Richard Di Natale: Labor should come to negotiating table on climate policy | Australia news
Recently, the Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, made a private overture to the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, a contact reflecting his view that Shorten, in the absence of “one hell of an upset”, will be prime minister on 18 May.
In the event Di Natale’s working supposition is correct, and Shorten goes on to win the campaign, the Greens are Labor’s mostly likely dance partners in the Senate for a range of progressive reforms the ALP is taking to the contest, particularly climate change, which was the focus of the recent overture.
Shorten did not come back to him, but Di Natale says he remains hopeful that two progressive political leaders can find their level. “My hope is Bill Shorten and Labor recognise it’s important to have a constructive relationship with the Greens,” Di Natale says in an interview with Guardian Australia.
If Australian voters on 18 May return a parliament where Labor is forced to govern in minority, then the Greens leader has some clear expectations. He wants a seat at the table as Labor implements its climate policy, as happened during the 43rd parliament. “I would hope Shorten would show the maturity that Julia Gillard demonstrated and bring people to the table to negotiate constructively.”
In the event it’s not a minority government scenario, if Labor wins outright and the Greens are in balance of power in the Senate, Di Natale also wants it known that his party is prepared to vote against a climate policy it regards as insufficiently ambitious, as the Greens did once before, controversially, in 2009.
Ahead of the election, the shadow climate change minister, Mark Butler, warned the Greens against a repeat of 2009. Butler told Guardian Australia the Greens voting with Tony Abbott against Labor’s first climate policy mechanism during the last period in government was one of the factors in shattering the political consensus at the federal level, which has prevented policy action for the best part of a decade.
The Greens leader says it is impossible to be definitive about a post-election decision right now, given Labor’s policy still contains several unknowns, but he says the policy Shorten and Butler are taking to the 2019 election is weaker than the policy of 2016 and “now is the time to base a policy on science”.
Di Natale says if Labor’s climate policy, post-election, meets the Greens’ test of ambition, and one of the relevant tests of ambition is “a plan to phase out coal”, then Shorten can expect support.
“But if it’s going to lock in failure, then we won’t support it. We will make a decision based on the policy.”
The Greens leader is equally clear about his expectations about Labor’s stance on the Adani coal project should it win the election. Di Natale will on Thursday join Bob Brown’s convoy protesting against the proposed mine as it makes its way from Hobart to central Queensland.
The Greens leader says he expects a Labor government to block the controversial project. Di Natale says he has zero sympathy with arguments that opposing a project that has already secured major approvals creates a significant sovereign risk problem for a party of government. “If the message we want to send is it’s risky to invest in coal in Australia, then I think that’s the right message,” he says.
The Greens go into the contest needing to defend five Senate spots, and the party is ever hopeful of picking up an extra in the ACT. In the lower house, the objective is to return Adam Bandt to Melbourne, and to contest Kooyong, Higgins, McNamara, Wills and Canberra.
The party has been plagued by open displays of internal dissent in recent times, and has underperformed in recent electoral contests, although Di Natale says he’s “very encouraged” by the party’s performance in the recent New South Wales election.
He insists he’s worked hard to address complaints about the party’s internal culture, and he said the NSW Greens, often at odds with their federal counterparts, now “understood the need to work together”.
Asked whether he thought the factional brawling and complaints about party culture had damaged the Greens, Di Natale says “it’s had a very small impact”.
Di Natale, who arrived in Canberra presenting as a pragmatic and mild-mannered GP, now has a harder edge to his politicking. He says this reflects frustration that has built up “after spending three years in the parliament with one of the worst governments in Australian history, and I don’t say that lightly”.
“It has an impact,” he says. “It has made me determined to throw them out”.
Asked whether he has the appetite to remain party leader, given the recent adversity, and given the toxic nature of contemporary politics, Di Natale says party leadership remains the gift of his colleagues. Self-evidently the Greens’ performance in the coming poll will be a critical factor in whether he retains the backing of his party room.
But he insists he’s not ground down by the obvious challenges. “I feel very positive about the job at the moment. The party has addressed some challenges and we’ve come through that.”