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Natalie Bennett’s ascent and accent are both uncommon in British politics: the new Sydney-born leader of the Green Party still has a noticeable Aussie twang, and has worked in roles as diverse as a Thai bureaucrat and the editor of Guardian Weekly.

The Greens’ former leader and first MP, Caroline Lucas, stepped down to allow the party’s talent to come forward – and it’s certainly been something of a baptism of fire for Bennett.

Within two days of assuming the leadership, the 45-year-old found herself on Newsnight opposite a typically belligerent Peter Lilley, talking climate change.

We caught up with her for a chat about how an agricultural studies graduate from Sydney ended up
as the leader of the UK’s fourth political party.

Q Do you worry that being an Aussie could affect your appeal over here?

I think, generally speaking, Green voters and potential Green voters tend to be much more open-minded. There is also an interesting advantage, in that having an Australian accent, I’m entirely outside the British class system.

Q David Cameron promised the greenest government in history. Has he delivered?

Excuse me while have a little laugh and roll around on the floor in hysterics. Absolutely not. Last week’s reshuffle just shows, Owen Paterson appointed as environment secretary. Justine Greening the standout minister against the third runway, demoted. I could go on and on. Cameron’s sought to detoxify the Tory brand, with his hug-a-husky, veneer of green paint, which has now disappeared almost entirely.

Q What about the need for greater air travel capacity?

Firstly, we don’t accept that there is a need for greater capacity. Air transport accounts for about 13 per cent of emissions, and studies have shown air travel can’t really expand – but that doesn’t mean that people can’t travel.

Many of those journeys from Heathrow airport are to places like Paris and Amsterdam – and those journeys are completely doable by train.

What we’ve got to do is make rail travel affordable, as well as being a pleasure, and then we will see plenty of planes disappear out of the sky perfectly naturally.

Q It seems that in this age of austerity, green policies are first on the chopping block? Is that a problem?

It is a problem. The situation is that we’ve got the arctic sea ice at record lows; the problem of climate change, is here, and present and now.

And the thing is that we can tackle our pressing social and economic problems and the environment problems at the same time

Q Have the Greens got the resources to adequately answer the big economic questions most voters have for their politicians?

There is a whole network of progressive institutions and think tanks and they’re growing stronger all the time. That’s because voters and people with money see that we can’t go on as we are and are looking around for different answers.

Q With a Green MP in parliament, will you be looking to get a spot in the prime ministerial debates at the next election?

We’ll certainly be fighting for it. If you just look at this in practical and philosophical terms, the Labour Party, isn’t an effective opposition, because the Tories are just extending what Labour started.

So, really, there is only one effective opposition in the UK, and that’s the Green Party.


Green and gold: Meet the Green Party's new leader, Aussie Natalie Bennett
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