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Why there’s a picture of a coal-fired power station on Adam Bandt’s wall

Each week, Benjamin Law asks public figures to discuss the subjects we’re told to keep private by getting them to roll a die. The numbers they land on are the topics they’re given. This week, he talks to Adam Bandt. Last month, the leader of the Greens, 50, steered his party to its most successful federal election result. The former industrial relations lawyer lives with his wife and two daughters in inner Melbourne.

“I don’t think we’re in the Bob and Blanche terry-towelling-robe-interview era any more!”

“I don’t think we’re in the Bob and Blanche terry-towelling-robe-interview era any more!”Credit:Simon Schluter

MONEY

What did your parents teach you about money? To be careful with what you’ve got. But also to recognise that there are a lot of people who don’t have enough, and that this is a feature of society rather than a character trait of those people.

What’s the best part of your job? I’m not here to make up the numbers; I’m here to get things done. So being able to put into practice things that you believe in, things that will make a big difference to people’s lives, is a pretty good feeling.

What aspects of the job do you hate? There’s a lot of stuff that’s said across the Chamber that never gets picked up on the microphones, or doesn’t make it into Hansard, gutter sledging that doesn’t advance the national interest. Also, being away from the family. I’ve got two daughters, both born while I was in politics. In a sense, they’ve never known anything different, but it’s tough.

You’ve talked about getting to net zero emissions in 10 years while achieving full employment nationally. Isn’t that an unrealistic, expensive pipe dream? Well, I think anything that avoids the collapse of civil society and our economy through the climate crisis is money well spent. We’re still stuck in this idea of talking about the climate crisis as if it’s a room where you can dial the furnace up and down. People think, “Oh, it’ll get a bit hotter but then, maybe, in 20 years, we can cool it down a bit.” It’s not like that. It’s about whether you go over a cliff or not. We are facing the collapse of large parts of civil society, the decimation of agriculture and business as we know it. And yes, the money is there: Australian billionaires increased their wealth during the pandemic. We’ve just gotta have the guts to ask – or make – these billionaires and big corporations pay their fair share. We can’t afford not to do it.

“It’s a reminder that, as we decarbonise, we’ve got to look after workers and communities.”

Are MPs paid too much, too little, or just enough? Too much.

And you’re saying that as an MP yourself? Let’s say MPs can’t get a pay increase until the minimum wage goes up. You might find them starting to take a bit of an interest in poverty all of a sudden.

SEX

Growing up, did you have misconceptions about sex? As a child of the ’70s with pretty progressive parents, there was always a copy of Where Did I Come From? lying around the house. So I felt that I understood the basic facts and mechanics of heterosexual sex. But sex education at school is all very functional. You don’t get taught about consent or pleasure. You were given the instruction manual, but no context.

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There have been allegations of serious sexual misconduct, even rape, in Parliament House. How does all of that make you reflect on your workplace? There’s a mix of reactions among members of our team. Relief that it’s finally being talked about, but also recognition that it’s a really difficult environment for women, in particular, to be working in. It’s prompted us to have our own internal reflections as a party: how do we change our workplace, and what can we do as MPs to start being better?

Have you arrived at any conclusions? We’ve done an internal review on what needs to change and those recommendations go to our party room. There needs to be a place where people can go to make complaints without fear of repercussion, and, as MPs, we have to practise what we preach.

Does being a politician make you a sex symbol or does it repel people? Probably the latter! [Laughs] I don’t think we’re in the Bob and Blanche terry-towelling-robe-interview era any more!

Last question about sex: is it possible for federal parliamentarians, given the hours they keep, to even have any? [Laughs] I’m lucky to have a very sexy wife, so I do just fine.

POLITICS

It’s been more than a decade since the defeat of Kevin Rudd’s carbon pollution reduction scheme. Labor maintains that was the Greens’ fault, essentially blaming your party for increasing pollution because you voted against what Labor offered. Fair cop? No. The Greens worked with Labor [by then under Julia Gillard] to put a price on pollution and create an emissions trading scheme. What I remember is the Greens, Labor and independents working together to put a price on pollution, and the Liberals, fossil-fuel industry and Rupert Murdoch coming together to tear it down. We actually had a really good system in place in Australia and it passed through Parliament when no one party had a majority in either house. If you ask people now if they think Tony Abbott repealing it [the carbon tax, in 2014] was a good thing, most people would say no. Let’s focus on the main enemy here.

Tell me about a political opinion or stance of yours that might surprise people. The first big case I worked on as a lawyer was representing workers in coal-fired power stations in the Latrobe Valley. It was after privatisation and a lot of their conditions were being attacked. It was my job, as an industrial lawyer, to work with the unions to help defend their wages and conditions. At the end of it, they sent me a print with the message: “Thank you from the CFMEU [Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union] negotiators at the Loy Yang Power Victorian Mining and Energy District.” It’s a reminder that, as we decarbonise, we’ve got to look after workers and communities. So it might surprise people to know that I’ve got a picture of a coal-fired power station hanging on my wall.