Address-in-reply: Governor's Speech


Ms SANDELL (Melbourne) (15:49): It is truly an honour to stand here in this Parliament having been re-elected by my community, the people of the electorate of Melbourne. Stretching from Kensington, my home, to East Melbourne, from Docklands to Carlton North, the inner city of Melbourne which my electorate covers is a wonderful place to live—full of diverse people from so many different countries and creeds, people who care deeply about their local area but also about the big issues that are facing our world.

I entered Parliament four years ago because, like a lot of people, I wanted to make a difference—a difference on local issues and a difference on global issues. Over the last four years it has been an absolute privilege to be part of some of the changes that will make a big difference in people’s lives—like getting big donations out of politics, passing dying with dignity laws and making sure our state is investing in renewable energy; changes like giving people who rent their homes more rights, providing more money for Parks Victoria rangers and pushing for a safe injecting room to reduce harm from drug use.

I have also been very proud to work with members of our community to secure important wins for our local areas, like funding for a new Docklands primary school and some money to upgrade Kensington primary.

It has also been good to be part of a Parliament with a government who has been willing to come to the table and take up a lot of these progressive issues, and congratulations to the Andrews Labor government on their resounding victory. I look forward to working with you to achieve more progressive outcomes over the next four years, because of course there is a lot more to do to ensure our city is livable, our state is liveable and our future is sustainable.

I want to thank the people of Melbourne for putting their faith in me to do that job for another four years. I would also like to thank the other candidates who ran in the seat of Melbourne. Unlike in other seats, the tenor of debate in Melbourne was respectful. It was about ideas, it was about who was best to represent the seat and it was not marred by personal attacks or negative politics. So I would like to thank all my opponents for that. It is a good example of how politics can be.

I also want to thank the wonderful volunteers who made my campaign happen, including my campaign committee and staff. There is absolutely no way I could have done it without you. Of course I also thank my Greens MP colleagues, past and present, and make a special mention of the former member for Northcote, Lidia Thorpe, the first Aboriginal woman in this Parliament. Her loss is not just a loss to this Parliament but actually a loss to this state, given we have no Aboriginal representation now in this Parliament.

So over the next four years I want to continue to be a strong voice for my local residents and stand up for the things that my community tells me they need most, like good schools and health services, reliable and regular public transport, better job prospects for people from diverse backgrounds, including the African-Australian community, and more and better public housing. Over the next four years I will keep campaigning to upgrade the unsafe train station at South Kensington, fully fund upgrades needed to Kensington primary, campaign against the destructive West Gate toll road, which will flood our city with cars and affect the Moonee Ponds Creek, and to make our planning system actually work for people, not just big property developers, among many other issues that will come up over the next four years.

But I am not just here to stand up for local issues. I am also here to stand up for statewide and global issues, where the people of Melbourne want leadership from their elected representatives—issues like fixing the mental health system, addressing the causes of family violence, dealing with climate change, weaning us off coal and other fossil fuels and protecting our natural environment. So to all those who live in Melbourne who voted for me and also to those who did not, I am here to represent you and the issues that you care about. My office is always open to discuss your ideas and concerns, so please do get in touch, because I ultimately am here for you.

As well as thanking my electorate, I want to use today’s speech as a chance to talk about an issue that is very much close to my heart. It is the reason why today the Greens have taken quite a radical and rare action to bring this issue to Parliament’s attention. That issue is the accelerating collapse of our natural environment. Today we have moved to amend the motion regarding the Governor’s speech, and that is the speech that the government writes outlining its agenda for the next four years. Our amendment seeks to point out the government’s failure to adequately address the unprecedented environmental collapse that is happening before our eyes, and we do not do this lightly. In fact it has not been done in 87 years. The last time was 1932, but we do it today because the times we are living in really are quite unprecedented.

Over the last month in Australia we have seen more evidence than ever before that we are actually facing a climate and environmental collapse. More than 1 million fish have died in the Murray-Darling—a 100-year-old Murray cod, older than any of us in this chamber, fish born during the First World War gone forever. Ancient Tasmanian wilderness, unchanged since literally the time of dinosaurs, have gone up in smoke, burned in bushfires in areas that have never, ever burned before.

In the past week we have seen the first mammal declared extinct because of rising sea levels due to climate change. It might not sound like the cutest, most glamorous animal, but the small brown native rat, the Bramble Cay Melomys, has been declared extinct because its habitat was literally washed away. How absolutely devastating! We have seen tens of thousands of flying foxes literally fall out of trees and die in heatwaves, including in Victoria. We have had the hottest January ever recorded. We are on the brink of losing entire species in single events. Very soon the spectacled flying fox could also be gone forever. Our own faunal emblem in Victoria, the Leadbeater’s possum, gets closer to extinction every year, as more of their forest home is logged—sanctioned and paid for by the government.

Victoria’s grassy woodlands have been virtually wiped out. What remains is only a tiny, tiny fraction of their previous distribution, and what remains is still being lost to new roads, to new housing estates, to invasive species and weeds. The endangered striped legless lizard could soon be gone forever, and feral animals and weeds have not been managed properly and are choking habitat across our state, pushing native species closer to extinction. These are threats that, yes, we have known about and, yes, we have been worried about for a long time, but now we are actually even seeing new threats come that we are only just beginning to understand.

In Queensland, for example, I was very disturbed and saddened last week to read about a death and a further nine serious illnesses from a soil-borne bacteria. The bacteria is not new, but the extreme flooding and movement of the soil and the mud associated with the recent cyclone has allowed it to spread in an unprecedented way. When the complex system that we live in, our world, is changing and is disrupted so dramatically, we can also expect the consequences to be complex and significant, and what we do here in Victoria is actually connected to the rest of the country. It is actually connected to the rest of the world, and that is why we must take the threat of climate change and our collapsing ecosystems so seriously and take strong action including right here in Victoria.

It is why today we have moved to draw further attention to the fact that governments, including unfortunately this government in Victoria, are not taking fast enough or drastic enough action to prevent disaster. In the Governor’s speech, which outlines the government’s agenda, there was no mention of the words ‘climate change’. The government mentioned their solar homes policies, which are good and which we support, but no other climate programs. There was no mention of environmental programs or protection at all, except to say the government is building some new pocket parks.

Unfortunately in an era when we are facing such huge crises that affect us all it is disappointing to see a government put forward an agenda that does not put the environment at its heart, that does not make it a top priority. It should be an absolute top priority, simply for the fact that it affects everything, and it is government’s responsibility to protect us, and that means all of us. It means leaving the world better for our children and for future generations.

We know that Victorian Labor have been investing in renewable energy, and that is a good thing. It is something that we have advocated for and supported. The problem is they are doing this while also extending coalmine licences to our most polluting power plants, including Yallourn, the dirtiest coal plant in Australia. They do this while also giving $50 million of taxpayer public money to a project aiming to turn brown coal into hydrogen to extend the life of the polluting coal industry.

This is despite evidence saying that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we simply must keep coal in the ground. We cannot just invest in renewables over here and invest in coal also over here. It is like giving a gift to future generations with one hand while simultaneously taking it away with the other and hoping they do not notice. It simply does not add up.

Of course the government is still allowing the logging of Victoria’s forests—logging that costs taxpayers money, destroys ecosystems, adds to bushfire risk and pushes endangered species closer to extinction. Labor committed to building a world-class hiking trail in East Gippsland before the election, the sea-to-summit trail, but now they are even logging this exact same area.

In Victoria, just 5 per cent of our marine area—our oceans, which we love so much—are protected. Five per cent—it is woeful. It is half of what the UN says is the bare minimum needed to protect the collapse of life in our oceans. Yet the government has ruled out any more marine parks.

There is also of course the devastation caused by plastic pollution in our oceans. By 2050 it is estimated there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish. We need to take action that this government is simply not committing to: a 10-cent refund on bottles and cans, a ban on single-use plastics and setting up local recycling facilities. Instead of protecting oceans, in fact this government is actually giving the green light to new gas drilling offshore, which destroys sea life as well as our climate. This is just the tip of the iceberg of some of the things that are happening around the state. In western Victoria, near Ararat, hundreds of old trees—some 800 years old—home to threatened species, highly significant to traditional owners, have been bulldozed or are about to be bulldozed for a bigger highway. Endangered grasslands are still being destroyed due to urban sprawl housing estates.

The reason some of these projects are allowed to go ahead is that our laws to protect nature are so weak here in Victoria. The government committed to fixing these laws five years ago by overhauling the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 but they did not do this. It simply was not a top priority. So instead we watch the environment destroyed piece by piece, with no laws in place to stop it. Near Port Fairy and Warrnambool, on Victoria’s south-west coast, endangered hooded plovers raise their chicks in the sand dunes along the coast, but in these very same dunes the government has pulled out every trick they have to change the law to allow up to 16 racehorses per day to trample the home of these hooded plovers.

I point out these failings not to beat up on the government but because knowing what we are doing wrong is the first step towards making things better. Despite the criticisms that I have levelled today, I still have a great sense of optimism that we simply can turn the ship around. Victorians and Australians are waking up to the crises we face, and we still have time to take strong action to address them. Last year in the Wentworth by-election, exit polling showed climate change and replacing coal were the biggest issues motivating voters. Last year here in Victoria people took a stand, refusing to vote for a coalition government that would have scrapped the renewable energy target and built new coal stations. Just two weeks ago a court in New South Wales ruled against a new coal mine. This has been happening on the back of the inspiring youth climate movement and the climate strikes. Phenomenal international climate activist Greta Thunberg has put it best. She was 15 years old when she told leaders in Davos, ‘Our house is on fire’, ‘I want you to panic’ and ‘I want you to act’.

So now as the political leaders in Victoria, let us act, because we can act. We have the solutions. We just need the courage to put them into action. Here in Victoria, let us not just tinker around the edges. We can stop native forest logging. We can keep coal in the ground. We can ban single-use plastics. We can deal with waste. We can put more water into our rivers. We can stop habitat loss. We can put the environment as a higher priority than corporate profits. Our natural world is the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the shelter we need, so let us treat it as such.