After a distinguished 25-year political career, Christine Milne has stepped down as Greens leader, announcing yesterday that she will not recontest in the next federal election.
Senator Milne made the surprise announcement on Twitter yesterday morning, with the short, simple tweet, “feeling optimistic, proud and sad to announce I’m not contesting 2016 election, and so I resign as leader of Australian Greens”.
She informed her party colleagues later that morning.
It has been reported that some Greens party members, including deputy leader Adam Bandt, were not informed about the decision and found out through the media. Even former Greens leader Bob Brown said that her resignation had come as a “big surprise”.
Senator Richard Di Natale has been elected as Greens leader in the wake of the shock announcement. Adam Bandt has stepped down as deputy, handing over the reins to new co-deputy leaders Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters.
It is believed that Mr Bandt stepped down because he, like Dr Di Natale, is from Victoria and the deputy should be from a different state and also a woman. Bandt’s official statement, also made on Twitter, was: “Congrats Richard and new team! [Very] happy to hand over Deputy to focus on new baby (due in few wks!) & winning further Reps seats in Vic & NSW.
As a doctor, Dr Di Natale tackled HIV prevention in India, Aboriginal health in the Northern Territory and was a key figure in an outbreak investigation team within Victoria’s health department.
During his short political career (he was elected into the Federal Parliament in 2010), Dr Di Natale has championed issues such as dying with dignity, hospital funding, medicinal cannabis and gambling reform. Recently he led a self-funded tour of Ebola-stricken West Africa, because he was concerned the Abbott Government was not doing enough to tackle the problems faced in the region.
Dr Di Natale has indicated that climate change will be a priority, believing that if it is not addressed, every other issue becomes a moot point. He has also stated that the state of the Australian health care system and social security are critical issues on which he intends to focus.
“We’re being told we can’t afford decent health care at the moment. We’re being told that, if you can’t afford to go and see a doctor, well, tough luck. That’s not the sort of country we want to be. They’re the sort of things I’m going to fight for,” he said.
Dr Di Natale, 44, is proud of his Italian roots and also aims to be a champion for Australian multiculturalism. “I’m a sort of product of the great Australian experiment called multiculturalism. I want to be a champion of multiculturalism in the parliament. It’s taking a beating at the moment. I think the debate on terrorism and refugees means that the multiculturalism issue needs a champion. And I’m going to be that champion.”
The newly appointed leader hopes to meet the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in the next few days to discuss his political intentions.
“I think people are sick of the sort of the nonsense that goes on in this place and, you know, if they want someone who is not going to play the game in that way well, great. And if that doesn’t work out well, I’ll go back to growing some veggies at home.”
Senator Milne, who is about to become a grandmother, decided that it was the right time to make a life change, as well as a generational change in Greens leadership. She believes she is leaving the party on good terms and that it is in “really good shape” and that the Greens in Parliament were “ready to fly”.
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Such significant change in leadership translates to a fresh start for the Greens.
Prior to Wednesday, many voters may not have heard of Richard Di Natale. But in his first public appearance as Greens leader, Dr Di Natale presented himself as a man of poise and conviction. He delivered an authentic political message that seemed unscripted – and without the bungled backpedalling of his contemporaries in leadership.
It’s a promising start for a party that has existed on the fringe for so many years, but may now have a chance of harnessing some real political power, with a leader who can work with his peers in order to, in his own words, “get things done”.
And Tony Abbott will no doubt welcome a Greens leader who may not place himself in constant direct opposition to his government’s proposals, as Christine Milne was so apt to do.
Dr Di Natale is against cuts to health and education, believing such cuts wouldn’t be necessary if the government focused on reining in multinational tax avoidance and cutting back on the superannuation tax concessions for the very rich.
He spoke about climate change being a priority, but unlike Milne, he is not specifically a one-eyed environmentalist. This may give the Greens a chance to shift public opinion of the party, with a less ideological, more mainstream approach to leadership that may give voters a legitimate third option when it comes time to vote in 2016.
What do you think? Were you surprised at the Greens leadership change? Do you think that this change in leadership may make it easier for the Coalition to push some of its intended policies through the Senate? Would the new look Greens change the way you vote in 2016?