By Peter Whish-Wilson, Senator for Tasmania
Well, that was a close one. While the count went down to the wire, thankfully Tasmania saw fit to return both Nick McKim and myself to the Senate. I'd like to thank all the Greens volunteers across Australia for all your hard work and commitment that helped get us there. In particular, a shout out to members, supporters, donors and volunteers in my home state of Tasmania. The grassroots actions of people like you are the heart of the Greens. Thank you for truly standing up for what matters. From staffing a polling booth, stuffing an envelope, answering a phone at the campaign office, to running as a candidate — without you we wouldn't have Greens in parliament to effect change.
This year's federal election was unique in many respects, all the more so in Tasmania. As well as being the first double-dissolution election since 1987 and the first election under the reformed senate voting system, it was the time in Tasmania that neither Bob Brown nor Christine Milne were on the Greens' senate ticket. These are big shoes to fill. That's why I'm so pleased to have Nick on the team. Nick brings a lot of experience and passion with him and has been a wonderful addition to the Australian Greens parliamentary team. Together, Nick and I will continue to stand strong to defend the future prosperity of Tasmania against those who want to tear down our natural advantages of clean energy, clean water and incredible wilderness.
Here's a quick run-down on just three of the issues that I've been working on in the last 12 months.
Our oceans are under assault from plastic debris. Marine debris is recognised globally as a significant threat to biodiversity and as a 'threatening process' under Australia's environmental protection laws. In 2015, I initiated a senate inquiry into the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia. As a lifelong surfer I have been witness to the increase in plastic debris, yet even I was shocked at some of the evidence the senate heard last year. The most frightening evidence was that every item of plastic that enters the ocean breaks into a million tiny pieces and that these micro-plastics get taken up by lifeforms as small as plankton and then accumulate up the food chain.
I was pleased that the senate stood together calling for immediate action on marine plastic pollution, including a nationwide container deposit scheme and a ban on microbeads. The committee report Toxic tide: the threat of marine plastic is a landmark piece of work that provides a template for action on this most urgent issue.
Calls for a national park to be established in the magnificent takayna forests in north-west Tasmania are gaining momentum. We'll continue to lend our weight to this campaign, working with The Bob Brown Foundation, Save The Tarkine, The Wilderness Society, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and other groups.
Unfortunately, takayna is under immediate threat from four-wheel drives in the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area. Last year, I organised a fly over with local aboriginal leaders. We saw first-hand the damage that has been done by hoons, some who appeared to be actively targeting cultural sites, driving over giant middens and other areas that have been fenced off for protection. Shamefully, the federal government has joined with the Tasmanian Government in an appeal before the Federal Court to re-open four-wheel drive tracks. The only court case that should be underway is one to prosecute those vandalising precious and irreplaceable Aboriginal heritage.
Ending tax avoidance and a Royal Commission into the banks
Tax avoidance and financial sector misconduct have moved front and centre of the political debate in the last twelve months. It's worth reflecting that on both of these issues the Greens led the way in parliament, doing the hard yards in senate committees that have shone a light on dodgy undertakings.
The Greens secured a win that saw Australia's 300 largest private companies have to report on the state of their affairs for the first time. We didn't get everything we wanted from the government, and there's still a long way to go, but we have shone a light on how some of the richest Australians manage their affairs to avoid paying tax. I'm confident that annual reporting on this issue will help keep the issue alive and help make the case for these laws to be broadened in the very near future.
I also kept up the Greens' call for a Royal Commission into the financial services sector. This will be a defining issue of this parliament. As is the way, Labor adopted this as their policy going into the election and have now joined with us in putting the screws on the government. We've recently received advice that if, as is expected, the Liberals fail to establish a Royal Commission then parliamentarians could establish a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry that has the same coercive powers. For the sake of the hundreds of thousands who have been affected, and for the integrity of the financial system, we must do everything we can to get to the bottom of what is rotten in the banks.