We Speak To Scott Ludlam About WA2.0, Renewable Energy and Legalisation
With the West Australian senate re-election in less than two weeks, we have the unique opportunity of hindsight. We will all be Captain Hindsight, and hopefully we will be adjusting our votes accordingly, to give our state and Perth the best opportunity going forward. To give someone the power to decide on important issues which the current government are intent on ignoring or sweeping under the rug (or onto the water, operational matters Sir) is indeed an important step.
There is one candidate however, who has not only made waves internationally for his viral ‘Welcome to WA’ speech aimed at Tony Abbott, but has together with his Greens colleagues devised a plan for our city going forward. I present to you, Scott Ludlam and the Greens.
I figured we could kick this off with something that you are passionately against, nuclear power. Is it the danger of plant failure, the waste product, or the mining of Uranium which is your biggest concern?
“I don’t have really, a biggest concern. The industry fails any test of sustainability on quite a number of fronts; it’s the contamination legacy of the mine sites where tens of millions of tonnes of carcinogenic wastes get left behind. Or the accident potential of the mine sites like we saw at Ranger last year; It’s the depleted uranium legacy at enrichment plants; transport risks; the fact that reactor failure can be catastrophic and lead to depopulation of very large areas; and the fact that it is bomb fuel and effectively these are just civilian versions of the weapons factories that were developed in the second world war; that materials can be diverted from peaceful fuel chains to weapons; or the fact that there is a million year waste legacy that the industry still hasn’t figured out what to do with; or as is increasingly being identified by the financial press the fact that it is a catastrophically expensive way to generate electricity. You could pick any one of those issues and it would be a deal breaker, but if you add them all up that is why the industry has been so heavily resisted in some areas. I think that is the false premise which gets presented to people that there’s no choice - you either cook the planet with fossil fuels or you run this incredible radiation hazard with nuclear energy. The last 15 years of my work has been the effectively in profound rejection of that false choice. The fact is that renewable energy does exist, the costs are coming down very rapidly and it doesn’t come with any of the risk. The nuclear industry does have a future, it can spend the next 150 years cleaning up after the garbage that it has left behind.”
On energy, the Abbott government has continued to put renewable energy research, as well as its application, on a low priority, could this do irreversible damage to such an obvious solution in the future?
“I think it will do irreversible damage; what it is going to do is suppress the ability of Australian innovators and power companies, utilities and developers, to get in on the ground floor of an industry that is expanding massively around the world. The principal impact of the Abbott government’s policies of hostility to renewable energy will mean that the jobs will exist overseas and the innovation will be driven from China, Europe, North America and the Middle East and that’s what we are seeing. You can’t stop the tide, so eventually this industry will power this country. It’s a question of this race against time that’s occurring, the climate system itself is the thing which can afford no delay. We need to be pursuing this technology with extreme urgency. The secondary impact of the Abbott government’s hostility is that the jobs and the investment get driven offshore.”
There are a number of voices speaking out against the looming education cuts. However with vague cuts to the entire sector it is hard to know exactly how this will affect the individual student. What do you see as the biggest impact and how do we go about gathering support against the cuts?
“I think the impacts are twofold, the first impact is just that the education experience is degraded. There’s less lecturers, less teachers, less teachers’ assistants and support per student which means the students are left by themselves; It is equipment which doesn’t get replaced, it is computer gear which is obsolete, it is run down facilities and it is lecturers who are stressed and unable to provide the kind of support to the students that they want.
And on the other hand is skyrocketing levels of student debt, it’s an incredible tragedy where graduates are coming into the workforce with 40, 50, 60 thousand dollar debt liabilities. That’s an absolute tragedy. So those are the impacts that students are facing. And I think what we can do is just swing in behind the organisations that are fighting the cuts and are fighting for the recommended percentage increase in funding. The NTEU has been really strong, the student guilds and NUS have been really strong, as have the Greens, I’ve been really proud to stand with them in the last year or so, not just regarding tertiary education but the cuts to TAFE are equally damaging to students. We just have to continue to mobilise, and I don’t think we are going to change the minds of this government unless we run a really strong campaign.”
The 26th of February saw the tabling of the Noongar Koorah, Nitja, Boordahwan Recognition Bill, what do you see as the major outcome of that bill?
“It’s a long road for the recognition campaign, obviously it didn’t see us go to a referendum at the last election. As a white person and an immigrant, I object to racial discrimination remaining in our constitution. I think that is something that should be rectified. It is the primary legal document regarding the white occupation of this country and it has clauses in it that are racist. So I think that is something we should clean up. I am aware though, that there are those in Aboriginal advocacy, Aboriginal people and leaders who think it is a distraction, who want to see us speak about sovereignty and land rights, or engage more directly rather than at a symbolic level. Like most things there are a lot of viewpoints, I would love to see changes to the constitution, it’s a step along the way to talk about treaties or sovereignty and it is clearly not going to impact on issues of aboriginal suicide or massive over-representation of indigenous people in our prison system.”
WA 2.0 paints a fantastic picture for the future of our city, particularly with respect to public transport accessibility and cycling. However riding on the road will always be a necessity to some, so how do we change the attitude of drivers towards cyclists?
“I think there’s a range of things that we can do. From the infrastructure end we can separate cyclists out from motorized traffic as much as possible. If we did use the bike vision model, which proposes 3% of state transport funding to 2029, you limit a lot of the problem just by separation, but I think you are correct in saying there will always be a degree of road share. So it’s a mix of regulation and cultural change. At the regulation end, Lyn McLaren, my colleague in state parliament introduced a bill for legal metre thresholds, the Metre Matters Bill, which says it is illegal to pass within a metre of a cyclist in a motorized vehicle. So that’s the regulation end. At the cultural change end, every additional cyclist you get on the road, is likely to be a driver who has got a greater understanding of the needs of cyclists. If we could dramatically increase the number of people cycling, that also dramatically increases the number of people in their cars who also cycle and are likely be more to cognizant of the needs of cyclists. I’m not suggesting it’s going to be a quick process, but it is definitely doable.”
The Greens have always had a close association to the arts communities. Has this link been used enough to champion the Greens cause?
“I’d say no it hasn’t been used enough. My background is that I am a graphic designer by trade, so I’m really interested in how we use design and artistic expression to further our work. One of my favorite quotes is that “the purpose of the designer is to increase the legibility of the world”, and that’s something I keep in the back of my mind with the WA2.0 project which is heavily visual. I’ve also been really heartened in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen a punk and metal gig at the Rosemount by artists supporting our campaign, last night there was the Concert For Common Sense last night, of classical and swing musicians, and next weekend there is an electronica gig at Capitol. So it’s really warming to see that artistic community in Perth, which has a really vibrant live music scene, having that asset and energy lent to our campaign really picks people up.”
I noticed you posted a picture of the recent Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age show, so we know who you like on an international level, but which local artists have you been getting into?
“Come and see us at Capitol. My musical taste is very broad! It runs from NIN through to Ensemble Formidable, who were the closing act last night. They’re a local electro swing band, their work is completely infectious. I feel we are really fortunate. There is a something in the isolation of Perth and WA that has always bred a really innovative music and live music scene, so that for me means, right across the board, whether it’s one of the bands playing at the Rosie or this dance gig coming up at Capitol next weekend, we are pretty spoilt for amazing local musicians. Sometimes we get a bit down on the isolation, but I think it creates this amazing culture of innovation and doing it our own way.”
What do you think is really driving the cultural re-invigoration of Perth? This year’s Perth Festival and Fringe World Festivals are a testament to that.
“It’s amazing seeing Fringe get bigger and bigger every year. I am not sure whether it is people falling out with mainstream television and some of the other cultural norms not having the pull, but I think there is an element of “If you build it, people will come”. I think we saw that really strongly with Fringe World this year, that was twice the size and had a lot more programming than anything in the previous years, and it was packed! I don’t think there’s any one thing you can put your finger on, except that it is a really diverse multi-cultural population here in Perth and people want to get out and see some of that talent showcased, so whatever it is that’s driving it, it’s really wonderful to see.”
Another thing which people seem to be highly passionate about in Perth, is… the price of coffee! But, regardless of the price, the quality has been improving, where do you find the best cup?
I live in North Fremantle, and I’m very fortunate that I can get a good cup of coffee within 60m of where I live, but then I’m only an easy train stop into Fremantle. I’m at the end of a very long caffeine-fuelled 18 month election bender, and I can only say that I feel very fortunate that I live in this part of the world, where a decent cup of coffee is only as far away as around the corner.”
So, Abbott has come out and said not to vote for any fringe parties “as they are not the government”. Obviously we need people in the senate to “keep the bastards honest”, why should that voice be yours?
“I think that’s a good question, and one that I hope a lot of people are weighing up. I think that the Prime Minister’s comments are very destructive in that he wants to maintain the duopoly of the major parties that has really constricted and constrained Australian politics. This r4esults in a total misreading of the purpose of parliament. The purpose of parliament and the reason we are not some kind of appalling dictatorship is that diverse views, and people, can get into that place, whatever your political affiliations. I think it’s kind of abusive of the democratic bill to say, “don’t vote for fringe parties”. The liberal tradition that the PM claims to inherit was a fringe view if you go back 150 years, and presumably those in the monarchy would have sounded very similar to how Tony Abbott sounds now. As for why that voice should be the Greens, I just hope our record speaks for itself, this campaign for me is not about how pissed off I am about Tony Abbott, it’s about being the best advocate I can be for affordable housing, for an urgent transition to clean energy for WA, for getting Aboriginal kids out of adult prisons and providing a humane alternative for people who are appalled at our treatment of refugees. As for whether I’m the best advocate for that, from the greens point of view, the fortunate thing is that soon more than a million people will get to make that decision for themselves.”
Something which I have seen becoming more prevalent is the backlash from traditionally Greens supporters over the legalisation of Marijuana, with the senate voting coming up, and backroom preference deals on the line. What would you say to someone who sees the legalisation as a socially progressive stepping stone forward?
“We do have a strong policy of decriminalization and I think that invoking the criminal justice system to people who are using drugs is precisely the wrong approach. For many people it’s a health issue, so we have a strong policy which has been on the records for years for the decriminalization of marijuana, where you go to from there, whether it should be completely deregulated, I think is a debate which absolutely has to happen, and that’s why our drugs spokesperson Richard Di Natale is organizing a drug summit. There are all sorts of different models: Do you completely deregulate sale from anywhere? Which is starting to happen in some parts of the United States, or do you regulate its supply through pharmacists, or do you completely open it up for medical use? There are various degrees of where you could take it, and I think that doing it on the basis of being pissed off about a preference deal is a really poor way of progressing the debate, but the fact is, we do support decriminalization and we’ve been the only ones out there advocating that for years.”
Do Freo have a chance for the flag?
“Yeh I think they do, I think that on the basis of the side they put together last year, some of the amazing young talent that has come through, and the fact that they were within one quarter and they played very good finals year. So this is going to be our year. And early signs for 2014 are looking good!”
Check out Ludapalooza at Capitol this Saturday, featuring the Death Disco DJs, Sam Perry and Lilt who are throwing a party to raise campaign funds and awareness for Scott Ludlam, or if you are more inclined to go to an information session hosted by Abbe May, RSVP here for his final WA2.0 ‘Our Vision For The Future’ seminar before the senate re-election at His Majesty’s Theatre, Tuesday the 1st of April at 7pm. SOS (Save Our Senator)! We thank Scott for his time.