacrifice the dental scheme to save these jobs?

CHRISTINE MILNE: We don’t have to sacrifice anything to save these jobs, what we need to do is raise revenue. $ 7 billion a year is given out in fossil fuel subsidies, $2 billion of that the mining industry alone. If we close this loophole in the Mineral Resource Rent Tax we would get $10 billion out to 2020. So why wouldn’t we do that? We need to raise money in this country. The Greens are the only political party saying we need to raise the money that we want to spend, we are prepared to put our shoulders to the wheel to do it and we do not want to see fossil fuel subsidies continue, big hole in the Mineral Resource Rent Tax continue and public servants sacked, that makes no sense.

JOURNALIST: what’s the loophole you’re referring to?

CHRISTINE MILNE: With the Mineral Resource Rent Tax, it was hurriedly negotiated and the result was that the Commonwealth agreed that if the States increased their royalties then the Federal Government would pay that money back to the big miners. So we are seeing a churn of the states saying we need a green light for us to lift our royalties because the Commonwealth will pay that money back to the mining companies. What the Greens have said is as of 1 July 2011 we ought to be not paying any more increases in royalties back to those mining companies. That would give us $10 billion out 2020 and that would stop this rout that’s about to take place in the public service.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s acceptable to not to have a surplus in the mid-year economic update?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens have always said that we should look carefully at this idea of whether it’s so necessary to run a surplus and we don’t have the same commitment to the surplus that the Prime Minister has. But she has said that her government’s imperative is the surplus. Well if it’s the surplus, fine, let’s raise the money to deliver the programs. Don’t cut the public service in a massive attack on them because you are going to lose the very people we need to deliver the services in the kind of transformation is an economy that we need.