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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 2427

Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (13:07): I want to begin by acknowledging that speech from my fellow senator Senator Boyce, to endorse it, to also acknowledge the great times I have had with people with Down syndrome throughout my life and, not least, to endorse Senator Boyce's concluding comments, where she put forward some very constructive ideas for the people in our community with Down syndrome, who are such an important part of the Australian community.

I want to talk about two very special Tasmanians. The first is Mr David Walsh who, in 2011, opened his privately funded and constructed Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, MONA, at the Moorilla Estate on the headland of the Derwent River, just outside Hobart. This $80 million museum houses David Walsh's $100 million private art collection. David Walsh grew up in Glenorchy, a suburb of Hobart, and then made his fortune by developing mathematical models for gambling. I well remember him getting underway in the 1980s when the casino in Hobart tried to eject him and friends for winning, of all things, and was found, legally, to have no such right.

The 6,000 square metres of the exhibition at MONA spreads over three subterranean floors and was designed by Melbourne architect Nonda Katsalidis. It showcases the Walsh collection of antiquities, Australian modernist painters and international contemporary art. Mr Walsh describes this as a 'subversive adult Disneyland' and a 'temple to secularism'. Well, whatever—it is a triumph of personal philanthropy, and it is the first of its kind and dimensions in Australia.

The United States has a long tradition of private philanthropy in the art world. More broadly, this source of funding has remained relatively untapped in Australia, although there are other great examples of philanthropy in the arts around Australia and that is something that I think is growing. Such investments are a boon for Australia.

MONA is likely to stimulate competition and to attract larger and more frequent major art exhibitions to Australia. It will also support, of course, the artists themselves. During its first year, 2011, this Museum of Old and New Art attracted more than 350,000 visitors, 46 per cent of them from interstate. I was one of the 54 per cent who came from Tasmania.

MONA was named Tasmania's best new tourism development of 2011 and it won the new tourism development category in the recent 2012 Australian Tourism Awards. Overall, Tasmania won five national awards. The 2013 awards will now be held in Hobart, the second time in four years that the state has been chosen. That reinforces Tasmania's reputation as a top tourist destination—and, I might add, as being more thickly populated with artists than anywhere else in Australia. The 2013 awards will be held partly at MONA and at the revamped Princes Wharf No. 1 beside the Derwent in downtown Hobart. MONA is already the No. 1 tourist attraction in Tasmania according to the Tourism Industry Council Tasmania and is generating the most interstate media coverage, especially for a tourism development, since the opening of Wrest Point Casino back in 1973.

MONA has put Hobart, beyond that, on the world map, attracting really significant international coverage. In fact, this Museum of Old and New Art was named 'the best experience in the world' for 2011 by luxury magazine Gourmet Traveller. It can be described as the face of the new Tasmania, heralding a new era of economic growth, philanthropy, internationally acclaimed attractions and culture, as well as, of course, its internationally renowned wilderness tourism. MONA is luring cashed-up and culture-seeking interstate and international tourists. I do not know if you have been there yet, Acting Deputy President Ludlam, but you, along with everybody else here, are very welcome. According to Hobart's five-star boutique Islington Hotel, MONA has boosted the bookings there by 15 per cent, and there has been a barrage of upmarket restaurants opening. And I can tell members that, when I first went to Salamanca Place, there were no restaurant seats; now there are 1,200, and it is just one of the great places in Australia to be. David Walsh was the Mercury newspaper's Newsmaker of the Year in 2011, and was named 2011's most culturally powerful person by the Australian Financial Review Magazine.

MONA is more than just a museum, however. There is a vineyard, and this was established by Claudio and Lesley Alcorso in the 1950s. Claudio Alcorso is a great doyen of the arts. He was on the Sydney Opera House trust and was there when the opera house design by Jorn Utzon was taken out of an early series of rejects. This wonderful man, who was born in Italy, came to Australia and has so enlivened Australia's cultural face as well as its business milieu. He brought in the new age of winegrowing in Tasmania. There is also a brewery, a restaurant, luxury accommodation and frequent events and functions, including markets and the celebrated annual MONA FOMA festival.

The museum is free for Tasmanian residents—more recently, interstate visitors have been charged $20; well, what a bargain that is—making art accessible for the general public and diversifying the audience for contemporary art. Brand Tasmania reports that Tasmanians make more visits to art galleries, museums, libraries, popular music events and dance performances than do other Australians, and MONA has been described as a magnet for Hobart's art school graduates—a source of employment that stops them from leaving for the mainland. And, I might add, it draws many, many other artists and budding artists to Tasmania. I frequently meet them on the flights crossing Bass Strait.

The success of MONA has prompted, in turn, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery—and this is just such a wonderful attraction and place to be in itself—to update its image and capitalise on the increased tourism potential for Tasmania. So the museum is undergoing a $30 million redevelopment, thanks to the government of Lara Giddings, and will open early next year. So, catch the ferry and go up to MONA and have a good glass of Tasmanian red while you are there. The world will seem a source of great thought, because MONA, let's face it, is a very big thought provoker. In some ways it is a little confronting. For myself—looking at the mummy cases there, they are thousands of years old and look as if they were painted yesterday. They are just remarkable. And in amongst that there is this creativity of Tasmanian and international artists. Everybody comes away saying, I think, that it is not all everybody's cup of tea, but you cannot come away without having been made to think.

My second Tasmanian is quite different. She is currently sitting 60 metres up in a tree in the central Tasmanian forests. Her name is Miranda Gibson. I had a note from her mother the other day saying, in amongst other things, how supportive she was of her daughter. Miranda is a spokesperson for Still Wild Still Threatened. Just last week they launched a campaign in Japan to help draw international attention to the plight of Tasmania's forests, which are still being bulldozed and chainsawed in a reckless way by Forestry Tasmania, against the signature of Premier Lara Giddings and the Prime Minister. On 7 October last year they made a commitment through their intergovernmental agreement to halt immediately the logging of high-conservation value forests in Tasmania.

They have not, but I think that, temporarily at least, Miranda has. Since Christmas the loggers have not so far gone back in to complete the destruction of this wild forest in which she sits high on the ridge under Mount Mueller which, in turn, is to the east of the great mountain of the south, Mount Anne. It will be getting a fresh coat of snow in the next 24 hours as a cold front moves through Tasmania. Miranda will be there, snow, hail, rain or shine, because she loves the planet and because she is concerned about its wildlife, our own human heritage and our own bond with the wild nature that Tasmania has in such abundance but which—like the forests of Sarawak, of the Amazon Basin, of Central Africa and elsewhere around the world—are being destroyed at such an unnecessary and profligate rate by people who simply want to make money out of converting these grand, ancient ecosystems into an advantage for themselves. They know that it is an extraordinary loss to all future generations of human beings on this planet.

Miranda has a blog site; it is I am not such a blogger, but I know many people are. Here is one Australian citizen who has given up her potential—she is a very intelligent, articulate and wonderful young woman—her comforts, her career and her ability to be doing all things, like visiting MONA that I have just spoken about, that many of us would take for granted. She is there through rain, snow, hail and storm. If you are 60 metres up in a 80-metre or so tree and you are hit by one of those squalls from the south-west—these great trees are the biggest living things on earth, along with the redwoods—the tree responds to those storms not just by bending and swaying but by twisting and turning. The experience of being up there during such a tempest can only be thought about, but Miranda stays there. She is with that tree.

One of her blogs is written to the tree, to explain why it is that this human being has set up a platform high up in that tree to defend what would have been its destruction already if she were not there. And it will be its destruction by Forestry Tasmania, and the needs of this giant Sarawak company, Ta Ann, which is the biggest modern recipient of the heartland wood taken from these World Heritage value forests such as the forest in which Miranda has made her courageous, defiant, selfless, far-sighted and thoughtful stand.

I would appeal to the Prime Minister, I would appeal to the Premier, and I would appeal to every one of my fellow senators and fellow parliamentarians to visit Miranda. If you cannot go there and have a cup of tea, then visit her blog site and see what this marvellous citizen of the planet is doing in defence of the planet and in respect of our own humankind species and its future. If we cannot protect these forests in wealthy, democratic Australia, how can we ask the people of Sarawak to—the marauded state of Malaysia from which this multibillion-dollar backed company, Ta Ann, comes to maraud in the forests of Tasmania?

Ta Ann has just announced that it is taking aboard a former head of Forestry Tasmania as its PR and media spin consultant into the future. Sure, that might advantage that man; he might make a lot more money than Miranda is making sitting out there. But I can tell you where the decency, the heart, the commitment and the real honour of being a human being lies. That is with Miranda. She sleeps at night alone, isolated and taking a stand for all of us through glory knows what, out there in the wild forests of Tasmania. She knows that just down the road the bulldozers and chainsaws are ready, authorised and coming to get her and her tree.

I hope that Australians who get to know about this will not just spare a thought for Miranda but will write to the Prime Minister and to the Premier of Tasmania and say, 'For goodness sake, take a stand with Miranda.'