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Christine Milne AO - Tribute

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Tags: Forests, Environment, Carbon Price

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I acknowledge the awarding of an Order of Australia medal to Christine Milne, former Tasmanian Greens Leader, Australian Greens Leader, Senator for Tasmania.

Almost without reservation I can say Christine Milne is the most formidably intelligent person I have met, let alone woman I have met. She has dedicated her life, as was recognised in the Queen's Birthday honours, to the promotion and protection of the natural world. It is a life of activism where her extraordinary intellect, drive and her big heart worked together to deliver some real change for this island and its people and for the country and in fact for the planet.

Christine began her career of activism on the public record, as far as I know, in the campaign to save the Franklin River from damming, was arrested, sent to the Risdon Prison lock up, which is almost compulsory for the CV of those early day greenies - Rosalie has been locked up too. I have not yet, I am still waiting. Risdon lock up for Christine, and then as a teacher from Wesley Vale and the mother of two very young sons at the time, she went on to campaign to save beautiful Wesley Vale from the then North Broken Hill pulp mill and established the CROPS Group - Concerned Residents Opposed to the Pulp Mill. That was a successful campaign to save that beautiful corner of Tasmania, because it would have been a native forest mill, and Bass Strait from a toxic future.

She went on to win a seat of Lyons in 1989 and was in the accord government with then Labor Premier, Michael Field. One of the first moves that government made - and it was part of the accord - was to extend very significantly the boundaries of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. That is part of Christine's legacy as well.

For those of us who are privileged to know Christine she is simply one of the most inspiring people I have ever known. When you work with her she is a little bit more terrifying because Christine has a sense of vision and purpose which is so clear and so true that it leaves the careers of others, including my own, absolutely in the shade.

I thought I would quote a little bit from an article that was in Tas Weekend Mercury in November last year and this was after she had resigned from the Senate in 2015. Some of Christine's reflections on being a woman in politics when it was really, really difficult. Women in this place were called Femi-Nazis and all manner of abuse was hurled at them, no matter what their political colour was. She says in this article:

From day one of my political career in 1989 I decided not to talk about the trials of being a young mother in parliament. It had huge personal interest value for the media and would have been an electorally popular thing to do but I knew enough to be sure that allowing your children to be used to positively reinforce your image is not a good decision. Besides, in 1989 there were very few women in Tasmanian politics. Women were expected to fit into the system, not the system to adapt to a different way of seeing or being in the world. Many MPs and members of the community thought women should be at home looking after the children and cooking the dinner and not 'abandoning their families'. Any reference to the difficulties of public life would have resulted in being told to go home then.

She reflects:

To make way in politics in the 1990s you had to be strong, forthright and able to withstand the barbs. Bullies see vulnerability a mile off and any discomfort or emotion would have been considered signs of weakness.

She says later in the article:

I made my career about the issues, not about me. I did not want to get on Dancing with the Stars or breakfast TV talking about my children or my relationships or my home or my makeup simply because that is what people now want to know. If I had to have a makeover to be featured in women's magazines I was better off not being there.

Here she says:

If we as women abandon the substance of what we have to say for the sake of popularity and profile there will be no drivers for change in parliaments. If we fail to stop the slide into Hollywood we will see women elected to parliament but we will not see advances on common decency, on addressing women's rights, family violence, global warming, the environment, inequality, pay parity, marginalisation, housing, superannuation gaps, childcare, overseas aid and the list goes on.

She says at the end:

When asked by women for advice about whether or not they should go into politics I say: regard it as one huge opportunity in a life of activism, but only do it if you have a clear idea of the changes you want to make.

What is the point of being there if you are only making up the numbers or for the salary or the perks. Consider the logistics of where you live and where a parliament is located. Make appropriate choices. Do not do it simply as a career choice, because it is not worth the sacrifices if it is only about your own advancement.

A very clear and compelling purpose makes being an MP not only worthwhile, but incredibly fulfilling. You will have done what you knew in your heart you ought to do.

Christine wrote a wonderful biography last year, An Activist's Life. For anyone who just wants to know about the fantastic work that people all over the world are doing to make the planet a better place in Christine's really crisp, clear and evocative writing, you should read An Activist's Life.

From the point of view of someone who is a Greens member of parliament I recognise that Dr Woodruff and I are in here, we do stand on the shoulders of giants and Christine Milne, in my mind, is one of the most outstanding Tasmanians ever to have worked in this place. She has improved Tasmania. She has protected forests. She worked in the federal government in Canberra to deliver a price on carbon and it was Christine who had the most influence over the design of the price on carbon. It was because there was a price on carbon that there was $70 million a year coming into the Hydro in Tasmania and there were substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as a result of the work that Christine did.

It gives me great comfort as a human being, as a mother, as someone who loves Tasmania to know that Christine Milne's life of activism is ongoing. She is relentlessly selfless and on behalf of every person who has been part of the conservation movement over decades, every member of the Greens, I want to congratulate Christine for her award. It is so hard earned. They say well deserved, Christine's was hard earned.

For Christine Milne I say, 'Hear, hear. You are a champion of Tasmania.'