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Standing up for country and culture, and putting a government in its place

Speeches in Parliament
Scott Ludlam 27 Mar 2017

I rise to speak tonight on the astonishing events of just a week or two ago in the Western Australian election: the end of the Roe Highway, the end of the Perth Freight Link and the end of the Barnett government. As many of you know, the fight against the Roe Highway was quite personal for me. I spent a long period of time in my early twenties living at Bibra Lake and around the Beeliar Wetlands—it was a part of the world that I really came to love—and I presently live in North Fremantle, at the other end of the proposed freight link. It has been an absolute honour to stand side by side with those who have defended this extraordinary place. Some people have been at this for 30 years. I know that, if you live in a particular part of the world and you step up in its defence, they call you a NIMBY. If you travel across town or across the world to stick up for somebody else's backyard, they call you a rent-a-crowd. It does not matter, really, what names they call you as long as you prevail, and in this instance we did.

We said that that project was going to be something of a referendum. We said that the state election, after eight long years—or slightly more than eight years—of the Barnett government, was going to be a referendum, and of course it was. Most eyes were on Senator Hanson, this incredibly oddball assemblage of candidates that she managed to scrape together for the Western Australian state election and an extraordinarily high vote that was being foreshadowed in polls. A lot of political attention and heat and light was being burned up around Ms Hanson and how her colleagues might do in the state election. But, actually, we know from opinion polling and from long experience in Western Australia that the Roe Highway project was something of a slow burn. In the weeks before the election, it was listed in a Fairfax poll as the second most likely issue to swing your vote. So, while a lot of national eyes were on the progress of Senator Hanson and her somewhat unusual colleagues, in Western Australia actually there was a lot more focus on what was happening with this project.

The results really speak for themselves, with a catastrophic swing that completely obliterated the Barnett government. There was a 15.9 per cent uniform swing and they now hold just 13 lower house seats out of 59. One of the more gratifying moments for me was Albert Jacob's abject and entirely appropriate fall from grace as probably the worst minister for the environment that we have ever had in Western Australia. He was utterly derelict in his duty. I do not know if he just played golf for eight years or what on earth he got up to, but he certainly was not there for the environment, and he has been rewarded with the result that we saw on Saturday, 11 March. The election also claimed the seats of Liberal MPs in electorates that were meant to benefit from the Perth Freight Link—suburbs like Bicton and Jandakot. These were the people who were meant to benefit and they saw right through the line that was being spun and the hideous political advertising that was running on the front page of local papers in the run-up to the election. People saw right through it and they voted with their feet.

In contrast, of course, the Greens had a wonderful win in the state election and it is my pleasure to acknowledge that tonight. Under the steady and genius hands of Sophie Greer and Andrew Beaton, the steady guardianship of our co-conveners, Trish Cowcher and Troy Treeby, and with the help of hundreds of volunteers, we saw our most effective field campaign, a really rich policy platform and outreach to multicultural communities across Perth, who were hurting and fearful about the rise of Pauline Hanson's One Nation, and we saw our primary vote rise to nine per cent. Maybe most pleasingly, we doubled our representation in the state upper house from two to four seats and we now share the balance of power. My friends Tim Clifford, Alison Xamon and Diane Evers and, of course, my old mate Robin Chapple in mining and pastoral, who seems simply undefeatable in that part of the world, are four great members who I know are going to make us very proud in state parliament. But it is impossible to go further without acknowledging our incumbent and much loved member for the South Metropolitan region, Lynn MacLaren, who was very narrowly not re-elected this time around. On behalf of all of us here, I am proud to be able to say thank you to Lynn and to her staff, who threw everything that they had at this campaign. Lynn was loved in the area and will be much missed, and it is incredibly ironic, poignant and deeply unfortunate that Lynn, who presided over and made such an important contribution to the ultimately successful campaign to stop the Roe Highway project from going through, now will not be able to spend the next couple of years in parliament looking over the state Labor Party's shoulder and making sure that they actually hold to their commitments around cleaning up and rehabilitating that site.

We know that that campaign was won on the ground by incredibly tenacious campaigning. The work that we were able to do here in parliament in the Senate inquiries, one of which I want to speak to briefly, I think made an important contribution. Ultimately, this win did not belong to the politicians at all; it belonged to neighbourhood organisers, to ordinary people who stepped up, to environmental campaigners and to the environmental mob, who spoke out for country and culture and, just for a change, people stopped and listened to them. They were protecting really important archaeological areas and an important trail leading up from the south-west. We know that these lakes and the areas around them are sacred sites—or they were until the Barnett government, in a fit of spite, delisted hundreds and hundreds of Aboriginal heritage sites. So it was community organising and grassroots campaigning that won the day. As controversial as it has been in this last two weeks, it was nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience, holding up work day after day, breaking the law and copping the consequences, not running away from the consequences. When they see this kind of hideous destruction unfolding before their eyes and they know they have evidence that the contractors are breaking the law and the environmental conditions that have been set down are not worth the paper they are printed on, some people take it on their own conscience to break the law—to step onto the site, to trespass and to try and impede work. And, if Senator Bernardi does not like it, that is just too bad. One day maybe we will see an issue close enough to his heart that he would take that step as well. It is a step that people do not take lightly and it does have consequences, but I congratulate and celebrate the people, including some very close friends of mine, who did take that step in defence of this extraordinary place.

We established a Senate inquiry, with the support of the Labor Party and most of the crossbenchers, on the back of evidence that the construction of that site was occurring in breach of environmental management plans set down by both state and federal ministers. The evidence that we heard was utterly compelling. Day after day, contractors, being paid for by Main Roads through Western Australian and Commonwealth taxpayers' money, were breaking the law and violating those environmental conditions set down by the state and federal governments. That is why there is absolutely no sadness in my heart tonight that minister Albert Jacob lost his job, because he was beyond incompetent; he was actually doing everything he could to enable this project when his singular mandate was to protect and look after the environment.

The Barnett government never had a mandate for this dog of a project. The companies involved—Leightons, now trading as CIMIC because of the brand damage they incurred due to widely reported international corruption and bribery; AECOM; BGC; and WA Limestone—are all implicated, taking the dollar on a deeply unpopular project such as this. It does have consequences. Some of these entities were in active and very deliberate breaches of management plans—that is, they were breaking the law. They showered the local community and local school with dust and asbestos. They caused extraordinary carnage and injury to protected species. They acted like complete cowboys. All of this was happening in broad daylight, because the wetlands watchers had their eyes on them basically 24/7, since mid-December, when earth moving equipment was first put on that site.

I would like to thank the amazing and patient Christine McDonald and Colby Hannan from the committee. I know the committee is stretched at the moment. They still made time to get to Perth to hear evidence directly from people who had an important story to tell. I would like to thank Alison Wright and the Coolbellup Concerned Residents, who were forced to step up and defend their community against asbestos and dust impacts. I would like to thank Phoebe Corke and Andrew Joske, and the Wetlands Watchers, who bravely took on the job that the EPA had basically abandoned. I would like to thank Kate Kelly and Kim Dravnieks, in particular, who are really powerful and tireless leaders of the Save Beeliar Wetlands and Rethink the Link campaigns. They are really powerful, staunch women. Thank goodness they were on our side. I would like to thank the City of Cockburn and the City of Fremantle mayors Logan Howlett and Dr Brad Pettit, who stepped absolutely above and beyond on behalf of their residents and ratepayers. I would also like to thank the Cockburn Wetlands Education Centre, Native Arc and the Beeliar Group of Professors, particularly Professors Richard Hobbs and John Bailey, as well as the black cockatoos expert, Dr Hugh Finn, who basically just buried the government's evidence on that day when they gave evidence.

I cannot finish up here tonight without paying my enormous respects to my friend and dear colleague who put their absolute heart and soul into this campaign, whether it be estimates against the machine, questions on notice, Senate orders, freedom of information requests, legals or media backgrounds. There are thousands of people who deserve thanks and commendation for stepping up for this gorgeous place that we can now go back to and visit and help with the healing process, but it is my pleasure to acknowledge tonight one in particular, Chantal Caruso. You sure are going to be missed around here, but Maori seedlings have now sprouted on their own on that site, and we know that within a couple of hundred years that site will be back to its former glory.

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