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Thursday, 19 December 1991
Page: 5171

Senator VALLENTINE (1.23 a.m.) —It is seven years and three months since I was first chosen by a group of people in Western Australia to be a candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in the 1984 election. A lot has happened in the seven years since—it feels like 15 years—and honourable senators will be glad to know that I am not going to go through all the ups and downs of that time. It has been a great responsibility and a great privilege to represent people in Western Australia following that 1984 election, again following the 1987 election and following the 1990 election. It has been a somewhat unusual career in that I was first elected to represent the Nuclear Disarmament Party which, unfortunately, had a very difficult time at its first annual conference in early 1985, so I came in here as an independent. Most of the time I have been in here as an independent and, latterly, I have represented the Greens, WA.

  It has been quite a lonely time on this back bench. I have been by myself for most of the time, except for when Robert Wood was here representing the Nuclear Disarmament Party in New South Wales, followed by Senator Irina Dunn. It was good to have some company, and after the last election one of my great disappointments was that there were not more Green senators here to support me and to continue with this work. I am sure that in the future more Greens will be elected from different States who will work very closely with our closest ideological counterparts—the Australian Democrats across the aisle.

  During my time here it has been very much a team effort. For one individual—I am sure this would be the same for Senator Harradine—on one's own as an independent it is very difficult indeed to function in here without strong team support. I have had that very strong support and I am very grateful to the people who have worked consistently with me. In particular, I thank Annabelle Newbury, who has been with me nearly the whole time, and Peter Jones, who would be better known to more people around the Parliament because he has been stationed here in Canberra.

  These two people have the particular quality which I call `stickability'—they are prepared to stay there and really work. They are totally committed to the issues and they will be working on the issues until they drop dead, as I will be until I drop dead. I do not know too many people who have such commitment that they will continue to work on issues. I am very grateful to both Annabelle and Peter Jones for their support.

  I have to mention particularly my spouse, Peter Fry. I mentioned him in my first speech; he is still there doing a wonderful job in parenting and taking primary responsibility for our daughters. He has done a truly amazing job and I am very grateful for his support, without which I could not have continued in this job.

  I would like to thank all of the people who make this building work. They have been mentioned by other people here tonight. I would like to thank you, Mr President, and the Deputy President for conducting proceedings in the Senate as best as you are able to under sometimes very trying circumstances. I thank you for your fairness which I, in particular, have really appreciated. I have also appreciated the amazing help I have received from members of the Parliamentary Library research staff in various departments who have been very assiduous and forthcoming with their help on many different occasions.

  I thank the Hansard reporters, for whom I think I have been quite a difficult person to report because I do tend to speak rather fast. I thank the drivers who get us to and fro, the Clerks and the people in the Table Office and the Procedure Office. I must make special mention here of Cleaver Elliott whose assistance is, I think, outstanding. I would also like to mention the catering staff and the corridor staff who are always very polite and very helpful indeed. I thank, particularly, the people who have to withstand the very long sittings and keep us going in here—the Senate attendants.

  As I alluded to before, I would also like to mention the support that I have had from the community. I could not have done this job on my own. I thank not only the people who have worked with me in a paid capacity, but also the many community groups—environmental groups, social justice groups and human rights groups—around the country which have supported me, given me a lot of feedback, a lot of ideas and input and whom I have been able to help too through the offices of the Senate. It has been wonderful having close working relationships with so many groups in the community.

  On another level, I have also had a lot of support from the Quaker community around Australia. I am very grateful indeed for that spiritual support which has been wonderful and, more latterly, for the support of a group of people who have been coming into the building regularly to meditate. They have been coming in here not only to support me, but also to support all honourable senators—little did they know it—in the hope that we would have more harmony in this building. I will return to that subject a little later.

  It is very important for someone like me to be here. I am very aware of the fact that our parliamentary system of democracy—which is about as good as one can get, I think, although it has its shortcomings—does allow for people like me to get in here through our system of proportional representation. I think the major parties, generally, seem to have failed the electorate so dismally in the last few years—and that goes for both major party groupings—that there will be a greater interest in independents, as has been seen in various State parliaments around the country which are now dependent on independents. Local government elections also reveal that independents have a very important role to play. I think the third force, which will probably comprise Greens, independents and the Australian Democrats, will have a very important role to play in the future of Australian politics.

  Unfortunately, in this Senate a lot of time is wasted on party game playing. That is one of the reasons for the great disillusionment in the community. Of course, we have seen an enormous amount of this in just the last few weeks, and other people have already alluded to that. I believe that far too much time is wasted in here by playing party political games and not getting on with the issues that are of importance to people in the community. I sometimes think that politicians are so far removed from their constituents that they do not really know how hard people in the community are hurting, or what issues are of real concern to people, because we spend hours and hours in here wasting time on pointless point scoring.

  Much of my very first speech in this place is still highly relevant, although at that time I was focusing on the question of disarmament because that is the issue that I was elected to represent. Much of that is still relevant. I could still say, looking at my first speech, that we are spending far too much on defence and far too little on foreign aid, and that the United States bases on Australian soil are for war fighting. That has finally been admitted in the wake of the Gulf war. What we have been saying in the peace movement for years and years the Government finally had to admit—that is, that the American bases on Australian soil make a considerable contribution to the war fighting operations of the United States Government.

  To my great shame and horror—it was the most difficult time of all for me in these seven years—Australia was involved in the Gulf war. The same comments that I made about lack of sovereignty in my first speech are relevant today. The fact that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), without consultation with the Australian people, his Cabinet or the Parliament, could decide that Australia would go to war in that crisis was very difficult to take. I never thought that I would be a senator in the Australian Parliament with Australia at war. I think it is to our great shame that that war was entered into with such great gusto by the Prime Minister and most people in these two chambers.

  When we had the special sitting in January there was uproar in the galleries. That was because so many people who did not support Australia going to war felt unrepresented by the people sitting down here on the red and green leather. They felt that their voices were not heard, so they made sure that their voices were heard from the galleries. I give them full credit for that.

  The problems still continue because in Iraq at the moment there is a dreadful crisis looming that has been vastly exacerbated by that bombing and the war in January. It did a couple of things the United States might have wanted, such as getting the Iraqis to withdraw from Kuwait, but it has created so many more problems. I call on the Government to work assiduously for the embargoes against Iraq to be lifted. Children in their thousands are dying in Iraq as a result of the Gulf war. The problems are manifestly worse than they were this time last year, before that war occurred.

  Fortunately, a lot has changed in seven years. Some of the changes have been good. It has been amazing to see the transformation of eastern Europe from one-state dictatorships to relative democracies. That has been wonderful to see. The breaking down of the Berlin Wall, which happened relatively quickly and relatively peacefully, was something more than most of us could have hoped for seven years ago. That has been a major change for the good. Unfortunately, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, we have domination by the power of one. This is a very dangerous situation for the world, where the United States thinks that it has the mandate to go wherever it will, in whatever part of the world its interests will be served by intervention. That is still consistent with what I said in my first speech seven years ago; that has not changed.

  One thing the Labor Party has not changed is the uranium mining industry—that is the good thing—which has not been expanded in this country. I am very glad to have been part of the ongoing campaign since 1978 to ensure that uranium mining is phased out in this country. We know that the end result of uranium mining is radioactive waste. Despite the best efforts of the Synroc team in Australia, still there has been no breakthrough in the disposal of radioactive waste. It is an enormous negative legacy that we are leaving future generations.

  Fortunately, there have been a few wins on environmental issues. Since 1987, when I took on board a lot more environmental issues, it has been very pleasing to participate in campaigns that have resulted in some success, such as Antarctica being left free from the ravages of mining. That is something I should compliment both the Opposition and the Government for—the Opposition for coming to that realisation sooner than the Government. Once it was decided, the Australian Government pushed quite hard in international fora for Antarctica to be declared a wilderness area.

  Another significant win was the inclusion of stage 3 of Kakadu on the World Heritage listing. Again, I must complement the former Prime Minister for having made a good decision on the grounds of Aboriginal spirituality. It could equally have been made on environmental grounds. Nevertheless, the right decision was made, despite all the flak that that caused.

  Some outstanding issues that remain include Aboriginal issues. We still have not come to terms with the original dispossession of the indigenous people of this country. Until we do that we will not have peace and justice in this land. It is an outstanding issue that must be addressed. I am pleased to say that my successor, Senator-elect Christabel Chamarette, will be following that issue assiduously. Having worked in the prison system, she is particularly concerned about the lack of justice for Aboriginal people. I would like to refer honourable senators to the deaths in custody reports, which should be taken note of, not only because of the deaths themselves but also because of all the surrounding circumstances that have caused so many of those deaths. It is an absolute shame and disgrace to our nation and it must be addressed.

  I think we have to admit that the economic system—we seem to have a Tweedledum and Tweedledee situation—in this country is not working. When I hear the Prime Minister-elect talking about growth and what we must do, I can share only one aspect of that, and that is that we want more Australians in jobs. Obviously, unemployment is a huge problem in this country at the moment. When we look at the GST package the Opposition is offering, I think the Labor Party has not used its best argument against the GST—that is, that it would be an absolute disaster for unemployed people. Obviously, Labor has not used that argument because it has presided over this growth of unemployment and I suppose it is a bit too embarrassing. But that is what the GST would mean—absolute disaster for people who do not have jobs and for people at the low end of the scale. It would do very nicely indeed for people at the upper end of the scale who can see some short term benefits. It is a very selfish kind of analysis and not one that is sustainable in the long run.

  The already overstuffed are swimming in money while the poor get poorer. The trickle-down theory has become a cruel hoax. Money is the only commodity that flows uphill. It pours from the South to the North at the rate of billions of dollars annually. Something else that we have seen happen regularly in the seven years I have been here is the cut in the foreign aid budget. We are part of the problem of that money flow going from the South to the North instead of the other way around.

  Grass roots movements worldwide are increasingly focusing attention on economic matters because of the obvious connection with the accelerating deterioration of the biosphere and concern for the plight of the impoverished. Thus far, governments have reacted to these concerns with jargon-filled rhetoric and ineffectual knob-twiddling. There are no signs at all that anyone involved in traditional politics has the ideas or the will to make the necessary modifications to the economic system itself—a system which, as presently structured, demands that we rip the planks off the life raft at an ever increasing rate. I am talking here about sustainability. The present economic system is not sustainable in the long run.

  Perhaps the strongest argument for an urgent reappraisal of the way in which we go about our business arises from recent findings about the way the earth behaves like a living organism. I refer to James Lovelock's Gaia theory, which strongly suggests that as a consequence the implications of the chaos theory must be taken into account before all other considerations. This is because Gaia, that is, our whole planet, is not a steady-state system which, simply due to its size, is able to accommodate huge quantities of pollutants, but is a far-from-equilibrium system which maintains the biosphere in a way that makes it a place that nurtures life by means of a staggeringly complex range of bio-feedback loops working cooperatively—the same type of control employed by the human body known as homeostasis, or wisdom of the body.

  When overload occurs in the systems that function in this dynamic far-from-equilibrium way, the systems suddenly collapse chaotically, tripping into a new dynamically stable state, which in the case of Gaia may be one that is antagonistic to life. As Lovelock points out, the present steady-state increase in the rate of global warming due to the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may suddenly flick into a life-threatening rise in mean temperature which would persist for aeons.

  It is conceivable that, if the perturbation was large enough, it may well cause Gaia to trip from the present oxygen-carbon cycle to, say, a methane-based system. The criticality of this homeostatic balance cannot be overstated. Take, for instance, the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere. For each one per cent rise in the oxygen content above the present 21 per cent, the probability of forest fires being started by lightning increases by 70 per cent. At a 25 per cent oxygen level, even the damp twigs and grass of a rainforest would ignite. That is only 4 per cent higher than the present oxygen content.

  The Gaian principles of cooperation, diversity and adaptability would seem to offer the most favourable basis for economics that will best serve the needs of both the person and the planet. In nature, small highly adaptable units interact cooperatively within themselves and as a collective whole to maintain the integrity of the system, in contrast to today's anti-ecological exploitative model. What has to change is the exploitative model of planet Earth and its people.

  The essentially nurturing aspect of Gaian dynamics is central to the ethos of the rising Green culture which stresses the necessity of a socio-economic model that places the rights of the person and the planet above the interests of the corporate state. As Elisabet Sahtouris says:

  Our technology has ravaged nature and continues to do so, but the ravages of technology are based on our unnatural greed, our profit motive. There is no intrinsic reason that we humans cannot develop a benign technology once we agree that our desire to maximize profits is completely at odds with nature's dynamic balance—that greed prevents health and welfare for all. No other creatures take more than they need, and this must be our first lesson.

I think it is very important that we come back to this. It is a challenge to the whole system. I realise that many people have left the chamber because they do not want to hear something that is creative and futuristic in thinking; they just want business as usual to continue. It is not good enough. It is not sustainable. It cannot continue.

  I shall finish by talking about the spiritual renewal globally, which is part of the Gaian dynamic, where there is a nurturing of people and the resources of the planet Earth. It is happening. Of course, people here would probably be the last to know about that. It is largely dependent on women's spirituality. For far too long—for five millennia—women have not been accorded a proper place in society. They have not been heard. They will be heard. They must be heard.

  I would like to read a poem written by Dorothy Cameron, one of the people who has been coming into this building to meditate. The poem is entitled The Singing Hill:

The men in dark suits

With endless disputes

Sit in the marble temple,

In the shining edifice

Built upon the hill.

They are the elders

Of the present-day tribe,

Quite unaware that aeons ago

The Hill was sacred

And magic was there.

For once it was the Singing Hill,

The hill which sang the Earth Song

At the meeting of the ley-lines

And the crossing of the song-lines

In the centre of the Hills of the Circling.

The Song of the Earth was the women's song.

They were the tribal elders then

Who knew of the Mysteries,

Who drew down the moon

And nurtured the Earth and its singing.

Unknown to the dark suits

Shouting within,

The women are returning

To the Centre of the Circling,

Reclaiming their own.

Circling the fountain in the shining edifice,

Circling the pyramid of the thrusting dome,

They return to their own

And the chanting is beginning,

The humming has begun.

With the passing of the seasons

Music from the Singing Hill

Will transcend the voices

Of the dark suits

Shouting their abuse.

New tribal elders,

The re-emerging Daughters,

Will awaken Gaia

And the shouting will be stilled.

The healing of the planet will begin.

Gaia's woman-energy

Will link the endless Cosmos

With the light of inner knowledge

And a reverence for the Earth.

And the Daughters of a different Dreaming

Will recover the mystery,

Rediscover the harmony,

Of the Centre of the Circling

Around the Singing Hill.

Finally, I would like to quote a great friend of mine who is a wonderful woman activist, who first used the term `heart politics'. I think this is really the guts of what I want to go out of this Senate saying:

The earth gives us everything we have, everything we are, everything we love. We are utterly dependent on it.