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Transcript: Christine Milne and Adam Bandt: MRRT, science funding, Prisoner X, Treaty for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Christine Milne 14 Feb 2013

Christine Milne and Adam Bandt outlined a new Greens push to amend depreciation loopholes in the mining tax. Adam Bandt commented on the Greens-Coalition motion on protecting science and research funding in the Budget that passed the House today and Senator Milne also commented on Prisoner X.


Subjects: Mining tax, science and research funding, Prisoner X, Treaty for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

CHRISTINE MILNE: With all the squabbling going on today between the Government and the Coalition, trying to outdo each other again in a race to the bottom on income tax, the much bigger question is how are we going to raise the revenue in Australia that we need in order to give people good lives, in order to invest in public education, to invest in Denticare, national disability, and the like. Now the Greens are pursuing a solution to the hole that we have in revenue and that is to say to the mining industry in Australia you must pay your fair share. The community deserves its fair share for our resources. Now the Greens' bill already moves to block the loopholes with the states. It is no surprise at all that the states are saying that they're not going to give up their capacity to raise royalties so it is over to the Government now to respond to this. The Greens stand willing to work with the Federal Government to prevent state treasurers keeping on effectively gouging this revenue that we have. But it's not enough, what we have to do is go further and we are going to be moving amendments to actually broaden this so that we claw back some of the excessively generous provisions that apply to the mining industry that they negotiated for themselves in terms of accelerated depreciation and it's very clear now that the mining industry diddled the Government, that the mining industry really won the first round in its battle against the Australian people and what we now have to do is get some of that money back.

ADAM BANDT: When the House of Representatives resumes and when the Senate next resumes the Greens will be moving to close one of the loopholes in the mining tax. In short the miners pulled one over the Government and were allowed to exaggerate the value of their assets so that they could claim a bigger tax break and as a result the public purse is $4 billion worse off. And if we closed this loophole then in a few years' time the mining tax could be bringing in almost an extra $2 billion a year of revenue and that's a lot of money that can be used for schools, for dental care and funding the services that Australians expect. So when Parliament resumes we'll be moving those amendments and I note that some of the other members of the crossbench have already said that this is a loophole that needs to be closed and I am very hopeful that Labor will recognise as we get closer to the budget that this needs to be closed.

On another matter the budget is a very worrying time for many in the science and research community around this country. We've seen in MYEFO half a billion dollars taken out of university research that will cost about 1500 jobs in Victoria alone. We've also seen a couple of budgets ago threats to slash the health and medical research budget. Parliament today in the House of Representatives passed a Greens motion supported by the Coalition and members of the crossbench, without the support of the Labor Party, to call on the Treasurer to guarantee science and research funding would be spared from any cuts in the upcoming budget. This sends a very clear message to the Treasurer that the majority of the House of Representatives believes with the Greens that science and research are central to our future economy. This is going to be what will drive Australia when the mining bubble bursts and the Treasurer's now put on notice not to make cuts to science and research as has being mooted and in fact done in previous budgets.

CHRISTINE MILNE: I wanted to make a comment about Prisoner X. There has been considerable concern in the Australian community about what has happened to an Australian citizen when he was taken off the streets and held in custody in Israel and then died whilst in that prison cell. What's emerged from Senate Estimates today is that the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv was sidelined in relation to consular support for Ben Zygier. It's very clear that the Australian Government found out about what was happening to an Australian citizen through the intelligence services and not through the embassy. It was then a decision of the Government to sideline the embassy and allow the intelligence services to take over the management of the case. Now we know that ASIO and ASIS, the Australian intelligence agencies work and talk to Mossad. We know that there has been an accusation, that Ben Zygier was working with Mossad and the question remains very clearly - what is the responsibility of the Australian Government for a citizen in trouble overseas and how could we have confidence that his welfare was at the centre of considerations when the intelligence agencies have a clear conflict of interest, they're pursuing intelligence lines around security and at the same time they're supposed to be in this case looking after the welfare of an Australian citizen. My question is just why did the Australian Government hand over the welfare of one of our citizens to the spooks? Why?

JOURNALIST: On that issue how does this case, something like this differ to the case of Melinda Taylor in Libya - in that case the Foreign Minister did go over,  Do you think more steps like that should have been taken in this instance?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the question the Australian Government has to answer is why did they hand over the welfare and interests of an Australian citizen to the security agencies to handle and sideline the embassy when in other cases you've had direct intervention at the political level here in Australia and certainly intervention at the consular level. All that Australia got from the Israeli Government was an assurance that Ben Zygier had appropriate care if you like or surveillance and the rest of it in an Israeli prison. A judge in Israel has just completed an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death. The judge has found that it was suicide but has recommended that the issue of negligence being pursued. The question really is what did Mossad and the intelligence services that they work with in Australia, ASIO and ASIS, know, and why did the Government choose to turn their back on an Australian citizen and hand his welfare over to the spy agencies? That's really the big question and every Australian citizen who travels or is out of the country needs to have an answer to that because we need to be confident that when an Australian goes abroad, regardless of what they may be charged with, that the Government will use the appropriate services through the consular service to find out how they are. Today it was revealed that the consular service was not engaged, that they didn't visit him, that there was no effort in fact it appears to do so because the whole thing was handed over to the spy agencies.

JOURNALIST: How do you make the assumption that it was handed over to the spy agencies and it wasn't just a failure perhaps of the embassy?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Because in Senate Estimates today it was very clear that the intelligence services were in charge of it and in fact the Secretary of DFAT said quite clearly that this was something that was dealt with through the intelligence channels and not to the embassy and that's why the embassy couldn't answer  the question about who or what had been said and done.

JOURNALIST: Has the Opposition put enough pressure do you think on the Government? Julie Bishop did by coincidence meet with Israeli Government officials on Wednesday I understand.

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I think it's incumbent upon all parliamentarians of all persuasions to be saying to the Government, you have now go and speak with the Israeli Government and find out what has actually gone on. But there are two aspects to this, one is the relationship between the spy agencies and the foreign affairs and trade and the minister of the day, and who makes the decision about who will look after the welfare of Australians overseas and that question has to be answered - why was he handed over to the spy agencies and not dealt with through consular channels? The other part of it is what is Australia going to do in standing up to Israel about the treatment of an Australian citizen and I asked the Minister - will you get access to that judge's report on the circumstances surrounding the death of Ben Zygier and he said he would take advice from DFAT about what he should ask the Israeli Government. I think he should ask the Israeli Government for that report especially since the judge said yes suicide but it's worth looking into the issue of negligence. That really does pose a lot of questions about exactly in what circumstances Ben Zygier died.

JOURNALIST: Senator yesterday pro-sovereignty supporters gave the Governor-General some documents calling on a treaty - what kind of pressure would you put on the governments, if any, to push that case of aboriginal people wanting a treaty, not just recognition ?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Australian Greens have been big supporters of indigenous rights and indigenous recognition in the Constitution. We are the ones who put it in our agreement with the Prime Minister and that's why we were very pleased to see some movement on it. Although disappointed that it hasn't led to a referendum in this period of Government, we'll support it into the next. In terms of the sovereignty issue, that is something that will be discussed in indigenous circles and around the community as we get further discussion of clarifying the question on indigenous recognition. At this stage that is our focus to make sure we get up a referendum which recognises indigenous people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, in our constitution and as we said yesterday that will provide the framework to then talk about what else needs to be done. But our priority is to get recognition and to get that referendum up as soon as we possibly can.

JOURNALIST: These people will be challenging the Crown in London later this year, they will be launching application and they have certain legal advice that their sovereignty still stands. If that's the case what's going to happen in Australia?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well certainly that's their right to do so and we would support their right to take whatever action they feel they can and are able to through international agencies and organisations. But let's leave the outcome to that until we see what happens.



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