'We’ve delivered in spades': Richard Di Natale on the Greens’ role in driving change

Party will try to get a future Labor government to use other means to act on climate change in the event of a hostile Senate

The Greens would support a future Labor government to use regulation to enforce climate policy in the event of a hostile Senate, Greens leader Richard Di Natale says.

The Victorian senator says he is confident the Greens will be able to work with Labor leader Bill Shorten, despite Shorten not responding to a letter he sent last year asking them to do just that.

Di Natale says that if the Senate crossbench is populated by right-wing parties opposed to climate action, he will support a Labor government using other means to achieve environmental goals.

“We have to work hard in an environment where no one has the balance of power in their own right... to look for common ground and work to achieve it,” Di Natale says.

“Some changes, like those to the safeguard mechanism, might be made through regulation rather than legislation and I hope that a Labor government recognises that Australians want them to take very strong and decisive action.

“We know that there are some changes that we won’t need a parliament to support.”

Just last week, the Greens criticised the Coalition for making changes to the emissions safeguard mechanism , established as part of the Direct Action scheme to set “baselines” or limits for big polluters. The Coalition changes raised the limit for big polluters, but the same method could be used to reduce emissions limits in a backdoor cap-and-trade scheme.

Di Natale was speaking from his office in Collins Street, Melbourne, in the second last week of the campaign. This city has been the party’s stronghold since the early 2000s, but support has taken a hit in recent years because of infighting , and it lost half its state MPs at last year’s Victorian election.

Melbourne is poised to play a decisive role in the election next Saturday, which Di Natale believes Labor will win with the help of Greens preferences.

But despite voters saying climate change is the most pressing issue when determining whom to vote for , and some commentators arguing that the Greens vote is likely to hold steady as a result, the party has been largely absent from media coverage of the campaign.

Oceans have removed 48 % of the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuel and cement manufacturing so far.

A climate election

Labor’s focus on climate change, even if its policies are significantly less ambitious than those put forward by the Greens, has allowed the bigger party to soak up much of the oxygen in the climate debate.

It is frustrating, Di Natale says, because Labor’s policy lags behind market trends in the energy sector.

“That’s what’s going to happen if we sit back and let the market do this for us without any intervention,” he says. Labor has proposed a target of 50% of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030; 50% of new vehicle sales to be electric by 2030; and no ban on the mining, burning or export of fossil fuels.

Greens candidate for Kooyong Julian Burnside, Richard Di Natale and the candidate for Higgins Jason Ball in Malvern, Melbourne on Thursday

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Greens candidate for Kooyong Julian Burnside, Richard Di Natale and the candidate for Higgins Jason Ball in Malvern, Melbourne on Thursday. Photograph: David Crosling/AAP

It has equivocated on ruling out the Adani coalmine, which the Greens oppose, and has been criticised for supporting a plan to extract gas from the Beetaloo basin in the Northern Territory .

The Greens policy calls for 100% of electricity generation to come from renewable energy sources and 100% of new car sales to be electric by 2030; a plan to phase out the coal, oil and gas industry and create a transition package for workers; the reintroduction of a carbon price; and a resources super profits tax.

“It’s all well and good to talk about renewables and a target but unless you are bringing down pollution, unless you are transitioning away from coal ... then it doesn’t matter what you do with renewables,” Di Natale says. “The primary source of the problem is increasing pollution from coal and we have to have a plan to drive that down.”

The director of the Energy Change Institute at the Australian National University, Prof Ken Baldwin, says Australia will reach 100% renewable energy in the early to mid 2030s if the current rate of renewable energy installation is maintained.

He says reaching the Greens’ target without damaging the economy is “within the realm of possibility” provided there is careful planning to transition the electricity grid and the fossil fuel workforce to a renewable economy.

If Australia does not get the energy sector to do the heavy lifting on meeting its international obligations on reducing emissions, “we’re stuffed,” Baldwin says.

But he says the proposed ban on coal, oil and gas exports could be counter-productive and argues that Australia should continue to export fossil fuels to developing countries, if it can provide a cleaner source than otherwise available. That’s the argument the resources minister, Matt Canavan, has used to support the proposed Adani mine.

Depending upon the carbon emissions, a rise in temperature from 1.1 degree up to 6.4 degree is expected by the end of this century.

‘Xenophobic populist nationalism’ v social democracy

Whether the Greens are able to influence Labor climate policy will depend on the make-up of the Senate. Clive Palmer’s United Australia party is vying to take the balance of power, thanks to a preference deal struck with the Liberals . The Centre Alliance and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party also hold some spots, and Fraser Anning’s extreme right-wing Conservative National party is running 70 candidates.

Scott Morrison has joined conservative commentators in describing the Greens as equal and opposite to the right-wing minor parties in seriousness and scope.

Di Natale says the comparison is “a smokescreen for Scott Morrison doing a deal with racists and climate deniers”.

Deakin University politics lecturer Geoffrey Robinson says the comparison is unfair.

“The Palmer party is obviously a kind of personal vehicle largely devoid of any policy commitment whatsoever,” Robinson says. “To compare the Greens and One Nation depends on your views about xenophobic populist nationalism versus Greens social democracy … but even there I think you can argue that the Greens give a lot more serious thought to policy than One Nation has.”

The Greens have form in getting some of those policies enacted. The banking inquiry, the royal commission into the abuse of people with disabilities, the medevac legislation carried in the lower house by independent MP Kerryn Phelps, as well as bipartisan support for a federal anti-corruption body, could all be credited to the Greens in the last term of parliament.

Labor’s shift on the live sheep export trade, its recent announcements on environmental protection laws , expanding free dental care to pensioners, and the bipartisan commitment to establish a national integrity commission can also be traced to the Greens.

And despite being in politics to “get good outcomes”, they would like to get that credit.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown with Richard Di Natale during a Stop Adani rally in Brisbane last month

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Former Greens leader Bob Brown with Richard Di Natale during a Stop Adani rally in Brisbane last month. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

“If you don’t get credit for a reform, people don’t know you’re responsible for it and they’re less likely to support you,” Di Natale says. “And the bottom line in politics is if people are going to continue to support the work that you do, they need to know what you deliver on.”

Newstart ‘front and centre’

In the 46th parliament, the Greens’ focus will be on raising Newstart and the Youth Allowance. The income payment has not been increased in real terms since 1994. A report by Deloitte Access Economics last year put the cost of increasing the payment at $3.3bn , which Di Natale says can be borne by pursuing multinational tax avoidance and axing subsidies to fossil fuel companies.

Global Warming has affected many places. Venice, The Dead Sea, Cape Town, The Maldives, Key West, The Rhone Valley, Mumbai, Alps, Napa Valley, Rio de Janeiro, Alaska, Sudan, Lagos, Northern Italy, Osaka are the places which have been most affected by the Climate Change.

“This is front and centre,” he says. “This has to be one of the first things that a new government looks at and $75 a week is what people deserve and need.”

Labor has pledged to review Newstart if elected.

Di Natale says he has had “informal conversations” with the Centre Alliance on supporting the policy.

“I don’t want to put words in their mouth but I am pretty confident ... I am confident that we will be able to get this reform though the Senate,” he says.

Robinson says that of all the Greens’ policies, raising Newstart is the one most likely to have success under a potential Shorten government.

“Labor voters want Newstart to go up,” he says.

Also high on the list are universal Medicare-funded dental care; Medicare-funded mental healthcare; a ban on political donations from the mining, property development, tobacco, alcohol and gambling industries; and a ban on politicians and their senior staff from accepting a lobbying job within five years of leaving parliament.

Di Natale is also eager to prosecute media reform. On Saturday he and Shorten were due to appear side-by-side in Melbourne at the ABC Friends leaders’ forum. In his speech Di Natale warns the Murdoch media empire “will not give up its stranglehold on our media and the control of our politics that comes with it without a fight”.

“The Greens will do what needs to be done to rein in the malign influence of News Corp, to protect and strengthen our ABC and to encourage more diversity in our media landscape.”

Di Natale will ask Labor to adopt the Greens’ media policy to set up a new public interest test for media mergers, as recommended by the 2012 convergence review and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and strengthen the Australian Communications and Media Authority to give it “real teeth”.

Di Natale is optimistic of making progress even on those challenges, based on the Greens’ record in the last parliament.

“We have delivered serious reforms,” Di Natale says. “It’s easy to stand up in parliament, to make outrageous comments, to wear a burqa into the parliament , to give a first speech where you invoke the final solution , and get coverage.

“It’s much more difficult but much more important to advance a serious policy agenda for the country. That’s what we’re about, and we’ve delivered in spades for people.”