Former Greens leader Richard Di Natale has lashed Australia’s “rotten” political culture, taking aim at lobbyists who he likened to vultures.
Senator Di Natale, who is retiring from federal politics after a decade in the upper house, made his valedictory speech on Tuesday.
“That awful new fence that surrounds Parliament House now is symbolic of this rotten culture,” he told the chamber.
“We’ve closed off the building to the community but we’ve thrown the gates wide open to vested interests with deep pockets.”
It was the first ever farewell speech made via video link and also the first major technological glitch of virtual parliamentary proceedings.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a functional NBN right now,” Senator Di Natale quipped as he resumed after a short break.
The Victorian called for an urgent new era of sweeping economic and political reform, with the top priority making democracy work for people over corporations.
He reflected on seeing lobbyists’ influence on politics early in his parliamentary career.
“The first political fight I saw up close in this place was watching a cashed up gambling lobby descend on Parliament House like a pack of vultures and shamelessly sink popular pokies reform,” he said.
“Since that time I’ve seen the same story play out over and over again.”
Senator Di Natale said the mining tax, action on climate change and alcohol regulation were other areas targeted by vested interests.
He said the formula was to deploy an army of lobbyists, run campaigns against anyone who disagreed and hold fundraisers.
“Pay thousands to get a seat at the minister’s table and the bigger the cheque the better the seat,” Senator Di Natale said.
The 50-year-old said the leadership, which he held between 2015 until earlier this year, weighed heavily on him.
While praising the Greens’ achievements, he also said inaction on climate change remained a “festering sore” on the body politic.
Senator Di Natale said in recent years inequality had become more entrenched, the gap between Indigenous Australians and the rest of society had grown and race politics continued to rear its ugly head.
He conceded doing deals with major parties to lock in policy outcomes was worth it despite the political risk for the Greens.
Senator Di Natale will be replaced by former state MP Lidia Thorpe when the Victorian parliament approves the appointment.
Australian Associated Press