Key Note Speech: Christine Milne

Fellow Global Greens

Thank you for your warm welcome. After 30 years in Green politics, I cannot tell you how great it feels to be amongst such a dedicated group of Greens, of global citizens, representing the politics of hope, of unity and of love for humanity and the natural world.

Our politics of hope, unity and love stands in stark contrast to the politics of fear, disunity and hatred and utter disregard for people and the Earth our home perpetrated by those who exploit that fear and hate for political gain. 

So, while we Greens may be small in number on a planetary scale, we are the social, economic and political change that the planet and humanity needs now to survive in this era of the Anthropocene in which humans are the dominant force for change on Earth. We are Margaret mead’s ‘small group of committed people who are out to change the world’.

We have chosen to pursue political power, through the Green party, not for its own sake but to propose and implement solutions to the ecological emergency we now face. And to propose and implement the solutions to the insecurities that people feel in an increasingly unequal world of 7.2 billion people pushing up against the physical limits of our planet’s ability to support us.

When I was born in the 1950’s there were 2.5 billion people on this planet.  As the Stockholm Resilience Institute has pointed out we were a small world on a large planet and organised politically and economically to exploit it thinking it had an infinite capacity to give up resources and to absorb wastes with no consequences for people.

Now we are a big world of 7.2 billion people on a small planet.  And as our world gets even bigger- with population projected to be 9 billion by 2050 and our planet ever smaller, we are suffering the consequences. We can now reach out and work together to survive or we can retreat and resort to conflict. That is the choice humanity has to make.

As Greens we choose holistic thinking, unity, solidarity, co operation and peace. We are all in this together and our political organisation, the Global Greens gives us the capacity to act across the world if we strengthen it.  It is not enough as Greens to be strong locally, subnationally , nationally or regionally,  we now need to be a strong global force. Being loosely connected across the planet as Global Greens is good, as we know being together here in Liverpool, but it is not enough.

In the Anthropocene, we have to move beyond just being connected, we must now see ourselves as interdependent. In this era when humans are the dominant force for change everywhere on the planet, whatever we do or don’t do as Greens in politics to support each other wherever we are, has ramifications for us all because Greens taking action or not taking action will have ramifications for the Earth systems on which we all depend.  

With a presence in ninety countries, we should be able to take action that rolls around the world. Not just on the streets offering solidarity but in legislatures delivering solutions. Let’s do it, we have the political will, but to make it happen we need to resource the Global Greens.   

The Earth systems on which we depend for survival are global and interdependent, the corporate and financial drivers which are destroying them are global and interdependent and the world needs a corresponding strong global political response which is also interdependent.

Can the Global Greens become that force? What would it take? This Conference is critical to making that decision.

I have come here today from Tasmania, the island state of Australia, the home of the world’s first Green Party, the United Tasmania Group which in 1972 contested the election on the platform of a New Ethic which began with the words, 

‘United in a global movement for survival;  Moved by the need for a new ethic which unites humans with Nature to prevent the collapse of life support systems for the Earth…’ 

‘being part of nature’ rather than of unlimited exploitation of nature and talking about earth system collapse was a radical idea in 1972 but the tragedy is that in 2017, it is still a radical idea.  

But scientists are embracing it. They are telling us that Instead of Thinking Globally and Acting Locally, we now have to Think and Act Globally and Locally at the same time. If we are to get from a trajectory of more than 3-5 degrees of warming and stop the 6th extinction crisis, then we have to pull back into a safe operating space within the boundaries of what the Earth can sustain.

We have to change our way of thinking from saving individual places to protecting the stability and resilience of whole systems. Instead of prioritising our own nation state or region and thinking of the Global Commons as only the high seas, the atmosphere, the Antarctic and Outer Space, we now need to think of the Global Commons as stable and resilient EARTH SYSTEMS. A stable and resilient atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere and hydrosphere are the common heritage of all humanity and every child’s birthright.   

When any country or corporation takes an action anywhere that destabilises the Earth support systems that move ocean currents or deliver clean air, clean water, a safe climate or maintains biodiversity, it is our responsibility to do something about it.

How empowering would it be for both local campaigners and for Greens in Parliaments around the world to know that on one side of the world Greens are protesting in the forests or at the nuclear or coal fired power plant, and on the other Green Parliamentarians are asking who is funding the project, where are the profits being directed, are taxes being evaded, are bribes being paid, is money being laundered, are pension funds involved or export credit agencies. Why? Because we are all working together to stabilise the climate. That is where the Global Greens comes in. 

We are the only political party in the world today that has these three things in common:

We have global reach into ninety countries as an organisation;

We are United under a common Global Greens charter so that Greens whether in Rwanda, Brazil, Australia, South Korea, Canada, Germany or Fiji share the same principles of ecological integrity, social justice, peace and non violence and participatory democracy;

We also have at the heart of our politics – the earth.  We are th eonly political party on the planet today that has all these attributes in common, we already have a head-start in the politics that’s needed to save the planet.

We know that the activities that are likely to drive the earth’s systems like climate and biodiversity beyond safe operating systems are the provision of energy, food, water and a livable urban environment.  

So who has responsibility for delivering Energy Water, Food and sustainable cities for the majority of 9 billion people expected to be alive in 2050 and who live in cities? And how will they do it within the boundaries of what the Earth can sustain?  

Those in Government at every level are responsible. Politics is the mechanism. Non-Government organisations, communities and businesses can bring pressure to bear but ultimately decisions on the rules of our engagement with Nature and each other are made by Governments. That is why we are in politics. But just being in politics is not enough, we have to change politics. We are there not only to make good decisions but to restore the community’s confidence in politics itself.

The Paris Agreement is held up as an example of global political commitment in action. It is a sign of hope and the Greens local to global support it and worked hard to secure it and will continue to drive its implementation. 

It was the global political response to the clear science of the climate emergency and it delivered an Agreement for ‘well below 2 degrees and to pursue 1.5 degrees’ but in spite of that  the emission reduction promises that have been made will deliver 3 degrees of warming.

If current political models are working, why the disconnect? Why the gap between politics and maintaining stable and resilient Earth systems?

Australia is a case in point. It is a democracy and a resource based economy. The result is the Government is the wholly owned subsidiary of the miners, the banks and the gambling industry through political donations and post Parliamentary rewards.

I left Australia to come here a few days ago just as Tropical Cyclone Debbie was about to make landfall in Queensland, and a few weeks after Professor Terry Hughes one of our great marine scientists had conducted a survey of the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the great Natural wonders of the World, showing that hundreds of kilometres of the reef are dead about which he said, I showed the results of bleaching on the reef to my students and then we wept.’ When one of our Green Senators referred to that in the Australian Parliament, the Government laughed and asked if he wanted a handkerchief.

Our Government ratified the Paris Agreement last year and at the same time is subsidising the opening up of the Galilee basin for coal exports to India. If that happens the emissions from burning that coal, if it was a country would make it the world’s seventh largest emitter.

At the same time, the Minister for Agriculture wants to remove the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum from the endangered species list so that logging of the mountain ash forests of Victoria can proceed. In Tasmania 356,000 hectares of high conservation native forest has been removed from protection for logging. Renewable energy is being attacked and coal and gas are being rescued from the stranded assets that they are to being reinstated in our energy future.

As a Green who has lived and breathed Australian politics with my many colleagues who are here, I can tell you that the fundamental problem with ‘business as usual’ politics is that our political systems are slavish adherents to the gods of money and markets.

Even when confronted by the need to act for the whole of humanity to maintain a safe climate; even as the Great Barrier Reef dies, even after a weekend in February this year when temperatures of 45 C degrees caused thousands of fruit bats to fall from the trees dead, our Government cannot get past what they perceive as national self interest which they interpret as the interests of business.    

The problem is Economics. It has to change. Economics is a human construct, it is a tool that governs the relationship between people and nature and is supposed to deliver human wellbeing and planetary ecological sustainability but it delivers neither. It treats the Earth’s systems and resources on which we depend to stay alive as externalities. Economics as a tool is broken. It needs to be redesigned. Internalising externalities, designing and implementing measures other than GDP to measure economic wellbeing, rewriting the tax laws, rewriting trade agreements to deliver fair trade and the list goes on.

Redesigning economics to reduce the gap between rich and poor and to safe guard the planet should be central to Green politics and it is why Green Parliamentarians need to take Finance, Treasury and Energy portfolios as well as Environmental ones.  After a quarter of a century in Green politics it is obvious that we cannot stabilise earth systems, we cannot win on the climate, we cannot deliver social justice until we overturn the neoliberal economics that is driving us to ecological collapse.

As Greens we embrace our role as global citizens who share one planet and our common humanity, that’s why we are here as The Global Greens But we reject and resist the brand of neoliberal globalisation that has glorified the efficiency of the market, privatisation, deregulation, downsizing, and streamlining at the same time as attacking and tearing down the environment, labour and human rights movements that protect people and nature.

We know people are suffering from neoliberal globalisation as they lose their jobs and see no prospect of life becoming any easier. But the solution is not to retreat to walled silos. There is no protected space from global warming or ecological collapse and there is no social justice in turning our backs on people displaced by them. The solution is to change the rules of global engagement, accountability and responsibility to reflect our interdependence.

The whole disaster of neoliberal globalisation has brought us to a point where it is wrong to describe the political system in many countries as democracies. Corporations now own Governments to the extent that they constrain the ability of Governments to act from the local to the global. That is not democracy, that is plutocracy. I would argue that the USA, UK and Australia are now all plutocracies. 

As Greens we must reclaim democracy and strengthen it wherever it exists. We can’t save the planet unless we do.

Green politics is not in the pocket of big business and so we are in the best position to insist on changing electoral systems to embrace proportional representation. I want to give a shout out to our Canadian Greens: Good Luck Canadian Greens in forcing Trudeau to keep his promise;

We need to end corporate political donations; 

We need to re regulate in the public interest, not deregulate; 

We must help reduce the artificially high barriers to new entrants into politics all over the world;

We should offer to help to oversee elections in countries where democracy is weak and systems corrupt, France and Australia could do more in Cambodia for example ;

Exposing corruption and demanding transparency in government decision making, strengthening freedom of information, and establishing Anti corruption bodies, watchdogs for money laundering, tax evasion, bribery is core Green business;

So too is developing expertise on redesigning tax law, monitoring and exposing subsidies and financial flows via overseas aid, financial arrangements with international agencies, foreign investment and export credit agencies;

We must encourage and support Multiparty Government because it is more democratic and brings decisions to the floor of the house and out of back rooms where the secret deals are made.

We must inspire people to recognise and embrace Green politics as the delivery vehicle for their resistance in the local, subnational, national and regional Parliaments as well as in Global negotiations. Our message is simple : Wherever on the planet you are disenchanted with neoliberal globalisation, the Greens stand with you.

We need to amplify the Greens message so that those who are so disillusioned that they don’t vote or alternatively vote for the people who promise to put things back to the way they were, consider joining us. Holding on to the past, does not guarantee a future. Regardless of Brexit, or Trump, the jobs in the coal mines or the factories are not coming back. Machines and robots have replaced them. But talking to people about delivering a universal basic income or how a city might produce its own food or declare its waterways a commons or reduce energy bills by going renewable might make them think again.  

I have spoken to so many young people who are already marching, grass roots organising in movements that are inclusive, diverse, secular and committed to equality and ecological sustainability but who don’t vote because they too have lost faith in politics. They need to know that the Greens will pick up their issues from where they have been dumped by the old parties at the front door of Parliaments and take them inside. We need to convince them that Green politics can change mainstream politics.

We need to merge those forces with Green politics. Being apolitical or non political is being partisan. Now is the time to vote Green.

It won’t be easy. The vested interests of the old order will fight with every weapon at their disposal to maintain their wealth and power. We know it from the political donations to secure Government for the favoured ones. The Murdoch media empire will attack us, the corporations will condemn us and sue us, Governments will double down against any changes to electoral laws. 

But take heart from each other and strength and courage from the critical nature of the cause. We would not be under such attack if we were not a threat to their power and profits. What seems an unrelenting attack is actually the death rattle of neoliberalism.

 Here in Liverpool as things seem overwhelming in their complexity and urgency in England and Wales, in Europe and Globally remember that nothing could be more important than our work in Green politics working globally and locally simultaneously, embracing our interdependence with each other and with Nature and through vibrant transformed Green politics, to create a safe space for all life on Earth.

The Future is Green or Not at All. 


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