adam bandt interview

Adam Bandt: “Everything’s Impossible Until It’s Not”

In his own words, the main thing politicians do is “crush hope”, but for Adam Bandt, there is another, better, way to lead. The Australian Greens leader tells us what he thinks about Labor’s policies on climate change, addressing women’s safety and not letting up on changing the status quo. Words by Ky Stewart

By Ky Stewart, 6/6/2024

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At the end of last month, we asked how you were feeling about Australian politics right now. The responses were grim: 89 percent of you didn’t feel inspired by politics; 83 percent had no confidence that the Labor Government would address your issues; 93 percent felt unrepresented. That didn’t sound good, so we decided to take your concerns to the seat of power. That’s right, Junkee went down to Parliament House. During Budget Week, no less. We spoke to Senators and Members of Parliament from the Labor Government, The Australian Greens, and the Independents about the stuff you told us you care about. (We reached out to Liberals too, but no one wanted to talk. Honestly, we tried.) 

For a lot of people, Adam Bandt is a leader with a spine — something rarely found in Australian politics. In politics anywhere, really.

The Leader of the Australian Greens, who’s been in Federal Parliament since 2010, says he entered politics because he was “terrified about the looming climate crisis”. Fourteen years later, he’s still one of the most unwavering supporters of strong climate action in Parliament. Some accuse Bandt and the Greens of being too idealistic and not having practical policies. But Bandt speaks from the heart — and in doing so, speaks for a lot of people, myself included. Here’s our chat. 

Ky Stewart, Junkee: We reached out to our audience and asked them how they feel about the state of politics and the responses were pretty grim. 89 percent said they didn’t feel inspired by politics and 93 percent didn’t feel represented. Why do you think so many people feel this way?

Adam Bandt: I feel like that is a pretty accurate approach to what is happening in this place at the moment. I think the big part of the reason is that we are facing these massive crises. We’ve got a climate crisis, we’ve got a rental crisis and a housing crisis and politicians aren’t fixing it. And so people look at what’s happening in Canberra and see the confected arguments that go on that aren’t actually about the real problems we’re facing. So people think, ‘Well, why should I bother paying attention at all?’ I’ve always been someone who’s felt that politics is a place where you can actually tackle some of those big issues. But I understand why people are looking at what goes on and saying, ‘You’re not addressing the things that matter to me, the cost of living crisis that I’m going through, the rental crisis, the climate crisis. Why should I bother with you?’ I think it’s perfectly understandable.

How do you think we can get more people invested in politics?

The main thing that politicians try to do to maintain the status quo is to crush hope. To make people feel like there’s no hope that it could be any different. That this is just the way it is and you’ve just got to accept that we’re going to give over a hundred billion in handouts to wealthy property investors and you just have to cop unlimited rent rises and that you can’t change the system and that nothing can be done to change it. What we’ve seen over the years though is that’s not right. If you push and push and push hard enough, things can change and things can change really, really quickly. Everything’s impossible until it’s not. 

83 percent of our respondents said they don’t feel confident in the Labor Government and feel very trapped between the choices of Albanese and Dutton. Why do you think that is?

People are telling us it’s getting harder every day to tell Labor and Liberal apart. We’ve got Labor trying to out-Dutton Dutton by beating up on migrants, introducing legislation that introduces Trump-style travel bans that says we’re going to just blacklist whole countries from ever being able to come into Australia. You’ve got Labor backing handouts to wealthy property investors that are denying renters the chance to buy their own home. You’ve got Labor saying they agree with the Liberals about opening up coal and gas. And Labor’s new strategy says we’re going to keep coal and gas past 2050. Meanwhile, we know Dutton has made his political career out of punching down and just finds groups to try to demonise for political gain. That’s his strategy. But people voted at the last election because we wanted to get rid of Scott Morrison and the Liberals and hoped there would actually be change. Instead we’re seeing much more of the same. That’s why there’s such a high level of disappointment. But one of the things that gets masked by our voting system is that Labor’s vote actually went backwards at the last election and so did the Coalition’s. They might have won more than half of the seats, but less than a third of the country voted for them. About a third of the country voted for the Coalition, about a third voted for someone else. You’ve just seen in the Tasmanian election as well that same process repeating it and you’re seeing it around the world. I think the next election, all the pundits are saying there’s every chance no one will win a majority. What people want will actually be reflected in the parliament. I think it’s a really exciting opportunity for people to be really powerful and put someone at the table who’s going to fight for them. Because one of the things that we’re seeing at the moment is that this Government isn’t even pretending to fight for people who are doing it tough, not even pretending to fight for renters or fight the climate crisis anymore. I think that’s what people want from their representative, someone who’s going to fight.

Why are you and the Greens opposed to Labor’s Future Gas Strategy?

We are in a climate crisis. There’s people in Northern New South Wales who still haven’t been able to get back into their homes since the floods. People in Queensland can’t afford to insure their house now because of coal and gas-fuelled climate events like floods. World scientists have said that they are really worried that we’re not going to make it, that we’re not going to be able to stop runaway climate change and it’s going to cook the planet during the lifetime of kids who are at primary school today. They’re saying we’ve got to act now and in the face of all of that Labor has approved five new coal projects, eight new gas projects and has just come out and said that their strategy is for coal and gas to run past 2050. They told us we were going to be at zero pollution by 2050. Now that’s too late. Now I think they’re worried about winning or losing some seats in certain parts of the country and they think they’ve got to go full pedal to the metal on gas and coal. I just think they’re totally misreading people. You can’t put the fire out while you’re pouring petrol on it. The first step towards fixing a problem surely should be to stop making the problem worse. We’ve got to stop opening coal and gas mines and we just utterly oppose Labor’s Gas Strategy, which is to keep coal and gas open past 2050. That’s just not compatible with a safe climate.

What do you think of Labor’s 43 percent emissions reduction target by 2030? 

So the first thing we need to do to tackle the climate crisis is stop opening coal and gas mines, right? We are not going to meet any climate targets if we keep opening coal and gas mines, but that’s what Labor’s doing. The discussion we should be having is, ‘We’ve got coal and gas in the system, but we know it’s harmful. How do we get [rid] of it in a way that supports the workers and communities?’ Instead they’re making the problem worse. Secondly, the question is how quickly do we get [rid] of it? [The Budget] is the answer to that, right? That’s when we should have got out of it. Labor’s target is actually based on the world heating by more than two degrees. When scientists have two degrees as the absolute upper limit and the target’s not even consistent with that. So they need to go much quicker. I’m worried we’re not even going to get there at the moment because they’re just opening coal and gas mines. 

There’s been a lot of criticism of the Budget not doing enough to protect women, especially those leaving violence. We spoke to Amanda Greavey, General Manager at Sydney crisis centre, Lou’s Place. She told us she’s concerned that a Royal Commission will take too long. What should the Labor Government be doing to help and what would you do differently?

Frontline services for women who are fleeing family and domestic violence are absolutely critical. There needs to be a place for women to go. At the moment, those services are just turning women away because they’re not getting the funding to provide the services that are needed. The Budget contained no new funding for these frontline services and they’ve been crystal clear about what they need. They essentially need $5 billion over the next few years because they’re just massively underfunded at the moment, especially after the last 10 years [of] government. 

One of the things Labor did was extend a Morrison era scheme of payments of $5,000. First thing to note is that A: it’s not a new scheme, it’s a scheme that was there from Scott Morrison. But B: the chunk of the money doesn’t actually go to the women. The chunk of it goes across the support services. But say if you’re giving women money at a time they need it to reach out to these services, then the services have got to be there. Otherwise you’re basically saying, we will help you, but there will be nowhere for you to go. Lots and lots of things need to be done. 

How has your opinion of Labor’s position on Israel and Gaza evolved?

Labor has continued to back the invasion of Gaza. After the events of October 7, which we condemned and said that shouldn’t happen, it became clear that there was an invasion looming on Gaza. In Gaza you’ve got 2.2 million people walled into an area half the size of Canberra, 40 percent of them are under 15. That’s basically a walled-in primary school. And it became clear that the Israeli military was going to launch a massive assault on them. Labor brought a motion to Parliament to say ‘we back it’ and we voted against that. We’re the only ones in Parliament who voted against it because we said [the attack] will just unleash a humanitarian catastrophe. And tragically, we’ve seen over 34,000 people killed. We’re seeing famine. We’ve seen a health system just utterly collapse. They got herded into the south down to Rafah and now as we sit here talking, the Israeli military is saying they’re going to continue bombing Rafah, where people have nowhere to go. 

We need an immediate and permanent ceasefire so that there can then be a process of ending the occupation of the occupied Palestinian territory. So that there can be a just and lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis based on their rights to self-determination under international law. But Labor keeps backing the invasion and ring their hands and say, ‘Oh, well we don’t support this latest incursion’. Then they do nothing about it. What’s worse is that there’s two way weapons and ex-military trade going on between Australia and the Israeli government, military, and corporations. There are actually weapons parts being manufactured here in Australia are finding their way over there for use by the Israeli military. Labor should join those other countries around the world that are calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. The majority of people in this country want peace, want a permanent ceasefire, and that’s what we’re going to keep fighting for and try to get the government to change its mind.

Albanese recently made a statement saying that those in the Palestine solidarity encampments couldn’t find Jordan on the map. What do you make of those comments?

Anthony Albanese and Labor love to call anyone who thinks different to them juvenile and belittle them. It’s apparently juvenile to want a world where everyone can afford to put a roof over their head and the government builds public housing or that it’s somehow immature to want to call for an end to the invasion and call for a just and lasting peace that’s based on an end to the occupation. Palestinians and Israelis both have the right to live in security. I visited the Melbourne University encampment. It was incredibly peaceful, incredibly thoughtful. People were working hard to make sure no one missed their assignments. People were looking after each other’s needs. There were education sessions being run. It was one of the most thoughtful, peaceful events that I’ve been to for a very long time.

I would say to Anthony Albanese, he should back the university encampments. This is students doing what students have done for generations, which is to protest peacefully [and] fight to make the world a better place. There was a better standard of debate amongst the students that I was speaking to at the university encampments than there is in the Parliamentary chamber, and I include Anthony Albanese in that. I think those kinds of statements that try to belittle people are part of the reason that people are turning off politics. And I guess one of the messages that I want to say is, actually there’s a different way.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The full version is here: 

Read our conversation with Tanya Plibersek and Chris Bowen.

Ky is a proud Kamilaroi and Dharug person and Multimedia Reporter at Junkee. Follow them on Instagram or on X.

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