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Speech to National Conference

Australian Greens National Conference - November 2016

Check against delivery.

A week might be long time in politics but a year is an eternity.

Since giving my speech to last year’s national conference we’ve seen the election of Donald Trump, Brexit, the reemergence of European nationalist movements and One Nation here in Australia.

You will hear all sorts of explanations about how we got here and what should happen now, often made with absolute certainty by the same people who said with absolute certainty that Donald Trump couldn't win.

One thing though is clear. We are at a turning point in global politics and how we respond will determine the future of this country.  

I strongly believe that the two common threads, the two major factors contributing to these seismic shifts, are racism and inequality.

When Donald Trump can accuse Mexicans of being rapists and murderers, call for a ban on all Muslim immigration and have the Klu Klux Klan spruiking for him on the campaign trail and get elected, you know that race is a factor.

If you hear any commentary that dismisses the contribution of racism to these events, ignore it. Race is and always has been a powerful motivator. 

The role of inequality is just as important. 

Economic growth has not been shared equally and whole communities have been left behind. 

People are hurting, they’ve had a gutful of politics as usual, and they are looking for alternatives.

And of course when you combine the two, when race and inequality collide, you have a potent political weapon.  

So what are the lessons for those of us in Australia?

Well, we have already seen the reactionary liberals emboldened, they want to weaken protections around racial discrimination making it easier for people to be racist, and they’ve ramped up their rhetoric against asylum seekers, just when you thought they couldn’t sink any lower.

If you’d told me a year ago that the government would try again to weaken the racial discrimination act, after uniting multicultural Australia against them, I’d say you were dreaming.

But it seems the lesson for the Liberals from recent events is that the politics of race, fear and division is a powerful bludgeon to be wielded indiscriminately on multicultural Australia.

How else do we explain Peter Dutton’s disgraceful, calculated and divisive attack on Lebanese Muslims?

We’ve also seen Labor ramping up their rhetoric on foreign workers, accusing them of taking the jobs of Australian nurses, motor mechanics, and carpenters, a message that would be equally at home in Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party.  

They play the race card because both parties won't take on their wealthy corporate backers and tackle the growing inequality that is dividing our nation.

Both the Liberal and Labor parties recently passed two new laws that have widened the gap between rich and poor.   The first gave tax cuts to the top 20 per cent of Australians and the second cut family support for middle and low income households.

If there is a silver lining in recent events, and God knows we’re all looking for one, it’s that the days of dog eat dog, turbo-charged, crony capitalism are numbered.

The Neoliberal experiment, one that sees competition as the cornerstone of human interaction, market fundamentalism triumph over planning and design, the sale of any public asset that isn’t nailed down, is over.

Right around the world people have rejected a philosophy that sees taxation, regulation and trade union activity as the enemy.

They no longer believe that if we make the rich richer wealth will magically trickle down to everyone.

The challenge for those of us who believe in fairness, justice and care for our fellow human beings and the planet is to craft a competing story.

One that listens to the people and communities who have been left behind, that acknowledges their concerns and anxieties. 

A story that rejects the rampant individualism of neoliberalism and understands that it is societies, and not individuals, who build our schools and hospitals and other vital public infrastructure.  

One that understands that co-operation, not just competition, is hard wired into our DNA and can be harnessed as a force for justice and decency.

A story that understands that the state is critical in building a decent society.

One that understands that trade between countries should benefit communities, not wealthy corporations.

That we need to increase protections for workers and support for those people doing it tough.

A story that fights for an inclusive patriotism, not a retreat to nationalism. 

I love this country. It gave my family, and millions just like them, the opportunity to build a new life. 

Let us not just put Australia first, but put our common humanity first.

To bring this story to life the Greens will be fighting to make big changes in this parliament. 

We'll keep leading the fight to establish an anti-corruption watchdog and put an end to the corrosive influence of political donations. If the state is to have a more active role people need to have faith that decisions are made in their interests, not just wealthy corporate donors. 

We'll keep fighting to put a stop to the shameful war against innocent men, women and children who seek our protection, people wanting nothing more than to live in peace and contribute to this incredible country of ours.

Just like The Greens lead the debate on Superannuation reform, negative gearing, CGT reform and a banking royal commission when the old parties couldn’t even bring themselves to mouth the words, we'll change the national conversation on how we tackle intergenerational inequality.

That means taxing wealth.

Nowhere is this more evident than in housing, where it’s easier for baby boomers to buy their fourth or fifth property than for a young person to buy their first.

If you had been saving your income for the last three years for a deposit for your first home, your wages have risen 5% while the house you’ve been saving for has gone up by 31%.

Young people in this country are getting shafted.

I had the honour of meeting recently with Thomas Picketty and he was shocked that Australia doesn’t have an inheritance tax.

I believe the time has come for our Party to debate this issue, and consider once again adopting inheritance taxes as part of our efforts to tackle inequality. 

We'll continue to have the courage to lead the debate on important issues like dying with dignity and our response to illicit drugs, issues that demonstrate just how out of touch our politicians are.

This weekend our delegates will consider a change to our illicit drugs policy and I look forward to ramping up our campaign for a more sensible approach to the harm caused by drugs.

A campaign that promotes harm reduction and supports key measures that we know work – like pill testing, safe injecting centres and putting an end to the harm caused by sniffer dogs.

No doubt News Corp will attack us as they did during the recent drugs policy roundtables I hosted around the country when they plastered a photo of me and Larissa waters smoking a crack pipe on their front pages.

It’s hard work to explain what a crack pipe is to your Italian mother and it’s harder still to explain that it wasn’t real and how photoshop works.

It is only the Greens who have the courage and vision to lead all of these tough debates in the parliament.

We owe it to future generations to make it so.

I genuinely believe our future is one in which we will see more Greens elected to government, at the local, state and national level.

I am hearing from Australians right around the country, from Brunswick to Broome, from West End to Wollongong who are seeing the Greens as the only Party that is offering hope, compassion and decency.

We are the only stable, durable and genuine alternative to the Coles and Woolworths of politics.

Our members and supporters are our strongest asset and we should be proud that we are the only major political party that allows our members to preselect MPs and determine all aspects of party policy.

But we can always improve.

The Australian Greens have undertaken a comprehensive national survey of our membership and we are now undertaking a comprehensive strategic planning process.

I firmly believe we have to build a stronger, better resourced national body if we are to win more seats in our national parliament and change our nation.

We must challenge ourselves and engage in the contest of ideas, but let us always do it respectfully and with integrity.

Let's reflect honestly on the big variations in our results across the country and learn from those states that are doing well and achieving great things.

We need our party to adapt and evolve so that we create space for people from diverse cultural backgrounds who are joining our movement.

Over the past few months we have been overwhelmed by the interest from Muslim Australians wanting to find out more about the Greens. They are telling us they want to support the only party standing up to and calling out Islamophobia - I’ve even met an Imam who is set to become our newest member.

So if we are to be truly welcoming and inclusive let’s consider establishing communities of interest as formal entities inside the party so that branch meetings aren’t the only means of engagement.

We should capitalise on the growing influence of e-democracy so that people can contribute ideas, and vote on important issues, no matter where they live or the hours they work.

Technology has an important role to play in enhancing our internal democracy and bringing people together in an ever expanding organisation.

Our community organising model continues to go from strength to strength and I’m constantly inspired to see people stepping up and showing leadership in their local neighborhood, working with their community and building on the best traditions of progressive politics to create grass roots movements. 

One of the great joys of the recent election campaign for me was watching so many enthusiastic and optimistic young people join our movement - a movement that is growing and getting stronger every day. 

Our Party Room is also changing.

When I first took on the Leadership I worked hard to make our new national council structure a forum for regular dialogue with our party. We’ve made huge strides and I want to acknowledge the work of our convenors and all of our national councilors who have made it a successful transition.

We’ve also opened our Party Room to regular media briefings for the first time and amended our Party Room rules to allow more time for our Leadership ballots.

I believe that the time is now right for our 15,000 strong membership across the country to have a frank and open debate around the options for membership involvement in the election of Party Leader.

Let me finish where I started.

Our world is in transition.

Global warming is spiralling out of control, inequality is getting worse and racism and islamophobia are growing. 

The political establishment is failing us. 

There has never been a more important time for courage and leadership in the national debate. 

There has never been an important time to be Green.    

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