Richard Di Natale goes off the grid
A visit to the farm of the new Greens leader makes for an eventful day out.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale has declared he would “relish” the chance to serve as health minister in a future Labor-Greens coalition government, and suggested colleagues such as Larissa Waters could also serve in cabinet in charge of portfolios such as environment.
The ambition, revealed in an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media to mark Senator Di Natale’s impending six month anniversary as leader, came as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met the Greens leader for the first time on Thursday, in a clear sign of the new Liberal Prime Minister’s determination to reach out to the crossbench and advance his government’s agenda.
In the interview, Senator Di Natale said his personal view was it would be a mistake to enter into a formal, permanent alliance with Labor akin to the Liberal-National Coalition but “I think we can enter into an arrangement with the Labor party to support them in government in the same way we have [in 2010] – you offer confidence and ask for key policy outcomes and you do that election by election,” he said.
Potential minister in a Labor government? Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale at Parliament House on Thursday. Photo: Andrew Meares
“We should be open to cabinet posts, we have done that already in Tasmania and the ACT. My view is you are in politics to get outcomes. I would relish the opportunity to be a health minister in a future government … why couldn’t we see [Senator] Larissa Waters as an environment minister in a future government?”
The suggestion of a Labor-Greens coalition is sure to anger some in the ALP after the failure of the Gillard minority government but it is also a sign of the Greens leader’s more pragmatic approach to politics.
Senator Di Natale set, as a measure of success at the next election, an increase in the Greens primary vote from about 9 per cent in 2013 to something near the 11.8 per cent peak of 2010.
Richard Di Natale with his co-deputies senators Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam. Photo: Andrew Meares
Over time, he said, the challenge for the party was to win inner city lower house seats including Grayndler and Sydney in NSW and Batman in Victoria.
The meeting between Senator Di Natale, who has already spoken on the phone twice to Mr Turnbull since he became Prime Minister, did not canvas formal policy proposals.
But Mr Turnbull flagged regular meetings with Senator Di Natale in a clear sign he intends to take a different approach to dealing with the Greens than his predecessor, Tony Abbott, who largely left the environmental party in the the political deep freeze.
The Greens would revisit the loose deal they made with Labor in 2010, says leader Richard Di Natale. Photo: Nicolas Walker
The Prime Minister has already held a series of meetings with the Senate crossbench but his more receptive stance towards the Greens could anger the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, who consider the Greens as economically irresponsible and socially too progressive.
Senator Di Natale also called for a formal inquiry into the acquisition of the F-35 joint strike fighter, pointing to new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to do just that, and warning of a multibillion-dollar blow-out in the purchase.
Ahead of the first meeting with Mr Turnbull on Thursday, Senator Di Natale revealed an extensive wish list of policies he would discuss with the Prime Minister in the weeks and months ahead.
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
“I think we are poles apart on many issues,” he said, “but there is some common ground that we will be able to work with the government on”.
Those policies nominated by the Greens leader included:
- A plan and timetable for an Australian Republic, now that the Liberals, Labor and Greens were all led by republicans
- Raising Australia’s emissions reduction targets, dropping legislation to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Renewable Energy Agency, and tightening vehicle emissions regulations
- Flagging the Greens’ support for “sensible” changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, which is currently being reviewed
- A free vote in Parliament on same-sex marriage this year and the inclusion of the Greens in leader debates at the next election
- Implementing optional preferential voting in the Senate (which will benefit the major parties and hurt independents who get elected under complex preference deals)
- Bringing forward the introduction of legal, medical cannabis
- A raft of revenue raising measures, instead of spending cuts in health and education, including changes to superannuation rules, to save $10.6 billion; ending negative gearing for new housing, saving $4.6 billion and reducing or removing capital gains discounts, savings $2 billion to $10 billion
A spokesman for opposition leader Bill Shorten said Senator Di Natale was a nice guy and “we’re flattered he’s confident Labor will win the next election”.
“We can assure Senator Di Natale that a Labor government will treat his party with more respect and the courtesy than the Liberals do. If he wants to serve in a Labor government, he needs to join the Labor Party,” he said.