The Politics    Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Much ado about Nada

By Dominic Kelly

Richard Di Natale and the Greens are betting on youth

In an address to the National Press Club today, federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale outlined his party’s plan to tackle the “democratic deficit” that threatens to engulf Australia, as it already has in the United States and other nations. Lamenting the corrupting influence of corporate donations on our democracy, Di Natale called for comprehensive donations reform and a national corruption watchdog. “Corporations aren’t philanthropic entities,” he said. “They donate because they expect a return on their investment.”

One example Di Natale might have pointed to was the news that Western Australian Nationals leader Brendon Grylls has conceded defeat in the seat of Pilbara. Grylls boldly campaigned for an increase on mining taxes for BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto as a way to relieve Western Australia’s massive debt burden. He was thus subject to a multimillion-dollar campaign against him. The two companies invested heavily and got their return, demonstrating once again the destructive and disproportionate influence of mining interests on our politics.

In a speech filled with many ambitious ideas, Di Natale reiterated the Greens’ plans to reform our democratic institutions, such as fixed parliamentary terms, deliberative democracy techniques and proportional representation in the House of Representatives. But it’s difficult to envision majority support for any of these proposals in the near future. Proportional representation would almost certainly lead to permanent minority government, and Australians demonstrated their hostility to such an arrangement when Labor governed with the support of independents from 2010 to 2013.

Di Natale also called for a vital national conversation about the future of work. As automation makes more and more jobs redundant, and individuals and families struggle to maintain a healthy work–life balance, Di Natale wants us to consider four-day work weeks and six-hour days, complemented by a “guaranteed adequate income”. This is another term for a universal basic income (UBI), a concept that has been the subject of intense debate in economic circles for some years now.

Other problems mentioned by Di Natale include the increasing intergenerational wealth gap (he proposed inheritance taxes for the “super wealthy”), banking competition (he wants a “people’s bank”), the health system (increase the Medicare levy and stop subsiding private health insurance) and, of course, climate change (stop digging up coal).

But undoubtedly the most memorable moment of the address came when Di Natale invited a young, female, Muslim engineer named Nada Kalam to the stage to outline her vision of a nation that “acknowledges our history, celebrates diversity and thrives on equality”. And as David Marr provides a timely reminder of the hypocrisy of the free-speech warriors at the Australian, Nada told her audience about the actual experience of being a young Muslim woman in Australia today:

“My right to simply exist is constantly under fire and occasionally under threat. I am a regular victim of casual and impersonal racism, on public transport, in the supermarket, walking down the street. It hurts no less each time. I not only receive snide remarks in public places but have also received more violent threats. I have been chased down the CBD streets by a man screaming that he wanted to kill me because of the apparent bomb under my hijab. But this isn’t the Australia I have grown up in. It is not the future that we want.”

Today’s links

  • As Malcolm Turnbull offers some mild criticism of gas companies for their habit of seeking higher prices overseas in preference to supplying the domestic market, Tristan Edis questions the logic of South Australia’s gas-heavy energy plan.
  • The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory hears more alarming testimony about guard behaviour.
  • Former Liberal MP Fiona Scott was not impressed when Tony Abbott raised her “sex appeal” as a campaign tactic in 2013. Aaron Patrick reports on the broader problems with the Liberal Party’s treatment of women.
  • Nick Bisley analyses Julie Bishop’s defence of the “liberal rules-based order” in international affairs.
  • When Rachel Maddow flagged that she would be revealing details of Donald Trump’s 2005 tax return on MSNBC, the White House responded by confirming the contents of the leak just minutes before the show went to air, and accusing MSNBC of breaking the law.
  • The increasingly ugly diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the Netherlands dominates the Dutch election. Christopher de Bellaigue in the New York Review of Books likens Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Abdülhamid II, the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Dominic Kelly

Dominic Kelly is a PhD candidate and tutor in politics at La Trobe University. He tweets from @illywhacker_.

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