The Guardian August 28, 2002


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.

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