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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2357


Senator COULTER (1.39 a.m.) —When I put my name on the adjournment debate for tonight I was going to say something about woodchip export licences but I will get to that in a moment. I want to speak about Senator Richardson's time as minister for the environment. One of the advantages of being in the old Parliament House, as Senator Richardson would remember, was that his office was almost exactly opposite my little cubbyhole. One could often discuss amendments to important legislation when one ducked around the corner into the toilet—


Senator Collins —They always had to come out to go to the toilet sooner or later.


Senator COULTER —That is right. It was a far less formal arrangement than we have in this place where ministers are stuck down in one area and it is a 10-minute hike to get down and speak to them. I did have some dealings, both formal and informal, with Senator Richardson in his capacity as minister for the environment.

  Most people in this chamber would know that I came to the Senate with a great concern about the environment. I still firmly believe that we are in desperate straits in terms of the environment, and we need to move towards a pattern of sustainability. That is a notion, an understanding, a paradigm shift of thinking which most people in this parliament do not understand. However, Senator Richardson is one person who has come to understand the need for that sort of change.

  I always felt that when the honourable senator was minister for the environment he was a person to whom one could speak in those terms. He understood the language of sustainability. He had the intellect to comprehend the ramifications of what sustainability meant and, moreover, he was somebody with whom one could be reasonably assured that one would get a hearing and an outcome from lobbying in fairly short order. He would either say, `Yes, I will do that' or `No, I will not do that', and within half an hour an agreement would be made in relation to what needed to be done.

  However, I would also like to add that in this place we do not just need people with intellect; they also need to have wisdom and a commitment to social change. That supersedes loyalty simply to the party. If there is one criticism that I would make of the old parties—and it was one reason why I joined the Australian Democrats—it is that very often loyalty to party is rated much more highly than loyalty to principle. That is a great pity, because at this time we need a thorough commitment to environmental change.

  In terms of achievements on the environment, it is commonly accepted by those who understand these things that Senator Richardson, in his time as minister for the environment, achieved a great deal in terms of Tasmania, the wet tropics and in the protection of areas as world heritage areas, and in many other respects in moving the agenda forward on the question of sustainability. As time goes by, Australia will be very grateful that that was done.

  Senator Kernot reflected on the motivation involved in that, and the media has also reflected on that motivation, but I would simply say that, had Senator Richardson not fully understood what he was doing, he would not have been able to pull it off with the Greens. I would certainly say that he did understand what he was doing and that he had a real commitment to it. It was fortunate that it was also of advantage to the Australian Labor Party at several elections.

  I wish Senator Richardson the very best in his retirement. There are very few people in this place with the sorts of qualities that he has shown—commitment and surety of decision making. This place will be the poorer for his passing.