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Wednesday, 18 August 1993
Page: 255

Senator MARGETTS —Mr Deputy President, I stand here today as the third Greens (WA) senator. The first, of course, was Jo Vallentine who was elected in 1984 as the world's first senator for nuclear disarmament. In January 1990 the Greens (WA) formed from the alternative coalition, Green Development, the Greens party and the Vallentine Peace Group. Jo Vallentine was replaced by my colleague Senator Chamarette in March of last year.

  We bring with us a decade of political experience. We belong to the Greens (WA) which is a registered political party. We are not independents. Although I sense that in the situation in which we find ourselves a number of you would like to close your eyes and wish that we would simply disappear—if this is the case, I have bad news for you—when you open your eyes, we will still be here.

  During my term as senator, I would like to bring a green perspective to a wide range of issues debated in this place and in the public arena. As Senator Chamarette has mentioned on a number of occasions, green politics does not encompass only environmental integrity; it also stands on the principles of social justice, peace and disarmament, and community participation in decision making.

  Many people in Western Australia know me as a lobbyist for peace and disarmament. However, like many people who have been drawn into the Green movement because of their concern about particular issues, I began to see the connections between issues of world peace, social justice, environmental responsibility and grassroots democracy. In my last two years as a research masters student in economics, I travelled extensively around Western Australia. It opened my eyes to the huge gap between the stated goals of government economic policy and the reality at the community and regional level. I will speak out, wherever possible, about the lunacy of a blind faith in the benefits of financial and economic deregulation.

  I am horrified at the prospect of Australia being a signatory to the Uruguay Round of GATT. We in Australia do not even have a register of the ownership or control of our primary resources. Further, there is little, if any, scrutiny of the public resources which are used to subsidise industry by way of royalty deals, infrastructure, subsidised electricity and other resource use. Some forms of investment wind up costing us more than the benefits they bring to our economy, and yet we are now planning to voluntarily surrender any last shreds of economic sovereignty.

  I support the empowering and resourcing of regions and local communities—which are making real progress in community development—which encompasses the principles of ecological sustainability, true community consultation and equity.

  Ecologically sustainable regional development strategies must be a priority for any responsible government, be it federal, state or local. Growth statistics hide economic, social and environmental costs. Equity and quality of life are not measured by economic growth. Indeed, in Australia we have surrendered ethics and commonsense to the cargo cult of multinational investment or trickle down to such an extent that we are celebrating the export arms industry as a potential growth sector.

  GATT will remove the ability to make important choices on trade and investment. For reasons of ethics—including world peace, environmental responsibility, health and safety of products and equity—we should be empowering responsible regions and communities; not donating our entire economic sovereignty to a handful of international corporations.

  On the one hand, I am particularly concerned about the record of poor decision making in my own state of Western Australia—decisions which ignore all values other than that of short-term profitability for corporations. These are cases where local communities are being forced to subsidise industries, the benefits of which leak from the economy. On the other hand, I will be giving details of positive initiatives which are already taking place in my state and elsewhere to empower communities and regions to take innovative approaches to meeting their economic and social needs.

  There is a growing network, including social justice, union and green groups, that is working to develop and promote initiatives on work and the environment. The very least that government should do is not stand in the path of sensible initiatives. At the recent Fenner conference on GATT and the environment, a spokesperson from the forest industry claimed that the fact that we export $0.5 billion of forest products, mostly as woodchips, and import $2 billion of forest products, mostly as processed rainforest timber products, simply means that we need to make more of our native forests available for logging.

  In Western Australia, some farmers in the south-west have been given a Hobson's choice of either struggling along with decreasing farm incomes or paying to plant plantation blue gums, which are not a species native to Western Australia. But there are other options, one of which improves soil and water quality, improves farm productivity and provides a supplementary income from tree crops, and this is agro-farming. This works in conjunction with innovative and appropriately scaled closed loop pulp mills using other than chlorine bleach technology.

  I intend to speak out about the moral bankruptcy of Australia's foreign affairs position in our tacit approval of the United Nations acting as an arm of world corporate interests and a means of boosting United States presidential popularity ratings at the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives.

  On taking my seat in the Senate, I have been asked whether I will perform my role in the same manner as Senator Vallentine or Senator Chamarette. My admiration for Jo is enormous. She remained true to her beliefs throughout a very difficult time in this place. I do not pretend to possess the courage of Jo Vallentine. Senator Chamarette and I, along with our supporters, celebrate diversity. The difference between Senator Chamarette and me is that Senator Chamarette is nicer, although some of you have already discovered that this does not mean that she is easily pushed around.

  This year the Greens (WA) are celebrating not only the doubling of our representation in the Senate but also the election of our first state legislative councillor, Jim Scott. This is a clear indication that a significant number of Western Australians are being denied a voice by the major parties. My election is a tribute to the pioneering work of Jo Vallentine, to the ongoing work of Senator Chamarette and to the enormous effort of the Greens (WA) members and supporters in Western Australia.

  The fact that Senator Chamarette and I find ourselves, along with the Democrats and Senator Harradine, holding the balance of power upsets a number of people in this place. It is very easy for them to take the balance of power away from us. They just have to take the courage to reclaim their democratic responsibility if their executive is making decisions which contravene their own party's policy, the wishes of their electors and their consciences.

  Debate (on motion by Senator Sherry) adjourned.