Interview

Interview with Senator Scott Ludlam

Scott Ludlam has been a Greens member of the Australian Senate since 2008 and represents Western Australia. He has an extensive portfolio which includes Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy; Housing; Nuclear; Mining (Western Australia); Transport, Infrastructure, Waste and Sustainable Cities.

State Magazine was very fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Senator Ludlam on a number of issues including the resignation of Bob Brown, appointment of Christine Milne and the placement of Julian Assange’s lawyer on an allegedly government-sanctioned “inhibited travel watch list”.

STATE: What specifically was it that first prompted you to join the Australian Greens?

“I joined the Greens in 2001, and it was because I wanted to help my friend and colleague Robin Chappelle who at that stage running for State parliament, and I wanted to support his campaign and then we got him elected”.

STATE: Do you think that Senator Bob Brown’s decision to retire from federal politics will have a significant impact on the policy platform of the Australian Greens?

“I don’t think it will have an impact on the policy platform, we’ve had a stable set of issues we have run on for the last 20 years, and I don’t think you’ll notice anything changing there.

I think, Senator Milne, when she took the stage last Friday, indicated that the issues that she wanted to provide a greater emphasis on; one was the economy, working with progressive businesses who have been very poorly represented, thus far by some of the peak bodies. And the second one, which was greater outreach and collaboration on issues in regional communities that we have shared concerns over.

So you will probably see emphasis shift in those two areas, which I think will be very positive. But we are not going to notice any radical changes in the kind of issues that we run on, or the policies”.

STATE: Given the quite large personality vacuum that Bob Brown’s departure from the leadership has left, do you think that the Australian Greens may start to struggle to get their message across to the electorate?

“We will wait and see the outcome of the Tasmanian pre-selection, because I gather there is some great people lining up there. But I have a lot of confidence in the ability of the team to pull together and keep doing the work. There is a poll out this morning that shows our vote is steady. There are some quarters of the corporate media who would love to see us fall apart post-Bob, but I’m sorry to disappoint them, but that is just wishful thinking”.

STATE: What is your opinion of the Greens’ new leader, Senator Christine Milne, and her deputy MHR Adam Bandt?

“They are both great. I think Christine really hit the ground running. She is a formidable campaigner and a really good operator. I have worked with her since 2005, and I have a lot of respect for the way she works and her grasp for policy, but also her ability to get results and get outcomes. We saw, in the instance of the carbon price package, that was very much her work.

Establishing the multi-party climate committee was her idea and she worked very hard to make sure the model had as much integrity as possible. I think that gives people a pretty good idea of what she is capable of. I am really looking forward to the next little while. Adam is a remarkable campaigner and a I think a very good local member. So I think the two of them together will be a very good combination”.

STATE: What is your take on the recent controversies pertaining to Peter Slipper, and do you think it was right of him to step down as Speaker, even if only temporarily? Do you think the altered dynamic within the Parliament will have an effect on the upcoming Federal Budget?

“No, I don’t know that there is going to be any direct impact; the Budget is still a couple of weeks away, so I’m not sure that there will be any impact there. Our view is that some of the allegations are pretty serious and it is appropriate that some of them are tested in court. We will wait for the outcome. I think that it can be a bit of a scary precedent when people on potential criminal matters are tried in the media and treated as if it’s partisan political issues. So in this case, we will wait and see what falls out of the investigation”.

STATE:  As a parliamentarian in a minor party, you have a very extensive and highly diverse parliamentary portfolio – namely including Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy; Housing; Nuclear; Mining (Western Australia); Transport, Infrastructure, Waste and Sustainable Cities. Do you ever find that you have difficulty keeping track of things?

“I have brilliant staff and we work pretty hard. When I first went to work for Rachel Siewert, there were only four state MP’s in Federal Parliament. I’ve worked in State politics for four years where there were only five MP’s, and they had balance of power as well. It’s difficult, but I have actually greatly enjoyed being in an expanded team where I was able to drop a couple of portfolios. You just have to work really hard, and we work with extremely motivated people”.

STATE: What is the economic justification for having an inefficient tax on mining companies in Australia, such as the Mineral Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), when there are arguably other, more efficient alternatives?

“I think there’s some truth to that. There are models even within Australia including the Petroleum Resources Rent Tax, that you can argue are simpler and more efficient. Some of the people who are arguing for more efficient taxes are using no tax or a greatly weakened one. I tend to look at whom it is promoting efficiency before I evaluate the proposal myself”.

STATE: In the last few days, you have been among the most outspoken critics of the apparent placement of Julian Assange’s lawyer on an allegedly government-sanctioned “inhibited travel watch list”. Considering that the existence of such a list has been flatly denied in media releases from several government departments, why are you pursuing this issue so aggressively?

“Well I think it is scary that human rights lawyers are being placed on watch lists. The most recent evidence that I have seen is that in fact, the US Department of Homeland Security list, and they use the term ‘inhibited list’, and we have statements now from the Australian Government – the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, from the airline and the British Home Office, all denying responsibility and pointing their finger elsewhere and saying “it had nothing to do with us, it was somebody else”. The reason I’m pursuing the issue, is the idea that we would put human rights lawyers and campaigners on watch lists that were presumably designed around blocking terrorists, and around legitimate security issues. It is yet another sign that we’re on a pretty slippery slope. So think the idea that someone like Jen Robinson would find herself on one of those lists would need to be pushed back very strongly”.

STATE: In your opinion, what is the one issue that has been largely ignored by mainstream politics since the last election, and why?

“Probably the most serious one in my mind is around oil depletion, peak oil issues. Which is treated the way climate change was being treated 20 years ago. I.e. there is a huge amount of evidence by non-government organisations and independent analysts that we are now at the plateau of easily available and affordable oil. But there is systematic policy blindness within senior levels of government and both the old political parties, that there is any public policy issue here at all.

You look at the official graphs of fossil fuel demand running out into the 2020’s and 2030’s, and there is this blind assumption that we will be able to just keep doubling our oil imports. It has huge potential impacts about the balance of payments, obviously, but the oil physically just isn’t there. So that is something that I have found difficult to get traction on within Federal politics, because of this systematic blindfolding around the issue. So that is one that I think we need to work on a lot harder”.

STATE: What would you consider to be your most significant personal contribution to the community during your time as a politician?

“There are a bunch of things that I am really proud of, but the general area that I am particularly proud of is communications policy – in highlighting issues of interest to the online community, whether it is the Internet filter, data attention, surveillance spy police and security agencies or copyright issues. So the general communications portfolio and the ability to have stronger safeguards for public ownership of the NBN and support for that project”.

The communications portfolio is probably the general area that I am happiest with. Specifically, probably the Perth Light Rail, which has gone from being a idea to a project within the State Government that has happened reasonably quickly. Which I am proud of.

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