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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 6177


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (19:18): Every day in this place all of us are incredibly privileged to be at the centre of our great democracy. It is a democracy that is grounded in the power of the collective action of our citizens, and we are here to give a voice to those who often do not have a voice.

Tonight I have been afforded an even greater privilege, and that is to speak about a young woman who embodies the very best qualities of our democracy and has indeed raised her voice quite loudly in the community. Young Josie Perkins is nine years old, although I think most people would agree that Josie's actions show a maturity far beyond her years. In January this year, Josie became particularly concerned about the survival of Sumatran elephants—animals which she had come to love during a family trip to Bali. Josie had good reason to be concerned, as Sumatran elephants are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In letters that she has written to politicians, Josie points out that by some estimates there are only around 2,600 Sumatran elephants left in the wild. That would amount to a population decline of roughly 80 per cent over the last 100 years. So it is clear that Josie's cause is admirable and in desperate need of attention. However, I think her actions are all the more admirable for the huge amount of organisation and initiative that she has shown at such a young age. I was very pleased today to be able to lodge a petition before this parliament with almost 300 signatures. Josie spoke to Geoff Smith, the principal of her school, Connolly Primary School, who gave her permission to address the whole school at an assembly and to collect signatures. Josie was inspired to do this after reading an article in the West Australian in January and deciding that something had to be done.

Josie has gone on to transform her campaign efforts into strong political change. She started by meeting with her state member, Tony O'Gorman, who was only too happy to sign her petition and to give her further assistance. She has written to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the Hon. Tony Burke, raising the need for action. I would like to make special mention of Senator Farrell, the parliamentary secretary to the minister, who took special time to respond to Josie's letter in detail. Josie asked if I could speak on her behalf in parliament this evening, and this is what she would like me to say to you. She says:

I am speaking to you today because of an article I read in the West Australian newspaper dated 26th January 2012. The article brought my attention to the possible extinction of the Sumatran elephants within the next 30 years. I was very saddened I was very saddened to learn that the elephant's lives are threatened and felt that I would like to try and help them to survive.

I would like to ask the Australian Government to encourage the Government of Indonesia to prevent the illegal destruction of Tesso Nilo National Park, in Riau Province. Tesso Nilo is one of the last homes of the Sumatran elephant (and Sumatran Tigers), but this supposed protected area is rapidly disappearing as a result of illegal logging which is being destroyed for timber, palm oil and the encroachment of agricultural plantations that surround the park.

I was lucky enough to spend some time with these elephants last year whilst on a trip in Indonesia. I was able to feed them, have a ride on them and even gave one a shower, which is not that easy. I am trying to save as many of these elephants as I can, there are only Two Thousand Six Hundred left in the wild. I am hoping that you will want to be part of this project.

I have also spoken to Senator Louise Pratt, who has kindly agreed to speak to you today on my behalf.

I believe that Government has a responsibility to preserve these amazing animals and their habitat.

She asks us to act now and make a difference. She says:

In the words of Michael Jackson, let's 'Heal the world, make it a better place.'

I thank you for taking the time to listen to Senator Louise Pratt today and hope I have inspired you to help me.

I was very moved by this young lady, as you can tell, and I am very pleased to be able to speak on her behalf tonight in the Australian Senate. Josie is a very inspiring young lady and she has reminded me why it is so important that we work to save endangered species around the globe.

It is a well-established fact that biodiversity is a key indicator of the health of our ecosystems. Ecosystems that are more stable and more resilient are the more diverse ones on our planet. Of course, the science is well known by our friends in the Indonesian government. The Sumatran elephant is protected under Indonesian law, and a two-year moratorium on new permits to clear primary forests came into effect in Indonesia from May 2011. While those efforts are commendable, it is the unfortunate reality for these elephants—as Josie has pointed out—is that there are significant industrial pressures in Sumatra that mean that the moratorium is not as effective as it could be. That is the challenge facing our neighbours as they balance environmental protection against raising the standard of living of their citizens.

I look forward to working with Josie to help her raise awareness of the things we can do as an Australian community, in partnership organisations like the WWF and many other environmental groups, to protect this amazing animal. Australia is doing its bit and that is one of the reasons that I had no hesitation in arranging a meeting between Josie and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Carr, during the minister's last visit to Perth. I thank the minister for meeting Josie Perkins, and I know that the minister would agree that Josie Perkins is a wonderful example of the kind of young Australians who take such a wonderful interest in our environment and in our community. It is an example that should be taken up by children and adults alike, right around Australia. I commend and thank her.

Senate adjourned at 19 : 25