Subjects: Dental care, RBA, increasing Government revenue, mining royalties, superannuation, super trawler, offshore detention of asylum seekers
CHRISTINE MILNE: What a great day for Australians when a bill is coming into the Parliament that is Medicare funded dentistry for children across the country. That is one of the great outcomes that we've been able to negotiate with the Gillard Government, it was part of our agreement following the federal election in 2010 and of course it's in part down to the people of Melbourne because it was as a result of Adam Bandt's election in Melbourne that we got balance of power in both houses, we were able to negotiate an agreement that not only has delivered the clean energy package but has delivered what is happening today and that is Medicare funded dentistry for kids. That has been a terrific negotiation that has been conducted by my colleague Richard Di Natale so I will hand over to Richard to just comment on the Denticare package.
RICHARD DI NATALE: Thanks Christine. As Christine said it's really very proud day for me and for the Greens because what we're going to see introduced into this country is legislation that for the first time gives access to Medicare funded dentistry for kids right across the country. We are going to have 3 and a half million children who for the first time can go to the dentist just like they go to the doctor. We're going to see a cap of $1000 provided to all kids over a period of two years so the kids can now go to their dentist and have fillings, fluoride treatment, scales and clean, all the basic stuff that needs to happen, funded through Medicare, so it's a terrific win for the Greens and for country. It's really important that we invest in kids because there are some really worrying signs that the oral health of young children is actually getting worse. We're seeing large groups of children whose oralhealth is actually declining and they take that into their adulthood, causes all sorts of problems, leads to extractions and all sorts of other health complications.
Now I know there are some people inside the Labor Party who don't like us claiming credit for some of these initiatives but they need a history lesson here. The Government on two separate occasions tried to close down the chronic disease scheme, the Greens voted against it we said very, very clearly if you want to abolish this scheme, something better has got to be put in its place. We got Adam elected into the Lower House in Melbourne and with the balance of power in the Senate we managed to negotiate a package that provides over $4 billion of investment in dental care. The Medicare funded package for kids, huge investment in dental workforce and providing infrastructure right across rural and regional Australia. It's a huge win and I'd say along with the clean energy package this dental package are one of two key achievements that has been achieved because of the Greens through this Parliament. Something I'm very proud of, I know it's something Christine is very proud of and Adam and people of Melbourne should be very proud of.
CHRISTINE MILNE: Thanks Richard and we'll come back to talking about how we might pay for it, but I'll just hand over to Adam to talk particularly about the Securency and Reserve Bank scandal.
ADAM BANDT: I'm really thrilled to be in the House today as the legislation to give free dental care, Medicare funded dental care for kids is introduced, it was one of three key planks of the agreement that Christine and I signed to form the current Government, along with climate change and action on high-speed rail. It goes to show that when you have Greens in Parliament the community gets fantastic outcomes.On the Reserve Bank, Labor can no longer continue to block a full enquiry into the growing scandal of the Reserve Bank of Australia and its subsidiaries. Last night and this morning we've heard disturbing allegations that on Labor's watch RBA and senior officials of the Reserve Bank of Australia knew that somewhere in the order of $1 million was being paid in potentially illegal payments to an overseas agents. When it had been told publicly that these overseas agents contract had been terminated so they were potentially under the radar payments designed to precisely cover up the fact that this agent was not meant to be getting any public money at. We need to get to the bottom of this because there is a growing cloud over the Reserve Bank of Australia and this is a central economic institution in this country that should be operating according to the highest standards of governance and the Australian public should enjoy full confidence in the RBA's governance. Now at the moment that's not there, there is a cloud over the RBA and the only way it can be lifted is by a full enquiry. I don't believe that further Parliamentary enquiries are going to get to the bottom of this, we've been chasing this through parliamentary committees now for a couple of years, we still haven't got the full picture.I have written to the Treasurer urging him to establish a full enquiry with the powers of the Royal Commission into this growing scandal. I hope he now acts on it, Labor can no longer continue to hide these allegations of potentially corrupt activity in the Reserve Bank and its subsidiaries. We need to know who knew what when so that we can have full confidence in the Government and this important institution.
CHRISTINE MILNE: Can I just add some remarks about how we will, have been proposing to raise money. One of the big questions everyone is asking around the country is, well we think it's terrific that the Greens negotiated dental care, we think it's great that people are wanting the implementation of the Gonski review, putting billions into public education in particular, it's long overdue, people love the idea we'll go with the idea of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but they get really disappointed when they discover that the finances are all back-ended and that not a lot is going to happen in the first few years. The Greens are saying look, we want to raise the money to make sure we bring forward this spending. Now there are a couple of initiatives that I've got in Parliament. The first one I gave notice of yesterday was to plug the gap in the Minerals Resource Rent Tax so that with Campbell Newman now raising in Queensland to lift coal royalties for example the Commonwealth doesn't suffer yet another blow to revenue stream when clearly that's happening virtually daily as the commodity prices fall. So we actually have to you plug that gap and the Greens are giving the Treasury a good opportunity to back this bill, in fact the Government should take it on and do it themselves, we suggested this amendment at the time the bill went through pointing out this loophole, it's now time for Wayne Swan to do it, his preferred route of trying to take it from the GST, I don't think it will work because he does not actually control how the GST is distributed around the country and he's not going to get involved in that Commonwealth commission I don't think. Then on the second issue, he's saying the infrastructure grants, that's messy, that's a long-term fight with the state, it's much better to clean this up in terms of saying no more royalty reimbursements to the companies after 1 July last year.
So that's one, the second is a fairer superannuation and tax system. We want to make sure that that people are helped to save for their retirement but we want to make sure that it is in a fair way and so we've heard the Government is thinking about further changes to superannuation, so we've put on the table a costed proposal that Treasury has looked at to say that we would change the tax rates on the concessions that go into superannuation for voluntary contributions which effectively mean a 15 per cent reduction on whatever the marginal tax rate is. We're not married to the specifics of it, we're prepared to negotiate but there is an opportunity there that Treasury has identified could contribute 2.9 billion a year and that would go a long way to helping us with Denticare, with the National Disability Insurance Scheme and with the implementation of more money into public schools.
JOURNALIST: The Opposition this morning you said that they won't be supporting the Government's legislation to stop the super trawler, what's your reaction to that?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well communities all around Australia will be really disappointed. I'm not surprised because Eric Abetz and Richard Colbeck from Tasmania have been leading the charge to support the super trawler. I know that Australians right around the country, environmentalist and recreational fishers alike are all saying they just don't want this huge vacuum cleaner of the sea operating in Australian waters and now that the Minister has admitted that they haven't done the science, that they don't know the localised depletion impacts, that the fisheries management plan is inadequate in that regard, and so the Greens are going to continue the campaign to stop super trawlers operating in Australian waters and if you look at what they have done in the Pacific and West Africa you can see that regardless of what people have said about sustainability there has been fisheries collapse where ever you've had super trawlers.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) job losses though? There's meant to be 50 job losses in Tasmania.
CHRISTINE MILNE: The jobs losses in fisheries will be even more acute if you bring in a super trawler that is like a huge vacuum cleaner of the sea and ends up with a lot of local fishing communities losing local jobs. That is the outcome in the longer term.
JOURNALIST: The Marine Alliance says that the laws have hastily put together and effectively the Government is bowing to the Greens, so they're not as supportive of these laws are they?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Government has made its own decision, we'll have a look at that legislation before it comes into the Senate, obviously they're racing it in, the fact is that the Government is only stalling this decision and we actually need to stop the super trawlers. What this legislation does is simply push the decision out 12 months beyond the federal election and if you wanted to be cynical you could just be saying the Government is trying to duck past and get this out of the way before next year's federal election. Well what the Greens want to see is two things - banning super trawlers in Australian waters, but secondly reducing the quota back to what it was. I don't know that the community is fully across the idea that the Government actually doubled the quota in this fishery in order to facilitate the super trawler and that doubled quota remains and the trawler is simply stalled for two years. So whilst it's a step in the right direction to stall it we want it to be stopped.
JOURNALIST: The amendments that you announced last night that you would effectively add to the legislation for a ban, is that contingent on your support, will you support the Government's legislation in both houses if that amendment isn't accepted?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens have made it clear that we want the super trawler stopped. If we can't succeed in stopping it we'll certainly support it being stalled for two years but we want to actually put the pressure on both the Coalition and the Government to think about this carefully. The Coalition has come out with its view that it supports super trawlers. I think it's pretty clear to the Australian community and that will be part of the mix of how the community responds to the Coalition coming into next year's election but if the Government won't agree to banning super trawlers we'll certainly support them stalling it but we want it exposed that that's all it is.
JOURNALIST: On the mining tax, Senator, have you had any talks with the Government about your amendment to increase revenue, have you had any signal that there's any support at all and when do you think the vote would come on?
CHRISTINE MILNE: No I haven't had a chance to discuss the matter with the Government, I did speculate whether I should have called it the Friends of Treasury Bill or the Wayne Swan Rescue Package but effectively no I haven't had discussions with the Treasurer. He has written to the state, he clearly is worried about the revenue gap that's going on here, and effectively the Greens are offering Treasury a lifeline and I think the Government would do well to take it and when the Prime Minister is back in her responsibilities here in the Parliament I would be taking that to her.
JOURNALIST: With the Coalition not supporting the super trawler legislation in the House of Representatives, can you say now whether you will support the Government's legislation?
RICHARD DI NATALE: I think Christine's just answered that.
CHRISTINE MILNE: We would prefer that the super trawler was banned but certainly if we can't succeed on the ban we would support it being stalled, yes.
JOURNALIST: The foreign minister of Nauru Kieren Keke is saying that he would be comfortable with asylum seekers being sent there for five years, what do you think of that?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens have argued that we ought not be sending asylum seekers offshore, we made that very clear but we've also said that if the Government is insistent with the support of the Coalition in sending people offshore, then they ought to limit the time to no more than 12 months and that takes into account all of the health research that shows that there are serious health problems, that mental health issues in particular, the longer that people are kept in detention. So we do not support the idea of people being locked up overseas and in an indefinite period and we want to have the Government's explain what is a clear inconsistency between the Prime Minister's no advantage test which says people can be held there for as long as presumably the average is across the region and at the same time Nauru and PNG now saying they have other ideas. Let's have some clarity here, I think the Government should actually do as the Greens have requested and in fact not just the Greens, all the refugee advocacy groups, all the mental health groups are out there saying the same, the less time you can keep people the better it is for them emotionally and for their long-term health.
JOURNALIST: Isn't less than 12 months though not disadvantaging them, the no advantage test isn't working then.
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Greens have never supported this idea of advantage and no advantage, it is a nonsense in fact. Everyone who looks at what has happened in this Parliament can only see failure written all over it. The whole point that this legislation was raced through the Parliament was to stop people getting on boats. The Greens said deterrence will not work, the refugees are all saying it's not going to work, they're running away from persecution, what's happening to the Hazaras in Pakistan at the moment is horrendous, I don't think that any deterrence is going to stop them and we have already seen a record number of people - 2150 or more to date, already having come since the Government introduced this legislation so it hasn't stopped people risking their lives, all it's done is create this big problem for the Government and the community as more and more detention centres are going to have to be set up across the region to facilitate an expensive and failed policy.
JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce has asked why if the Greens were genuinely opposed to processing on Nauru why didn't they march into the Prime Minister's office and threaten to withdraw support from the Government.
CHRISTINE MILNE: Barnaby Joyce really is a force of instability in the Coalition; I don't think the country would appreciate him being a force for instability for the nation. In fact he is one of the worries I suspect the community has thinking about what might happen after the next election. The Greens gave an undertaking to support the Government with confidence and supply and we will continue to do so. We have been a force for stability in this period of minority Government and it's because of that that we got some really good outcomes that we're here today talking about Denticare and the clean energy package. The Government has made its position known, the Coalition supports the Government in this cruel attack on the rights of refugees. That is something that they will answer in history for our position is very clear.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) position to be able to do something about it, Barnaby Joyce aside
CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens in balance of power have always been extremely responsible and we have said that we'll offer confidence and supply and we have never threatened to bring down governments on a whim, in fact we have been very clear about that it would only be in cases of corruption and the like that we would even go down that path so we are clear about this, we are here to support the Government with confidence and supply and we will use the floor of Parliament to put our positions very strongly as we have. Every member of Parliament in the balance of power parliament has power, every member can work with other members and deliver outcomes and the thing about the Coalition and Barnaby Joyce in particular is that they haven't been prepared to use the power of they've got in the balance of power scenario to get good outcomes, they've only used it to be disruptive.
JOURNALIST: On the trawler issue, the Coalition says that the Government's legislation doesn't make sense because the same amount fish could be still plundered by more smaller boats.
CHRISTINE MILNE: That's why the Greens are saying that if you're serious about marine conservation you should be going back and halving the quota back to what it was before the quota was doubled to facilitate the super trawler.