This article is Part 1 of 2 from A Conversation with the Greens on Campus. You can read Part 2 here.
On a cold and blustery Tuesday morning—my kind of morning—Curtin University students and faculty were given an opportunity to chat to some of the country’s most influential leaders in progressive politics: Leader of the Greens party Richard Di Natale, Senator Jordon Steele-John, Senator Rachel Siewert, and Liberty Cramer, the Greens candidate for the electorate of Swan.
The politicians took the time to answer questions posed by Curtin students and, earlier in the day, had announced a new policy on climate change—one that will “drive our energy system away from coal into renewables”.
“What it means for WA is 24,000 new jobs here […] a massive boost to the WA economy, providing certainty for people who rely, in Collie for example, on coal for their livelihood but know that there’s no long-term future there.”
I was able to sit down with all four of the Greens leaders to chat about the messages they’d most like to send to Curtin students and the issues closest to their heart.
Rachel Siewert, WA Senator
Rachel Siewert is a WA Senator who works in the portfolios of Family, Ageing and Community Services, Mental Health, and First Nations. When I asked her about what kinds of policies the Greens have that affect students, she talked about their policies for free tertiary education and TAFE. In addition, she recognised the importance of a student’s ability to study a wide array of subjects, as specific courses often don’t cater to all of the requirements of certain careers. As an example, she noted how a talk on ABC Radio highlighted that different skills were required for a journalism career that were not accessible through a journalism degree alone.
Having studied agricultural science, and being the first in her family to be able to go to University—an opportunity she was able to take for free—she found it ludicrous that other parliamentarians were somehow justifying the thousands of dollars students must now pay in order to get an education. With a government that decreased the minimum yearly income threshold required to start being taxed on HECS debt, the Greens would instead propose free tertiary education across the board.
She also acknowledged that the arts were key to an “enriched society”, and that the current government suffered from a lack of empathy towards its constituents and toward people such as asylum seekers—that there was a lack of willingness to think about issues such as intergenerational trauma and cycles of poverty that are reinforced by things like the cashless debit card and welfare conditionality.
Rachel’s message to students, and to those who are interested in careers in politics, is that a broad range of experience and the desire to make a difference, as opposed to gaining power, is essential to being a good politician and achieving change.
Liberty Cramer, Candidate for Swan
Like Siewert, Cramer also echoed the Greens’ desire for HECS-free education and a lifting of the payment threshold. She also discussed the Greens policy of raising Austudy allowances and increasing Newstart by $75 a week; Newstart has not seen an increase since 1994.
She also acknowledged the links between the cost of living, housing and unemployment issues, all three of which impact students very strongly. Australia’s youth unemployment rate is at 11.77 per cent (OECD), almost double the national average.
“It’s expensive to be poor”, she added, bringing up the cycle of poverty that comes through not being employed in a job that pays a living wage, and an inability to afford high-quality items. For example, someone who can only afford cheap low-quality shoes will need to spend more money replacing them over and over, compared to someone who can afford to save $100 for high-quality shoes and does not need to replace them.
In Swan, there are no affordable rental houses for those who receive Centrelink. Any rental in the electorate of Swan would cause financial strain to anybody on Newstart, and this is unacceptable.
Liberty also brought up the need for a robust public transport system, which would enable those who cannot afford a car to function and thrive fully in society and work. Both of these goals can be achieved by taxing corporations fairly and ensuring they pay tax instead of thousands of dollars in political donations to the two major parties.
As far as advice goes, she said that aspiring politicians should know that “doing nothing is endorsing the way things are. Start where you can make a difference, and then go from there”. She said to check your enrolment—enrolments to the electoral roll close tomorrow (8:00 pm Thursday 18th)—and to use your vote to create a representative government.
The Greens party, though small in Australia, represent an international progressive movement that puts empathetic and future-oriented policy at the heart of politics. If you want to learn more about their work from the horse’s mouth, keep an eye out for Part 2 with Senator Jordon Steele-John and Richard Di Natale.
Disclaimer: Max Vos is a member of the Greens party.