Adam Bandt: ‘A human centred approach will get us through this crisis’

Green Left spoke to Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt about the coronavirus, climate change and the party's priorities.

How would you characterise the federal government’s handling of the COVID-19 response?

They are a bit too late and bit too focused on putting business before people. It should have acted earlier when the threat became apparent.

The government’s economic response is also very telling. They were very quick to shovel billions of dollars out the door to assist large corporations, but there were no strings attached.

As a result we saw depression-era images of dole queues. Potentially, that could have been avoided if they’d listened to the Greens in parliament and made support for business contingent on jobs and wages guarantees.

The government is now playing catch up and is trying to unscramble the egg; it has delivered some form of jobs and wages guarantees. Worryingly, it doesn’t cover people who are casuals who have been employed less than 12 months — close to 1 million people.

The government’s first response also left a number of people behind. It didn’t extend the increased NewStart payment to students. We managed to get that fixed with pressure working with the community. We managed to get a ban on evictions.

But people on the Disability Support Payment don’t get the extra payment. Carers don’t get the extra payment.

Everyone should be entitled to a decent income, especially at a time of crisis. We’re going to keep pushing for the government to extend it’s double the NewStart [JobSeeker] payment to everyone to ensure no one is left behind.

On the public health front, New Zealand has taken a better approach than Australia. The government’s reluctance to act quickly stemmed from their desire to just continue business as usual … As a result, they were a bit slow to get going on the public health response.

What would you see as the priority measures to be adopted in relation to COVID-19?

First, ensuring every group in society has access to a guaranteed income during this crisis. Not only banning evictions and foreclosures, but also making sure that rent and mortgage holidays are given where they’re needed so people don’t find in six months' time that they have huge debts and are in significant stress.

We need a significant expansion of our public health care system. One of the things that is going to get us through this is a strong public health system, something that governments have attacked over many years.

I’m worried that we don’t have enough ventilators and intensive care beds, for example. We need to expand that. And if the private health care sector has to be subsumed into the public good then that’s something we should look at too.

The COVID-19, as in many other crises, has revealed the inadequacy of the private sector. Many are drawing anti-capitalist conclusions, or are more open to the idea of nationalising private hospitals or bringing Qantas back into public ownership. What do you think?

The things that are going to get us through this crisis are all the things that neoliberals spent 30 or 40 years telling us were impossible: putting human need above a budget surplus; having a strong public health care system; and having governments that act on independent advice in the interests of the public good rather than acting in the vested interests.

It is the public sector and a human-centred approach to economics that is going to get us through this crisis.

Conversely, it’s been the government attacks on the public health care system, attacks on public housing that have left so many people vulnerable. We have a homelessness and housing crisis in a very wealthy country and the government is advising everyone to stay at home but what if you haven’t got a home to stay in.

It is not necessarily a lesson that the neoliberals are wanting to draw. And we’re all going to have to be prepared for when, in a few months or a year’s time, they start to complain that now the cupboard is bare and they’ve got to wind back the JobSeeker payment and they can no longer support people who are doing it tough.

We’re going to have to be prepared for a fight to make sure we don’t go back to such an unequal society.

But if there is one thing that the response has shown it is the importance of the public ahead of the private.

The government should look at taking ownership stakes in some of these big corporations we’re being asked to bail out. When we’re dealing with essential services, many people would think that is a sensible thing to do.

Before COVID-19, the bushfire crisis highlighted the absolute urgency to deal with the climate crisis. What do you make of Labor’s 'net zero by 2050' policy?

There’s every chance that by 2050 will be too late. The science is pretty clear that what we do in the next decade will count the most.

We need very strong cuts to pollution before 2030, otherwise we may pass global tipping points after which global warming becomes unstoppable.

If all that governments and oppositions can do is say, "We’ll take some action by 2050", in the absence of strong 2030 targets, that’s a death sentence.

The government’s 2030 target is woefully inadequate; it has us on track for between 3–4° Celsius of global warming. The Coalition is a government of climate deniers and corporate shills and they’ve got to go.

But by dropping its 2030 target Labor has taken the pressure off Prime Minister Scott Morrison and is contributing to the idea that we can wait several decades when, in fact, it is an emergency.

What targets and climate policies do the Greens support?

We need to get to zero emissions by 2040 at the absolute latest, with the bulk of the work being done by 2030.

The electricity sector should be 100% renewable by 2030, with a staged transition plan to replace coal with renewable energy over the next 10 years while looking after affected workers and communities.

Society needs to be looking at pollution cuts by 2030 closer to 82% rather than the 26% being proposed by the government. The Greens'r targets are for 64% to 82% by 2030.

You have made support for a green new deal a key policy for the Greens. What do you think a green new deal should look like? Do you envisage it as an exclusively Green's policy, or is it a project you’d consider working with others to develop and campaign for? If that was the case, what would that collaboration look like?

The Greens green new deal vision is a government-led plan of investment and action to create new jobs and industries to make Australia more equal.

The twin underpinnings are: a public-led program of investment to tackle the climate crisis and the inequality crisis and the jobs crisis and universal services. It is about making sure that we’re all looked after and that no one is left behind. That means making education genuinely free, looking at free child care, understanding that we’re a wealthy country and that universal services are something that is core to what most people in this country think is key to a good life.

My goals are to turf the government out, get Greens into the balance of power in both houses of parliament and implement a green new deal.

That will involve working with other parties and independents.

In 2010, the Greens worked with Labor and independents to bring about a carbon price, to bring dental into Medicare for kids, and to bring about a number of other reforms. We’re not that far away from that outcome in parliament again. It is a very tight parliament still.

I’ve already had discussions with unions about what what fighting for a green new deal would look like. I’ve even had discussions with sections of business. It’s going to involve people working together across society to make it happen. We will promote it. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and, if other parties want to take it up and make it their own, we’d be happy about that.

What are your priorities for the Greens now?

My priorities are to tackle the climate emergency, to tackle the inequality emergency and to tackle the jobs crisis.

One of the things I’ll be talking a lot about during the course of my leadership is the importance of decent jobs with good conditions and lifting the minimum wage, lifting rates of pay and tackling job insecurity — especially among young people.

Before the coronavirus crisis hit, nearly one in three young people either did not have secure work or did not have a job at all. That’s a national crisis.

The casualisation and increasing insecurity of work has reached crisis point.

More broadly, I think people are feeling very anxious and part of the reason for that is because, over the last three to four decades, governments have made a lot of the basics of life very uncertain.

You are no longer guaranteed a roof over your head. If you find yourself lucky enough to get a job, you can still find yourself living in poverty.

Part of government’s role should be to guarantee the basics of life for people. So I’ll be fighting for jobs, for housing front and on making sure that the basics of life are guaranteed and they’re treated as essential public service.

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