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State of the State

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 11 April 2019

Tags: Environment, Bushfires, Climate Change

State of the State Reply 2019: Woodruff


Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on the Premier's Address. Listening to the Premier deliver his address a couple of weeks ago was like being in a parallel universe. The universe that I live in and the universe that is the real world is the one where the United Nations has said the critical decade in front of us gives us just 11 years to dramatically cut our carbon emissions. It is also the universe where a recent massive bushfire in southern, central and north western Tasmania decimated 3 per cent of the state's area, burnt 6 per cent of the World Heritage area and nearly wiped out a number of important regional towns.

The world in which the Premier delivered his address was one in which he lives along with the Liberal Party in Tasmania and at the federal level. He spoke for 35 to 40 minutes without giving a nod to the bushfires which have just happened. He did not mention climate change in any meaningful way. This is a government which continues to live in a world which is not the one Tasmanians inhabit. It is dangerous to continue to deny what is happening around us and to not take this year as a really important turning point for this state from both a budgetary point of view and an action and planning point of view to set us up as well as possible for the coming decades and centuries where climate has changed and will continue to change beyond our control as well as play our part in mitigating the emissions we are contributing, along with other countries on the planet, that is increasing the level of warming to what many scientists believe is endangering human life and other ecosystems.

When I go into a neighbour's house I can still smell the smoke from the bushfires. I live in Cygnet, across the river from Geeveston, and this summer was very stressful for everyone who lived in southern, central and north-western Tasmania. I fear it is the new norm for us in Tasmania, that summers will be increasingly approached with a level of anxiety and stress. Some people who have had that recent experience will be sensitised to come to the next summer with a level of anxiety which they have not previously felt.

The experience of living through two solid weeks of smoke-filled air is very unusual for Tasmanians. People who lived through the 1967 bushfires were very surprised at how drawn out this fire period was. That was not the experience in 1967. The fire went from the western side of the Huon River, jumped to the eastern side and went to the Derwent just in one day. This was a very different profile of bushfire, and what we have come to understand from Dr David Bowman and other pyroecologists at the university here, and from people overseas, is that this is what we have to adapt and respond to.

What is clear is that we have new and changed threats to wilderness and human settlements. We have an international responsibility to protect our wilderness and we have seen footage from some of the world's most loved, and certainly Tasmania's most well-known wilderness photographers, Rob Blakers and Grant Dixon, incredible photographs that they took of the damage that occurred to the World Heritage Area. In Huon Gorge fire-prone ridges were burnt to gravel and relic vegetation including rainforest was burnt through. The Cracroft Valley, where there are old-growth forests including rainforest, was also burnt through. The rainforest and tall eucalypt there will take centuries to recover, if at all. The Crest Range's old-growth forest is also expected to take centuries to recover, if at all.

There was also fire encroachment at Mount Bobs, which protects the largest surviving forest of Tasmanian endemic King Billy pines and incineration of that paleoendemic stronghold was only avoided due to the absence of a very hot windy day. There was no strategy and no resources allocated that could have averted that global catastrophe if the weather had not changed as it did. The East Picton Valley was an extremely flammable post-logging region with a rainforest understory which has damaged rainforest and tall eucalypt that will take centuries to recover, if at all. The middle Huon Valley had sassafras and myrtle killed that will probably never recover and at Federation Peak the fire burnt to within only a few kilometres of Tasmania's most iconic mountain, a stronghold of King Billy pines and other paleoendemic vegetation.

This was the photographic evidence, and people can have a look at this on the Mercury website if they want to have a look for themselves at the damage that has occurred. What we do not have is the emotional evidence of the impact on people's lives and the incredible amount of work, care and kindness that was shown by all the people, paid and unpaid, who responded to that bushfire.

I want to thank all the people who were involved in the fire response, in my experience as a member for Franklin in the Huon Valley, people who worked for weeks. I spoke to one man who worked 23 days non-stop camped on the floor on an inflatable mattress in the fire station at Geeveston because they did not have enough beds. He was basically sleeping on the concrete floor on a lilo for 23 nights and going out every day to fight the fire.

I spoke to a woman at the Geeveston Fire Station who decided to cook the food each day for the firefighters who came back. She did that work by herself because other people were busy doing other things and every single day she cooked roasts and other meals for the people who came back.

This is the way the Tasmanian community comes together. What brings me hope and spirit is knowing that regardless of our differences and views about how the world is and how we should respond, the next time there is a catastrophic bushfire - and it will come - we will all be together fighting that fire. We all need to reflect on that. We are all affected together by the changes that are happening, which is what gives me great hope that we will find solutions together. Despite the fact that this Liberal Government continues to fail to act in the way it needs to on the threats confronting us, I know that ultimately we will all find the solutions we need to find, because we have to.

Yesterday, 23 fire chiefs from around the country made a very impassioned call for the Prime Minister and the Leader of the federal Labor Party to take action and understand that we must do everything we can to accept that 'climate change is upon us, it is perilous, and we need to do more about it'. They were the words of Bob Conroy, a fire manager. We also had present the former head of the Tasmanian Fire Service, Mike Brown. These people know firsthand the experience of fighting fires. They know much better than any of us that this is a serious change which has happened in their recent lifetime of fighting fires and in the profile of fire, and that has been caused by global warming and the change in climate.

I want to talk about how we need to respond and the action we need to be taking in this state in the next year. The Greens have been thinking about and working on this, and the good news for the Liberal Government is that they can take heart because we have solutions. There are responses we can take. The scientists are telling us that we have a very short amount of time to act, only 11 years. The International Panel on Climate Change produced the report I have in my hand titled Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5℃ last October. The 90 scientists from around the world who put that together make it very clear that the 1.5℃ maximum level that we can possibly reach in terms of the average temperature on the planet and be confident - or at least be comfortable that there is a prospect that humans and ecosystems will be able to survive that way we have done. That level is fast approaching, much faster than we thought only five or 10 years ago.

They have called strongly for us to do everything we can to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. We have to claw back the use of fossil fuels so that we reach a zero fossil fuel use in 2040 and that we have reduced our emissions to zero by 2040. That means that we should be reducing our emissions by 45 per cent in only 11 years' time.

Climate change is not a theory any longer and it is not a model. It is at the door, it is in the house, it is what is happening now. This is calling for us to respond in a way that we have never done before. It requires a major transformation in many aspects of society, and in the next 10 years.

It is a daunting prospect if you think about that in its totality. What we have to do is pull it apart, piece by piece, and get on with it and solutions are being proposed all the time. The first and obvious contribution that Australia can make is to stop exporting coal, stop digging it out of the ground: 80 per cent of Australian coal goes overseas. We have to stop that completely. There is no sense in making a decision about where to balance the risks and making a decision to continue to export coal when we know that it is threatening human life and the existence of all ecosystems. For the last three years in Australia, our Australian carbon dioxide emissions have gone up. We need these to be going down dramatically. Clearly, the situation as it is, cannot remain.

At the moment at the federal level we literally have no climate change policy operating. There is no functioning climate change policy in Australia and there has not been for at least six years. There has been a series of revolving prime ministers, all of whom have failed to take action against the coal lobby and against the conservative arm of the Liberal Party, which is committed to coal at any costs. This is what we have to get rid of. We have to get rid of this federal Liberal Government.

We cannot let the Labor Party have a mandate to rule at the federal level because they also are committed to coal. They will not shut the door on Adani. We have to have all parties in Australia making a commitment to end coal mining. That is what the Greens are committed to.

That is what the young people are calling on us to do. They have read the science, looked around the world and they are quite clear that we must feel the fear, in the words of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old from Sweden, 'I want you to feel fear. This is a crisis.' Contrast that with Scott Morrison and his comments about coal in parliament, laughing as he held up a piece of coal and said, 'Don't be afraid of it. Don't be scared.' Thinking people are scared but thinking people are also committed to action.

From the leadership that the young people have shown, it is through collective action that we will achieve effective change and we will bring hope and lift the clouds of depression that so many young people and adults are feeling, a sense of paralysis about what to do next which makes many people feel like pulling the doona over their head. I do not blame them.

It is a lot to take in. That is our job, to open our eyes. It is clear we need a new economic vision and it has to be compelling. We have to be off carbon deposits. Essentially, we are leaving a period that humans have inhabited for a really long time, a nice predictable period with predictable cycles of climate. We are moving into unpredictable water cycles: that is what happens when there is a warmer planet.

We need to end business as usual and that is what was so disturbing about hearing the Premier's Address - it was 40 minutes of business as usual. It was essentially a shopping list of roads, a preelection shopping list that completely ignored the biggest issues that we face, including the threat of bushfires next summer. It completely ignored the fact that all of our ecological systems in Tasmania, as they are planetary-wide, are in crisis.

I want to talk about the fantastic work that has been done in the northern Midlands of Tasmania by Island Ark and also with the worker scientist from UTAS, the Bushfire CRC, the CRC for Forestry, Greening Australia, and a number of landowners in the northern Midlands. They are working hard to restore and connect the habitat to create a stronghold for the next 50 years and beyond so that some of our most critically endangered animals can still be travelling with us in Tasmania in 2080. That is one of their goals and it is a beautiful goal because it is very clear - we want to have the animals that we have around us here when our children and grandchildren are growing up. They are beautiful but they also contribute to the health of the systems that we live in.

We are just finding out more and more all the time about the little bettongs that are an important part of snuffling and turning over the soil under trees so that the eucalypts can survive for a lot longer than they would otherwise.

Ms O'Connor - Same for echidnas.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. You are absolutely right.

The work that is being done in the northern Midlands is important. Healthy woodlands have aesthetic value but they also provide an ecosystem service. They give shade and shelter for animals, they reduce erosion and hold the structure of the soil, they improve the quality of water, they control the pests, and they are important for maintaining biodiversity. All of these things are critical for farmers to be able to continue to farm. They are as much about protecting the quality of the soils for agriculture as they are about protecting the integrity of the woodlands themselves. The aim of this work is to try to keep a connective corridor between the eastern and western side of Tasmania. This matters to keep these links and the research that the scientists are doing is practical. It is showing us how we can do that and how we can stop tree decline and the enormous decline in a number of eucalypts species which unfortunately is happening because of the changing climate and the increasing dryness.

We want to have a marine environment which is densely full of marine life which is able to respond and deal with the warming waters that we are already experiencing. Some of the fastest warming waters on the planet are off the eastern coast of Tasmania, so we want to have a marine environment which is as healthy as possible to be able to adapt to those warming waters. Instead, sadly and concerningly, we are hearing that the eastern waters of Tasmania are in a very serious state of crisis. The work from the IMAS scientists released in December makes it very clear that unless we act very fast 32 per cent of eastern coast rocky reefs will be gone by 2021 and that is an incredible loss. That is only in two years' time, and knowing the scientists and that work that is probably a conservative estimate. It may well be the case that we have already suffered that extensive loss.

There are many reasons but a predominant reason is Centrostephanus, or the sea urchin which has come in through the warmer waters and is creating sea urchin barrens. We know that the only effective predator of the sea urchins is the rock lobster, so unless we do everything we can to help rock lobsters to survive and grow to an old enough age to predate upon sea urchins, we are at risk of losing our rocky reefs, and with them will go the abalone and rock lobster commercial industries and the recreational fishing industries for abalone and rock lobster.

This is another huge change which is happening in a large ecosystem in Tasmania and it requires us to take concerted action and have leadership from this Government. The Greens will continue to shine the light on the ineffectiveness of the laws we have in Tasmania to protect our marine environment. Not only do we have an EPA that does not have the legal teeth to be able to go after an oil rig that comes in and get an inspection of the risks and what it carries on it that was sitting in the Derwent for a couple of months, we do not have an EPA that has the teeth to prevent the expansion of fish farms into areas which are clearly not suitable - Storm Bay, for example. We do not have laws that have created a marine farming panel that protects the independence and integrity of scientists, so the decisions made by the marine farming panel are essentially rubber-stamping for whatever the salmon farming industry would like to do and wherever they would like to go.

The other system that needs our concerted attention is the current situation with plastic and waste. Since the Liberals came to government in 2014 the then minister, Mr Groom, had a waste levy sitting on his desk that he could have signed off. Instead, he did not do what all the councils around Tasmania agreed would be a good idea, and he put that aside. We have had another five years where we desperately need a state-based levy. We desperately need a container deposit scheme in Tasmania. We are the second-last state in Australia to have one. It has been sitting there strongly supported by the community. It is strongly supported by the Scouts and community groups and it will make every difference to reducing the ocean of plastic which is developing and affecting every part of the marine environment filtering down. Microplastics are now found in every part of the benthic layer in birds, mammals and ultimately in human food. This is something we have to take action on. It is sitting here and is something the Greens will continue to push for this year.

We will continue to speak for strong gun laws in this state. We know that we must never weaken gun laws or pander to certain sections of the community who would like to put personal convenience above safety. There are many reasons we must look to keep our strong gun laws. We do not need to go further than what happened here in Tasmania at Port Arthur but we have had recent evidence of New Zealand taking heart from what we did and using our strong Tasmanian gun laws as an example that they have picked up and now have also brought in strong gun laws in New Zealand. We will continue to be the party that fights for strong gun laws in Tasmania.

We will also be the party that continues to speak up for people in the justice system when nobody else cares about them. We believe that the manner in which a society treats its weakest and most defenceless people says everything about the character of that society. We must understand the relationship between providing a house for people and the effect it has on their life.

In conclusion, we are at a critical juncture that demands we have out-of-the-box thinking and not business as usual. It was very depressing to hear the weak address from the Premier a couple of weeks ago when we know that the planet is warming far more rapidly than it can absorb.

Health and housing in Tasmania are catastrophically underfunded which is creating a gap between Tasmanians, those with a house and those without, and that gap is tragically enormous and intergenerationally unjust. It is having an impact on people's lives every day; whether they are personally without a house or living in rental stress, they know somebody who is. It is an example of the importance of working to make sure we reduce that gap because there are many challenges for us as a state and, at its core, we need people to have the basics of life and there are clearly Tasmanians who do not have a house, access to the health services they need when they need it, access to food of the right quality and nutritional benefit and who do not have mental health services when they need them. We need to bridge that gap to prioritise the things that mean the most to people.

The Budget the Treasurer delivers will tell everything to Tasmanians about the things that the Liberals value. I hope the Premier has listened to what has happened in recent times from the firefighters who spoke out, from the children on the school strikes for climate, from the unions who are asking for respect and conditions and salary; that he listens to those people and understands that the budget he delivers must speak to the poorest Tasmanians and the children of the future who will be here sitting in this parliament in 10, 20 and 30 years' time working on the issues of governing for a just Tasmania in a climate which will probably be different to the one we have today. The job of this Government is to deliver a budget for the next year so we can act on the things in Tasmania that matter the most.