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State of the State Address in Reply

Cassy O'Connor MP | Greens Leader

Madam Speaker,

We meet on the land of an ancient and noble people, land that was taken from them with terrible violence and trickery on the part of the men who came before us.

We do well to remind ourselves often that this land – lutruwita/Tasmania – was never ceded by its original owners.

On behalf of the Tasmanian Greens MPs, I pay respect to the palawa/pakana people of Tasmania, to their treasured elders, past and present.

The descendents of the First Tasmanians remain dispossessed and understandably disillusioned.  Too little reparation has been made.

We warmly welcomed the Premier’s commitment to reset the relationship with Aboriginal Tasmanians but this must be so much more than lip service to a people who have been let down enough.

Teaching young Tasmanians something of the 40 000 years or more of palawa/pakana history is an excellent initiative.  Incorporating Aboriginal Tasmanian history into the curriculum can only deepen respect for Aboriginal culture.

Moving to include meaningful recognition of the First Tasmanians in our Constitution is also a positive, healing move of which the Greens were proud to be part.  

We can understand why the Premier has moved to change the eligibility test.  Madam Speaker, I have read a fair portion of the histories, including Professor Henry Reynolds’ landmark work, ‘The Fate of a Free People’, and recognise that a systemic erasure of Aboriginal Tasmanians in the birth records took place.  Aboriginal women were taken as slaves and wives by white settlers and their children recorded as white.

It was a subtle, destructive mark on the attempted genocide we inflicted on the first Tasmanians.

I believe, as clearly the Premier does, that `there are more Aboriginal Tasmanians than a white man’s historical record would have us believe, but the fight for recognition and identity of a once free people has been so hard fought.  This is a fraught area and we urge the Premier to tread respectfully, with great care.

Do not take sides, Premier. Do not play favourites.  All Aboriginal voices must be heard with respect.

I listened with sadness to the divisive and unnecessary of words read out by the Member for Braddon, Mrs Rylah, this morning, in the tabling of Motions. Words such as those will do nothing to reset the relationship with Aboriginal Tasmanians. 

Regrettably, there is a cognitive disconnect at work in the Premier’s mind.  He lets his backbenchers table divisive, ill-considered Motions while his government pursues a policy that would further desecrate Aboriginal heritage in the takayna/Tarkine.

That is not ‘resetting the relationship’, it is abusing process to pander to a narrow constituency in the North West.

We believe the Premier needs to rule out the High Court challenge to the Federal Court ruling at the earliest opportunity.  It is folly and the deepest mark of disrespect to do otherwise.

A Green minister for Aboriginal Affairs would immediately re-introduce legislation to hand back larapuna and Rebecca Creek, and initiate community consultation on a plan – and a promise made by two former Tasmanian Premiers - to return wukulina/Mt William National Park to its original owners, the people of the North East, descendents of manalargena, survivors.

She would work with all Aboriginal communities to identify lands that can be returned and managed with respect, to deliver greater cultural and economic strength to Aboriginal Tasmanians.

Returning lands is central to resetting the relationship, and we respectfully urge the Premier to just get on with it.  Draft the legislation, start the conversation and we will support you.

We live in one of the most beautiful, peaceful places in the world.  Although too many of our people are poor, as an island we are blessed with riches. We enjoy a great community, clean air, rich soils and extraordinary natural beauty

We are island dwellers, and, overwhelmingly our shared community culture is one of decency and kindness.  It is our island-ness – I believe that makes us so.

We are the nation’s poorest State and its most generous, the biggest per capita givers to charity by a fair margin. 

As islanders, we are acutely aware of both our uniqueness and our isolation.

Perhaps no more so than this past Summer. The failure of Basslink, at the peak of a drought and monster El Nino brought Tasmania’s isolation home more forcefully than any single event in living memory.

We remain disconnected from the mainland, our energy and ICT networks almost crippled by a piece of infrastructure which made us far too dependent on coal power from Victoria. We allowed Hydro to draw heavily on our water storages to make a profit in exchange.

And now we will be reliant on at least $100 million worth of dirty diesel generation and hugely expensive gas fired power for the foreseeable future. 

Regrettably, when the profits were flowing in from Hydro, much of it went straight in to Peter Gutwein’s bloated piggy bank. 

A Green government would have invested these profits, along with the healthy $30million dividend which was funnelled in to Forestry Tasmania from TasNetworks, into increasing the supply and uptake of wind, solar, geothermal and wave generation, as well as the mass roll out of energy efficiency, electric vehicle infrastructure and the establishment of a Smart Grid to modernise our grid infrastructure without costly gold plating of the poles and wires.

Those dividends, gouged at 90% of profits under this government’s policy, would have been much smarter spent setting our island up for a self-sufficient, clean energy future.

A Green Treasurer and a Green Minister for Energy would have made sure of it.   While my colleague, the Green Minister for Energy, was working on a future focussed budget in her portfolio, she would implement a feed-in tariff for rooftop solar that paid a fair price from power fed in to the grid and encouraged growth in the solar business sector. 

Minister Groom likes to talk about ‘jobs and opportunities’; there is an example of both.

As islanders, our economic survival demands we produce our own clean power, through every sustainable mechanism available. 

We are clever; we are resilient; we are islanders.  It is only the lack of political will and vision that holds us back as an island community.

We are in the grip of an energy crisis overseen by an Energy Minister who seems – quiet literally – to be staggering around in the dark, intoxicated on diesel fumes. 

He is a Minister who, after axing Tasmania’s eminent Climate Council, released a shallow Energy Plan that makes only passing reference to renewables and energy efficiency, but devotes plenty of space to talk of burning forests for power. 

Mr Groom, it is a poor excuse for a Plan that clearly needs to be rewritten and it should not take a twelve month talkfest for that to happen.

We were promised a “Brighter Future”, but there’s no guarantee the lights will not go out, and business confidence has declined three months running.

We should also all acknowledge honestly and with respect that around 2500 Tasmanians have lost their jobs since last September.  For these workers and their families, paying the next power bill will hurt more than it should.

As it will for contractors laid off by Bell Bay Aluminium, as it rations power, cuts production and questions its very future. Norske Skog is in a similar position, and it is precarious.

A Green government would build on the work of its Ministers in the previous government and have an actual Plan to help our major employers be the most innovative and energy efficient, least polluting, operations of their kind in the world.

We recognise the major industrials use 60% of the State’s power. There are serious opportunities for new technologies to generate and save power, in turn saving jobs.

A Green Premier would make climate mitigation and adaptation a core mission across government, putting in place strong foundations for resilience and prosperity in the future. 

It is the only way to lead in an age of climate disruption.

We want Tasmania to be ready for the future.

Never before has Tasmania’s alpine and rainforest wilderness burned as it did in January this year.

That not a single human life was lost in the Dunalley bushfires in January 2013 and the maelstrom of January this year, is almost incredible, given the ferocity and speed at which these fires travelled.  For this, we owe our fire-fighters the deepest gratitude.

The skill set we have in the Tasmania Fire Service, Parks and Wildlife Service, Forestry Tasmania and volunteer fire-fighters is surely on a par with the best anywhere.

Let us build on that.  Let us commit to being a willing participant in an independent national inquiry to find out what we did right and what could have been done better in fighting the fires that incinerated some 20 000 hectares of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

A Green government would have put out the call out on day one of the fires, we would have spared no expense and we would have made sure the priority was the protection of human lives, communities and the State’s priceless wilderness assets - simultaneously. 

Let us not allow ourselves to be captive to false choices.  There will be a next time, and a time after that.  The climate is changing.  Fire will become an increasingly intense fact of Tasmanian life and over a longer season.

We welcome the appointment of Dr Tony Press to advise government on the impacts of global warming on the wilderness.  It is a good appointment, but that cannot be the beginning and end of the story.  The inquiry initiated by the Tasmania Fire Service is also a positive initiative, but we do not believe it will go far enough.

We need an independent inquiry, to call for expert witnesses, seek public input and deliver sound recommendations to Parliament and to government.

Our highly skilled and dedicated fire-fighters need to know the government will provide every available resource to them to save what we treasure.

We have to do better next time to save Gondwana and protect an asset that generates an estimated $1.5 billion each year in direct and indirect benefits to the State.

A Green Minister for Parks would work with a Green Minister for Emergency Services to deliver the structures, arrangements, training facilities and funding necessary to ensure ancient rainforest and Gondwanan ecosystems are afforded every possible protection in an age of accelerating climate disruption.

Climate adaptation is a multi-faceted, whole of government, community, business and industry task.  Tasmania is not adapting fast enough and this makes us vulnerable.

We have the outstanding Climate Futures work, a key adaptation tool for government, industry, farmers and the community, yet it barely rates a mention from the Liberals.

This is a failure of leadership at a time when leadership is desperately needed. 

We know the Premier is not a climate denier, but he is surrounded by them and leads a party where the majority of elected Liberal members here and nationally who refuse to acknowledge the role human beings have played in changing the earth’s life support systems so dramatically and rapidly.

A Green government would be ensuring the hundreds or more world-class climate scientists we have at CSIRO in Hobart get to keep their jobs.

We would work with local and national governments to re-engineer our cities and towns, transforming Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie into some of the nation’s most liveable cities in every sense of the term.

While the Liberals cut public transport funding to build more roads, and our capital city has been sent in to gridlock, a Green government would enable efficient low carbon transport, easing congestion and lowering carbon emissions.

A Green government would have delivered an actual Plan to invest some of the half a billion in extra GST revenue the State is set to receive in to more Metro buses on more routes, cycle-ways, Light Rail and ferries, one day, on the Derwent. 

We would make sure that Metro was funded to reach people off the main routes, so many of whom are no longer catching buses since the this year’s timetable changes.  This is particularly so for the elderly.  They have been disenfranchised by the Metro changes and that is a poor social inclusion outcome.

All the great capital cities and regional centres in the world have integrated public transport systems. As a result, their local economies are resilient, their people happier and healthier. 

Melbourne, London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Portland... they are vibrant places where getting around is easy, safe and affordable.

A truly Brighter Future is a place with fewer cars on the roads and those being electric vehicles supported by charging infrastructure in every corner of the State.

We are the custodians of a global climate treasure.  Our forests are estimated to store up to 4 billion tonnes of carbon. 

What the new Forests’ Minister calls a “wood bank” – the near 400 000 hectares of mature native forest set aside under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement – we recognise is a carbon bank with a promising future on the global carbon market.

A Green Minister for Forests would build on the work of the Forest Carbon Study and fund a scientifically rigorous assessment of the value of the carbon in the TFA forests and on private land. 

We would test it with actuarial and market specialists, and we would begin the process of earning an income for the Tasmanian people on carbon markets that will strengthen with time. 

Lapoinya and Mutual Valley are proof there is no money to be made in a loss-making and destructive native forest logging.  Our old forests are worth more standing.  The alternative is more public subsidies, more environmental and social harm.

We would ensure all commercial logging operations in Tasmania met the requirements of Forest Stewardship Certification.  We would end the logging of Tasmania’s remaining high conservation value forests.

Given the Tasmanian Forest Agreement was trashed by the Liberals under the guise of an actual policy and the designated Reserves abandoned, the Greens do not regard ourselves in any way bound by its remaining provisions.

It demonstrates the lack of clear thinking on forestry policy from this government that they demand conservationists and the wider community comply with the peace deal, after they loudly ripped it up.

You can be absolutely sure the conservation movement and the Greens will continue to fight for the protection of high conservation value forests, as we always have.

Our Green Minister for Primary Industries would also work with private landholders to restore degraded landscapes for carbon and biodiversity benefit. 

She would collaborate with the Minister for Skills to develop a world leading training centre for landscape restoration and carbon farming in the State’s North East, where existing skills are being under-utilised and jobs and opportunities, are sorely needed.

We can lead the nation is sustainable land management, building on a clean, green brand that delivers enormous wealth to the State.

A Green government would make permanent a ban on genetically modified organisms, and fund innovation excellence in organic and cruelty-free agricultural production.  This would only strengthen the integrity and value of our lucrative brand globally.

We would set in place the policies to ensure nobody in Tasmania need go hungry.  As it is, too many Tasmanians lack access to healthy, affordable food and in a wealthy, modern society, rich in natural resources, that is not good enough. It only adds to the chronic disease burden we carry across generations in this State.

The Greens would look to cities like Seattle,where local food production and a huge community food forest is creating healthier, more connected communities.

A Green Minister for Primary Industries would ensure sustainable, fair water use and storage for our farmers and fund investment in water efficiency measures across the community.

We would make sure Tasmanians could be sure their drinking water is chemical and toxin free.  We would restore the funding the Liberals cut to water quality testing and we would make the results public, in real time, because access to clean, safe drinking water is a fundamental human right.

So too is secure, affordable housing. In two State Budgets, we have seen Housing Tasmania’s budget cut and no new money go in to increasing the supply of decent homes for low income Tasmanians.

A Green government would not be privatising public housing assets without a mandate.  We would continue the work of the Labor Green government; restore the Housing Fund to $60 million from the GST windfall to invest in building quality affordable homes and creating healthy communities through liveable, energy efficient design.

A Green Minister for Housing would make sure all new homes in Tasmania were built to a minimum 7.5 star energy efficiency, saving buyer’s costs in time and reducing our carbon footprint.

The Liberals say they want to increase Tasmania’s population to 650 000 by 2050, but they have no tangible plan to deal with this aspiration. They are not looking at it through a climate, natural resource security lens - as they must.  It is, sadly, given the seriousness of the notion and the need for detailed policy work, another catch phrase.

We have riches to share, an amazing quality of life, our population will grow – climate change will make sure of it – but we need to do so sustainably. 

As a community, we cannot afford to lose that which makes our island way of life so special, the envy of the world.

A Green government would be planning ahead, asking Tasmanians how they envisage future growth and working with the experts to develop a settlement strategy. 

We would be putting the foundations in place to make sure, twenty, fifty, one hundred years from now, our cities and towns are people friendly, climate resilient, compact and well connected, and our natural treasures protected for all to enjoy with care.

We welcome those who seek a sanctuary on our island, as we have always welcomed peoples fleeing war, famine and persecution. Tasmanians welcome strangers and we make sure they don’t feel like strangers for long.

Our multiculturalism is one of our greatest strengths, but are we doing enough to meet the social and economic needs of our new arrivals?  Through my work, I am honoured have friends from places as far as Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Without exception, they love this place. It is a sanctuary and we want to make sure it stays that way for them and for those who come after them.

There is great heart and compassion in our community, but there is racism and discrimination too.  Governments and community leaders have a key leadership role in fostering inclusion, a culture of celebrating diversity and recognising the economic strengths it delivers.

The Greens would like to see this government do more to tackle racism, and to provide the social supports and employment opportunities our new arrivals deserve. We would happily work with you on this.

We are committed to working with government on this important endeavour, and we certainly want to see action, rather than words - and not much of them lately - on Tasmania’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

It is well past time the community was updated on when the first Syrians will arrive in Tasmania. We cannot forget that right now in Tasmania, as a result of the cruel policies of the Federal Labor and Liberal governments, there are asylum seekers trying to restart their lives with no certainty over whether they will be allowed to stay.  People on temporary visas are still living in limbo and it’s not good enough.

Having promised Tasmanians the world, the Premier and his Liberal colleagues are discovering what an enormous challenge and even greater responsibility it is to govern.

They promised Tasmanians a brighter future.  We were told that a Liberal majority government was the answer to all Tasmania’s economic challenges.  They had a plan, they said.

A plan strongly implies they knew what they were talking about then and know what they are doing now. We are discovering the Plan actually does not have much substance.

This Liberal majority government is addicted to slogans and spin. It hides behind good news announcements and shields it’s Ministers from Parliamentary and Budget Estimates scrutiny.

Its members are apparently so afraid of the Greens, they have slashed our funding, manipulated the Standing Orders at our expense and pretend we are not a political party.

Ms Dawkins, Ms Woodruff and I can assure the House, this has not bowed us, and it may have made us more dangerous. We are determined to represent with integrity and tenacity, the 50 000 Tasmanians who voted Green at the last State Election.

We will not fail to be their voice.

They don’t believe for a moment that a Liberal majority government has delivered a brighter future.  They know that is a load of crock, and so do we.

In the first year, the Liberals set about discarding 1200 public sector workers, sacked teachers, cut $210 million from the Health Budget, delivered soaring elective surgery and public housing waiting lists, cut funding to the State’s integrity bodies, tore up the best chance for peace in our forests in a generation, threatened to log and mine the World Heritage Area, embarked on an embarrassing witch-hunt over the sale of the Triabunna mill, and passed a law to lock up mum and dad protestors, lifted the ban on 1080 and pushed the suffering chooks back into their cages.

Behind the scenes, they established the opaque Office of the Coordinator General, at massive public expense.  His mission: to oil the wheels for those who would exploit the wilderness for profit and the exclusive few.

This was just the beginning of this Brighter Future we were promised.

In the second year, they kept giving themselves ticks against the Plan but... elective surgery and public housing waiting lists continued to soar. At risk children were ignored by an underfunded department, Federal Hotels continued to hold sway over government and Paul Harriss stuck to his threat to dump woodchips on Hobart’s lovely waterfront.

The United Nations came to town, alarmed at the Liberals’ assault on the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. 

In its third year, apart from the events already mentioned, the Liberal majority government has arrested Mum and Dad and grand Dad protestors, wants to burn forests for energy, looks set to fail FSC certification, and has established a talkfest on energy and another on greater Hobart’s gridlocked streets.

Just to name a few features of this year’s “Brighter Future” instalment.

The Greens believe in a much better brighter future. One where, when the sun shines, power is being fed back into the grid by households.

A genuinely brighter future is an enlightened future where progressive thought flourishes and governments are transparent and accountable, and open to good ideas wherever they come from. 

It is a sustainable future, where climate mitigation and adaptation delivers social and economic resilience.  It is a place where public services are well resourced, high quality and accessible; a place where people who love each other have the same right to marry, regardless of their gender; a place where people with disabilities are provided with enabling supports, independent living and employment opportunity, where their ability and capacity to contribute is what matters.

A genuinely brighter future is a place where the poisonous poker machines are removed from pubs and clubs and the Federal Monopoly Deed is a thing of the past.

It is a place where women and children feel safe in their homes.

To end on a positive note, perhaps the brightest, most promising aspect of this term of government has been the unqualified commitment of the Premier and the Minister for Human Services to gender equality and violence prevention.

It is a sincere and reasonably resourced response to the epidemic of violence against women and children in Australia today, which is claiming lives every week. The Greens were proud to be part of this vital work.

Making Tasmania a safer, happier place for women and children is something we can all surely agree on.

Thank you.