Greens leader Richard Di Natale has announced his party will push for a guarantee that wealthy Australians can't lower their tax payments below those of blue-collar workers, and would introduce a tax floor for top earners which would raise a reported $7 billion.
Di Natale was the guest at the National Press Club on Wednesday, outlining how the Greens' plans to tackle climate change, inequality and the tax system.
"When I took on the leadership of the Australian Greens last year, I said that unless we dangerous global warming everything else is background noise. Today I repeat that call after a year of alarming scenes playing out in some of the most precious places in our country – and indeed the world," Di Natale said, in an advance copy of the speech released to The Huffington Post Australia.
"Our political leaders are standing by while our natural heritage is destroyed. They are standing by as our children are robbed of their future prosperity. They are oblivious to the national emergency that is unfolding. Australia needs political leaders with the courage and vision to chart a different course for our Great Barrier Reef and precious forests."
The same day as the Labor Party released their climate change policies, including a commitment to reinstitute an emissions trading system, Di Natale also called for wholesale change to Australia's environmental policy.
"It is time to stop paying big polluters and make them start paying again. The simple fact of the matter is that we can’t transition our economy and reap the rewards that come from protecting our environment without putting a price back on pollution," he said.
"The Greens’ top priority going into the next Parliament will be to renew Australia’s energy system and put in place climate laws that protect the reef and rapidly drive investment towards renewable energy and away from polluting coal."
But it will be Di Natale's calls for a tax floor for wealthy Australians that may cause the biggest waves. With Australia's political landscape dominated in recent months by discussions of tax and negative gearing, the Greens would seek to institute a 'Buffett rule,' or a minimum rate of tax that the wealthy must pay, rather than offsetting their large incomes with massive tax deductions.
As Labor MP Andrew Giles pointed out, senior Labor figure Anthony Albanese flagged a similar rule in 2015.
"Today I can also announce that the Greens would introduce the Buffett Rule: A High Income Tax Guarantee to put a floor under tax deductions to stop some of the wealthiest Australians paying less tax than a teacher, nurse or shop assistant. It’s called the Buffett Rule after Warren Buffett, ranked amongst the world’s wealthiest people, was horrified to find that his secretary paid more tax than he did and he thought the tax system should be changed to prevent this from happening," Di Natale said.
"This is not a new tax – it is a guarantee on existing tax rates for the top 1 per cent. This year’s tax data showed there are dozens of millionaires in Australia paying no tax. Last year, 56 people who earned a collective $129 million paid no tax, not a single cent, but spent $47m on tax advice."
"The Greens Buffett Rule would guarantee a collective tax return of $7 billion over the forward estimates for the top 1 per cent of income tax payers according to the Parliamentary Budget Office."