Greens to put inequality at centre of election campaign after billionaires make out ‘like bandits’

Katharine Murphy Political editorSat, 20 February 2021, 7:00 pm

<img src="https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/k0vovG8KnQZkSQ9hGwyzow–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/Uy9Kn_YkxJ20qv6ervSgYg–~B/aD02MDA7dz0xMDAwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/350592615180fb8d0a84623870cbf939&quot; alt="<span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, says he wants the next election to be a referendum on inequality as well as climate action because the coronavirus pandemic has meant ordinary people have suffered while “billionaires and big corporations are making out like bandits”.

Bandt will use a speech to the Greens’ national conference on Sunday to outline his party’s strategy for the next federal election, which he predicts will be later this year.

“Before the pandemic, workers’ share of income in Australia had sunk to the lowest level in history, while corporate profits reached record highs,” Bandt will say, according to a text of his national conference speech.

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“Since then, the pandemic hasn’t just hit our health and our freedom of movement. The pandemic has made inequality worse.”

Bandt will note that while 2 million people either have no job or not enough work – a trend likely to worsen when the jobkeeper wage subsidy ends in March – the most recent rich list compiled by the Australian Financial Review shows the wealth of billionaires “grew an eye-watering 25% during the pandemic to a record high $357bn”.

“The poor things only had $267bn of wealth between them before the pandemic,” Bandt will say.

“According to our analysis of the Australian Financial Review list, there were 48 more billionaires in 2020 than there were just three years earlier – just shy of a doubling of billionaires in the last three years.”

Bandt will note this has been an international phenomenon during the coronavirus pandemic. “Worldwide, the wealth of billionaires increased by US$3.9tn during the pandemic.

“Relatively speaking, according to Bloomberg, Australia’s own billionaires Gina Rinehart and Twiggy Forrest grew their wealth by even more than the richest of the rich – Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates – a depressing achievement for Australia.”

Bandt will note very wealthy Australians often have coal interests, while international billionaires own power stations in Australia powered by fossil fuels. “While we were locked down, the billionaires got rich off us. While we try to stop the climate crisis, the billionaires make it worse.”

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In Sunday’s speech to the party faithful, the Greens leader will seek to draw a counterpoint with Labor, which has begun to frame its election offering around the message “we are on your side”.

Bandt will say progressives need to be more ambitious than that.

“We won’t be a small target this election. We will fight to get the Morrison government out, but with a plan that tackles the long-term issues facing us,” he will say. “People don’t just want someone who’s on their side, they want someone who will fight for their future.”

Bandt says the Greens will outline policies over the coming months that will “look to transfer some of the billionaires’ and big corporations’ wealth to everyday Australians with investments in genuinely free education, our public health system and action to protect the environment, creating jobs along the way”.

“Our goal will be full employment, and by making the billionaires and big corporations pay their fair share, we can get there,” he will say. “By making big corporations and billionaires pay a bit more, everyone else can pay a bit less for the essential services they rely on.”

While the political environment favours incumbency if governments are perceived by voters to have managed the crisis competently, Bandt insists the Greens can command attention and increase representation in this federal election cycle, and possibly achieve balance of power.

Bandt will tell the national conference after redistributions in Western Australia and Victoria that are predicted to disadvantage the Coalition, “the election campaign will begin with – effectively – a minority parliament”.