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Transcript: Christine Milne and Penny Wright press conference on MRRT and anti-discrimination reform

Christine Milne 20 Nov 2012

Christine Milne and Penny Wright addressed the press to discuss the Greens vision for tax reform and equality and anti-discrimination reform


Subjects: MRRT; Greens bill to plug royalties loophole in MRRT; diesel fuel rebate; anti-discrimination law reform

CHRISTINE MILNE: In today's news we see all over the place people wringing their hands saying 'where is the money going to come from? Oh dear it would be lovely to be able to implement Gonski and put more money into public education, wouldn't it be great if we could have national disability insurance? Wouldn't it be terrific if we could lift Newstart? But oh dear there's no money.'

Exactly the same kind of conversation went on between Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull last night, it's out there in the papers today, and the solution that's constantly being put forward is 'let's have another inquiry, let's just go and talk to people about perhaps expanding the GST.' Well, let's not put this off into the never-never. We don't need another inquiry, we don't need speculation about the GST, what we do need is actually passage of this bill. Now this bill would plug the loophole in the Minerals Resource Rent Tax. Wayne Swan has written to the states saying, 'oh dear you really must stop lifting royalties.' Well the best way of stopping that is for the Government to support the Greens on this bill. What it shows is from the Parliamentary Budget Office and what it shows is that over the next three years $2.2 billion could be saved if we say to the states we are not going to pay back the mining companies any increase in royalties that you put on to those royalties from July 1 2011. Why can't we do that? It's easy. Wayne Swan, Prime Minister Gillard, I'm saying to you let's actually plug the gap, let's actually save 2.2 billion and get on with implementing the things we want to do. Equally the Treasury modelling has shown $5.1 billion could be achieved from saying to the miners that they have to pay the real costs of their fuel. The community has to pay the real costs of their fuel, but the miners are being let off. Now we're saying don't do that to the farmers, they are doing it tough at the moment, but the miners can certainly afford to pay. $5.1 billion could be achieved to give us public education, to give us disability insurance, to get Newstart up, surely we should do that so let's end the discussion about the never-never, about more inquiries, about pushing everything back to 2020, let's do it now, let's get this bill passed.

At the same time, the Government is moving on another area in terms of anti-discrimination, and we welcome that. The Greens are always trying to end discrimination wherever it occurs. And we certainly welcome the Government's inclusion of gender and sexual orientation as part of what can be considered in terms of anti-discrimination. But it's rather ironic that the Government wants to be applauded for including sexual orientation as part of what can be included in anti-discrimination, and yet maintains the discrimination that is there by preventing marriage equality. So this ought to be the really big question for Prime Minister Gillard. If you're serious about ending discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, then give us marriage equality. Let's get on with it, let this Parliament pass it, and let's be genuine about the discrimination issues.

And to that end I'm going to ask Penny to make some comments specifically about the legislation that's proposed.

PENNY WRIGHT: The Australian Greens welcome the fact that the Government has now released an exposure draft into the anti-discrimination federal laws looking to consolidate and streamline those laws and that's a welcome step. We've been advocating for the introduction that that exposure draft for some time now, and we're pleased to see that. The Australian Greens believe that eradicating discrimination is absolutely crucial if we're going to have a safer, fairer, healthier society. All the evidence around the world shows that more equal societies bring about greater productivity, greater health in the population, and the Australian Greens are committed to a society where every person can participate to the fullness of their ability without unfair discrimination.

We know that the Government is looking to consolidate and streamline five anti-discrimination laws into one, and they have indicated that they will be looking at removing discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual preference. But the Australian Greens say that we need to go further than that, we want to see promotion of a fundamental right to equality in Australian society and addressing systemic discrimination. So the exposure draft and the ultimate law reform needs to go further.

We'd also like to see the grounds of discrimination being extended to include other grounds which cause unfair discrimination against Australians every day at the moment. Those grounds include grounds like persons who are intersex, irrelevant criminal records, social status such as homelessness, and we'd also like to see the removal of blanket exemptions for religious bodies on the basis of religious belief or activity. At the moment it's arbitrary and it's out of date and it's not consistent with our human rights obligations and international law. So we'd rather see the removal of blanket arbitrary exemptions, for what would be a general exceptions test which would mean that if a religious body were wishing to be able to discriminate there could be a balance and principled assessment as to whether that was necessary in the circumstances on a case-by-case basis. So there's a lot of room to improve the current position in the exposure draft and the Australian Greens will be advocating for the extension of the promotion of a right to equality in Australian society so that every Australian can actually participate without unfair discrimination to the best of their ability, and we've been discussing this with many stakeholders who have had a lot of input into the submissions and the discussions with the Government and we'll be looking to strengthen and improve the laws that the Government will be introducing.

JOURNALIST: Senator Milne, you've frequently talked about the MRRT and how you would like to make changes to it, aside from this proposal here, why did you ever back in the first place if it wasn't right?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Because we wanted to raise some money, it's very simple. The Greens supported the super profits tax in the first place, we've got the costings to show that it would have raised $26 billion. In fact I was quite shocked to see Tony Jones last night saying 'oh haven't we got any estimates of what it would be?' Well yes we have, $26 billion we could have raised, that was abandoned. Nevertheless we supported the MRRT because it was an opportunity to raise some money. The fact that it has raised nothing shows that it was badly designed, too many concessions were made and that's why we're trying to fix it. So we will support working with the Government, negotiating at every step along the way to raise money, because we know that if you want to spend money on public education, if you want to spend money on better healthcare, on Denticare, you have to raise it.

JOURNALIST: Senator Milne, would Labor be forgiven for shying away from another political battle over this given that it lead to the, well contributed to the down fall of Prime Minister Rudd?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Government has been out saying to the Australian community that they want to invest in projects like Denticare, and that's something the Greens have negotiated with them. We also want to see more money going into public education. Now if you want money to go into those things you have to raise it from somewhere so the Government actually has to step up to the plate. Now they are already picking a fight with the states, when Wayne Swan wrote to every state premier saying either stop raising the royalties or we will adjust this through the GST allocations, or with your infrastructure funding. Now that's going to pick a fight with every single state and it's going to take a long to negotiate. So this is a much cleaner, better outcome and it's one, if the Government's genuine about raising money, we could do right away.

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