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COVID-19 - Jobs and the Economy

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Tags: Westbury, Northern Prison

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I will only make a brief contribution to this notice of motion, and indicate we cannot support a motion that has clause (4) in it, which is that the House supports the Westbury prison site that has been chosen on Birralee Road. We cannot do that, Mr Tucker, because we are prepared to stand with the community which is really concerned about having a massive prison on their doorstep - 5 kilometres from the centre of Westbury - and a site that has very significant natural values.

Dr Woodruff and I went there three weeks ago and walked over that beautiful little patch of bush with the field naturalists, and Di Robertson who does so much work on the Westbury Common. It is a beautiful little patch of bush.

For the Hansard record, Mr Shelton just scoffed when I said that.

This is work that Sarah Lloyd, OAM, who is a member of the local field naturalists group, has been studying from a bird lover's and field naturalist's point of view for about 30 years, as I understand it. The natural values and native species on that patch of bush are recorded and well known. They include a whole range of bush birds, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, wedge-tailed eagles nest nearby, there would be habitat there for masked owls - and if Mr Shelton wants to choose to remain ignorant about things, or not to place any value on remnant bushland which was set aside under the regional forest agreement for protection, that is on him.

I do not know if Mr Shelton has been for a walk through the proposed prison site, but it is teeming with natural values. You do not have to be a qualified field naturalist to know that. It contains a number of large nesting trees, good habitat trees, and it is really clear that it is part of remnant bush, because very vast tracts of that kind of woodland in the north of Tasmania have gone to agriculture, other primary production, or to other forms of development or roads. We are talking about an ever diminishing area of habitat for Tasmania's beautiful little scarlet robins or splendid wrens, the grey shrike thrush, all those beautiful birds that bring so much joy to our lives are running out of habitat. It was interesting that Sarah Lloyd OA talked about how she has been visiting that particular informal reserve for many years.

Mr Shelton - Informal reserve, thanks.

Ms O’CONNOR - It was set aside under the Regional Forest Agreement, Mr Shelton. It is in the Tasmanian Reserve Estate. Sarah Lloyd was talking about how bereft she feels when she stands in a place like that and realises that the birdsong is diminishing. She has seen changes because habitat particularly along the north and the north-west is increasingly fragmented.

After visiting that particular site we went to visit some of the locals. A local farmer lives just near the site and as I was chatting to him with Dr Woodruff, I was doing a little video talking to him about the place and a pair of wedge-tailed eagles appeared behind his shoulder just over the proposed prison site. It looked to me like it was a courting display. Most Tasmanians value those birds. The vast majority of Tasmanians recognised the importance of protecting habitat so that our beautiful endemic birds have a future.

We cannot support the motion while it expresses support for a prison site which really has all the signs of a panicked brain burp on the part of the Premier and the Corrections minister who was under intense pressure from Westbury residents against the prison over the site right on the town boundary. I do not know how this was cooked up, but this Birralee Road site was chosen. Even if protecting bushland habitat for our endemic bird species is not your thing and you do not value birds and birdsong, even if all you value is the dollar- and we know there are people like that in here - it would become very plain to you that that site is going to be hugely expensive to develop because of the slope. The amount of excavation that will be required to install a prison down Birralee Road on that informal reserve is very significant.

Just on the informal reserve question, Mr Shelton, 356 000 hectares of informal reserve that Sustainable Timber Tasmania - so-called - is included as part of the Tasmanian Reserve Estate in the high conservation values assessment report that it presented to the auditors. On the one hand you have a government GBE desperate to get FSC certification, even though it is working through a government that is making it impossible, pointing to these 356 000 hectares as part of Tasmania's reserve estate to try to persuade the auditors that everything is peachy here in the forests, and then on the other you have the local member for Lyons and Minister for Local Government denigrating the natural values of that site.

Mr Shelton - It is 15 hectares out of 70.

Ms O’CONNOR - You tell that to the flame robin. You tell that to the birds. It just makes me sick that people can be elected to the Tasmanian Parliament who have so little regard for the natural environment.

Mr Shelton - That's an inner city approach.

Ms O’CONNOR - Did you just say I am an inner city person?

Mr Shelton - I did not say that. I said it is an inner city approach to the country.

Ms O’CONNOR - What a load of crap - pardon me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I grew up on a little island in Queensland, Stradbroke Island. I understand rural and regional living and being remote from the big city. As often as possible I am in Nubeena, so do not patronise me, Mr Shelton, with your apparently unique insights into rural living.

Mr Shelton - So what about the opportunity of taking public servant jobs into regions?

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order, I ask the member be allowed to make her contribution.

Ms O’CONNOR - Madam Deputy Speaker, I will just cut to the chase now. It appears I went on a little bit longer than I intended but you have to challenge people who have so little affinity with the natural world when you are on your feet in this place.

My amendment to this motion is to delete paragraph (4) which says -

Supports job creating infrastructure projects like the Government's Northern Regional Prison project at Brushy Rivulet which will underpin more than 1000 jobs and deliver an economic boost of $500 million to northern Tasmania at a time when they need it most.

We do not support that clause. The rest of the motion is supportable in broad terms. There is nothing too much to disagree with there, although when they are creating jobs we should be future-focused and making sure we are doing that by applying an economic and social recovery lens to a climate lens as well, which would certainly send a very strong message to young people about how much this parliament values their future. We move -

That paragraph (4) of the motion be deleted.

We so move because there is a significant community in and around Westbury that does not want that prison in their backyard. They are confused about where Labor stands on it now because before the prison site was moved up Birralee Road, Labor was all over it but ever since it was moved to a bush block with natural values and endemic bird species on it, they have evaporated and people in the town are quite confused about it.

There is not much more I can say about that except to reassure the people of Westbury who are concerned about having a prison in their backyard and to reassure the field naturalists that the Greens will stand with them. We will not let them down.