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Cassy O'Connor Premiers Address Reply

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Tags: Tasmanian Aboriginals, Political Donations, Climate Change, Political Leadership

Premier's Address Reply: Cassy O'Connor MP, 4 March, 2020


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Tasmanian Greens to deliver my response to the Premier's Address on the state of the state. Before I begin I acknowledge that we are standing on the land of the nipaluna people and I pay my respects to the palawa and the pakana people of Tasmania. I pay tribute to their warriors and their elders past, present and emerging. I acknowledge that there is a long way to go before true reconciliation is a reality and to recommit the Greens to land returns, to changing the date of Australia Day and to treaty.

I was disappointed not to hear either the Premier or the Leader of the Opposition acknowledge the Aboriginal people of Tasmania in their addresses. I take this opportunity to remind the House that there was a treaty with the Aboriginal people of Tasmania. It was made on 6 August 1831. These are the words of George Augustus Robinson -

This morning I developed my plans to the Chief Mannalargenna and explained to him the benevolent views of the Government towards himself and people. He cordially acquiesced and expressed his entire approbation of the salutary measure and promised his utmost aid and assistance.

I informed him in the presence of Kickerterpoller that I was commissioned by the Governor to inform them that if the natives would desist from their wanted outrages upon the whites, they would be allowed to remain in their respective districts and would have flour, tea and sugar, clothes, et cetera given them. That a good white man would dwell with them who would take care of them and would not allow any bad white man to shoot them and he would go with them about the bush like myself and they could hunt. He was much delighted.

Further, on 27 August 1831, Robinson reported -

I omit no opportunity of impressing upon the mind of the chief and the others that they are to remain in their own country and that I am anxious to get to them for the purposes of going to others and I will leave a man to take care of them but some of the Tyereelore women shall stay with them. At this arrangement, they are much pleased and say it is very good indeed.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you attended the inaugural reconciliation address at Town Hall last year on behalf of the then premier. Ms White attended that address as well and we were presented with compelling evidence that there is unfinished business that this parliament must deal with. There was an agreement between the palawa pakana people of Tasmania and the colonial administration.

According to the Dean of the University of Tasmania Law School, Professor Tim McCormack, this agreement carries legal weight. He cited the Supreme Court of Canada case R v. Van de Peet of 1990, the treaty between the British and the Huron tribe that was made in 1760. To this day that treaty was determined to have legal weight. 'Treaties with first peoples', said the court, 'must be given a just, broad and liberal construction with uncertainties resolved in favour of the indigenous peoples. What characterises a treaty is the intention to create obligations, the presence of mutually binding obligations and a certain measure of solemnity'.

Having attended the inaugural address and being presented with such compelling, historical evidence, I wrote to the then Premier and to the Leader of the Opposition saying that the Greens wanted to work constructively to advance this issue, that we wanted to work together to develop a form of words that could come before this House that progressed the debate on recognising the 1831 agreement and moving towards treaty.

Regrettably, and I say that for Aboriginal people in Tasmania, I have received no response either from the then premier or the current premier or the Leader of the Opposition. That is shameful. I can indicate today that we will be engaging with Aboriginal people around Tasmania on this issue of the 1831 agreement. I have already started doing that. If we cannot get a constructive approach to this issue from our colleagues in government and in opposition, we will table a motion in this place that seeks to ensure parliament recognises there was an agreement in 1831 between the state of Tasmania, its administrators, and the Aboriginal people of the north east of Tasmania. I hope that my colleagues in here are able to recognise the importance of resolving this unfinished business.

I also hope that following the release of the inquiry report into the House of Assembly Restoration Bill, which made a very clear recommendation that a joint House committee be established to develop a preferred model for Aboriginal representation in the Tasmanian Parliament, that too is an issue that we can find a consensus on. It is not about us, it is about the First People of Tasmania, and the fact that they are not represented as a people in the Tasmanian parliament. There are examples for us to follow - for instance New Zealand, where the Maori people have a clear, strong, self-determining place at the table. We have to deal with this issue, because the injustice - as we found in the committee inquiry - is deep, and it is holding Aboriginal people back.

This time last year, when we were delivering our State of the State addresses, Australia was a very different place. The forests of the Blue Mountains were still there. This past summer, we have been through the most devastating bushfires this country has ever experienced. In fact, according to Professor John Shine, the President of the Australian Academy of Science, the scale of these bushfires is unprecedented anywhere in the world. More than 25 million acres of land - an area about the size of South Korea - was burned. Thirty-three people lost their lives. Three thousand homes and properties were destroyed. An estimated one billion native animals died. Because of the vast volume of smoke and carbon dioxide and other toxic particulates that came out of those bushfires, our contribution to global heating this year as a result of the bushfires is even higher. That is a feedback loop where the fires are creating the circumstances for further global heating.

In Tasmania, this summer, we did not confront the horror of the bushfires that were being felt on the mainland. I was disappointed that the Government did not move for a condolence motion in response to the bushfires. I did suggest it, but this did not happen. The tragic scale of these fires, and the devastation, is mind-numbing. We are only just beginning to come to terms with it.

On a personal note - and I am sure this feeling was felt by millions of Australians - the horror and the grief that I felt was crushing, because we are now made aware that summer in Australia will never be the same. Summer, which was a season we always looked forward to, is now a season where climate-induced bushfires are increasingly prevalent. In Tasmania we did escape this year, but we did not in the previous year, and the cycle is now such that we can expect to see devastating bushfire seasons on a much more regular cycle.

That requires of us as a parliament to think differently, to do things differently, and to try to work together on these big issues, because Tasmanians are looking to us for leadership. I came back from the break more determined than ever to be part of the solution, and to work with Dr Woodruff in this place, to drive evidence-based policy, to listen to the science, to promote new ideas, to try to bat off as much of the politics as it is possible to do so, because our children are looking to us for leadership. Our children are looking for meaningful climate action.

I have to go to some of the issues that were raised by the Leader of the Opposition in a depressingly beige contribution. There was lip service to the need for climate action. The words were simply that tackling climate change can create jobs. Well, Tasmanians expect a bit more than that from the Opposition. In a contribution in which at least half was spent talking about either the Government or the Greens, very few meaningful ideas about how we tackle global heating together were put forward, but we did hear some highly partisan and untrue language that I need to challenge before the lunch break.

Ms White says the Greens are holding the state back. Well, we were there to defend the Franklin River from damming, and today Strahan is a thriving tourism town. We have always been there to defend the forests from felling, and today, thanks to the work of conservationists over decades, large tracks of our forest our safe from logging. We have always been there to defend the wilderness, and as a result of the advocacy of conservationists over decades, large tracts of our wilderness are protected. The work that the Greens have done has strengthened Tasmania's clean, green, wilderness brand. We stood up against a pulp mill at Wesley Vale and in the Tamar Valley, both projects which were supported by the Liberal and Labor parties.

It is the clean, green, wilderness brand that underpins the successes of our agricultural sector, our exporters and our tourism industry. If the Greens and the conservation movements had not been such an important feature of political life in Tasmania, the Franklin would have been dammed. There would have been Labor's pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, or the Liberal's pulp mill at Wesley Vale. There would have been a canal estate in the Ralphs Bay Conservation Area. There would be fish farms on every coast and corner. It is the Labor and Liberal parties who are holding this state back, because they refuse to see it for what it is. It is a beautiful, wild little island with a strong and close-knit community which our political colleagues keep trying to divide. It is an island that is kissed by three oceans. There is more coastline per unit area in Tasmania than any other state or territory. There are 334 islands that make up our archipelago. We breathe the cleanest air in the world. We are home to the world's tallest flowering plant, Eucalyptus regnans. We are the custodians of one of the world's great and last tracts of temperate land forest. We are an island of Gondwana.

The reason Tasmania looks so different from the rest of Australia is because we were connected to Antarctica for much longer than the rest of mainland Australia. We have plants, animals, birds and fish here that you cannot find anywhere else in the world. We have Aboriginal heritage in places like takayna, the Tarkine - a human story that reaches back for 40 000, 50 000 or 60 000 years. The Tarkine coast contains some of the richest archaeological sites on the planet. This is the coast that the Liberals want to open four-wheel drive tracks through. We also have a rich, beautiful and intact European cultural heritage landscape. We have a culture of community and connection. We are still the nation's biggest per capita givers. When Tasmanians are in trouble, it does not matter what your politics are. We look after each other. There is that privilege of being part of a connected island community. We have an extraordinary culture of creativity. Partly that is because of the landscape, and because of the light. We are at the same latitude in the southern hemisphere as Tuscany.

We welcome strangers, and we make sure they do not feel like strangers for long. We are an island with heart. We are a little green heart-shaped island at the bottom of the world, and we are so privileged to call ourselves Tasmanians. With that comes a deep responsibility to look after this place. It is rare and magical in the world.

Yet we have had to listen to the bollocks from the leader of the Opposition about the role of the Greens in looking after this island - when they have been complicit in putting forward pulp mills and canal estates and massive deforestation. It is galling and completely unsurprising. Come the next election, I do not think it will be Ms White leading the Labor Party.

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, before the break I was making some observations about the Leader of the Opposition's contribution. In closing, we heard a lot about Labor being focused on jobs, with very little detail on any understanding they might have about the jobs needs of now or tomorrow. I remind Labor that without brand integrity in Tasmania, jobs will not grow, and jobs will be at risk if you do not protect the attributes of your clean, green, wilderness brand. You potentially compromise jobs in tourism and among our exporters.

Finally, Ms White states that it was a mistake for Labor to go into government with the Greens. All I might say is that the previous premier, Lara Giddings, who we worked with in government, told us - the now Senator Nick McKim and I - that we were two of her best ministers, and she made it very clear to us that she trusted us more than she did some of her own colleagues.

Ms O'Byrne - Sweetheart, you are my favourite one. You are my bestie.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.

Ms O'CONNOR - Now I find history being rewritten. In fact, the object of her distrust is the same problem you have.

Madam Speaker, we know that Tasmania and our identity are very much embedded in this place, and our island-ness, and the fact we have a wilderness on our doorstep. Sometimes when I am thinking about this place and its history, I remember that beautiful Redgum song about the Franklin: 'Oh, Tasmania, the hardest heart would understand.'

I have been listening to the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition's contribution and thinking, those hard hearts do not really understand this island very well. There is no indication from either the Premier or the Leader of the Opposition that they recognise the seriousness of the climate emergency that we are in, and that we are in for very testing times.

It was confirmed in Senate Estimates yesterday that, according to the Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy, we are looking at a 4 degrees Celsius rise in temperature within the next 80 years in Australia. This is a climate emergency, Madam Speaker, and in declaring one, you are not being alarmist. You are simply acknowledging the facts, and resolving, as a collective of the Tasmanian parliament, to work together to enable actions, policies and funding that enable our community to be better equipped to cope with the very testing times that are ahead.

On that basis we will be tabling, in the next session, our Safe Climate Bill 2020. It will establish a joint standing committee on a safe climate to inquire into, consider and report to the parliament on any matter referred to the committee by either House relating to the climate emergency. It will establish a safe climate commission to provide advocacy and advice to the government and community for actions on the climate emergency. It will establish iterative emissions-reduction targets for sectors, and require the government of the day to establish policies to meet these targets. It provides a framework in which the government needs to establish that meeting one or more targets would be unreasonable or unduly harmful in order to not progress policies to meet those targets. It would create a new normal of reducing emissions, reversing the onus of proof to favour action over inaction. It sets targets for increasing our carbon sequestration activities, and sets requirements for climate adaptation at state and local levels.

We hope that every member of this House, on examining our legislation, recognises it is well thought out, it is future focused, it is achievable, reasonable and necessary. Parliament cannot be content with amending the Climate Change (State Action) Act 2008. That act is nine-tenths of useless, and I know this because I used to administer that legislation in the Labor-Greens government. The safe climate act will allow us to deliver that new thinking with a strong governance framework for climate emissions reduction and adaptation.

It is a matter of regret that we have not heard from either the Premier or the Leader of the Opposition about what their plans are to help Tasmanians adapt to this rapidly changing climate. We have to be driven by the science. It is deeply frustrating to both Dr Woodruff and I listening to the kind of puerile commentary we have had on climate-related issues in this place for the last couple of years at least. We have to acknowledge that the climate is changing rapidly, and this will impact on every aspect of the lives of Tasmanians. It will impact on our food security and our water security. It needs to drive change in the way we build houses and large-scale developments. It must redefine our relationship with the natural environment.

I have made the point in here in recent days that business as usual is not only not an option, it is recklessly dangerous. What the scientists are now telling us - and they have the experience of last summer's bushfires to guide them - is that logging of native forests increases bushfire risk in intensity and severity. It leaves kindling and undergrowth on the forest floor, and it allows the regrowth of trees that are all of a similar height and size. This creates a highly combustible scenario.

Sustainable Timber Tasmania, the minister and the Premier, who is also the Liberal Minister for Climate Change, need to urgently come to terms with this. To continue native forest logging in that knowledge is recklessly dangerous. It risks lives, and it exposes the government in future to civil liability claims. They will know; the information is there. The science is confirmed and it has come out of the University of Tasmania, the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University.

This provides us with an opportunity to redefine our relationship with the natural environment in Tasmania, to work with the forest industry on transition, to make better use of the 310 000 hectares of plantation that we have in Tasmania, to make sure that our forest industry is part of strengthening our clean, green, wilderness brand - not undermining it. To make sure we do not enable the forest industry in Tasmania to place communities and individuals at risk of more extreme bushfires in the future.

We will be moving this year to abolish the minimum sawlog quota. It is well past time that that awful provision in Tasmania's Forest Management Act 2013 was dealt with. We will move to abolish section 16 of the Forest Management Act 2013, which establishes wood production supply.

It requires Sustainable Timber Tasmania to make available each year 137 000 cubic metres of forest timber.

Dr Woodruff and I, on behalf of the Tasmanian Greens, are not going to stand by and let this Government and Labor continue unchecked with business as usual. There are places like the Tarkine, on the north-west coast of Tasmania, that any person with empathy and a soul for the planet and the life it sustains could not, in all conscience, consider destroying. That is what is happening under the Liberals and Labor is cheering them on. Clear felling operations are happening in wet sclerophyll and rainforest parts of the Tarkine. It is a disgrace that any government would think that that was acceptable or moral. It is not. We have to end the plunder of our beautiful, natural forests. We have to provide habitat for our endemic species.

Would it not be terrific if in this place we had a sense of Tasmania as being like an ark, a place that is a haven for the natural world and for threatened and endangered species? We have seen a billion animals die on the mainland and the forests destroyed, many of which will never recover. It places an enormous responsibility on us to do things differently and to be an ark for the natural world. That would strengthen our clean, green wilderness brand. We have to protect our national parks and our world heritage area and recognise that they are there not only for the people of Australia, they belong to the world. Under this Government there has been a degrading of wilderness values, a privatisation of public, protected areas and an alienation of the Tasmanian people from their enjoyment of their own public lands.

The expressions of interest process for development inside public protected areas is becoming increasingly unpopular in the community for two primary reasons. One, people recognise it is a form of privatisation. Two, they recognise that the whole process is developer driven and underpinned by utter secrecy through the Office of the Coordinator-General. We now know that since the Liberals took office in 2014 the number of licences to operate on national parks and reserves has increased from 152 to 515; and the number of exclusive leases over protected areas has doubled to 136. These parks belong to the people of Tasmania. They do not belong to developers and they do not belong to the Liberal Party.

Protecting our wilderness is a plank of our green new deal. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's special report on global warming projected that we are heading to 1.5 degrees at best and put the world on notice. If we do not make large, unparalleled changes by 2030, we are likely to face extreme difficulties such as we saw last summer.

The Earth's environment and climate have been pushed to breaking point by the current economic paradigm. It is parasitic, late stage capitalism that is sending this planet and its people to hell in a handbasket. The extract-and-discard model of resource use is not sustainable. We should not tolerate it in Tasmania. We cannot adequately address the climate emergency without tackling the structural issues that have led to it in the first place. This is the impetus for a green new deal.

A green new deal has bold, ambitious goals to provide for a fair future where the Tasmanian economy serves all Tasmanians, not just the wealthy, and preserves our environment.

A green new deal will provide for an inclusion transition to a new economy rather than desperate bandaid funding to prop up failing regional industries. A green new deal will provide unprecedented, apolitical and consistent funding for regions to define their own future. Through unprecedented investment in our people and our island, a green new deal can achieve an ambitious future for Tasmania, one where equality and wellbeing, not GDP is the most important measure of our society.

In many ways, Tasmania has a head start on the rest of the world. More than half our land mass is in some form of reserve, we have the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area. Our society punches above its weight in volunteering and charitable donations, our economy has a brand and niche products that are the envy of the world. Our democracy boasts the Hare-Clark electoral system, widely regarded as the best system in the world.

The one thing I will acknowledge that came out of the Leader of the Opposition's address today is Labor's renewed commitment to donation reform. Thank you for coming on board. We look forward to seeing the legislation. We would certainly be backing any moves that led to a stronger more robust democracy in Tasmania where vested interests cannot buy elections.