Richard Di Natale has been unanimously elected to the Australian Greens’ top job after Christine Milne shocked even party insiders this morning and announced her intention to resign.
Milne dropped the news via social media at around 10.30 and within an hour Greens MPs were filing into the party room for a leadership vote, which at least some MPs had thought would be an ordinary pre-budget planning meeting.
Di Natale was reportedly elected unopposed, but the former Deputy Leader Adam Bandt has been replaced by senators Scott Ludlum and Larissa Water, who will act as ‘co-deputy leaders’.
Senator Rachel Siewert has been returned as party whip, and Ludlam has been elected chair of the party room.
At a press conference in the senate courtyard, Milne explained her reasons for stepping down.
“I have been considering this for some time,” she said. “If I stood up and said I am undertaking to re-contest the senate that means you’re undertaking to stay six years”.
“It’s either go now and let a party build itself into a good fighting position into the next election, or stay until after the next election and contest that election and keep that promise.”
Milne, who is looking forward to spending more time with family, said the team of 11 she has led since Bob Brown relinquished the leadership reigns in 2012 are “ready to fly”.
“I particularly today want to congratulate Richard Di Natale,” she said. “He will be an outstanding leader for the party.”
Di Natale described the Greens as “the natural home of progressive mainstream Australian voters”.
“We are going to give voice to their concerns: decent healthcare, decent education, affordable housing, public transport, we are going to give voice to all of those issues.”
The Victorian senator described himself as a “product of the great Australian experiment called multiculturalism” and worked as a doctor before coming to politics.
“I spent a few years working as a GP in places like Tenant Creek and North East India,” Di Natale said.
“It became pretty clear to me that if you want to improve people’s health, you’ve got to start looking at the things that make people sick.
“You’ve got to have a clean environment, you’ve got to have clean air and clean water and you’ve got to make sure that people have got a roof over their head, that they’ve got a decent education, that they’ve got meaningful work and they’ve got a social safety net if they get into trouble.
“They are the ingredients of good healthcare and I’m going to be a champion for those things, along with a decent health system, in this parliament.”
Much has been made of the policy-focussed parliamentarian’s ability to work collaboratively and earlier today Joe Hockey, perhaps sensing Di Natale would succeed Milne, urged the new leader to “please, please offer us some bipartisan work”.
With the budget due to be handed down next week, it’s a timely plea, but Di Natale’s first press conference as leader suggests key government saving measures will remain blocked in the senate.
“My job as the leader of the Australian Greens now is to make sure that we are the Opposition to Tony Abbott,” he said.
“I’m not an ideologue, I’m not going to come in here and say ‘we want small government or big government’. You’re not going to get that from me, I just want a decent government.”
“We’ve got a country that's going backwards when it comes to climate change, we're taking a hatchet to the social contract, to decent income support, we’re taking a hatchet to our healthcare system, to education and all of those things.”
“As a society we can afford to pay for those things, you’ve just got to make some choices.”
In keeping with longstanding Greens policy, Di Natale nominated mining subsidies, tax concessions in superannuation and multinational tax avoidance as potential sources of revenue.
“The real legacy of a leader in my view,” he said, “is being able to enable the people that you are leading as a collegiate team to be able to lead in your stead.”
“That is exactly what’s happened."
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