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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 7425


Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (1:12 PM) —Having sat here through the Howard years, in which bigotry was at the fore and denial of equality and access to equal rights was part and parcel of governance, I find it is not possible to simply ignore the previous speaker. Senator Bernardi said, ‘Children who live with married parents are healthier and better off.’ Yet it was the Howard government that legislated to prevent thousands of children in Australia from that advantage by saying that if you are a same-sex couple your children cannot have the advantage of you being married. We have a situation in which an advantage for children was deliberately denied by the previous speaker and the Howard government when they were in power by legislation against their own interests, if you follow the logic of his argument.

We were here when the Howard government took up the Hanson policies to the point where the representation of Ms Hanson and her party was no longer relevant and the Howard government took the voters who subscribed to those principles, including using the dog whistle against people wanting to come to this country—and it is no longer a dog whistle. I have listened in the last couple of days, and taken repeated points of order, as members of the opposition have labelled refugees, who are quite within their rights to seek refuge in another country, ‘illegal’ and ‘unlawful’. That pejorative term has been used to the point of utterly unfair and unwarranted discrimination against men, women and children.

I want to talk about a much happier subject, the prospect of the Tasmanian World Heritage wilderness coming to its fulfilment. I was able to engage the renowned Tasmanian wilderness expert Geoff Law to draw up a new assessment of where Tasmania’s World Heritage wilderness should finally find its boundaries and a process for achieving that. I have sent a copy of this to all senators, and I am delighted to be able to talk about it in the chamber today. The western Tasmania World Heritage wilderness is a place of outstanding and universal values. Coming from that state, Madam Acting Deputy President Carol Brown, you will know it is a bulwark of the Tasmanian economy, generating over 5,100 jobs and more than $200 million in income annually.

Beyond that, it is a place of extraordinarily rich cultural and natural heritage. This book—which I will shortly seek to table, it having been circulated—describes the magnificence of places like the Weld Valley; the Upper Florentine; the Styx Valley, the Valley of the Giants; the Tarkine, whose rainforests Prime Minister Howard moved to protect at the stimulus of then Leader of the Opposition Latham; the area south of Macquarie Harbour, which is a magnificent repository of wildlife and cultural heritage; and Recherche Bay, which saw the magnificent coming together of the French scientists and the Palawa people of Tasmania in 1792-93. You could not have had two more disparate groups of people on the planet, but they came together in a spirit of understanding. There were athletic contests, music, feasts and great and genuine sadness when they parted. It was not until our British ancestors arrived, this time with soldiers, convicts and guns, that the horrific and destructive impact on the Indigenous people in Australia—deliberate in many cases—followed.

In a world that is very much more crowded—and I will come back to this in a moment—this World Heritage area is an enormous repository for excitement, beauty, stimulus and simple relaxation for millions if not billions of people who do not ever go there, besides those who are lucky enough to see it. It is through putting wildlife and magnificent natural scenery like the waterfalls, mountains, forests, ravines and highland alpine areas of the World Heritage area on our walls that we all get relaxation and enjoyment because of our innate bond with nature.

We are in a very lucky country to be able to protect an area like this, which, being on the western seaboard of Tasmania with the prevailing westerly winds coming across three oceans from Patagonia, is less likely to be contaminated by weeds and other invasive species and is more likely to be able to be protected for the benefit of humanity forever if only we have the common sense to protect it. I have sent a copy of this to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, the Hon. Peter Garrett, in his role along with Prime Minister Rudd as custodian of World Heritage properties. I say again to the chamber—and I have said this before—that we have an obligation under the World Heritage Convention not only to establish places of World Heritage value, as these undoubtedly are, but to move to protect them and manage them. The Greens will be looking forward to a response from government at federal level, where the responsibility lies, and also at state level to have this grand vision of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area expanded to its logical, justifiable and rightful boundaries for the benefits to Tasmania, Australia and people beyond into the future to unfold in this or the next period of government. I seek leave to table this document.

Leave granted.


Senator BOB BROWN —I thank the Senate for that. While on the subject of the nation’s natural heritage, I continue to watch progress on the evaluation of the Traveston dam and the impact that will have on the Mary River, the rich farmlands upstream and the habitat of rare and endangered species—including, of course, the Queensland lungfish, the Mary River turtle and the Mary River cod. I add to that the fact that there has been quite a lot of publicity in recent days about the magnificent fig trees, 500 or more years old, threatened by this inundation, upon which other rare species such as Coxen’s fig parrot depend. The habitat of that parrot is being rapidly lost. Therefore we must think the parrot is being deliberately pushed towards extinction, and we must save the sustaining habitat, including these fig trees and their attendant forests in the Mary River Valley. I just hope that the minister for the environment is looking at the extraordinary 1,200 conditions the Queensland Coordinator-General, Colin Jensen, said would be needed to enable the dam’s construction. I think there is only one condition required to protect both the food-producing value and the natural value of the Mary River Valley, and that is that the alternatives for using the rainfall over South-East Queensland—which we have the wit, wisdom and ability to employ and which experts say we can employ at less cost—be undertaken and that the dam be consigned to the rubbish bin of history, where it deserves to go.

In the last few days we have had the Prime Minister talking up the prospect of an Australia in which 35 million people live. We are at 23 million now. We were some seven million when I arrived on the planet. You would not remember that, Madam Acting Deputy President Carol Brown! But we have to ask the logical question of Prime Minister Rudd: ‘Name the final point. What is the ultimate carrying capacity of Australia if you say that growth is dependent on population increase ad infinitum?’ The logic of that is that there is no end point, that we not only continue to cram people into this giant country with very limited carrying capacity but we continue to cram our fellow human beings, all of whom aspire to life and happiness as much as we do, onto a planet which cannot bear it.

I will read from the National Geographic’s EarthPulse: State of the Earth 2010 document, which says it is a collectors’ edition—and I wonder if that says something about the future as well. It says:

Scientists and policymakers have warned that environmental degradation and global climate change could cause massive displacement of populations some day. For millions of our fellow humans, driven from their homes by melting permafrost, increased coastal flooding, or desertification of once arable land, that day has arrived.

Hard numbers are elusive, but an estimated 25 million people are environmental “refugees” (officially, that word is reserved for those fleeing armed conflict). By 2050, that number could jump to 200 million. Climate change is projected to increase aridity in already dry areas, and to spur more extreme rainfall and flooding events such as one that displaced more than two million people in the Indian state of Bihar in 2008. Perhaps most alarming, even modest sea-level rise will wash away the homes and fertile fields of millions more.

On the next page, it goes to ‘Forced Migration, Hotspots of Global Change, Bangladesh’. There is a picture of three women up to the top of their shoulders in water. The woman at the front has a floating metal vessel in front of her. Obviously they are appealing to the photographer and whoever is behind the photographer for some form of sustenance in a neighbourhood where, if you are going to stay there, you will be up to your shoulders in water because of the flood. It says this about Bangladesh:

Low-lying Bangladesh foretells the future of climate refugees. Because roughly half of the country lies less than ten meters (33 ft) above sea level, it has been flooded more frequently as glacial melt in the Himalaya has risen. Tropical cyclone activity is also likely to rise in the near future, swelling the Padma (Ganges), Jamuna (Brahmaputra), and Meghna Rivers, which all lie within the country’s borders. Climate refugees already account for more than a third of recent migrants to Dhaka, the capital. Nearly 80 per cent of the nation’s legal disputes are over land erosion triggered by storms.

I watched on television just the other night as people hastily pulled down their corrugated iron shelters in Bangladesh as the banks collapsed on a river and eroded 100 metres across the fields upon which the people depended, to swallow their houses. The people hastily collapsed their houses to at least take away the building materials.

We are in a world that is in very great human-induced trouble. Population is part of that. When I came onto the planet, in 1944, there were 2.5 billion people. There are now 6.8 billion people, a tripling almost. By mid-century, when youngsters now will be in their middle age, it is projected there will be nine billion to 11 billion people—more likely 11 billion if you read this National Geographic special, which is currently on the bookshelves. Add this to that. At the front of the book it says:

Together we consume 1.4 Earths’ worth of resources per year.

In other words, we are burrowing away at the bounty which we need to survive. We will need 3.1 more planets if we are all to survive by mid-century on the average British level of consumption, which is below ours. That cannot happen, and we have to have the wit and wisdom to find a way to share better, to work with each other, to reduce consumption and to reduce population growth. I hope the Prime Minister has got a lot of thinking occurring on that, because Australia is charged with being a leader, not at the back, when it comes to dealing with the issue of how we human beings are going to live peaceably with the planet instead of off it.