You are here

Rosalie Woodruff Reply to Premier's Address

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 18 March 2021

Tags: COVID-19, Political Leadership, Climate Change

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I acknowledge that this land on which we stand today belongs to the palawa people. It was land that was never ceded. It was stolen, often through violence, and involved murder, rape, kidnapping and other atrocities. As a party, the Greens are committed to truth-telling. Many of those stories have not been properly voiced and listened to. We are committed to justice, including through a treaty and the return of lands to the palawa people. We are committed to listening and learning the wisdom of palawa people who have so much knowledge about this beautiful island, lutruwitta. They have cared for it and lived in harmony here for tens of thousands of years, and we have so much to learn today.

The events of 2020 will not be forgotten in the minds of anybody who lived through them. A highly infectious killer virus romped across the globe. It sparked international and state border closures. It caused lockdowns and social movement restrictions. The north-west outbreak occurred, with the army having to intervene. Thirteen Tasmanians died and many others suffered. Workplaces and schools closed. Businesses collapsed and tens of thousands of Tasmanians lost their jobs. We saw the effective freezing of all cultural and community activity for most of last year. There was, and is, extreme housing insecurity. Australians were stranded overseas, as were international students who could not get to university. There was continuing and widespread anxiety amongst Tasmanians about the rapidity of change, the loss of life as we knew it and the unknown future that this pandemic would usher in.

I want to record the Greens' gratitude for all the doctors, nurses and hospital staff and the testing and contact tracing people across the state who played a huge role in keeping people safe and caring for the sick. The Greens understand that the backbone of our state's successful response has been a publicly funded health system led by the extraordinarily hardworking Dr Veitch. We must never forget that when the chips are down, people and governments everywhere rely on state-funded systems to do the heavy lifting.

Too many Tasmanians right now are suffering real financial hardship that has been made so much worse by the pandemic, but also by the crushing rental and housing crisis we are suffering in Tasmania. The Greens helped make real changes during the COVID pandemic in rental relief and we are absolutely committed to do everything we can in this space, which is why we have tabled a rent relief bill today.

Ms O'Connor - Hear, hear.

Dr WOODRUFF - Throughout the COVID-19 era, the planet has continued to heat, even when carbon emissions dipped briefly from the worldwide COVID shutdowns and planes were grounded. While we have been gripped in a COVID crisis, we are still in a fight for our lives as our planet heats and edges towards unsustainable levels. Throughout the pandemic the Premier took his riding instructions from the Public Health evidence and the experts. So far he has failed to listen to the evidence of climate scientists and address the climate change emergency and the action that we need.

We know from the hard work of the now crowd-funded Climate Council that was once funded by the federal government until the Liberals cut the money, and from the hard work of those scientists compiling the Bureau of Meteorology data from the last year, that Australia has warmed far more than the global planetary average. We now are above 1.44 degrees Celsius since the records began - that is how much average temperatures have increased. I commend that report to all members; it is called 'Hitting Home: Compounding the Costs of Climate Change Impacts'.

The most shocking and arresting piece of information was that the average maximum temperature across the continent of Australia in 2019 was above 39 degrees for 33 days. That sounds like a large number but the fact is that those 33 days were more than all such days recorded over the previous 60 years. In other words, in just one year we have had a greater number of days above 39 degrees in Australia than we had for 60 years beforehand. That is really shocking in its indication of the rate of change and the heating of the planet.

During the Black Summer fires we crossed a tipping point for Australia's forests. In our typical fire seasons we would have maybe 2 per cent to 3 per cent of forest burnt in Australia but in 2020, 21 per cent of our forests went up in smoke. We have had a grim level of inaction from the federal Liberal government and so far the measured and gradual steps towards change are doing nothing to avoid catastrophe.

The children and adults who have rallied across the state for a safe climate and the XR protesters who put their bodies on the line know that only truly transformative action at this point will make a difference. Much greater dangers lie ahead if we do not act with the urgency that science demands. The science says we have to halve global emissions this decade and Tasmania has to step up. The Premier has to get out of his comfort zone. He has to stop pandering to the logging right of the party. He is happy to spruik Tasmania as a carbon-neutral travel destination but he will not take action to protect our forests.

Our state's carbon-neutral claim is smoke and mirrors. With the signing of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, the clear-felling of native forest plummeted and the regrowth of native forests and plantations since then has driven reductions in the Tasmanian net carbon emissions. The Liberals ripped up the TFA and have gone back to the bad old divisive days of forest destruction. We have protesters back in the forests putting their hearts and bodies on the line to protect these tremendous storehouses of carbon and biodiversity. We have to grow our carbon stores. We have to hold on to centuries of stored carbon in old forests. We have to end native forest logging and end the mad carbon-emitting, health-damaging practice of napalm-fuelled logging burns. We know it, the scientists know it and the 250 doctors who wrote to the Premier last year calling for an end to native forest logging to protect people's lives and health know it too.

The PESRAC report says it clearly. We cannot rest on our laurels - the state of smug contentment that the Liberals project on climate change is not the action our children need. PESRAC makes the point that underlying emissions from other activities, other sectors, continue to grow, particularly from industrial processes, manufacturing, and construction, and this must be dealt with.

A review was required by the Tasmanian Government into the State Climate Change (State Action) Act 2008 every four years. The last review was completed with the report published in October 2016. That report made a number of recommendations that are necessary, but extremely tepid. Nonetheless, there were recommendations that ought to have been acted on, but it was not for another two years until the Liberals put out a belated discussion paper into the community. Despite public consultations for that finishing in November 2018, there has been zero action on any amendments to the state climate act: zero action. So, when the Premier talks about action, his Government has been seven years in government and we have seen no concrete changes to the state climate act. It is woeful and completely out-of-date legislation.

Our gross carbon emissions are high by global standards. If we look at the per person emissions, they are off the tree. Peter Boyer has done the maths for us. If we were a country, only six other countries would beat Tasmania in our carbon emissions - and Australia would be at the top of the list of countries. We cannot wait for the state act review. The Greens have a safe climate bill. It is tabled now and we will bring this bill on for debate this year. That acknowledges that we are in a climate emergency and it is a threat to life on earth. Our bill establishes a framework for Tasmania to respond with near-term and medium-term targets and mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It will protect and increase carbon stores. It will establish an action plan for climate adaptation. It is a landmark legislation for climate action and it is the sort of response that PESRAC has pointed out we have to have.

Our state has a government that is either blind to the environment, or it is actively bent on destroying it. It oscillates between those two states. With every responsibility they should have shouldered to care for the environment, you can be confident that the Liberals in government have either defunded it, or starved it of funds until it is just a public relations box that is left to be ticked. They have done the job badly to justify their inaction. They have refused to fund it at all, or they knowingly are going ahead with accelerating the extinction of species.

The war on wildlife is continuing to ramp up under the Liberals. We have regional forest agreements in place that have been denounced by Graham Samuels in his review of the APPC Act. They are a failed mechanism. It is entrenching environmentally destructive practices through native logging and through logging native forests, and releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. Environmental laws that effectively carve out an exemption for native forests are totally incapable of protecting biodiversity. The very nature of native forests logging industry is to flatten and burn forest, to destroy the homes of critically endangered species along the way. There are just 300 swift parrots remaining on the planet, but the Liberals continue to log nesting and feeding trees in the southern and eastern forests.

Under this Government so many of the animals and plants that we love are perilously close to extinction. Some 700 species of animals and plants are listed as under threat in Tasmania. Only 26 per cent of those have recovery plans and most of them are out of date and underfunded. The stalking and killing of native birds, mammals and reptiles from cats at large is horrifying and entirely preventable. The Liberals backed away from cat confinement laws at the last minute, despite the overwhelming coalition of farmers, cat owners, conservationist, councils and cat shelters. Shame.

Raptors are at high risk from electrocution from overhead powerlines, from cruel and ignorant shooters and from badly sited wind farms. The raptor refuge, eagle experts and vets across the state are run off their feet picking up dead and damaged birds. Watching the number of eagles, harriers, goshawks, sparrow hawks, boobooks and other raptors plummeting is horrifying. Carers on the front line of the wildlife crisis in Tasmania get chickenfeed from the Government and its GBE, Tas Networks. There is no financial support for injured wildlife or for wildlife carers. There is no veterinary, wildlife training, no money for wildlife emergency and remedial medical treatment for animals.

There are meaningful actions that we can take to arrest the catastrophic pressures on raptors and other birds, as well as mitigating the dangers of powerlines. We can, for example, proactively plan where wind farms should go. Robbins Island is the primary migratory bird habitat in Tasmania. It is a critical port of call for birds from the far northern hemisphere. It is a wetland wilderness that fits the Ramsar Criteria for protection and it is no place for one of the largest wind farms that is proposed in Australia.

The Liberals seem to see the native animals as an inconvenience, a pest, a crop destroyer and a nuisance. In the north-west at least 30 Tassie devils have been killed so far this year on the roads adjacent to the Van Dairy Company, but there has been silence from the Government and the EPA. Every year hundreds of thousands of native animals are authorised to be killed through game licences. Crop-protection permits to kill native animals are handed out in DPIPWE like, it seems, lollies at a party.

The duck hunting season started two weeks ago. There were 30 people on Moulting Lagoon protesting the start of the duck hunting season because we have, in this Government, a minister who does not even listen to the experts in his department, refused to take the advice last year of abandoning the duck hunting season because the pressure on wetlands from the mainland drought was so great that we are seeing fewer wetlands and fewer wetland birds overall in eastern Australia. We have to provide a refuge in Tasmania for birds that come here, seeking our wetlands in drought periods. We have to look after the native species we have. Nearly 50 000 were killed the year before last, but the minister ignored the advice. The community will not stop. The community will continue to argue that this is a cruel and pointless activity and it has to be abandoned completely.

The native species population data that is collected by DPIPWE is totally inadequate in reflecting the pace and scale of developments and climate change on impacting native species. We basically have no real idea how habitat and species survival is being impacted at the moment. It is an Orwellian move that the Liberals in Government have stopped the flow of information about the environment. They have stopped producing the state of the environment report completely, despite having a legislative responsibility to do one every four years. The last report card on the Tasmanian environment was in 2009, 12 years ago. It is shameful that this is the case. We should have had one in 2013 and 2017, and another one is due this year. I notice the Premier did not announce he would be doing it in his Address. Where is it?

We funded this sort of work in our alternative budget, just as we funded all the other things I have mentioned so far, all the wildlife carer support, all the work on powerlines, all the removal of crop-protection permits. This is the sort of thing that can be done if a government truly prioritises sustainability, which is exactly what this PESRAC Report recommends the Government take up: sustainability, a vision and a strategy that has to be done immediately.

But it is not enough to have a vision and a strategy if you do not have the laws to back it up. It is very hopeful of PESRAC to think that producing a sustainability vision and strategy will be enough to force the Liberal and Labor parties to prioritise the environment's interest. Unless we change the laws, unless we change the LUPAA and the EMPCA, unless we have an independent EPA, we will always be almost incapable of holding governments of any persuasion to account without rights to appeal, without enshrined protections for animals and plants, and without enshrined protections for habitat. It is almost impossible to prevent the development interests that are prioritised under Labor and Liberal governments.

Under the Liberal Government at the moment, our reserves and wild places are open for private business. We have Rosny Hill and Kangaroo Bay, Westbury Reserve, Lake Malbena and the south coast in the TWWHA, Cambria Green on the east coast. Even wild and sacred kunanyi is not safe from development.

We have an EPA that is independent in name but not law. The board is directed to work to the policies of the government of the day and its focus is on maintaining industry productivity and not on putting the environment's interest first. It cannot and does not seriously challenge or penalise companies when they damage the environment.

We only have to look at the relentless expansion of fish farming into Storm Bay, up the east coast of the state and the threats to the north-west. We have communities from the Huon, D'Entrecasteaux, Bruny Island, Tinderbox, Long Bay, White Beach and Nubeena on the Tasman Peninsula, South Arm and Clifton Beach, Triabunna, Montagu, Smithton and King Island. All of these communities are already reeling either from the impact of industrial farming in their delicate marine waters, or are girding themselves for the proposed expansion into their beautiful waters.

The laws that should be protecting communities and marine integrity are clearly broken when we have a marine farming planning review panel that can make an approval on the massive expansion into Storm Bay without being quorate, and after the two women expert scientists resigned from the board in disgust at the lack of independence. There was no baseline data collected in advance of that approved expansion and there is nothing to measure salmon farming impacts against. The Greens will continue to work to change our laws to make sure we have appeal rights and to make sure we establish an independent EPA.

In Tasmania we have a Resource Management Planning System created in 1993 that is the basis for all our land, sea and air planning laws. The objective of the RMPS is to promote the sustainable development of natural and physical resources and the maintenance of ecological processes and genetic diversity. The objectives recognise that we should only use as much of our natural resources as will allow future generations to have their needs met and that we have to safeguard the life-supporting capacity of our eco-systems.

It is kind of funny when you look at the objectives that were written in 1993 by the Resource Management Planning System and you read the report from PESRAC. PESRAC has made some fantastic statements about the importance of protecting the environment, some very important statements about strong sustainable development and what it means, and they make it very clear that we have to, as they say, look at meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. PESRAC was clear and it is interesting that they are saying essentially what we already have enshrined in our Resource Management Planning System objectives.

The point is that we have a problem. We have a problem when we have had objectives enshrined in legislation from 1993 but we have planning and environmental laws which enable rampant development of fish farms into Storm Bay. We have planning laws that allow a sprawling development and the takeover of publicly owned reserves for private development. Everything about our planning system does not make it possible to do what PESRAC recommends, which is to build energy-efficient houses, small houses, large public open spaces and small dense dwellings. The systems we created, the laws, have been ransacked over the years by the Liberal and Labor parties in government and stripped of the parts that make sure that environmental interests are protected and that communities have a real say in the planning process and are able to challenge decisions.

They are being progressively amended to prioritise developers' interests against the interests of the community and the environment. Until we fix the anti-sustainability of the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act and the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act, we cannot hope to do what PESRAC recommends. Strategies, action plans and community talkfests are nice, but they mean diddly squat for environmental and cultural heritage protection.

If you are a small business or home owner right now, the state of our laws is that development approvals are incredibly expensive, time-consuming and an administrative nightmare. However, large developers with deep pockets can pretty much build what they want, where they want, and the red carpet has been rolled out in the planning and environmental laws for them.

A recent example: the major projects legislation passed with the enthusiastic support of Labor whittled away more of the Tasmanian Planning Commission's independence, giving more power to executive decision-making. The recent Interim Planning Directive 4 was foisted on councils by the Planning minister, without any consultation. The Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT) had no idea what was in it, and what is coming, effectively.

If you believe the minister's spin, IPD4 was meant to help councils in the transition period to the final Tasmanian Planning Scheme. The reality from councils' point of view is that it has created confusion and it overrides the councils' own consultation processes with their communities for the new scheme.

Since the Liberals took office in 2014, we have seen a breathtaking change to the health system. The Liberals, when coming to government, said they were going to fix the broken health system that previously existed. The evidence is that what they have done is smash it up quite a lot more, and what we have is some devasting trends in the wrong direction for people's health and against all national standards.

We have elective surgery waiting lists that have grown by more than 4000 patients, a 56 per cent increase. The average overdue time people have to wait for urgent elective surgery has ballooned from 15 days in 2014, to 99 days now. The average ambulance emergency times have grown even longer, from 11.3 minutes to 13.8 minutes. Every minute counts.

Each year the Liberals have failed to increase the cost of the health system to keep up with the extra patients who are turning up and the real cost of medical care. We recognise that it is preventative health, and the money going into preventative health, that makes all the difference to people's health and wellbeing. That is something the Liberals talked about so much. When Michael Ferguson was Health minister, he was going to fix Tasmanians' health and make it the best in the country. He persisted with that for a couple of years, until he realised it was too hard, especially when you do not put any money behind it. That has been completely dropped.

Instead, what we are seeing is community health centres and allied health professionals serially underfunded, year-on-year, and that means people living in regional and remote Tasmania have such a hard time accessing the basic health services they need to make sure that they do not end up in an emergency department.

The Greens have some very strong commitments in the area of health and in our alternative budget we have put $19 million extra into community health centre staffing and $4 million extra in community preventative health. As well as changing some of the issues which lead to people's health being eroded over time, we especially support strong smoking legislation. We particularly want to change the law that criminalises people for personal use of illicit drugs. There is no argument at all, medical or moral or social, to justify criminalising people and making them part of the criminal justice system for simply personal use of drugs. We are committed to legalising cannabis and having a regulatory framework that makes it clear what the health warnings are, with support for people. At the moment we are in an ideological battle with the war on drugs, which makes it difficult for people to access services when they need it and to get the treatment they need.

I finish by saying that the Liberals' track record in Corrections is appalling. They do not know the meaning of rehabilitative justice and the idea of building a second prison in northern Tasmania, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and tens of millions of dollars every year in a punitive approach instead of putting it into rehabilitative justice, is madness. It is totally mad to think they will get away with putting it on the beautiful Westbury Reserve. Westbury Reserve is a haven for birds and many other animals. It is remnant forest that is part of the Tasmanian Reserve Estate and must be maintained - and the community will continue to fight for that and we will be right behind them.