CHRISTINE MILNE: This morning Prime Minister Gillard held what is effectively an election campaign policy launch. It was dressed up as something that was about to be delivered for the nation and that is a National Disability Insurance Scheme. This has been something that campaigners have been working for around the country for a long time. It’s certainly something the Greens support and we think it is critical for Australia to have a National Disability Insurance Scheme to support people living with disability and to give the comfort to everyone that in circumstances which we can’t predict any of us can end up with a major disability and so a National Disability Insurance Scheme is a great idea. I’m very disappointed though that the Prime Minister has made a National Disability Insurance Scheme an at-risk proposition for the federal election. We should be legislating this scheme now before the election and throwing down the gauntlet to whoever is elected after September 14 to say it is in place, it is what Australians want and we now say to you keep it in place and with the Greens in balance of power in the Senate we would be able to prevent the repeal of any National Disability Insurance Scheme. Instead of that what the Prime Minister has done has said this is the Labor Party policy to take to the election, knowing full well that the polls are showing overwhelmingly that the Coalition is set to win the election. That means the Prime Minister’s decision not to legislate the NDIS but to make it at-risk proposition is a cynical political exercise because it’s putting off until tomorrow what she could do today. Now it’s not the argument she used with Gonski. She said that Gonski was so important we have to get it done before the election and the Greens said absolutely let’s get on with it and we are going to legislate for a fairer funding model for schools before the election. Well let’s do the same for National Disability Insurance.
As to the funding mechanism for the NDIS, the Government has proposed a levy. The Greens are open to all fundraising, revenue-raising, measures, in fact we are the ones who have been saying for a long time that there is a revenue crisis in Australia, that the receipts are not as high as predicted, and that we have to get on with raising money. Yes we can run a deficit and again we said that it was time to abandon the surplus and get real about having a deficit, but there’s no need to drive the deficit deeper and deeper when you can also raise revenue. That’s why we’ve said that when the Prime Minister came out and said everything is on the table now in revenue-raising she should have included the mining tax, she should have included getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies. If we got rid of the flaws in the mining tax we could raise $26 billion. If we got rid of fossil fuel subsidies to the big miners, not to the farmers but to the big miners, we could raise $13 billion. So whilst we are prepared to look at all revenue raising measures, the Prime Minister has an obligation to tell the Australian people why she is not prepared to take on the big miners, why she has become so frightened of their advertising campaign and running away from them, whilst saying to everybody else the burden has to be shared. So come on Prime Minister, let’s get on with the National Disability Insurance Scheme, let’s legislate it before the election and let’s challenge whoever comes into government after September 14 to maintain it, and with the Greens in the balance of power in the Senate we will stop its repeal.
Secondly I’m calling on the Prime Minister to say whether there will be any changes to the current disability pension. Now this is really important because people are currently on a disability support pension around the country and they need to know that they’re not going to be reassessed against the new eligibility criteria and suddenly find that their funding is cut. So we need two things: get the NDIS legislation in before the election, and secondly guarantee everybody currently on a disability support pension that they’re not going to be reassessed and lose their pension or some of them get no pension at all in the context of this discussion.
JOURNALIST: By making this an election issue hasn’t the Prime Minister essentially, isn’t she essentially allowing voters to have a say on how this NDIS is funded, and why shouldn’t people be given that option?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the excuse the Prime Minister is using for making the National Disability Insurance Scheme an at-risk proposition as opposed to legislating it us that it’s a big change and the community needs to vote on it. Well so is the Gonski change in funding for schools and yet we are confident we’re doing the right thing and getting on with it and funding it and getting it out the door. That is exactly the same thing that should happen with national disability. I actually think to say National Disability Insurance is something that should go to the community to be decided is a cop out when you know the overwhelming likelihood is that an Abbott government is coming and there’s no guarantee at all that there ever will be a National Disability Insurance Scheme or it will be put off or compromised under that sort of government.
JOURNALIST: But there is bipartisan support for the policy, the only thing that’s unclear is the funding model.
CHRISTINE MILNE: Whilst Tony Abbott says he supports a National Disability Insurance Scheme, he and Joe Hockey are all over the place as to how comprehensive it would be, when it would kick in, whether it would in fact just the aspirational. Even today they’re saying yes it is a good idea but only when we can afford it. Certainly that’s Peter Costello’s view and what does that mean in the current scenario where we are running deficits. So there is no guarantee to anyone in Australia that under an Abbott government there would be legislated a National Disability Insurance Scheme in the first year of government. That simply is on the never-never.
JOURNALIST: Did Nick McKim and his colleagues in State Parliament yesterday excluding Kim Booth do the right thing in voting to support the peace deal legislation?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens have all agreed around the country and here in Tasmania and certainly in the conservation movement as well that the forest agreement was destroyed in the Legislative Council. The integrity of the agreement was destroyed. What was voted on the House of Assembly yesterday was a far cry from what was agreed. As a result the discussion in the Parliament yesterday was about the scraps and remnants, picking over a dead carcass of legislation, and the Tasmanian Greens made a decision in that while they are looking at the merits or otherwise of accepting that, looking at what they thought they could salvage. From my point of view I have a different view about the merits of the legislation because as the Australian Greens leader it is not tenable to take some of the principles that were voted on yesterday and have them applied anywhere in the nation. And the first one of those is that you would hold the reservation of forests hostage to securing FSC certification for native forest logging. You wouldn’t also want reservations held hostage to an adjudication process by an Upper House as to whether or not the community had behaved itself. These are serious issues and equally we should never be endorsing the principle that you can log in reserved areas at the behest of a special council or minister and those ideas were entrenched as legislation they have become law and they are not something I would want to see replicated anywhere around the country.
JOURNALIST: Surely that difference in opinion has caused a fairly tense relationship between yourself and Mr McKim?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Not at all, the Greens are a mature political party and we certainly have strong argument and discussion around issues. It’s very clear that the State Greens, with the exception of Kim Booth, and I have a different view about the merits of the legislation but I also have a national responsibility and that’s clear to me that I need to uphold the principles of forest protection into the longer term, and Nick and I will continue to work together, we always have, we always will, we are good friends and we will continue to work together.
JOURNALIST: Is Mr McKim less principled than you?
CHRISTINE MILNE: It’s a different of opinion. The Upper House put the conservation movement and the Greens at every level around the country in a very, very different difficult position. The Legislative Council killed the integrity of the forestry agreement. There’s no doubt about that. And they left everybody having to weigh up the merits of what was a salvage operation. When you are picking through, looking at the dead carcass if you like, people make decisions as to what’s salvageable or not, and what is the cost of that salvage operation. I have a different opinion to my colleagues in Tasmania on that but nevertheless we are all agreed that the hopes and aspirations that came from the forest agreement are no longer there because there is no secure forest reservation except for the World Heritage nomination which we’re all excited about and look forward to seeing achieved in June this year.
JOURNALIST: Mr McKim says it’s locked up half a million hectares of reserves - is that wrong?
CHRISTINE MILNE: What has happened is the original agreement said that there would be immediate and as soon as feasible reservation of large areas of high conservation forests in Tasmania. That has now been relegated in my view to the never-never because it’s post-October 2014 and subject to Forestry Tasmania getting FSC certification, which could take years, and you have to ask is an organisation that firebombs for regeneration, is an organisation that continues to clear-fell likely to get FSC certification in the short-term? It’s very difficult to see. So there’s a difference of opinion as to whether the legislation will be durable in terms of delivering the reserves.
JOURNALIST: But is Mr McKim wrong?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The time will tell as to whether we get the reserves and it will be something people look back on because it’s a very difficult situation. What do you do when you have got the integrity of an agreement destroyed and a Labor Party throwing in its lot with the Legislative Council and refusing to stand up for the forest conservation principles that were in the agreement? Now that is a very difficult scenario for everyone involved and you will note that everyone involved has said that it’s less than ideal. The extent to which it’s less than ideal is the point of disagreement.
JOURNALIST: Would you have voted the way they did?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I’ve made it very clear I don’t support the legislation in its current form because as the national leader of the Greens I will not agree to a principle which says that forest reserves should be held hostage to getting FSC certification for Forestry Tasmania, or to an adjudication by the Legislative Council as to whether or not they think that there has been undue protest or activity in the markets. Or indeed I could never agree to a principle which says that you can log any reserved area including a World Heritage area.
JOURNALIST: Is Bob Brown, yourself and Peg Putt have all said that apart from Kim Booth the Tasmanian Greens did the wrong thing yesterday, is Nick McKim’s position as leader untenable now?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Not at all, Nick’s the leader of the Tasmanian Greens and he has done a great job as leader of the Tasmanian Greens. He has the full confidence of his party room and the Greens party and he will continue to lead the Tasmanian Greens. You have to put yourself into the difficult position that he and his colleagues were in trying to make a decision about what was salvageable. Now there is a difference of opinion as to what was salvageable and the costs of that salvage operation but that’s as far as it goes. We are all committed to getting forest conservation in Tasmania and my job now is to work with everyone on the ground to make sure that those reserves which are out there on the never-never actually become reserved.
JOURNALIST: How unprecedented is this split? Peg Putt was sort of saying earlier it’s not something that the Greens have seen before.
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Greens are a mature political party, we’re growing all over the country, it is not uncommon at all for federal political parties to have difference of opinions with their state colleagues, in fact it happens all the time. If you go to COAG meetings you will see state governments of the same calibre and flavour as federal governments disagreeing on a whole range of issues. And that’s as it should be and as it will be.
JOURNALIST: Do you think more members of the party would agree with your position on this or with Nick McKim’s position?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I think that the Tasmanian Greens and the Australian Greens will look over the detail of this very carefully because everyone wants to make sure that we don’t see the same sort of restrictions on freedom of speech and protest and holding to ransom forest conservation to FSC certification rolled out around the country, so I think you’re going to have the Greens really interested in the detail here as to how we can salvage whatever it is that can be salvaged.
JOURNALIST: One of the promises made by the Tasmanian Government in getting the environmental signatories on board is that land management will transfer to Parks and Wildlife instead of Forestry Tasmania – does that make it harder for them to receive the receive Forestry Stewardship Council certification?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the FSC certification was always going to be for the land that was continuing to be logged, the forests that were going to be logged that were outside the areas proposed for conservation. So it was basically to give FSC certification to what was the resource that industry was going to continue to use. But the detail needs to be looked at in terms of what proposed changes have there been to the proposed forest practices code, to the amount of head room for example on the coups, issues around regeneration burns, issues around clear-felling, issues abound cable logging, they are the issues and what is wrong here is mixing up the merits of Forest Stewardship Council certification and mixing that up with forest protection. They are separate processes whereby you determine the merits of a reserve on the basis of its biodiversity and ecological significance and you determine whether or not an organisation like Forestry Tasmania gets FSC certification on the basis of its practices. Holding reserves to ransom, saying we’re going to blackmail FSC to give certification or otherwise the reserves aren’t going to be granted means that you are putting those reserves onto the never-never if the FSC don’t give in and certify Forestry Tasmania in spite of some of its practices.
JOURNALIST: Is Miranda Gibson right when she’s saying that she was really disappointed to see members of the Greens supporting legislation that locks in the destruction of native forests – do you agree with her there?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Look I think Miranda is a fantastic person I think her contribution to forest conservation is really reflected in the World Heritage nomination. She took a protest up in that tree for a very long time and drew world attention to the value of forests and when the World Heritage extension is agreed in June in part that will be her victory and I think that’s a great thing. I’m not in the least bit surprised that she is unhappy with the legislation that went through, of course she wouldn’t be, she’s given up a year of her life for forest conservation. And I think there will be a lot of people who are shaking their heads about this, and that is that a process that began about exiting logging from native forests has ended up with a process of entrenching logging in native forests and gaining FSC certification for them and in fact promoting markets for them. That’s something that I think Miranda and others are shaking their heads about.
JOURNALIST: Where does this kind of go from here? We’ve heard today both Miranda, Peg and Jenny Weber of saying they are going to have to redouble their efforts because of this legislation. Are we going to see more protests do you think as a result of this?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I certainly think that the community who supports forest conservation will be out now supporting forest conservation and I will be joining with them in that process and I’m sure the conservation movement and all the Greens will be doing the same because that is what the promise is. The difference of opinion I suppose is my view is that promise is on the never-never, other people think it can be achieved, we have to make sure it is achieved as best we possibly can in the circumstances, and that’s the task of everyone, so we do all have to redouble our efforts to secure that outcome.
JOURNALIST: When you say you will be supporting it are you talking about talking or actually going and chaining yourself to a tree or something?
CHRISTINE MILNE: As the leader of the Australian Greens I have a platform in the Parliament, a platform in the community to speak out strongly for forest conservation, to condemn bad forestry practices and to promote biodiversity and to promote Tasmania and its brand and I will always be doing that. I have a long and proud record of campaigning and arguing for forest conservation and I will be doing everything in our power, in my power and the power of the Green party to make sure that what is effectively only a moratorium turns eventually into forest protection.