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State of the State Address

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Tags: Gun Control, Pokies, Pill Testing, Climate Change

20 March 2019 State of the State O'Connor


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) -

Mr Deputy Speaker, we are standing on land that was never ceded by the palawa pakana.

We are a Parliament that has yet to reconcile with our history, and we are an island community that is yet to come to terms with the enormous suffering and dispossession of our first people.

I acknowledge in my first substantive contribution in this second session of the Parliament Aboriginal elders past, present and emerging, and commit the Tasmanian Greens to working towards true reconciliation, the return of lands and a treaty with the first people of Tasmania.

It is hard to listen to the contributions of the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition in the frame of the student strike for climate that happened here on Parliament Lawns last Friday. When we talk about the state of the State, yes, there is much to celebrate, and yes, we are blessed to live on this island as Tasmanians, but let us be frank, it is not all rosy. 

Tasmania is a state that is grieving. We are a State that is enduring the trauma of remembering again, because of the events of last Friday in New Zealand, the horror of the Port Arthur massacre. We are a State that is grieving after the bushfires that wiped out more than 3% of this island's landscape.

We are a State where young people are kept awake at night in fear over the future, where young people say to me and to Dr Woodruff, 'I couldn't sleep last night I am so frightened about climate change'.

We had a Premier who delivered a State of the State address yesterday that did not mention climate change. We are a Parliament living through a climate emergency. We have 10 years to get this right. Human beings, humanity, civilisation, has 10 years to act very fast to turn this sorry ship around and make sure the next generation of kids is not kept awake at night because the body politic in Australia is fiddling while the planet burns. 

People know where the Greens stand on those key issues. People know we have a set of values that we stick to and sometimes we will make statements or have policy positions that are ridiculed by our opponents in this place. They are ridiculed by vested interests like the Tourism Industry Council when we stand up to defend the wilderness, or the gambling lobby when we point out the ethical corruption of both the Liberal and Labor parties now on the issue of the removal of poker machines from pubs and clubs.

People know where we stand, and to give credit where it is due, people know where this Liberal Government stands too. They find it wanting, they find it short term, but they do know where this Liberal Government stands. They know this Liberal Government does not have a plan to tackle climate change, they know this Liberal Government has neglected public services in Tasmania, underinvested in health, education and housing and is now playing catch-up. They understand that.

They know this Liberal Government does not understand what wilderness means and is prepared to exploit it for private profit and to send a signal to industry that the last free real estate, Tasmania's protected areas, is up for sale.

People know where the Liberals stand. They know where Dr Woodruff and I stand. They have serious questions in their minds now about where Labor stands.

I listened very carefully to the Leader of the Opposition's contribution. It was not until the end that we had any sort of articulation of a vision for Tasmania. Twenty-five minutes of the Leader of the Opposition's contribution was dedicated to bashing up the Government.

This Leader of the Opposition has been the Leader of the Opposition for more than two years now. You have had a year since the election and we still do not know where you stand, Ms White. What we know is that last March, Tasmanians in good faith cast their vote for Labor on the back of their position on the removal of poker machines from pubs and clubs. People cast their vote in trust because they thought, at last, Labor is prepared to do something brave and go to the election on a position of principle. Within less than a year since election day, Labor has collapsed on its pokies policy. That means the gambling industry which funnelled millions of dollars into a Liberal win, has had another win. 

The gambling industry wins with the major parties in this place twice over. It got the Government it wanted. Now it has the Opposition it wanted.

This is not a discussion that we have in an abstract. When we talk about gambling policy in Tasmania, we are talking about human beings, families, children. We are talking about the evidence that gambling addiction can and has led to; suicide, child abuse and neglect, poverty, homelessness, entrenched disadvantage over a lifetime.

We knew the Liberals would back in the industry. There was never a doubt about that. This Labor Opposition caved at the first hurdle. It has abandoned those people who, over the next 25 years should Labor continue to collapse on this issue, out to 2048, will suffer immeasurable harm as a result of gambling addiction, the proliferation of poker machines in our communities and the individual licensing model, which, as the previous Gaming Commissioner made clear, will cause more harm than the current monopoly Deed. 

I want to briefly talk about pill testing. It is the Labor Party's policy to support pill testing because it saves lives. That is backed up by the medical profession. What do we get on radio this week? The Leader of the Opposition walking away from another policy. The reason I highlight this, Ms White, is because people expect better from Labor. That is why it hurts, because people expect better from you people. People expect courage, commitment and to stick by some values. To cop out and say, 'Because we are not in government, we can't stand by any of our policies', is disgraceful.

Dr Broad - Implement is the word.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is disgraceful. By interjection Dr Broad talked about implementing policies. I ask Dr Broad to do the maths on this Chamber and on upstairs and appreciate that there is a possibility of a better way on gambling policies in Tasmania because of the numbers.

It is not good enough for the Premier of this State not to talk about climate change in a meaningful way and respond to the desperate distress of those children. It is not good enough for Labor to come in here and deliver a State of the State address, which bleats about all the failings of the Government and lays out no policy conviction whatsoever.

The Premier talks about Tasmania's time to shine. Mr Gutwein, the Treasurer, talks about the golden age. We know there is so much to celebrate about being Tasmanian. There is so much to look forward to as a Tasmanian but let us be honest about the acute uncertainty we face as an island community. Let us be honest about the mental distress our young people are experiencing when they look at the pictures, for example, of the fires that are still burning in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. What those children are enduring, what every informed, empathetic person on this planet is enduring is a state of being that is now named as solastalgia.

Solastalgia is a yearning, a grief for the loss of one's home. The young people who gathered on the lawns last Friday, possibly cannot name that feeling but that is what they are experiencing - a sadness, an uncertainty, a grieving. We share that grieving, but we are not going to stand up in this place and play petty politics. 

You snort, Dr Broad. I look forward to your contribution on the State of the State and see if there is anything substantive in it. 

We went to the election with a plan to tackle climate change; the only party that did. We went to the election with a plan to deal with the increased population Tasmania is experiencing, which will only accelerate as climate refugees seek cooler parts of the world in which to build a future for themselves and their families.

We need to acknowledge the truth of solastalgia. In our work, in this place, we need to send the strongest possible message to those young people that we not only hear their raucous, inspiring demands for action, but that we are prepared to act on them. 

We are only a small island; this beautiful, little, green, heart-shaped island at the bottom of the world. It is not unreasonable for people to say, 'What difference can we make?' Mainland Australians say that too, in that great big country of coal-producing, rising emissions under a Liberal government.

In this era of climate emergency, while we have these 10 years, we need to understand the importance of leadership. Those kids want leadership. They want courage. They want pointers to action, because action equals hope. They want to know that this coming Summer they will not be looking at the burning of Gondwana, where more than 3% of Tasmania has burned, where people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. 

Like many Tasmanians who care about the wilderness, I was hoping to hear something from the Minister for Parks about the situation and what has been lost. We have not heard it. It is on the Greens now to lay on the Parliamentary record some of the facts about the fires, which are still burning in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. 

With the support of the Tasmanian Greens, the Bob Brown Foundation and the Wilderness Society, Grant Dixon and Rob Blakers, wonderful Tasmanians, conservationists and photographers, made a low-level helicopter flight on 23 February 2019 to document the extent and severity of fires within the southern part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Contrary to the narrative that has been promulgated by some, damage to Gondwanan values, especially rainforest and wet eucalypt forest, although not catastrophic, was extensive and locally severe. Alpine areas were burned, as was pure rainforest and large areas of rainforest understorey between tall wet eucalypt forest. Fire encroached on Huon, King Billy and pencil pine communities and crowned in some old eucalypt forests. 

Of even greater concern than the damage done, however, was that with ignition ubiquitous and widespread uncontrolled fires, all that stood between the incremental loss that eventuated and catastrophic loss was a hot windy day.

The recent fires burned upwind of the most important Gondwanan refuges that remain in Tasmania - Mount Anne, Mount Bobs, Federation Peak and the Eastern Arthurs, New River headwaters, the Du Cane Range, Mount Reid, the Tyndall Range, the Lower Gordon River, and the entire takayna rainforest. From Huskisson River in the south and Rapid River in the north.

In hot, dry windy conditions, we have learned in Tasmania in recent years that rainforest does indeed burn.

The Southern Ranges, Mount Picton, the Raglan Ranges, Frenchmans Cap, Mount Murchison, Algonkian Mountain, the Upper Jane River, the Meredith Range and many other places bear grim testament to that. With no effective strategy to check strongly burning remote wildfires, and in the absence of effective immediate suppression of new fires, we played Russian roulette with Gondwana.

Climate change is creating unprecedented levels of fire in the TWWHA across Tasmania. We need novel techniques and approaches to combat fire or we will lose the best of our Gondwanan forests and the paleoendemic flora within years or decades, either through further and repeated incremental loss or in cataclysmic fires.

Grant Dixon and Rob Blakers have made some suggestions based on the evidence of how we might deal with this better in the future. This is off the back of Dr Tony Press's report and previous Parks and Wildlife Service reviews after fires. Now we have another review announced while the recommendations of Dr Tony Press have not all been implemented. This is what some of our finest wilderness photographers and conservationists believe needs to happen. We need dedicated remote fire capacity.

They say while human life and private property is important and World Heritage rainforest and paleoendemic Gondwanan communities are also important, it is not acceptable to sacrifice one to save another. It is a false equivalence. We are not being asked to make that choice and we should not be. Of course we always have to protect human life, but to tell you the truth, if it was a choice between a shack burning and Gondwana burning, you can rebuild a shack but you cannot recreate Gondwana. It has taken tens of thousands of years. 

Firefighting capacity in the United States and Canada is structured as dual forces, one for human life and private property and another for remote and wilderness fires. This system should be examined for Tasmania with both wings of a statewide fire suppression response separately resourced and funded in order they may both fulfil their two distinct and necessary charters. We also need a fleet of large amphibious water bombers. All of the recent fires were close to large bodies of water - the Gordon and Pedder impoundments, Great Lake, Huon River, Lower Gordon River, the Pieman impoundment and the New River Lagoon were all close to where fires were burning.

Tasmania has abundant lakes and estuaries suitable for use by large amphibious water bombers such as the Canadian bombardiers that can deliver up to 100 000 litres an hour and are routinely used in North America, Canada and Europe.

We also need extensive use of real-time thermal sensors mounted in fixed wing aircraft both to detect new fires and to accurately monitor the spread of known fires. Current technology can map fire through smoke and at night. We need night-time and early daytime firefighting when winds are typically less and temperatures are lower and humidity is higher, and we need locally based trained teams of remote firefighters, including harnessing our extraordinary capacity within our volunteer firefighting ranks, who are familiar with the Tasmanian landscape and capable of working and staying in the field for multiple days.

It is only because of the extraordinary efforts of the Tasmania Fire Service, the Parks and Wildlife Service and those trained firefighters from Forestry Tasmania that more damage was not done. This is no criticism of our firefighters, but we as a Parliament need to make sure we resource them properly and are applying the best technologies.

That is why it is so disappointing that a comprehensive cost-neutral plan put forward by the United Firefighters Union to tackle wilderness fires with a highly skilled and well-resourced remote firefighting capacity was ignored by government. In the spirit of goodwill and out of a pressing need personally to know that this Parliament will do better, I urge the Premier and the Minister responsible for the TFS to have another good look at that plan.

I take this opportunity so there is a proper public record of tabling some of the images taken by Rob Blakers and Grant Dixon on that flight last month.

These are images of the Huon Gorge where fire-prone ridges were burned to gravel and relic vegetation in protected gullies including rainforest was burned through; the Cracroft Valley where old-growth forest including rainforest was burned through; the Crest Range where old-growth forest including rainforest was torched; and the fire encroachment at Mount Bobs. Mount Bobs protects the largest surviving forest of Tasmanian endemic King Billy pines. Incineration of this 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 this global catastrophe in bad fire weather.

Photograph no. 8 is of the East Picton Valley, an extremely flammable, post-logging regional forest which fuelled ignition of tall eucalypt forest and its well-developed rainforest understorey. The rainforest and tall eucalypt forest will take centuries to recover, if at all. You cannot look at these images and not be heartbroken.

Image no. 9 is of the middle Huon Valley old-growth forest with burnt and fire-killed sassafras and myrtle. Remember, there is nowhere else on Earth that grows these trees. You will not find them anywhere else on the planet. They are our precious Gondwanan relics. This rainforest may never recover.

Image no. 10 is of Federation Peak which is fire burnt to within a few kilometres of Tasmania's most iconic mountain which is a stronghold of King Billy pines and other paleoendemic vegetation.

Madam Speaker, I seek the leave of the House to table these extraordinary and distressing images.

Leave granted. **

Ms O'CONNOR - When I went back and had a look at the Premier's Address in print this morning a couple of things struck me. There are some good announcements, some good investment in education, good investment in health, although so belatedly. What struck me, the clanger of it, if you like, is that by the time the new Royal Hobart Hospital is fully built and the health plan is in place, that 30-year time frame, we will have to build another hospital to deal with the health impacts of climate change. 

The short-sightedness of a government that can make such a noise about investing in a hospital without mentioning climate change and the health impacts of climate change was jarring. We do not have time for a failure of leadership.

What we got out of the Premier yesterday was not the science, it was silence on climate change. When we are silent on the fact that we are enduring a climate emergency, we are complicit. That is a fact. The problem here is that it leads to an erosion of hope amongst the next generation. Let us talk about these young people.

How amazing that all over the world an estimated 1.5 million young people gathered in cities all over the world and marched for action on climate. Let us have a think deeply on every action that we take as public representatives about the future those kids are facing and the future we are all facing.

Tasmania has an opportunity, our little island, to show leadership. We have good climate 'cred'. We have an extraordinary renewable energy resource. We do have extraordinary carbon sequestration in our beautiful forests. What this parliament should be telling those young people who met on the lawns last Friday, and in Launceston at Princes Park, is that we are wholly committed to showing global leadership on climate. We will fully harness not only our hydro renewable resources, but solar, wind and energy efficiency. We will invest in making sure Tasmanians who are socio-economically disadvantaged have energy efficiency upgrades in their house that not only make them healthier, but they lower our emissions footprint and bring down the cost of living for those Tasmanians.

We can show leadership. We have a community just down the road of some of the world's best climate scientists. We have more PhDs and doctorates per capita than any other capital city in the country. Right on our doorstep we have a knowledge bank of scientists that is the envy of many parts of the world: UTAS, IMAS, the Antarctic Division, CSIRO. We are truly blessed with a knowledge bank of global significance here. Let us harness that.

We are a resilient and connected island community. It often strikes me when times are hard it does not matter what your politics is in Tasmania there is that sense of being a Tasmanian that has real meaning. It is a tangible positive of being part of an island community. We are capable of the most extraordinary innovation and entrepreneurship and creativity and compassion. Let us harness that for those kids who met on the lawns last Friday.

Ms Standen - Were you at the rally?

Ms O'CONNOR - How could I be at the rally when I was at the Honour Roll for Tasmanian Women's lunch, like your leader, Ms White. Dr Woodruff was there and so was Senator Nick McKim. I was at the last climate march.

Ms Standen - So was I.

Ms O'CONNOR - You have made your point by interjection. I had accepted an invitation to attend the Honour Roll of Women's lunch long before the climate march date was announced.

Ms Standen - Just checking.

Ms O'CONNOR - Did you attend the march?

Ms Standen - I did indeed.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is good; you should have taken your Leader along.

We have passionate, committed young people who are prepared to stand up for their future and we have a mood for change. This Federal Election will be a climate election and that is a positive because Australians, Tasmanians, young people are looking for leadership and courage on climate. 

In this island community we do have it all. The only thing that is missing right now is leadership, vision and courage and I say that to the leaders of both the major parties in this place, snap out of it we have a decade. We need a climate plan that is a triple bottom line response to a climate emergency that is a 10-year plan for mitigating the impacts of climate change on our communities and for adapting to climate change. 

In closing, the Greens in this place will never let down those kids, ever. 

We will do everything we can in this place to take our colleagues along with us in a constructive way. If every now and again it means we have to beat you over the head with the latest climate report we will do that but we are not letting up on this issue and we will never abandon those young Tasmanians.

** Tabled images of the TWWHA fires can be found here: