Testing our resolve: Peter Whish-Wilson

Confronted with the twin crises of a full-blown climate emergency and a global pandemic, 2020 has been a year that tested our resolve.

By Senator Peter Whish-Wilson

2020 has been a year that tested our resolve. We have been confronted with the twin crises of a full-blown climate emergency and a global pandemic. Given 2021 is likely to be an election year, it is more important than ever for Australians to understand that the Greens are the only party that has the vision and blueprint to solve both crises with one singular, comprehensive plan: a Green New Deal. We can both tackle our climate crisis and push for COVID-19 economic recovery at the same time, with governments stepping up to invest and underwrite the industries, jobs and communities of the future.

In Tasmania I continue to work with local community and campaigners to stop the ongoing madness of native forest logging, the continued destruction of takayna/Tarkine from 'fly-by-night' mining companies, the Liberals’ agenda to privatise our precious world heritage areas and other seemingly endless inappropriate developments. The Greens are the only ones working with Tasmanian locals to protect what they value.

Healthy oceans, waste and recycling

Right as the pandemic hit, two pieces of devastating news went largely unnoticed: a third mass coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef over the last five years was confirmed, and the first ever extinction of a bony marine fish anywhere in the world happened right in my home state of Tasmania.

This underlies just how urgent the protection of our oceans really is; that the warming of the waters surrounding Tasmania and the loss of our marine life, healthy reef systems and biodiversity is sounding a warning bell to the rest of the country and the world.

Now, more than ever, we need to increase overall investment in our climate science research capability. I’ve been publicly campaigning for the proper funding of our climate and southern ocean research jobs, whether through long-term funding for UTAS, for the ongoing work of handfish conservation and a federally funded approach to invasive sea urchin eradication. This year I also stepped up local consultation and campaigning to save our rapidly disappearing kelp forests.

I have continued to advocate for a humane and evidence-based approach to protecting marine life and managing interactions with sharks around our beaches. Removing shark nets, which are weapons of mass destruction to protected marine life, received a groundswell of support from local communities around the country, distressed at seeing so many whales, dolphins, dugongs, rays and turtles caught in those nets.

This year has also seen two landmark inquiries get underway, starting with the nation’s first inquiry into the impacts of seismic testing from oil and gas exploration which I am chairing. For the first time ever, evidence has come together from stakeholders as diverse as the fishing industry, environmental NGOs, scientific research teams and community groups outlining the risks to our oceans and fisheries from ongoing oil and gas exploration. As hearings have travelled ‘virtually’ from Tasmania to Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, it’s becoming clear that the fossil fuel industry has largely been operating within a science and research vacuum to the detriment of our local industries, communities and marine life. Coastal communities right around the nation are standing up and saying ‘no way’ to more offshore fossil fuel exploration in this time of climate emergency. The NZ Greens managed to have all new seismic testing and offshore exploration banned – there is no reason Australia shouldn’t do the same. I'm proud that the Greens are leading this charge and that it’s being noticed by many non-traditional Green constituencies.

The second inquiry is into how Australia can play a critical role in stopping the toxic tide of marine plastic pollution that is choking our oceans. I have been campaigning on this biggest of marine pollution issues in and out of parliament for the past 15 years. The Packaging and Plastics Bill 2019 is a private senator’s bill coming before the Senate shortly which I tabled last year, after five years of Senate inquiries into the issue. The two hearings held so far have highlighted decades of flawed recycling policy with evidence from those in the recycling industry, local government, community and environment movements supporting the Greens’ approach to governments stepping up and properly regulating big business to hold them to account, and to ban the production and sale of those single-use plastics most commonly found in our oceans. Now that the government is trying to push through its own waste bill, I’m determined to make sure we put up a fight to get bans on a range of single-use plastics and mandatory packaging targets.

Treasury and small business

The Greens were the first to call for a living wage for workers and small business during the pandemic. As I scrutinised details of the waves of government stimulus, my office was also inundated with requests for help from the public in working out the practical day-to-day of how to get by, how to work out eligibility, and piece together assistance available at both federal and state levels.

I called on Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein to request that the PM extend paid pandemic leave to the 59,000 Tasmanians without leave entitlements and after front page press, just 24 hours later it was announced. It was some much-needed good news, though the final scheme eligibility doesn’t go far enough and I continue to fight for this to be broadened.

I participated in many COVID-19 Committee hearings to examine the government’s response, and continue to see this as an important role we play in not letting the government push through its agenda under the cover of a pandemic.

This year also saw hearings into foreign investment at an inquiry I established late last year to examine proper and transparent processes around approvals of foreign governments buying Australian agricultural land and businesses, and also addressed the issue of money laundering through property. I also concluded an inquiry into the activity of the big four auditing companies and the never-ending trend of government outsourcing and privatising our public service.

Finally, I continue to campaign for the return of Julian Assange to Australia along with other members of the Parliamentary Friends of the Bring Julian Assange Home Group. As his extradition trial continues in the UK, I am more determined than ever to make sure he is not forgotten by those in power.

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