Rice ready to work with the sector
16 May 2022 at 5:00 pm
The new Greens spokesperson for the charity sector, Senator Janet Rice, is looking forward to pushing the incoming government on the issues of importance to our sector.
At last week’s Connecting Up conference, Janet Rice acknowledged that she has big shoes to fill, having stepped into the role after the departure of Rachel Siewert.
In a sit-down interview with Pro Bono News, we put the questions to her that you told us were most important to you in our pre-election poll.
According to that poll, a significant proportion of you see tackling climate change as one of the most important issues this election. Other polls – including the ABC’s Vote Compass – have found the same. And yet, it’s barely rated a mention in this election campaign.
In an exclusive interview with Pro Bono News, Rice said this wasn’t a surprise to her.
“Neither Labor nor Liberal want to talk about it,” she said.
“Their policies are not scientifically based. I mean, the Libs are completely off the scale of not being scientifically based and just laughable, and the rest of the world is laughing at them. Labor’s still only halfway there.”
The Greens are taking a robust environment policy to the election, including banning the construction of new oil, coal and gas infrastructure immediately, and phasing out the mining, burning and export of coal by 2030.
The Greens would also ban political donations from the mining and resources sector, a process that Rice said has driven the current lacklustre commitments from both major parties.
At last week’s Connecting Up conference in Melbourne, Rice made a wide-ranging pitch to the sector, in which she said the Greens looked forward to being in the balance of power and being able to “push a Labor government further and faster”.
Speaking to Pro Bono News, Rice said the party would do its best to gain that position.
“The more members that we get elected in the House of Representatives, the greater the chances of us being in that position. And then it will be a negotiation [with the parties on their policies]. But in terms of our top priorities, that priority of no new coal and gas is absolutely up there at the top,” she said.
Greens promise to work with charities
Asked how she planned to work with charities to ensure they felt confident and safe enough to advocate on the issues important to them, Rice said a priority was removing the gag clause that prevented charities from speaking out.
She said the Greens would work to overturn changes made by the current Liberal government that had made life more difficult for charities.
“It’s been very clear that the government’s current changes have been brought in to muzzle the charity sector because they don’t like them speaking out, because they’re speaking out against their policies, which are having massive impacts on people that these charities are working with,” Rice said.
At the Connecting Up conference, Rice was strident in her criticism of the Liberal government’s war on charities, and especially the Political Campaigners Bill, which critics have said would make it harder for charities to advocate.
Like Labor’s Andrew Leigh, Rice told the conference she wanted to fix the nation’s messy fundraising laws. Significantly, the Greens support all the recommendations made by the Senate Select Committee into Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century, she told the audience.
Rice told Pro Bono News that she recognised that charities had had a hard few years, with resources from the government being reduced while need in the community increased.
“It doesn’t have to be like that,” she said.
While increasing funding for charities was important, Rice said it was equally critical to reduce the need in the community by addressing things like housing, homelessness, income support, mental health and climate change.
“We can do it. Change is possible,” she said.
Greens pledge to raise all the rates
A central plank of the Greens’ policy platform is a promise to raise all income support payments above the poverty line.
Rice said the Greens would keep pushing the new government to raise the rate.
“That’s just one of the top issues that we’ll be pushing for, because it’s just absolutely appalling that you’ve got so many people living in poverty who can’t afford to feed themselves. We are a wealthy enough country that we can afford to do it,” she said.
“I’m really disappointed with Labor, who have walked back their position. It’s not going to go away and the charities are going to keep on advocating for it. And certainly us as Greens in the Parliament are going to keep advocating for it too.
“I think Labor will have no credibility whatsoever about being on the side of low income people if they don’t do something about it.”
Housing on the agenda
Another key Greens policy is a proposal to build one million homes, including 750,000 public and community houses, over 20 years to tackle the country’s housing crisis. It’s an ambitious plan, but Rice said it’s “doable”.
The Greens would also build 125,000 shared ownership homes. Residents would have up to 75 per cent of the equity in the home and if they decide to leave, would sell their share back to a Federal Housing Trust.
Rice said the difference between this scheme and the Labor Party’s Help to Buy scheme, was that under the Greens policy, homeowners had to sell the property back to the government rather than into the market – the latter of which would drive up property prices.
“The fact that it can only be sold back to the government means that you won’t be having the increase in value that will then push up the price of housing as Labor’s scheme would do,” she explained.