From the streets to the Senate:
Greens Senator Kerry Nettle's first speech to the Senate
I pay my respects to the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of this land. I acknowledge the pain and suffering that has been inflicted upon so many Indigenous Australians as a result of the European invasion of this country. I acknowledge that the price for the prosperity and peace we enjoy today has been overwhelmingly borne by the first Australians. On behalf of the people I represent in Parliament, I say sorry for these past injustices. The Greens look forward to continuing to work with Indigenous Australians to address both past and current discrimination. Only when Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians work together can the true potential of our multicultural society be realised. The Greens bring a vision to politics in Australia and around the world that is based on four core principles: social and economic justice; ecological sustainability; peace and non-violence; and grassroots democracy. Communities in Australia and overseas are increasingly turning towards The Greens because we offer an optimistic and caring vision of the future. People are sick of a lack of choice at election time. They are sick of the emphasis on self-interest and of the predictable surrender to the power of profit. Increasingly there is a need to restate the fact that we live in a society that values and reclaim the importance of community action as an expression of that society's humanity, compassion and connection with the environment. Activist approach As a young activist concerned about issues such as public transport and proposals to extend the tragedy of uranium mining in Kakadu National Park I became interested in The Greens, because I saw them as a political party that was made up of community campaigners interested in the same issues as me. They brought an activist approach to the work they did not only in parliament, but also on the streets with other members of the community. I define this activist approach as a belief that progressive social change is not only possible but also vitally necessary. And I see this approach reflected in the work of Greens MPs not just in this chamber and across Australia but in parliaments on every continent of the world. Greens MPs are community activists first, before they enter Parliament and they bring that energy, passion and commitment into their parliamentary work. History shows that social change does not begin in places like this chamber but rather it starts in the hearts and minds of committed and passionate individuals and it builds strength on the streets and in the community and sometimes becomes law through this chamber. I recognise and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between activism inside and outside Parliament and I look forward to playing my part in achieving progressive social change through the work I do with Greens in this chamber and in the community with other people seeking change. The enormous array of committed and passionate community activists that I have had the opportunity to work with have been a constant inspiration to me. In Australia, the number of local resident action groups that are campaigning on particular issues in their area reaffirms ones belief in community spirit reaffirms The Greens belief in humanity. Each weekend countless Australians engage in activities in their local area or daily in the management of their land that show they care and recognise the need to live sustainably with the planet. Community activists The dedication from the grassroots communities on environmental issues is not in question. But we are yet to see genuine commitment from government and corporations to addressing the environmental crisis we all face. Members of this chamber should be ashamed that Australia has the highest land-clearing rate of any developed nation, with 500,000 hectares being cleared each year in Queensland alone. In my home state of New South Wales, agribusiness is bulldozing rare woodlands and wetlands with no intention to comply with the relevant Federal or State legislation. This archaic approach to environmental management must be stopped. The government must play a key role in making this happen. For every tree [that] community and government programs plant, 100 more are bulldozed. The community cannot respond to this unprecedented disaster alone. We need national legislation to end the land-clearing epidemic, especially in key areas such as the Murray-Darling Basin. We also need not to stop there. We must embark on a massive program of land rehabilitation. This means financial incentives to assist farmers in making the transition towards sustainable agricultural practices. The ecological vandalism that is inherent in the current land clearing patterns we are seeing is a symptom of a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly familiar. It's a symptom of the economic fundamentalism that has blighted much of Australian society and rages at a global level through the destructive policies of the WTO, IMF and World Bank. Again it is the tireless work of community activists that is attempting to halt the ever-increasing drive towards the corporate free-for-all that has misleadingly been dubbed globalisation. In reality this process is not globalisation but centralisation, the centralisation of power in the hands of a small group of corporate elites. There is nothing global about this transfer of economic and cultural power. Voices against corporate takeover A diverse multitude of people have taken to the streets to raise their voices against this corporate takeover. They look on as vitally important decisions are stolen from the hands of representative, democratically elected parliaments and placed into the hands of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats and CEOs of transnational corporations. Many people are outraged about this loss of democratic control, over decisions that affect their lives. This is an issue about which parliament should be ecstatic. People are actually jumping up and down about the importance of Parliaments. And yet our legislatures are complicit in the silencing of the elector's voice. The rise of corporate globalisation is currently the greatest threat to our democratic systems. The increasing role of corporations in our governments and our democratic institutions amounts to nothing less than a creeping coup d'itat. GATS The greatest threat on the horizon on this issue at the moment is the General Agreement on Trade in Services or GATS. The neo-liberal ideologues have repackaged and expanded the Multilateral Agreement on Investment [MAI] that was stopped by community pressure in 1998. The new brand name is the General Agreement on Trade in Services and it is back on the international trade negotiating table, to which you and I are not invited. The Greens are part of the same international grassroots community movement that defeated the MAI in '98 and we too are back preparing to defeat these same ideas as they arise in the General Agreement on Trade in Services. GATS is a treaty that seeks to bind national governments to deregulating and privatising their public services. Public ownership has historically proved to be the only way to ensure that essential services are provided to all citizens in an equitable way. This is done by providing service on the basis of social need rather than the maximisation of corporate profits. The Greens recognise the seemingly endless pursuit of privatisations is a form of social theft on a grand scale, with wealth transferring from the citizen to the already rich. Decisions that are made on trade issues have very real effects for people's every day lives, yet this Government continues to shroud these decisions in secrecy. The Australian Government plans to go to the next round of negotiations at the WTO behind an absolute veil of secrecy. They will not allow this Parliament or the Australian people to know which of our public services they intend to trade away. Final decisions that affect our basic services will be made in the Cabinet room — and perhaps corporate boxes — but not in Parliament. We know that the Government wishes to sacrifice (trade away) Telstra, at enormous cost to the bush and from leaked EU documents we know they are under pressure to also trade Australia Post and our water supplies. At the moment we do not know whether education and health are also on the Government's hit list. We know this Government favours private education and health over the provision of our public services. Does this Government intend to make government funding of schools and hospitals effectively illegal by labelling it an unfair subsidy, under WTO trade rules? GATS is also designed to remove the right of nation states to set environment, labour, local content or human rights standards. This will lead us to a situation where it becomes illegal for Australia to refuse an international nuclear waste dump. Australia has the opportunity to take a progressive role, to show some leadership and courage, as a responsible global citizen, not only on the issues of trade but also in relation to international conflicts. True global justice Right now, more than any time in our recent history, it is vitally important that we speak out in the name of peace, that we articulate a message of true global justice that is based on equity and not on power. It is nearly a year since we were all horrified by the attacks on Washington and New York. The time immediately after September 11 should, and can still be an opportunity to reflect calmly and rationally on the reasons behind the attack on the World Trade Centre. We need an international effort that recognises the growing inequities between the haves and have-nots in our world and we then need to redress these imbalances. Instead, we have seen an arrogant unilateralism from the US in their so- called "war on terrorism". The response of the Australian Government has been sycophantic, in trying to out-swagger the cowboys in Washington we have succeeded only in looking foolish at a time when we could — and should — have been a calming voice in our ally's ear. A war on Iraq cannot be justified. The hypocrisies and inconsistencies of such an aggressive policy are obvious for all to see. We do not live in George Bush's comic book world of goodies and baddies. Trading with oppressive regimes is commonplace. More weapons of mass destruction are illegally held and developed in "western states" than in any "axis of evil". A war is blatantly naive in a political sense and would be like throwing a Molotov cocktail at the Middle East peace process. On a practical level, armed intervention simply will not achieve its stated aim of establishing democracy, and is even more unlikely to deliver the strategic aim of ensuring total US dominance in the region. It's certainly not going to win peace, love and freedom for the people of the US or the people of Iraq. A war on Iraq would be illegal under international law and completely inhumane. Greens will continue to fight any extension of the so-called "war on terrorism". We recognise the need for a program for peace, not a rush to war. Program for peace The first step in this program for peace is for George Bush, Alexander Downer and John Howard to step back from their warmongering rhetoric. There is a place for weapons inspections, in all countries that produce weapons of mass destruction. But there will be no lasting solution until Iraq and similar countries are restored their dignity and autonomy, so that their people can pursue democracy and prosperity like any other nation. The Iraqi people must be given back not only the right but the capacity to decide their own rulers, without intervention by the US, who first supported and armed Saddam and now are interested only in controlling oil not achieving democracy in Iraq. We need an international effort focused on rebuilding the country's society and infrastructure, which was deliberately destroyed to undermine the civilian population. Sanctions, which have caused immeasurable suffering, must be lifted. Peaceful solutions will always seem more complex than a simple attack. But only peaceful solutions will bring long-term success. Of course these solutions do not only apply to Iraq. It is our responsibility to address the appalling inequalities throughout the world. The way to do this is through support for local communities and their organisations. I had the honour recently of meeting a truly inspiring 24-year-old Afghan woman by the name of Tahmina. Tahmina travels the world speaking about the need to liberate the women of Afghanistan. Tahmina and her organisation have the solutions to the problems that affect their everyday lives and their community. They have been calling for a range of measures including stopping the international financing of fundamentalist schools on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I've not met the Tahmina's of Iraq but these are the voices we should be listening to in the current debate, the local voices that have the solutions to the problems in their community. Social change possible I find it constantly inspiring to be around so many Greens and others who believe that progressive social change is not only necessary but possible and work so hard to this end. I'd like to say thank you to Green campaigners and supporters for the opportunity to be part of striving for this change not only in the community but now also in the Parliament. Social change has always happened because of committed hardworking individuals and that is how we will achieve change now. Together with my colleagues inside and outside Parliaments all over the world, I am proud to be part of a movement that is about so much more than opposing the self-interested, profit-oriented worldview of the major parties. Our movement is about vision, responsibility, and an optimism for the future. I look forward to working with Bob Brown to present The Greens vision in this Parliament, and to build the movement that strives for a more just, equitable and sustainable society here in Australia and around the world.
* * **Kerry Nettle is the Australian Greens Senator for NSW. Her first speech was given on August 20, 2002.