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Green New Deal motion

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
11 November 2020

I am pleased to move:

That this house:

(1) supports a Green New Deal for Victoria;

(2) notes that 2020 has been an extremely difficult year for Victorians, starting with horrendous bushfires and followed by the COVID-19 pandemic;

(3) further notes that increasing unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as climate change and rising economic inequality, are key challenges facing Victoria into the future;

(4) acknowledges that the upcoming state budget must provide for a plan to build Victoria back better, with significant investment from the government to create jobs and build a caring society and clean economy;

(5) calls on the government to create tens of thousands of good-quality new jobs through investing in:

(a) publicly owned renewable energy and storage projects to address climate change and transitioning Victoria away from fossil fuels;

(b) a big build of new public housing to help end homelessness;

(c) employing more educators, healthcare workers, nurses and social support workers so all Victorians can get the care they need;

(d) restoring our precious natural environment by regenerating bushfire-affected areas, protecting threatened species and planting trees and native vegetation;

(e) walking, bike riding and public transport to cut traffic and reduce emissions;

(f) reviving our main shopping streets to support jobs in retail, hospitality and services; and

(g) a recycling revolution to reduce waste and protect our waterways and wildlife.

The year 2020 has been like no other. We began the year with some of the most devastating fires our state has seen. Homes were lost, over 1 billion animals were killed, millions of hectares of land and trees were burnt, our skies darkened and our towns and cities were choked by thick smoke. And then before we could recover from that horror we were plunged into a global pandemic, and we have experienced eight strange months of a new way of living, where our worlds shrank and we adapted to new ways of working, socialising and living. It has been challenging and frightening, and I know it has been a difficult year for so many.

But it has also been a year when we have witnessed many of the better parts of humanity. Victorians looked out for our neighbours, made sacrifices to protect our own health and the health of our most vulnerable, and we came together as a community to confront a public health crisis unlike any we have experienced before. The government proved it was willing to make important decisions to look after Victorians. It showed that it is possible to house the homeless. It offered protection to renters, helped local business owners and offered some support to international students and the arts sector, who were so neglected by the federal government.

But we have a long way to go. The Victorian economy has taken a significant hit. Unemployment and underemployment remain high, particularly for young people and women, and local businesses are only just beginning to recover. The communities that were hit hardest by the summer’s fires are still trying to rebuild their homes and their towns. Economic inequality continues, with the divide between the haves and the have-nots ever growing, and too many people are being left behind. And of course the ever-present threat posed by the climate crisis remains.

We are now fast approaching the state budget, a rare spring budget coming at the end of a difficult year. This will be a historic budget and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build back Victoria for the better. We now have an opportunity to do something different. Dare I say it, we could do something bold and visionary to tackle the big issues we face: inequality and climate change. I am not sure about you, but I came into this place to do just that and to do so in the context of justice for First Nations people. We have a choice: to sit idly by and keep tinkering around the edges, or we can pluck up the courage to challenge the status quo—a status quo that sees record-breaking homelessness in our state, an environment facing destruction and poor pay and conditions for some of our most valuable workers.

Instead we can take this opportunity to rethink our economy, just like we rethought our lives this year—to spend big on new projects and programs that both create jobs and address the important challenges of our time, such as homelessness, how we move around our cities, protecting and restoring the natural environment that we literally cannot live without and of course the climate crisis. This is what we call a Green New Deal, an economic plan that will tackle climate change, promote equality and build a caring society while creating the jobs we need as we manage the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I know that there are some of you in this chamber itching to dismiss these ideas out of hand at the first opportunity. But before resorting to a reflex response, I urge you to think about this for the sake of our future. We have had leaders in our past who dared to think big and succeeded in changing our lives fundamentally for the better. President Roosevelt introduced his New Deal in the United States to build back after the devastation of the Great Depression, and the legacy of this has been enduring. Governments across the world now have the opportunity again to do this. That is why we are calling on the government to embrace a Green New Deal in this month’s budget.

So what does this plan, an economic plan to create jobs and address inequality and climate change, contain? We have some ideas. Firstly, let us solve homelessness. Every reputable economist you come across is urging governments to invest in housing. With record low interest rates, now is the time to borrow to build homes. It remains an indictment of Victorian governments over the last two decades that we remain the lowest spending state per capita on public housing, while homelessness and public housing waiting lists continue to grow. Despite the federal government failing to take up the cause, there will never be a better time to reverse this trend, create thousands of quality long-term jobs and ensure Victorians who need a home can have a home. There is no need to outsource this essential government function to private developers, up until now the government’s preferred option. Instead, let us take this challenge on as a core function of the state. Housing is a human right. Let us end homelessness, provide homes for the 100 000 people on the waiting list and create thousands of jobs by investing in a big build of public housing.

Secondly, of course, there is the need to address the climate crisis. It has not gone away. A renewable-led recovery will create the jobs we need, tackle climate change and reduce energy prices. So if we are about to make decisions about where to spend big to rebuild our economy and create new jobs, it is a perfect time to invest in the industries that are creating a cleaner and fairer future, let go of our reliance on dirty power like coal and gas and move to a Victoria powered by 100 per cent renewable energy with a just transition for workers. We can create new jobs in looking after our environment and develop a local recycling industry right here in Victoria. In this month’s budget we are calling for a huge investment in publicly owned renewable energy projects, like new solar, wind and battery projects. The government has already shown itself willing to make these kinds of decisions, like last week’s announcement of a new 300-megawatt battery near Geelong. Let us go further and ensure that this budget invests in a wide range of new publicly owned renewable energy and recycling projects so that we are protecting our future and our planet at the same time as we create new jobs. We all know investments in renewable energy create many more jobs than in coal or gas.

With many Victorians having experienced spending so much time at home in the past year, we have all come to recognise how important effective heating, cooling and insulation are to our standard of living. Now is a great time to help Victorians make their homes energy efficient by providing grants for home owners to weatherproof their homes and remove old gas appliances and by putting solar and batteries in our public homes. Investing in public transport and in bike and walking paths will also help cut carbon emissions, as well as cutting congestion and creating thousands of jobs in the process. The Greens’ Rail to Recovery plan would create thousands of jobs for drivers, engineers, maintenance workers, customer service staff and construction workers. We can transform Melbourne and how we move around our city for the better.

We are approaching a COVID-normal summer, which means many of us will be travelling to our regions again for a well-deserved holiday. I know I, like many Victorians, am excited to be able to travel throughout Victoria again and enjoy the forests, the parks and the beautiful beaches that make our state such a great place to live. But returning to our natural world means remembering all of the things we need to do to protect it. As well as the big renewables projects for our future, our budget could be investing in conservation, in protecting our forests, rivers and beaches and especially in restoring the land that was devastated by summer’s bushfires. We know that our regions have experienced two crises this year—first during the black summer and, secondly, during the pandemic. We could create 11 000 jobs with a bushcare blitz of weeding, fencing, invasive species management and restoring Victoria’s environment damaged by the summer’s bushfires and by planting 10 million trees right across Victoria. Such a program could create vital city-based and regional and rural jobs, supporting both our communities hit by the fires and those city communities impacted by COVID-19 job losses.

We know that young people have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic. Many have lost their jobs in retail and hospitality. In the past few weeks it has been heartwarming to watch our shopping strips open up again and see friends and families meeting again in our cafes, restaurants and shops. But while business is returning to usual, local traders have been hit hard by the COVID-19 economic downturn, and many are still struggling. Right now with this budget we have an opportunity to invest in our local shopping strips, support our local traders and help create new jobs in retail, hospitality and the arts. The budget could invest in things like upgrading our streets with improved footpaths and tree coverage or helping artists or startup ventures to establish studios in empty shopfronts. A shopping strips revitalisation unit embedded within the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions would work with local and state governments to deliver necessary support. Victorians are ready to spend a summer together after spending so long apart. Let us make sure our budget provides the means to make this happen.

Finally, I want to talk about how this state budget can invest in a caring society. As I noted before, governments have in the past tended to focus stimulus spending on big construction and public infrastructure projects or, as we have seen federally, on tax cuts instead of services. While the Greens are supportive of major infrastructure projects like a big build of public housing, renewable energy infrastructure, bike and walking paths and more public transport, we also strongly believe in the need to invest significantly in other types of work. It was also the traditionally female-dominated industries that stepped up to the plate this year. Throughout the pandemic we have seen just how important our caring professions are in our communities—our doctors, nurses and carers, who worked on the front lines of the public health crisis for the past eight months; our educators, who embraced teaching on Zoom to ensure schools could continue from home; our community service workers, who supported those experiencing homelessness or family violence and helped us with our mental health. This year, as a society, we recognised the true value of caring work as an essential service; now let us support those workers like they supported us this year and ensure our budget invests in secure, long-term jobs in the caring economy. I note the announcement from the government just today of creating 500 new jobs across mental health, family violence, health and child protection, being exactly the type of investment we have been calling for.

Now, the question that remains is: is all of this possible? Yes. If this year has told us anything, it is that the past rules no longer apply. Here in Victoria we have achieved something remarkable: we beat off a second wave of coronavirus. So as we look to recover let us lift our heads higher than we have before and stretch our sense of what is possible. Every reputable economist is saying now, ‘Now is the time to borrow to invest’. The government has already said this will be a big-spending budget, and we welcome that. The question is: will it be spent on the right things? At the moment unfortunately the budget already includes spending of over $20 billion on just two roads—just two roads. That $20 billion would go a long way to achieving some of the outcomes I have just outlined—creating jobs and ending homelessness, transitioning to a 100 per cent renewable energy future and investing in the caring services so that every Victorian has what they need to live a good life.

This year we have supported each other, made decisions for the greater good and helped those who have needed it the most. Let us use this budget to do the same thing—to rebuild our economy by taking on the climate crisis, the housing crisis and the recycling crisis to create thousands of new jobs in green industries, in retail, in hospitality and in caring work and to provide justice to First Nations. In 2020 Victorians did things differently. Let us keep it that way and embrace a new vision for Victoria, a new way forward—a Green New Deal.

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
11 November 2020
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