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State of the State

11 April 2019
Rosalie Woodruff MP

 

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on the Premier's 
Address. Listening to the Premier deliver his address a couple of weeks 
ago was like being in a parallel universe. The universe that I live in 
and the universe that is the real world is the one where the United 
Nations has said the critical decade in front of us gives us just 11 years 
to dramatically cut our carbon emissions. It is also the universe where a 
recent massive bushfire in southern, central and north western Tasmania 
decimated 3 per cent of the state's area, burnt 6 per cent of the World 
Heritage area and nearly wiped out a number of important regional towns.

The world in which the Premier delivered his address was one in which he 
lives along with the Liberal Party in Tasmania and at the federal level. 
He spoke for 35 to 40 minutes without giving a nod to the bushfires which 
have just happened. He did not mention climate change in any meaningful 
way. This is a government which continues to live in a world which is not 
the one Tasmanians inhabit. It is dangerous to continue to deny what is 
happening around us and to not take this year as a really important 
turning point for this state from both a budgetary point of view and an 
action and planning point of view to set us up as well as possible for the 
coming decades and centuries where climate has changed and will continue 
to change beyond our control as well as play our part in mitigating the 
emissions we are contributing, along with other countries on the planet, 
that is increasing the level of warming to what many scientists believe is 
endangering human life and other ecosystems.

When I go into a neighbour's house I can still smell the smoke from the 
bushfires. I live in Cygnet, across the river from Geeveston, and this 
summer was very stressful for everyone who lived in southern, central and 
north-western Tasmania. I fear it is the new norm for us in Tasmania, 
that summers will be increasingly approached with a level of anxiety and 
stress. Some people who have had that recent experience will be 
sensitised to come to the next summer with a level of anxiety which they 
have not previously felt. 

The experience of living through two solid weeks of smoke-filled air is 
very unusual for Tasmanians. People who lived through the 1967 bushfires 
were very surprised at how drawn out this fire period was. That was not 
the experience in 1967. The fire went from the western side of the Huon 
River, jumped to the eastern side and went to the Derwent just in one day. 
This was a very different profile of bushfire, and what we have come to 
understand from Dr David Bowman and other pyroecologists at the university 
here, and from people overseas, is that this is what we have to adapt and 
respond to.

What is clear is that we have new and changed threats to wilderness and 
human settlements. We have an international responsibility to protect our 
wilderness and we have seen footage from some of the world's most loved, 
and certainly Tasmania's most well-known wilderness photographers, Rob 
Blakers and Grant Dixon, incredible photographs that they took of the 
damage that occurred to the World Heritage Area. In Huon Gorge fire-prone 
ridges were burnt to gravel and relic vegetation including rainforest was 
burnt through. The Cracroft Valley, where there are old-growth forests 
including rainforest, was also burnt through. The rainforest and tall 
eucalypt there will take centuries to recover, if at all. The Crest 
Range's old-growth forest is also expected to take centuries to recover, 
if at all. 

There was also fire encroachment at Mount Bobs, which protects the largest 
surviving forest of Tasmanian endemic King Billy pines and incineration of 
that paleoendemic stronghold was only avoided due to the absence of a very 
hot windy day. There was no strategy and no resources allocated that 
could have averted that global catastrophe if the weather had not changed 
as it did. The East Picton Valley was an extremely flammable post-logging 
region with a rainforest understory which has damaged rainforest and tall 
eucalypt that will take centuries to recover, if at all. The middle Huon 
Valley had sassafras and myrtle killed that will probably never recover 
and at Federation Peak the fire burnt to within only a few kilometres of 
Tasmania's most iconic mountain, a stronghold of King Billy pines and 
other paleoendemic vegetation.

This was the photographic evidence, and people can have a look at this on 
the Mercury website if they want to have a look for themselves at the 
damage that has occurred. What we do not have is the emotional evidence 
of the impact on people's lives and the incredible amount of work, care 
and kindness that was shown by all the people, paid and unpaid, who 
responded to that bushfire. 

I want to thank all the people who were involved in the fire response, in 
my experience as a member for Franklin in the Huon Valley, people who 
worked for weeks. I spoke to one man who worked 23 days non-stop camped 
on the floor on an inflatable mattress in the fire station at Geeveston 
because they did not have enough beds. He was basically sleeping on the 
concrete floor on a lilo for 23 nights and going out every day to fight 
the fire.

I spoke to a woman at the Geeveston Fire Station who decided to cook the 
food each day for the firefighters who came back. She did that work by 
herself because other people were busy doing other things and every single 
day she cooked roasts and other meals for the people who came back.

This is the way the Tasmanian community comes together. What brings me 
hope and spirit is knowing that regardless of our differences and views 
about how the world is and how we should respond, the next time there is a 
catastrophic bushfire - and it will come - we will all be together 
fighting that fire. We all need to reflect on that. We are all affected 
together by the changes that are happening, which is what gives me great 
hope that we will find solutions together. Despite the fact that this 
Liberal Government continues to fail to act in the way it needs to on the 
threats confronting us, I know that ultimately we will all find the 
solutions we need to find, because we have to. 

Yesterday, 23 fire chiefs from around the country made a very impassioned 
call for the Prime Minister and the Leader of the federal Labor Party to 
take action and understand that we must do everything we can to accept 
that 'climate change is upon us, it is perilous, and we need to do more 
about it'. They were the words of Bob Conroy, a fire manager. We also 
had present the former head of the Tasmanian Fire Service, Mike Brown. 
These people know firsthand the experience of fighting fires. They know 
much better than any of us that this is a serious change which has 
happened in their recent lifetime of fighting fires and in the profile of 
fire, and that has been caused by global warming and the change in climate.

I want to talk about how we need to respond and the action we need to be 
taking in this state in the next year. The Greens have been thinking 
about and working on this, and the good news for the Liberal Government is 
that they can take heart because we have solutions. There are responses 
we can take. The scientists are telling us that we have a very short 
amount of time to act, only 11 years. The International Panel on Climate 
Change produced the report I have in my hand titled Special Report on 
Global Warming of 1.5℃ last October. The 90 scientists from around the 
world who put that together make it very clear that the 1.5℃ maximum level 
that we can possibly reach in terms of the average temperature on the 
planet and be confident - or at least be comfortable that there is a 
prospect that humans and ecosystems will be able to survive that way we 
have done. That level is fast approaching, much faster than we thought 
only five or 10 years ago.

They have called strongly for us to do everything we can to reduce our 
carbon dioxide emissions. We have to claw back the use of fossil fuels so 
that we reach a zero fossil fuel use in 2040 and that we have reduced our 
emissions to zero by 2040. That means that we should be reducing our 
emissions by 45 per cent in only 11 years' time.

Climate change is not a theory any longer and it is not a model. It is at 
the door, it is in the house, it is what is happening now. This is 
calling for us to respond in a way that we have never done before. It 
requires a major transformation in many aspects of society, and in the 
next 10 years.

It is a daunting prospect if you think about that in its totality. What 
we have to do is pull it apart, piece by piece, and get on with it and 
solutions are being proposed all the time. The first and obvious 
contribution that Australia can make is to stop exporting coal, stop 
digging it out of the ground: 80 per cent of Australian coal goes 
overseas. We have to stop that completely. There is no sense in making a 
decision about where to balance the risks and making a decision to 
continue to export coal when we know that it is threatening human life and 
the existence of all ecosystems. For the last three years in Australia, 
our Australian carbon dioxide emissions have gone up. We need these to be 
going down dramatically. Clearly, the situation as it is, cannot remain.

At the moment at the federal level we literally have no climate change 
policy operating. There is no functioning climate change policy in 
Australia and there has not been for at least six years. There has been a 
series of revolving prime ministers, all of whom have failed to take 
action against the coal lobby and against the conservative arm of the 
Liberal Party, which is committed to coal at any costs. This is what we 
have to get rid of. We have to get rid of this federal Liberal Government. 

We cannot let the Labor Party have a mandate to rule at the federal level 
because they also are committed to coal. They will not shut the door on 
Adani. We have to have all parties in Australia making a commitment to 
end coal mining. That is what the Greens are committed to.

That is what the young people are calling on us to do. They have read the 
science, looked around the world and they are quite clear that we must 
feel the fear, in the words of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old from Sweden, 
'I want you to feel fear. This is a crisis.' Contrast that with Scott 
Morrison and his comments about coal in parliament, laughing as he held up 
a piece of coal and said, 'Don't be afraid of it. Don't be scared.' 
Thinking people are scared but thinking people are also committed to 
action.

From the leadership that the young people have shown, it is through 
collective action that we will achieve effective change and we will bring 
hope and lift the clouds of depression that so many young people and 
adults are feeling, a sense of paralysis about what to do next which makes 
many people feel like pulling the doona over their head. I do not blame 
them.

It is a lot to take in. That is our job, to open our eyes. It is clear 
we need a new economic vision and it has to be compelling. We have to be 
off carbon deposits. Essentially, we are leaving a period that humans 
have inhabited for a really long time, a nice predictable period with 
predictable cycles of climate. We are moving into unpredictable water 
cycles: that is what happens when there is a warmer planet.

We need to end business as usual and that is what was so disturbing about 
hearing the Premier's Address - it was 40 minutes of business as usual. 
It was essentially a shopping list of roads, a preelection shopping list 
that completely ignored the biggest issues that we face, including the 
threat of bushfires next summer. It completely ignored the fact that all 
of our ecological systems in Tasmania, as they are planetary-wide, are in 
crisis. 

I want to talk about the fantastic work that has been done in the northern 
Midlands of Tasmania by Island Ark and also with the worker scientist from 
UTAS, the Bushfire CRC, the CRC for Forestry, Greening Australia, and a 
number of landowners in the northern Midlands. They are working hard to 
restore and connect the habitat to create a stronghold for the next 50 
years and beyond so that some of our most critically endangered animals 
can still be travelling with us in Tasmania in 2080. That is one of their 
goals and it is a beautiful goal because it is very clear - we want to 
have the animals that we have around us here when our children and 
grandchildren are growing up. They are beautiful but they also contribute 
to the health of the systems that we live in. 

We are just finding out more and more all the time about the little 
bettongs that are an important part of snuffling and turning over the soil 
under trees so that the eucalypts can survive for a lot longer than they 
would otherwise.

Ms O'Connor - Same for echidnas.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. You are absolutely right.

The work that is being done in the northern Midlands is important. 
Healthy woodlands have aesthetic value but they also provide an ecosystem 
service. They give shade and shelter for animals, they reduce erosion and 
hold the structure of the soil, they improve the quality of water, they 
control the pests, and they are important for maintaining biodiversity. 
All of these things are critical for farmers to be able to continue to 
farm. They are as much about protecting the quality of the soils for 
agriculture as they are about protecting the integrity of the woodlands 
themselves. The aim of this work is to try to keep a connective corridor 
between the eastern and western side of Tasmania. This matters to keep 
these links and the research that the scientists are doing is practical. 
It is showing us how we can do that and how we can stop tree decline and 
the enormous decline in a number of eucalypts species which unfortunately 
is happening because of the changing climate and the increasing dryness.

We want to have a marine environment which is densely full of marine life 
which is able to respond and deal with the warming waters that we are 
already experiencing. Some of the fastest warming waters on the planet 
are off the eastern coast of Tasmania, so we want to have a marine 
environment which is as healthy as possible to be able to adapt to those 
warming waters. Instead, sadly and concerningly, we are hearing that the 
eastern waters of Tasmania are in a very serious state of crisis. The 
work from the IMAS scientists released in December makes it very clear 
that unless we act very fast 32 per cent of eastern coast rocky reefs will 
be gone by 2021 and that is an incredible loss. That is only in two 
years' time, and knowing the scientists and that work that is probably a 
conservative estimate. It may well be the case that we have already 
suffered that extensive loss. 

There are many reasons but a predominant reason is Centrostephanus, or the 
sea urchin which has come in through the warmer waters and is creating sea 
urchin barrens. We know that the only effective predator of the sea 
urchins is the rock lobster, so unless we do everything we can to help 
rock lobsters to survive and grow to an old enough age to predate upon sea 
urchins, we are at risk of losing our rocky reefs, and with them will go 
the abalone and rock lobster commercial industries and the recreational 
fishing industries for abalone and rock lobster.

This is another huge change which is happening in a large ecosystem in 
Tasmania and it requires us to take concerted action and have leadership 
from this Government. The Greens will continue to shine the light on the 
ineffectiveness of the laws we have in Tasmania to protect our marine 
environment. Not only do we have an EPA that does not have the legal 
teeth to be able to go after an oil rig that comes in and get an 
inspection of the risks and what it carries on it that was sitting in the 
Derwent for a couple of months, we do not have an EPA that has the teeth 
to prevent the expansion of fish farms into areas which are clearly not 
suitable - Storm Bay, for example. We do not have laws that have created 
a marine farming panel that protects the independence and integrity of 
scientists, so the decisions made by the marine farming panel are 
essentially rubber-stamping for whatever the salmon farming industry would 
like to do and wherever they would like to go.

The other system that needs our concerted attention is the current 
situation with plastic and waste. Since the Liberals came to government 
in 2014 the then minister, Mr Groom, had a waste levy sitting on his desk 
that he could have signed off. Instead, he did not do what all the 
councils around Tasmania agreed would be a good idea, and he put that 
aside. We have had another five years where we desperately need a state-
based levy. We desperately need a container deposit scheme in Tasmania. 
We are the second-last state in Australia to have one. It has been 
sitting there strongly supported by the community. It is strongly 
supported by the Scouts and community groups and it will make every 
difference to reducing the ocean of plastic which is developing and 
affecting every part of the marine environment filtering down. 
Microplastics are now found in every part of the benthic layer in birds, 
mammals and ultimately in human food. This is something we have to take 
action on. It is sitting here and is something the Greens will continue 
to push for this year.

We will continue to speak for strong gun laws in this state. We know that 
we must never weaken gun laws or pander to certain sections of the 
community who would like to put personal convenience above safety. There 
are many reasons we must look to keep our strong gun laws. We do not need 
to go further than what happened here in Tasmania at Port Arthur but we 
have had recent evidence of New Zealand taking heart from what we did and 
using our strong Tasmanian gun laws as an example that they have picked up 
and now have also brought in strong gun laws in New Zealand. We will 
continue to be the party that fights for strong gun laws in Tasmania.

We will also be the party that continues to speak up for people in the 
justice system when nobody else cares about them. We believe that the 
manner in which a society treats its weakest and most defenceless people 
says everything about the character of that society. We must understand 
the relationship between providing a house for people and the effect it 
has on their life. 

In conclusion, we are at a critical juncture that demands we have out-of-
the-box thinking and not business as usual. It was very depressing to 
hear the weak address from the Premier a couple of weeks ago when we know 
that the planet is warming far more rapidly than it can absorb. 

Health and housing in Tasmania are catastrophically underfunded which is 
creating a gap between Tasmanians, those with a house and those without, 
and that gap is tragically enormous and intergenerationally unjust. It is 
having an impact on people's lives every day; whether they are personally 
without a house or living in rental stress, they know somebody who is. It 
is an example of the importance of working to make sure we reduce that gap 
because there are many challenges for us as a state and, at its core, we 
need people to have the basics of life and there are clearly Tasmanians 
who do not have a house, access to the health services they need when they 
need it, access to food of the right quality and nutritional benefit and 
who do not have mental health services when they need them. We need to 
bridge that gap to prioritise the things that mean the most to people. 

The Budget the Treasurer delivers will tell everything to Tasmanians about 
the things that the Liberals value. I hope the Premier has listened to 
what has happened in recent times from the firefighters who spoke out, 
from the children on the school strikes for climate, from the unions who 
are asking for respect and conditions and salary; that he listens to those 
people and understands that the budget he delivers must speak to the 
poorest Tasmanians and the children of the future who will be here sitting 
in this parliament in 10, 20 and 30 years' time working on the issues of 
governing for a just Tasmania in a climate which will probably be 
different to the one we have today. The job of this Government is to 
deliver a budget for the next year so we can act on the things in Tasmania 
that matter the most.