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Reply to Premier's Address

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Tags: Political Leadership, Parliament, COVID-19, Tasmanian Aboriginals

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I start by acknowledging the palawa people of Tasmania as the original and continuing owners, the custodians of this beautiful island, lutruwita Tasmania. It was land stolen from them through violence; a dispossession that has brought a long arc of injustice, grief, pain and anger that continues in our community today.

The Greens are a party committed to truth telling, to treaty, to the return of stolen lands and to changing the date of our nation's day. We are also committed through the truth-telling process which will unfold this year, a very important year, to listening with truly open hearts and hearing with our ears open and being willing and prepared to take the actions that come from that truth-telling process.

Indigenous peoples have lived for tens of thousands of years with sustainable practices in all lands across this planet but in recent centuries contemporary societies have been responsible for treating nature like it is our worst enemy, dominating it and polluting it and doing everything possible to destroy it. Now the United Nations has identified in this decade, three crises which are threatening all peoples on earth: climate change, biodiversity loss and now they have added a third, pollution.

We have been grouped in Tasmania and globally in a COVID-19 pandemic that is ongoing, and we do not know where that will take us. It is a journey that has diverted our focus over the last two years and our resourcing from the fight to prevent planetary heating to unsustainable levels. Climate change is not a distant future, it is not happening in a far-off country. We have all seen the devasting loss and damage from climate inaction across Australia in the 2020 bushfire summer; and right now, we are all being gripped and still are at the ongoing flood hotspots and the damage that is unfolding in south-east Queensland, in northern New South Wales, especially Lismore and down into New South Wales.

I pay my respects to the families of people who have died in those floods, and to others who are waiting to hear about family members and friends who are still missing. I also pay my respects to the tens of thousands of people who are enduring a process of clean-up, and the thousands of people who have lost their home. Some of the people, in the Lismore area and parts of the Hawkesbury, have lost their homes multiple times. For some people, this is the third time in three years where their house has been inundated. People's houses have been flooded to the third storey. They have been flooded to two metres above and beyond the greatest previous recorded highest flood height. They thought they were safe, and some communities have totally rebuilt in recent times and all of their flood-proofing methods have been in vain.

There are communities in parts of eastern Australia that have been flooded that have far more resources, particularly Brisbane and parts of Sydney, than many vulnerable regional local government areas in Tasmania. I listened to the Mayor of Lismore talking about the 80 per cent to 90 per cent of the whole road network that has been completely destroyed in his shire, and the 2000 houses in his community that have been completely destroyed. His clean-up bill and restoration bill and rebuilding bill is in the high hundreds of millions of dollars.

These are costs which we cannot continue to bear. There are also costs which insurance companies may be, or already are, refusing to insure against. These are future situations that are developing in front of us where whole communities, maybe this time or maybe next year or in a few years' time, may not be able to rebuild at all. We are looking at a shrinking of areas, a densifying of people needing to live together in increasingly smaller parts of Australia that are safe from floods.

However, we know that no part of Australia is safe from the extremes of a climate that our heating planet is bringing us. We also know that the tremendous power and incredible computing intelligence, and intelligence of the people, in our national weather agency could not respond fast enough. They could not keep up with the astounding complexity and volatility of the overheated climate system. It was not a failure of the Bureau of Meteorology to predict what was happening in time; in fact, the Bureau of Meteorology's forecasts over the last two decades have been getting far more accurate. Instead what is happening is that weather events are happening in places that they never used to. There is no past historical record in areas for meteorologists to use to base predictions of what they can see coming on the radar. They do not know how it is going to play out because rising temperatures have so rapidly changed the weather system, and rainfall is disrupting forecasts.

In Tasmania, in Australia and in other parts of the world, we will not necessarily be able to predict and forecast the emergency support services that we need to be in place at a time for communities. Communities must have the support now to prepare themselves, to provide the resilience, and to create the networks of support. They need support understand how they will cope and survive in periods where they may be cut off from electricity, cut off from water, cut off from food and cut off from emergency health services for unknown periods of time, because that is what is happening to people in Australia right now.

What we are experiencing in Australia and around the world is at just 1.1 degrees of warming. In the words of Antonio Guterres, the Head of the United Nations:

Every fraction of a degree matters.

Every voice can make a difference.

And every second counts. [OK]

The latest IPCC report is on climate change and its impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. The IPCC report which was delivered on Monday this week, is, according to Antonio Guterres, '… an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership'. He is not a man to mince his words. He has a huge planet of issues that he is responsible for speaking about. Responsible, as we hear his voice, talking about the invasion of the peaceful people in Iraq. He is also bringing his mind on our behalf to these global issues of climate heating.

I praise the tremendous work of Tasmanian climate scientists who have been key contributing authors and other research contributors to this latest IPCC report. We are indeed in the forefront in Australia with our climate change research - we always have been. As a party, the Greens strongly support evidence-based policy, and we will never stop defending the need for independence of scientists and for the resourcing they need to do the work they do, on our behalf. The IPCC found, in their report, that people's health, lives and livelihoods, as well as property and critical infrastructure, including energy and transport systems, are being increasingly damaged and badly affected by hazards from heatwaves, storms, droughts and flooding, as well as slow onset changes of sea level rise. This is a grave point and we have to do everything we can to avoid the mounting loss of life and the loss of biodiversity and infrastructure and we must have an ambitious and accelerated program.

The IPCC report makes it very clear the challenges we have in front of us, this decade. We have to deal with climate risks that are appearing faster. They will get more severe and they will do that more quickly. We are not prepared, according to the report, even for the current impacts. The current situation is costing lives. That is the failure of governments in Australia and around the world to take leadership and to end the use of fossil fuels for an energy source and the amount of emissions that they create. More warming will bring us many more problems. Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees would make a substantial difference to the losses and damages that we are expecting through the heating of the planet that is in place; but even that will not eliminate those losses.

The conclusion of the report is that we have to restore nature. We have to protect at least 30 per cent of the earth by 2030, so that it is able to protect us. The other comprehensive finding of the report is all of this must be done in the context of bringing down carbon emissions as rapidly as possible.

The Premier did not waste words in his speech talking about the desperate need for climate change, preparation and planning. He spent three pages talking about sport and stadiums, but he did not talk about the need to legislate for a safe climate.

The IPCC's message is clear, the faster we cut emissions, the more climate damage we can avoid. Tasmania has to step up. We have been increasing our emissions in real terms over the past 20 years in transport, agriculture and mining. The Government still refuses to show leadership and to legislate targets for a reduction in emissions in those sectors and other sectors.

The Greens have a safe climate bill to be tabled. When the Government brings on its state climate action bill, we will be moving to amend that bill to reflect the standard we have placed in our bill, which is based on science. It is based on the urgency for action to cut emissions and it is based on the need to prepare for the future risk that all of our communities face.

The Premier and his Liberal ministers like to falsely claim that we are scaring children by talking about the way the world is. We know from listening directly to children in the climate action rallies, listening to child psychologists who speak to us that young people do not want to be gaslit. They want to have their reality affirmed by people in leadership. They want plans for transformative action to match the climate-heating threats that we all face.

We have an opportunity to make a real difference for our children and for everyone in the world living in low-lying areas that are already wading through rising waters. We can, for starters, end native forest logging in Burnie. That would keep our existing carbon stores in native forests intact rather than adding them, coupe by coupe, to the burden of global emissions.

I want to draw your attention, Mr Speaker, to this excellent declaration that was made at the Glasgow UN Climate Change Conference last November. The Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use emphasises the critical and interdependent world of forests of all types on biodiversity and sustainable land use, understands the need to achieve a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and the removal of sinks, and affirms the commitment to conservation protections, sustainable management and restoration of forests and other terrestrial systems and commits to halt and reverse forest lost and degradation by 2030.

It was signed by Australia among 124 other nations. This is something Tasmania must act on. We have to end native forest logging. We have to end land clearing, burning, destruction of habitat for the swift parrot, the Tasmanian masked ow and the other critically endangered animals like the Tasmanian devil, the wedge-tailed eagle. We have to retrain and redeploy Forestry Tasmania workers and we have to completely overhaul the planning laws which are deficient as they provide for offsets as a form of conservation.

Now is not the time for offsets because we do not have other land available to use for offset mechanisms. We need to recognise that the reseeding of monocultures and the drying out of landscapes that comes from clear-felling and burning not only trashes the forest communities and the biodiversity but it also significantly increases bushfire risk to local communities.

Climate change is massively overheating the atmosphere. There are new pyrocumulus clouds and fire storms that demand a totally different fire response and more resourcing for our mostly volunteer first responders to protect, as best as we can, our communities and wilderness. We were fortunate this year, but it will not be like that. I commend this season's response to the fire that was threatening the Olegas Truchanas stand an important part of the Tasmanian World Heritage Area.

We are very concerned about preparations for the future. We have had fires in Tasmania in 2013, 2016 and 2019. We want to know from the minister what have they learnt from these, and how is that being put into place. Because UNESCO was concerned about the 2018-19 fires in TWWHA, they required Tasmania to prepare a comprehensive fire management plan for the TWWHA. That consultation process finished on 22 October 2021. The work that comes out of that is critical to future protection of wilderness and the flow-on effect of fires that get away and threaten surrounding communities, like it did at Geeveston in 2019.

We would like to hear from the minister about that fire management plan. We want to know if the Government is going to urgently lobby the federal government to coordinate the massive increase in aerial firefighting capability we will need in future. What are we going to do in situations where other parts of Australia are burning? Is the Premier going to increase the number of remote area firefighters? It is a high priority.

Will the Government implement the fire management plan in this term of parliament? We need a plan to shift away from all fossil fuels immediately. It is a matter for every member of this House. Coal is deadly and expensive. We want a commitment from the Premier that the Government will end subsidies for thermal coal exploration and ban any thermal coal or gas mining in Tasmania or other coastal areas.

Swift parrots are almost extinct. The fantastic work done by scientist Jen Sanger and 18 other bird scientists provides a case for swift parrot protection. It involves ending the clear-felling and burning of nesting and flowering habitat required by the swift parrot for its survival. This is an essential step in what must be a major commitment that we make as a state, in this UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. This decade has started and runs to 2030. It is the same deadline that the IPCC has provided the human community to have an urgent and strong response to climate heating. We need to have healthy ecosystems to counteract climate change. We need them to stop the collapse of biodiversity and to provide us with the conditions that we need as people to grow food, to gift us with clean air and water, and every other natural material we use.

Ms O'Connor, the Leader of the Greens, outlined some of the work we will need to do to ramp up the political momentum for restoration across Tasmania's degraded landscapes, forests, flood basins, wetlands, rivers and grasslands. A critical step in ecosystem restoration is not only the mechanics of restoration itself, but, the regulations that have to be in place to make sure we are able to do the work of protection and conservation. That requires a functioning EPA. At the moment, in a biodiversity crisis, we must have a strong and independent EPA that is dedicated to putting the environment first. What we have is one which at every opportunity is required by statements of expectation issued by the minister to facilitate the needs of developers first and the environment tags along at the end, if they get there at all.

We have had a premier welcoming with open arms JBS's entry to Tasmania, the takeover of Huon Aquaculture. This company is currently in so many US ports, in multiple US EPA cases for violating clean water acts and dumping effluent. They have deforested over 42 000 of Amazonian forests, not to mention abattoir waste into Porkys Creek on King Island and walking away from the island's workers. It is frightening news for fishers and coastal communities that have seen the environmental damage that has already been caused.

For those of us in the community who have watched the degradation of our marine waters from the essentially unregulated activities of industrial fish farming, to have the Premier of Tasmania welcome with open arms the biggest industrial producer of protein on the planet, a vandal of a company, which has always put the workers and the environment, treated them as a by-product to making money, is frightening. It is particularly frightening when we have such a weak and ineffectual EPA, not because of the work of the staff but because of the laws that they work under.

It is the failure to regulate to put the environment first. There has been no effective change to the functioning of the so-called independent EPA; the second attempt at making it independent is just as cynical as the first. We will be constantly making this a focus of our work over the next year because it is critical to protecting the environment.

I want to talk about the issue that illustrates the heart of this Premier and the choice he has made about who he is going to put first in Tasmania. Who he has chosen to put first are the interests of businesses: vested interests of the tourism industry, of the hospitality industry, companies that will seek to have their needs met. They have been kept quiet for two years by the force of a world coming to terms with a pandemic.

Ms O'Connor and I had a great deal of faith and respect in the actions of the Premier in the first two years of the pandemic until his complete change prior to the opening of the borders, where he moved from slowing the spread of disease and flattening the curve and adopted a 'let it rip' strategy. People who are vulnerable have come last. He has made a commitment to an essentially dangerous public health response of living with COVID-19. That is code for focusing on the interests of the world and abandoning sick and old people, abandoning immunised compromised people and abandoning people with disability. It is a mainstream message of ableism.

It is failing to resource the public health protections that we need to put in place to keep Tasmanians safe. The word 'airborne' might be in some of the policy documents of the Government but they are not in the resourcing of the Minister for Health and they are not in the regulations that are being made about how people must seek to protect themselves in the community.

Unless there is mandatory universal mask wearing the first and best approach to dealing with an airborne virus then it says everything about the Premier's complete dismissal of this as an issue. He has decided to move on. It is too hard. He wants to normalise it. It completely disregards the serious and frightening prospect of a large level of chronic disease burden in Tasmania from the ongoing issues of long COVID-19.

We have not yet seen how long COVID-19 will play out. We have more than 50 000 Tasmanians who have been infected with COVID-19 and the research is very clear that some third of people will get long COVID-19 symptoms. They can cause long-term complications, such as twice the risk of heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and blood clots a year after the infection. The virus persists in the brain, the heart, the lungs and other organs. We know that it can create holes in parts of the brain which are similar to Alzheimer's disease. We know that it creates long-term lung damage. We know it will result in a chronic burden of serious illness - as if we needed more to deal with in Tasmania. We have one of the most under resourced health systems in Australia.

I want to give a shout out to all the nurses and midwives, their health care staff, the psychologists and psychiatrists, the doctors, the allied health workers, the emergency responders, the volunteer and paramedics who work in Ambulance Tasmania who have been working at breaking point now for over two years. The ANMF had to go to the Industrial Commission to try to get some fair intervention because the Government has failed to resource nurses and midwives to the ratios that we need to keep staff safe and to have quality patient care.

We must do better than that. The Premier can do better than that. Instead of talking about stadiums and circuses, he needs to focus on the real things that are everyday Tasmanians are facing; that is a house over their head when they need it and particularly getting health care when they need it. This is not the time to throw away our public health response of testing, tracing and surveillance. We know effective mask wearing makes a difference and we know we have to focus on preparation for this winter. We cannot assume the pandemic is over, because it is not.