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First Speech - Max Chandler-Mather

Speeches in Parliament
Max Chandler-Mather 1 Aug 2022

Monday 1 August 2022, 6:51 pm

Thanks, Deputy Speaker. Since the invasion of this continent, generations of First Nations warriors, organisers and leaders have fought, and continue to fight, to protect their lands, seas, air, people and culture against colonisation. I would like to pay homage to them, in particular the Yuggera and Turrbal peoples, who are the traditional owners of so-called Brisbane and my electorate of Griffith, and the traditional owners of this place, the Ngunnawal people.

As with so many issues in this place, there is often a deep hypocrisy when it comes to the way some politicians talk about First Nations people. How often are we told that governments support the rights of First Nations people but then fail to introduce the 339 recommendations of the Aboriginal deaths in custody royal commission, over 30 years after they were handed down? Or allow coal and gas mines to open up on land, often against the express wishes of traditional owners? While billions of dollars of mining revenue flow offshore into the coffers of billionaires, First Nations people too often lack basic health care, housing, education and incomes. Politicians make decisions that destroy First Nations land and then write laws that allow their corporate donors to rob their wealth and put it in the hands of people like Gina Rinehart.

It is abundantly clear to me that billionaires and big corporations run parliament. Indeed, when it comes to representation, I imagine that people like Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart must feel pretty good that sometimes it feels as though 89 per cent of this place ultimately represent their interests. The major parties have proved often willing to accept an enormous human and environmental cost in order to serve the interests of big corporations and billionaires, such is their power over this place. Three million Australians live in poverty, with millions more on the brink, while Australia's richest 200 people just ticked over half a trillion dollars worth of wealth. Our nurses, teachers and doctors are viciously overworked, just to make up for the chronic underfunding of our public hospitals and schools. Meanwhile, the next federal budget will include billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuel corporations that just happen to be making record profits.

In the middle of one of the worst housing affordability crises in our history, where single mums are forced to live on the street after massive rent hikes, the big four banks just announced $14 billion in after-tax profit. Close to a million people are on the waiting list for social housing, suffering severe private rental stress or homeless, but 89 per cent of this place would rather support billions of dollars in tax concessions for property investors than even contemplate capping rents or building enough public housing for those who need it.

Eighty-nine per cent of this parliament literally supports spending $224 billion giving every politician and billionaire an extra $9,000 a year in the form of the stage 3 tax cuts. But apparently bringing dental into Medicare is too expensive. Apparently scrapping crippling student debt and making uni and TAFE free is too expensive. Apparently building enough but beautifully designed public housing so everyone has a place to call home costs too much. Apparently raising JobSeeker and the pension above the poverty line so people don't have to live in abject poverty is too expensive. The top 10 per cent of Australians now hold over half the total wealth in this country, but apparently that 10 per cent need a massive tax cut. Truly, one of life's great mysteries is why people don't like politicians!

One of the worst things about Australian politics is the way it works to make some of the greatest injustices and outrages seem perfectly normal and reasonable. Like a sedative it dulls the senses, and it relies on a certain logic. What is considered possible isn't determined by what actually is possible with the resources our country has to hand, but instead the major parties, media and various public and private institutions work to constrain the scope of political debate into an ever-narrowing band—one determined not by what everyday people want, need or believe, but by the interests of the billionaires and multinational corporations that parliament ultimately serves.

This logic is perhaps best exemplified when it comes to climate change. The consequences of two degrees or more of global warming are so devastating it's actually quite hard to explain, but the recent devastating bushfires, floods, heatwaves, droughts and storms really are only a small preview—massive crop failures, sea level rises displacing hundreds of millions of people, 99 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef lost. A recent study found that in 30 years time my home town of Brisbane could be virtually unliveable in summer for those who can't afford air-conditioning. But over two degrees of warming is exactly what 89 per cent of this place supports. In fact, currently this place supports expanding coal and gas mining and using public money to do it.

Australia is the third-largest exporter of fossil fuels in the world behind, you know, two great countries it's really good to be a part of: Russia and Saudi Arabia—great company. The idea that the moderate position on climate change is 'Use public money to expand coal and gas mining and drive global warming beyond two degrees' only makes sense when you consider that the power holders in parliament are coal and gas corporations, not everyday people. It's like standing in front of a burning house and declaring that the moderate position is 'We only put the fire out in one room while we send someone out back with a can of petrol to pour fuel on the fire.'

The most insulting lie, I think, though, when it comes to climate change, is that Australia needs to expand coal and gas mining to protect workers. That would be more believable if the political establishment didn't also believe that workers should pay more tax than the multinational corporations they work for. But the reality is that over the next 10 years coal and gas corporations will export hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars of our wealth—our wealth. That's more than enough to guarantee the jobs and income of not just every coal and gas worker but ensure every regional mining community becomes a thriving hub of publicly owned manufacturing, renewable energy and new industries, with good hospitals, schools, public facilities and housing.

I would argue the political establishment doesn't give a toss about workers. What they're really worried about is the profits of their donors. The political system is so completely disconnected from the lives of everyday people. In fact, spending only a week in this place has been a stark lesson in how so much of the pomp, ceremony and rules of this place work to deepen and reinforce that disconnection.

Literally this same week that the Business Council was holding a special event in Parliament House with the Prime Minister—we walked past, and it was frankly bizarre—children peacefully calling for action on climate change were dragged out by police. Technically, I should be kicked out of parliament if I don't dress like a businessman, but you're more than welcome to vote for laws that materially benefit corporations that also happen to donate millions of dollars to your political party.

Every member of parliament was forced to pledge allegiance to the British monarch last week. One would think we should be swearing allegiance to the Australian people. Then there was the installing of massive security fences around the once publicly accessible lawns above Parliament House that were specifically designed to represent the democratically accessible nature of this place. As symbols go, I think that was probably a bit on the nose.

The sense that politics and politicians in general are completely disconnected from the lives of everyday people was a sentiment shared by almost everyone I spoke to during this campaign. Over 14 months, I personally knocked on almost 15,000 doors, or thereabouts, and time and again people told me they were fed up with politics. But what also became clear was just how low people's expectations are when it comes to politics.

It is this sense of low expectations which remains one of the political establishment's greatest assets. Deny people hope that things can get substantially better and you take their power, but I've seen the power of collective hope. Indeed, it really is the only reason I'm standing here. Over 14 months, over 1,000 Greens volunteers in Griffith knocked on almost 90,000 doors, hand-delivered hundreds of thousand of letters and flyers and gave up countless, evenings, mornings, rainy arvos and weekends to fight for something greater than themselves. We had tens of thousands of conversations with residents across Griffith where we actually took the time to listen and, often, learn about the issues that people faced in their daily lives. Together we built the single biggest single-seat campaign, I would argue, in the history of Australian politics and helped continue to build a movement inextricably linked to the communities from which it has emerged.

One of the questions I asked repeatedly on the Griffith campaign, borrowed from Bernie Sanders, was: are you willing to fight for someone you don't know as hard as you would fight for yourself? Time and again the answer was yes. We fought for each other not out of a sense of charity but out of a sense of solidarity, of righteous anger and, most importantly, of hope—hope not that we could defy virtually every political and media expert and win in Griffith but that we could collectively build a movement that would fundamentally transform Australian politics in favour of everyday people.

The philosophy of organisation of our movement was perhaps best represented by the response to the Brisbane floods. The floods of this year were a harsh, brutal and unjust symbol of the consequences of a political system stacked in favour of fossil fuel corporations. This apparent one-in-500-year event occurred just 10 years after another one-in-100-year flood—an alarming demonstration of the corporate and political grip on climate change. The slow response from emergency services and government was a consequence of decades of the hollowing out and underfunding of our public services and institutions. The disproportionate number of low-income and middle-income renters and homeowners badly affected by the floods were a reminder that, while this housing crisis is caused by a system treats housing as a commodity first and a home last, climate change will make it worse. But, as in Lismore, where incredible resident self-organisation drove a collective clean-up, in Griffith we proved that, where a broken system fails, ordinary people step in to fill the breach.

Over the course of those weeks, we suspended our campaign and, along with the brilliant member for South Brisbane, Amy MacMahon; Councillor Jonathan Sri; and their brilliant teams and officers, we used our organisational and logistical capacity to coordinate hundreds of volunteers in delivering free food, ice and eskies for those who had lost power. We taxied residents to crucial services. We cleaned up entire neighbourhood blocks, hauling flood damaged furniture, cleaning houses and sometimes just providing a shoulder to cry on. But it wasn't just the floods. We coordinated protests against worsening flight noise pollution, planted community gardens and used the produce to provide free food to those trapped in COVID isolation.

Ultimately, I believe, you build power by acting collectively as a community. If we want to take on the power of billionaires and big corporations then we must build a party and a movement that is capable of improving people's lives outside the cycle of electoral politics.

Of course, when it comes to this movement and, in particular, to our success in Griffith, there are some people who need thanking. To the thousands of volunteers, donors and supporters: I was constantly inspired by your drive, commitment and perseverance. Indeed, in many a dark moment on that campaign, the only thing that got me up in the morning was imagining one of you rocking up with a smile on your face to the fifth door-knock of that weekend, not demonstrating one ounce of fatigue. Frankly, I don't know how they did it. My brilliant campaign team is, I would argue, the best campaign to member country. Liam Flannerty, Mal McAuliffe, Nat Baker, Lachlan Morris, Claire Hudson, Louisa Randall, Eva Tollo, Josh Saunders-Mills, James Cummins, Kelsey Waller, Paul Rees, Zoe Lawrence, Heather Bennett, and Hannah Wright.

To Kitty Carra, the often unacknowledged director of the Queensland Greens, who has overseen the most successful period in the history of our party. She both procreated the space for and led many of transformations in the Queensland Greens that have led to so much success.

To Adam Bandt and his chief of staff Damien Lawson: thanks for believing in and supporting our little movement in Queensland years before any other southerner gave us a shot!

Thanks to my parents, Kim and Tim, for giving me many of the principles of right and wrong that I still hold today while providing the space to develop my own politics with guidance and the odd radical book recommendation.

To my partner, Joanna, without whom there's no way I could have survived this campaign: I love you and I can't imagine life without you.

Finally, to the people of Griffith, thank you for your trust not just in me but in our broader Greens' movement. To you I give you this commitment: whether you're struggling to put food on the table or pay the rent, whether you're a refugee in hotel detention in Kangaroo Point or you're facing eviction from your public housing, whether you're fighting against a profit-hungry airport corporation or a dodgy developer, whether you want to help plant a community garden or just fix up your local school, whether you have been abandoned by state authorities as another climate fuelled flood disaster hits your neighbourhood or you are just in need of a friendly chat, we will have your back

Really, at the end of the day what we are fighting for is a future where we everyone has what they need to live a good life. Perhaps the greatest injustice of all is that in such a wealthy country our system denies so many people the chance to fully enjoy their one short life on this earth. Health care; education; housing; a good, well-paying job and a beautiful home are the foundation to do what makes life truly meaningful: time with family and friends, footy in the park, painting a picture, reading a book, a day at the beach, a hike through the wilderness, a beer at the pub. I so strongly believe in a four-day work week with no loss of pay, because it would do so much to give people that most precious of resources: time.

Beyond all the specifics it can sometimes be hard to describe what exactly we mean by a good life. Funnily enough, the great feminist writer Virginia Woolf's writing in A room of one's own, for me, comes close to describing what I mean. Woolf reflects on the instinct for possession; the rage for acquisition, which keeps, 'the stockbroker and the great barrister going indoors to make money and more money and more money when it is a fact that 500 pounds a year will keep one alive in the sunshine'. With that 500 pounds, she wrote, came the freedom to think and write as she pleased.

So often in political debates we reduce people to numbers, but what value do you put on a family no longer having to worry about paying the rent and finally having the money to spend the summer at the beach? What value do you put on an afternoon playing footy in the park with your kids rather than working a sixth day of work? How much human enjoyment, creativity, new loves and friendships are denied by a political and an economic system that too often prioritises the profit of multinational corporations over the happiness of everyday people?

What has given me so much hope is that the vast majority of everyday people across Australia share this vision that we should tax billionaires and big corporations to fund things like dental into Medicare and free child care, and build one million public and affordable homes. It is a view that I believe is shared by the vast majority of people across this country. What's more, it is a truly universal vision.

That a small town in regional Queensland, Biloela, demonstrated a greater level of kindness and solidarity towards refugees than this place has done in decades is a reminder that while the decisions this place makes often impose unimaginable cruelty on people fleeing persecution, war and famine—often created by the foreign policy decisions of our government—those decisions don't reflect the will of the people. After all, what sort of good life is it when our country demonises and mandatorily imprisons our brothers and sisters for the crime of seeking that same good life?

This is why I have so much hope that ultimately we can win, because no matter what the political establishment throws at us, no matter how many times they tell us not to hope for anything better, no matter how me times they try to divide us up, no matter how many millions of corporate dollars they spend trying to stop us, we'll keep fighting, because we recognise that we all have more in common with a refugee in detention than a billionaire like Clive Palmer. We don't fight for self-interest; we fight for each other. And we won't stop until everyone—everyone—has what they need to live a good life, to be alive in the sunshine.

For those watching at home who despair at the state of our world but feel powerless to change it, I understand. After all, how often are we browbeaten and lectured about expecting anything but the bare minimum from politics? Often by self-proclaimed experts. But here's the thing, I've lost count of the number of times political and media experts said we had absolutely no chance of winning Griffith. And the thing is that they were wrong and people like you were right: the cleaners, paramedics, nurses, students, tradies, retirees, refugees. Ordinary, everyday people who fought every day for a better future on the Griffith campaign were right, and the representatives of the political establishment were wrong. Believe me that knowledge terrifies them. So next time an expert or politician tells you that it's unrealistic to expect that in a wealthy country like Australia no-one should go hungry or without a home, know that we were right and they were wrong. Know that when they tell you that tax cuts for billionaires, more coal and gas, and mandatory detention of refugees is the best you can hope for, they were wrong. If the Greens' wins in Brisbane, Ryan and Griffith prove one thing, it is that the only barrier—the only barrier—to change is our capacity to organise campaigns like this around the country. Our collective power terrifies the major parties and corporate donors but it should give you hope, because the Griffith campaign wasn't the end of something but the start. And if our political establishment thinks that this is our movement at our biggest, that somehow this is the best that we can do, then, oh boy, do they have another think coming! We really are just getting started.

So if, like me, you think that we should use $224 billion providing free breakfast in every school so no kid goes hungry rather than dishing out $9,000 to a federal politician; if you think everyone deserves a good home; if you think we shouldn't divide people up by the colour of their skin, gender, sexuality or the way they talk, but rather find common cause with everyone in this country who has been screwed over by the political system; and if you think that tackling climate change is more important than the share price of BHP, then join our movement, because I have seen the power of collective hope and I know what it can achieve. Thank you.

 

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