Since stepping into Bob Brown’s shoes in 2012, Milne has presided over a party that has struggled to maintain the high polling numbers it reached at the last election. While the party fights to retain Senators in South Australia and WA, and deputy leader Adam Bandt faces a tough battle to retain the seat of Melbourne, Milne is confident the party can still push for reform in the new Parliament.
The two major parties have progressed on marriage equality – why are the Greens still relevant if the Coalition moves to support a conscience vote?
The major parties will backflip – As long as Joe de Bruyn is on the national executive of the Labor Party, and one of their powerbrokers, Labor will never recognise this as an issue of discrimination. You also have to ask yourself where Kevin Rudd has been all these years on this issue. I would also totally dismiss Tony Abbott’s use of his sister at every opportunity to suggest that has somehow heralded a change of his position. There is no evidence to support that. When you vote for the other parties you simply don’t know how they’re going to vote and whether they will change their minds.
Every single Greens person elected will vote for marriage equality. It is party policy, based on non-discrimination. You wouldn’t have a conscience vote on whether or not to discriminate against women, for example, so why would you as to whether or not you continue to discriminate against LGBTI people? I was very proud to march with my son in Mardi Gras this year, I am very proud to stand in the Senate to argue for marriage equality and I am hoping that it will be in this period of government coming that we will get it, but it will only be achieved if the Greens are there to argue for it.
Why should LGBTI people vote Green?
We are the one party now that is standing for the future. That’s why the others want to remove us from the Parliament and that’s why we need every vote. We need people to proactively vote for us. We’re not going to get into Parliament by osmosis. People have to decide that if they want people who are going to stand up for what they believe in and fight for it.
I think there’s a growing awareness that Liberal and Labor are only different to a matter of degree. There’s no major philosophical difference. What this election is showing is that The Greens are actually are the opposition in Australia and the other two parties are trying to define themselves by way of personality with no substantial policy difference.
How do you view the government’s announcement that it will send LGBTI refugees to Papua New Guinea (PNG)?
It’s absolutely disgraceful. We should not be sending refugees to PNG – it is against international law. If you are going to resettle people in another country, that country must be able to offer safe resettlement, which PNG cannot offer to LGBTI people. This was all thrown together as part of Kevin Rudd’s election strategy which is about making a big announcement before watching it unravel. Tony Abbott is just as bad – they’re shaming Australia and shaming all of us. It’s hard to see how we’re going to hold our heads up when we host the G20 next year after having been such poor global citizens on the treatment of refugees.
You’ve recently spoken out about the Australian Government’s refusal to oppose the 2014 Russia Winter Olympics. Why is that?
Having come from Tasmania, I worked really hard to end the appalling laws that existed there. When I was first elected in Tasmania you could be jailed for 21 years for being gay. It was my bill in 1997 that achieved gay law reform in Tasmania – went from the worst laws in the country to the best. In the course of that campaign I met many, many brave and outstanding people who were part of getting rid of those laws. I understand just what a profound influence it has on their lives.
The ideals of the Olympics are supposed to be that you uphold equality. I don’t see how the Olympic tradition is being upheld by staging the Olympics in a country where one group of people is discriminated against. It shouldn’t be happening and we shouldn’t be legitimising it. Australia should be taking a stand on this. I am really tired of the fact that Australia will not hold its head up in international fora and stand up for human rights and against discrimination. If you are serious about these issues you have to be serious and consistent and courageous.
The Greens have had difficulties recently in preference negotiations. Any comment?
The Greens have emerged in this last period of government as a very strong force in Australian politics. What the old parties and the likes of Independent SA Senator Nick Xenophon are beginning to recognise is that when people vote for The Greens they are voting for people who are going to stand up and use the power that they are given by the Australian people to get outcomes. That is not something the old parties like. It’s extraordinary that you have someone like Nick Xenophon, who has said his big issue is gambling, is now putting both major parties ahead of The Greens at the election, and yet The Greens have had the strongest position on addressing gambling. You have to ask yourself what that means, where he stands on these issues. I take it as a badge of honour, actually. I think that what it shows is that there has been a convergence of opinion in the old parties in Australia, and their supporters and the old vested interests.