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Governor's Address Reply

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Tags: Political Leadership, Parliament

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I rise with pleasure to respond to the Governor’s Address. I begin by respectfully acknowledging this island’s first people, the palawa pakana, who shaped and nurtured lutruwita from putalina, Oyster Cove to kunanyi, to kudalina, to rookalina, to takayna, for tens of thousands of years.

The palawa pakana, and their old people, have been here since the beginning of time. If you look past the harsh lines and structures of European settlement, there are signs of a people who lived deeply and intimately connected to nature, to country. Nowhere is that more so than in takayna, with the hut depressions and the middens along her beautiful coast. Takayna, whose wild beauty and biodiversity, rich heritage and fragile habitats are under threat right now. It is a place that should be protected as a national park, a World Heritage area, and handed back to the first people of lutruwita, Tasmania. This gorgeous, wild place, unlike anywhere else on Earth with its World Heritage and National Heritage value forests, is under assault from logging, mining and mindlessness.

To the proud people, the warriors who fought for their country, to elders past and present and emerging, I pay deep respect on behalf of the Tasmanian Greens. Today we are standing in lovely nipaluna, Hobart, in a white man’s parliament, below magnificent kunanyi, another threatened Aboriginal cultural landscape with the waters of timtumili mananya seeping into this reclaimed land. The Greens will always fight for truth, treaty, justice and the return of lands. As leaders, we have the responsibility for lutruwita’s future and for its people. As members of parliament, we must be accountable to the people who put us here. In a climate crisis and a biodiversity emergency, where every action matters, we are responsible to the children and the grandchildren of lutruwita/Tasmania.

Building back from COVID, we should be turning a social and economic crisis into a reset that creates the future so many Tasmanians are yearning for, and particularly young people, a new future where nature is respected and protected and where no one is left behind. Mr Speaker, it is only the neoliberals in the old parties who will tell you this is not possible. We know better. We know it is about the choices that government makes, and as I said on election night, on every key social metric Tasmania is going backwards. Tasmanians know it and they feel it.

More than 120 000 Tasmanians live in poverty and that is why the Greens took a comprehensive package to tackle poverty to the last election. In every single electorate of every member here, children are going without and in substantial part it is because of the choices the Government has made over the past seven years. People are dying on elective surgery waiting lists and in our emergency departments because the Liberals in government were much more about spin than substance. They have failed to undertake the structural reform that our health system so desperately needs and they have failed to invest in preventative health, in keeping people healthy and out of hospitals.

Homeless teenagers are seeking between bins in shopping centre car parks, families with children are sleeping in cars on unused forestry roads, old people with nothing or no one are sleeping under bridges and in parks, and nature is under assault in lutruwita/Tasmania. The intensity of it is confronting.

Mr Speaker, I am 54 years old, have been in parliament for 13 years and have been a Green for 19 years. I have not seen such a frenzied assault on nature as we are seeing under the Gutwein Government. I refer members to the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council, which is very comforting reading on multiple levels, particularly the chapter on environment and sustainability. This is the feedback that came from around 3500 people who participated in PESRAC’s consultation process and this is some of the commentary that came forward:

Think more about the future and in particular the environment. What will it be like for children and future generations?

Another statement:

Having a health and protected natural environment is why people come to Tasmania. Protecting the natural environment should be the Premier’s top priority.

Another comment:

Tasmania’s COVID-19 recovery must address climate as the top priority. Nothing else matters if we don’t address the climate emergency. The pandemic brings an unprecedented opportunity for change.

In the commentary, PESRAC says this:

Tasmanians told us of their concern that Tasmania’s environmental credentials don’t truly stack up when a close look is taken.

If you have a look at what is happening in takayna, or in our protected areas, on kunanyi, in our forests and in our marine environment, you will appreciate that our hard-fought and lucrative clean, green brand is being undermined in real time under the Liberals. PESRAC is really clear that if we want a sustained and sustainable economic recovery from COVID we have to look after nature. We have to be prepared to do things differently.

Mr Speaker, I welcome our new Governor, Her Excellency the Honourable Barbara Baker AC, and wish her all success and strength in the role on behalf of the people of Tasmania and commend the Premier on the choice of the Her Excellency as our next Governor. Many women in Tasmania were overjoyed that Kate Warner was the Governor that we kind of expected that things would revert back to normal once our former Governor retired and it was such a relief to have a good woman appointed to that role. I thank the Honourable Kate Warner for the grace, kindness, courage and resolve that she brought to the role. It was Her Excellency, the Honourable Professor Kate Warner, who made sure the Aboriginal flag flies permanently at Government House in a mark of recognition for the palawa pakana people.

I am also very heartened by the Premier’s announcement or decision to commission Kate Warner to work with the broad Aboriginal community in Tasmania towards a truth-telling process, the mechanisms for treaty and hopefully the return of lands, because there has not been any land returned in Tasmania, from memory, since 2005 and it is well past time that there was the return of lands.

I listened very carefully to the Governor’s Address. I appreciate that it is in significant part influenced by the priorities of the government of the day and it has never really sat all that comfortably with me to hear a Governor mouthing words that are political in their nature and talk about, for example as we heard yesterday, the alleged great successes of the Gutwein Government.

I also listened very carefully for any mention of global heating or the biodiversity crisis and while there was some mention of renewable energy and some talk of our greenhouse accounts, there was no recognition that the reason Tasmania’s greenhouse profile looks as good as it does is because of the forests that have been saved by the work of conservationists over decades and indeed because of the 570 000 hectares of forest that was set aside under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, albeit that there are still 365 000 hectares of future reserve forests that remain unprotected and therefore threatened.

We did hear the words ‘the environment’ in the Governor’s Address and that was it - two words - and it is well past time that we stopped hearing from the major parties lip service to nature. I listened very carefully to the new Opposition Leader’s words on the importance on looking after the environment and it was very heartening to hear Mr O’Byrne make a point of that in his address-in-reply and also acknowledge the need to meaningfully tackle climate change, but the challenges that we face as a community are so significant - accelerating climate change, crashing biodiversity, assaults on nature. We have to work on these challenges together.

Like a number of members of this place, I attended the church service for the opening of parliament yesterday and half expected my head to catch fire because I am not a Christian, but I found the service to be very meaningful and a number of the sermons and the readings certainly should give us all pause in our roles in this place. I will revert briefly to a statement from one of my favourite scientists, astrophysicist Neil de Grassi Tyson, who said:

I am driven by two main philosophies: to know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others.

He says we are all connected to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically and to the rest of the universe anatomically.

Bishop Condie said yesterday in the speech that he has very kindly forwarded to me because I asked for a copy:

We have some massive challenges in Tasmania that seem to me are going to need something altogether different than the business as usual approach if we are going to see them solved. I do not have to tell you what they are. We all know about the challenges of health and homelessness, the scourge of domestic and intimate partner violence, of enough economic development to serve our wellbeing balanced with the care for these precious islands, their forests, rivers and mountains. The social and economic carnage from poker machines in our poorest municipalities and the alarming rate of youth suicide. And I am sure I could list many more. We need a new way to tackle these issues.

It is not a particularly profound insight to suggest that we will not solve these problems by pretending that one party or another has a monopoly on solutions. We are going to need to bring our best selves, all of our best selves, all of the collective wisdom and energy of all our minds, both sides of the parliament, both Houses together to tackle them.

We talk in this place of the importance of cooperation and collaboration. We have been back two days and we are already beating each other up. I am not saying that the Greens are perfect here, we have been participating in the fray because we will always stand up for nature, we will always defend the Bob Brown Foundation, but on key issues we are going to have to work together.

I listened to Ms Ogilvie’s reply to the Premier’s Address and she spoke of jobs, jobs, jobs, and the jobs unit that the Government is establishing. What we need here is what the New Zealand government has in place, which is a Just Transition Unit, where the machinery and the resources of government are working with industries that are having to change, adapt or close down.

I am very proud of my first-born son, who works in that Just Transition Unit, and the stories he tells of going into communities where, for example, there is an aluminium smelter that needs to be shut down, of working with the Maori people, with local government, with the unions to chart a path through so that those workers being left behind by change, by changing markets, are helped into industries so they can maintain the dignity of having meaningful full-time employment. We need a just transition program in Tasmania, Mr Speaker.

It is no longer justifiable to log native forests; the science tells us that. The science tells us that our carbon stalls are worth far more standing.

Economists like John Lawrence tell us that Forestry Tasmania, over the past 20 years or so, has lost about $1.3 billion. When we log native forests and chip them and send them off to China, for example, where they are not worried about forest stewardships certification, we would almost be better off filling the holes with $50 notes and shipping that north. Every time a tree in a native forest is felled and chipped, the Tasmanian people lose money. We also lose carbon, we also lose habitat. So, we need just transition for workers in the native forestry sector.

The data is really clear - all the growth in forestry is happening in the plantation sector. The data is also really clear about what the international market wants. The international market wants forest stewardship certified, sustainably harvested timber. The preference is strongly now for plantation timber.

So let us be responsible on this issue. Let us stop this pandering to the ideological old guard in the native forest logging industry. Let us stop treating workers in the native forestry sector like mugs, because their future is finite. Government should be working with these highly skilled workers, many of them in regional areas, to make sure that those skills, that knowledge and that love of the bush is harnessed in a way that leads to better social outcomes and better environmental outcomes. That is the responsible path forward.

Our priorities leading into this term of the Parliament: we want the recovery from COVID-19 to make sure that we have greener and fairer Tasmania, where no one is left behind. It is possible. We are an island of just over 500 000 people deeply connected to each other, yet we have enduring and crushing social equality. We have people who are getting notices from their landlords of $50, $100, $150 per week increases in rent. We have people living right at the margins in a state of acute stress.

I am really tired of hearing the Government talk about this golden age that we are allegedly in. I would encourage the Premier and his ministers to get our more and talk to families who cannot afford to pay the rent. It is possible to build 8000 new affordable energy-efficient homes over the next decade. It is possible to make sure every Tasmanian who needs a home has a home. It is about the choices that Government makes. Belatedly, what we are seeing from this Government is a recognition that the choices it made in its first term to under-invest in increasing the supply of social and affordable housing, to not regulate short-stay accommodation has had a devastating impact on Tasmanians who want to buy a home or Tasmanians who want to secure an affordable rental home.

Dr Woodruff and I will be watching the housing space very closely because without a secure home it is impossible for a person to properly engage in education, skills, training, employment, recreation, social connections. Housing is a critical and fundamental human right and this parliament has a responsibility in this term to turn around the housing crisis.

We also want to see a focus in this parliament on sustainability of our water supplies. The Greens will be moving, as we said during the campaign, for a parliamentary inquiry into Tasmania’s water management. We want to understand what are the pressures on our rivers and our water catchments. We think parliament should understand what are the issues with declines in water quality and in river health. Unfortunately the minister responsible for water in Tasmania is Mr Barnett, who wants $10 billion dollars of agriculture value by 2050.

Mr SPEAKER – Minister Barnett or Minister for Primary Industries rather than use personal names when reflecting on other members. We should keep that protocol if you do not mind.

Ms O'CONNOR – Thank you, Mr Speaker. I said the minister is Mr Barnett but I will take on board what you said. The minister, Mr Barnett, has overseen the development of a rural water use strategy. This is the document and it was released in March this year. This rural water use strategy is deeply flawed. It does not speak about the range of pressures on our water catchments. It does not engage with the issues of urban water supplies and quality. It certainly does nothing to reassure the Greens that this Government is serious about maintaining the health of our rivers. In every catchment, in every river system where there is an increased draw from irrigation we are seeing a decline in water quality. We are also seeing a decline in flow. This is a very serious issue. We can look no further than the Murray-Darling system to see what happens when there is imbalance in the allocation of water rights. We can look to New Zealand, which has some of the most polluted water ways in the world, because the dairy industry went gangbusters and it was largely unregulated. Now the brand of New Zealand is damaged because of its failure to keep its rivers healthy. There is active discussion in New Zealand now about letting the Maori take some control over rivers because there has been such an epic failure of successive governments in New Zealand. We need to avoid that.

PESRAC make some strong recommendations about the need for water sustainability. We also have a whole range of stakeholders who are increasingly ringing the alarm bells about what is happening with water. The Australian Fresh Water Sciences Society (AFWSS), in response to the Rural Water Use Strategy Position Paper, that is the ‘vision’ for the agricultural sector to have a $10 million value by 2050, the scientists say:

Given this vision and policy for growth in agriculture in Tasmania, it is surprising to see that the position paper does not fully acknowledge the serious environmental challenges this policy poses for Tasmania’s waterways.

They note that the last State Of The Rivers report is 12 years old, and an update on river health is long overdue. The AFWSS says:

We are concerned that an increase in water available for irrigation will also causes significant land use change that in turn will have detrimental effects on water quality. We agree that surface water models need to be updated but suggest that any future modelling efforts are also inclusive of water quality.

The independence scientists, the Tasmanian Independent Science Council, say:

Much to our concern it appears that the scientific advice and recommendations in our submission, as well as in the majority of other submissions, has been disregarded, either because it is considered to be out of scope or it is supposedly addressed through other mechanisms. This is disappointing and frustrating and a real failure of the process, as a number of the issues raised are absolutely central to form in the basis of a robust water policy.

The Anglers Alliance of Tasmania said:

The Anglers Alliance seeks a more precautionary approach and increasing research to address the stated lack of understanding of ecosystem impacts and resilience. Many aquatic organisms within Tasmania’s waterways are already listed as vulnerable or endangered. It is disappointing to note the significant lack of proposals to support and protect the environment considering excepted threats from climate change.

TasWater in its submission to the Rural Water Use Strategy, in its own quiet and slightly muted way, is also ringing the alarm. It says:

Under the Water Management Act 1999, town water supply along with other specified uses is assigned the highest priority of access to the state’s water resources. TasWater does not accept as appropriate the exclusion from scope of the highest priority water use, especially given the extent of catchments, where both urban and agricultural uses co-exist. Doing so risks a fragmented approach to planning for improvements to Tasmania’s management of water resources. This extends to both the management of water quality, and quantity. In particular, water quality has an insufficient prominence in the Rural Water Use Strategy Position Paper.

When you look at the Rural Water Use Strategy, water quality barely raises a mention. Christine Coughanowr, who ran the Derwent Estuary Program, says this in a talking point article that was in the Mercury in December last year:

Many Tasmanian water professionals are worried. Contrary to popular belief, we do not have clean and abundant water supplies across the state. Water restrictions are becoming more common, not only in the dryer areas of south eastern Tasmania, but increasingly in well-watered regions. The people of the once mighty Murray-Darling basin also thought they had limitless water supplies at one time, as have countless river basins around the world. Do we really need to tread the same path?

Remarkably, Dr Coughanowr says metering of rural water use is not generally required or reported in Tasmania. This is essential. You cannot manage water if you do not measure it. Agriculture currently receives more than 52 per cent of Tasmania’s fresh water allocations, compared to 20 per cent for aquaculture and 10 per cent for municipal water supplies and 9 per cent for industry.

We have a very important responsibility and opportunity as members of the 50th parliament to take on the big issues that are confronting this beautiful island and its people. The Climate Futures work tells us that there will be substantial changes in rainfall patterns across this island over the period that they measure to the year 2010 [???12:46:18]. The central highlands will become drier. I drove through the central highlands just last Saturday morning and was again stricken by the site of the Miena cider gums.

These are trees that are found nowhere else on the planet. Some of the Miena cider gums have marks in them from the palawa people of old. These trees are dying and the Miena cider gum is disappearing.

We have to take this on. We cannot just blithely carry on regardless as if the world is not rapidly changing and the climate is not rapidly changing. We have to underpin the policies and the decisions we make with robust science. I hope all members of this place recognise that protecting water, liquid gold if you want to call it that, the first medicine which it is, for the future for our children and our grandchildren is one of the most important tasks that we can undertake collectively. I hope the Government sees the benefit in supporting our move for an inquiry into water management in Tasmania.