Monday, 17 March 2014
A fortnight ago I rose in here to share my frustration and anger at the course set by our elected government over the past six months. I have been genuinely overwhelmed by the response. I apologise if you are still waiting for a reply to your email or Facebook message. Most of all, I thank you for sharing it. Without you, it would just be me talking to an almost empty room. You know who you are, and now we also know that, despite the daunting obstacles we face, we are many.
Because frustration and anger will only take us so far, tonight is not another attempted take-down of the Prime Minister. I will leave that in the capable hands of a class of spirited year 9s from the Newtown High School of the Performing Arts. Instead, I want to set out what it is that we are trying to achieve in Western Australia. In my first speech in parliament I said that I wanted to be a part of the movement that turned the ship. Whether we know it or not, whether our leaders are in denial of it or not, the most urgent task of this present generation is to drive the transition to the clean energy economy and to call time on those whose blind pursuit of fossil profits now risks everything.
The truth is that we are on our way. The ship is turning to face the sun. More than 1.1 million Australian households have installed solar PV on their rooftops, providing thousands of jobs for companies like Solargain in Western Australia. This is driving electricity costs down, and not just in the places you might expect. The number of family owned power stations in Perth increases the further you get from St Georges Terrace. The lower the household income, the higher the likelihood of finding a household that has taken its power back. That is not because the good people of Baldivis or Gosnells have suddenly all turned into deep ecologists but because it is a smart decision for the budget bottom line. Save money. Save the planet.
Now scale this up and ask what would happen if a city, or a nickel mine in the north-east goldfields, applied this thinking. Imagine, if you will, a field of 10,000 mirrors, tracking heliostats in a glass mandala more than a mile from side to side. Imagine that this power station runs in total silence, on no fuel but sunlight, and can deliver constant, reliable electricity 24/7 with a flexibility that makes it perfectly matched to back up variable output from wind, wave and PV plants. Maybe this sounds like science fiction, but it is 2014. The future is here; it is just not widely distributed yet. These utility-scale solar thermal plants already exist in southern Spain and the western United States, and the next plants are on drawing boards in China, India and the Middle East.
Apply this thinking to the whole grid and you get Energy 2029, a costed plan to take Western Australia's south-west grid 100 per cent renewable by the year 2029. It creates up to 26,000 jobs and costs are roughly the same as the Barnett coal and gas as usual trajectory.
The year 2029 has special resonance for my home town. It will mark the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Swan River colony. The proud descendants of the Wadjuk Nyoongar people who bore the brunt of colonial occupation remind us today of the time Wadjemup, Rottnest Island, was a concentration camp. When we try to bury this collective trauma in sepia-toned nostalgia, they remind us of the fact that even today they make up two per cent of the Western Australian population but 40 per cent of the prison population. It is time for justice reinvestment. It is time to build communities, not prisons, so that the culungars of 2029 might feel like lending their 40,000 year cultural inheritance to the celebrations of our young city. May your campfires burn forever.
The tragedy of poverty and homelessness is all the more sharp because Western Australia is a wealthy place. It is wealth built in part on mining, the liquidation of non-renewable resources at scales that double in impact, and double again roughly once every 25 years. Mining is an important part of the Western Australian economy and it will remain as such for as long as we build wind turbines weighing hundreds of tonnes out of steel and other metals. But, with recent falls in the iron ore price and unemployment in WA now at ten-year highs, we urgently need to talk about what sectors will provide stable employment in the years to come.
So on the weekend we launched a set of detailed plans for the economy in WA. The Western Australian jobs package highlights the employment potential in renewable energy, a home-grown modular housing industry, telecommunications, transport and agriculture. I take this opportunity tonight to call on the other WA Senate candidates for a debate on your vision for the Western Australian economy, if you have one, and your plan for jobs, if you have one.
When we set our sights on the Perth of 2029, we imagine a city transformed—a network of vibrant urban centres linked by fast, frequent public transport, light rail and bus rapid transit. The idea of consolidating diverse and affordable housing along a network of rapid transit lines is the basis of the Transforming Perth project that we undertook with the Property Council and the Australian Urban Design Research Centre. Focusing development into an archipelago of urban villages in this way allows us to take the pressure off our stressed urban bushland. The Perth Greenways Project vividly illustrates the major benefit of such a city. We can save precious threatened areas like Point Peron, Point Grey, Anstey Keane and the Beeliar wetlands and mesh them together under a new urban forest along routes proposed by the WA Local Government Association, giving the Carnaby's and other threatened species a fighting chance to come back from the brink of extinction.
This transit city of the near future is also going to be one of the world's best cities for bikes. With just three percent of the state transport budget and a small federal contribution, our Bike Vision plan could deliver Copenhagen-style cycling infrastructure across WA cities and towns for the increasing numbers of people who want to spend more time getting around on the most elegant invention of the industrial age. We call these collective initiatives the WA2.0 project—the most urgent steps we need to take now to have any chance of making a good home in the 21st century. They are a small slice of the fruits of 30 years of collaborative work by Greens WA MPs, staff and volunteers. The last fortnight has shown the power of our online community to get the word out, whether the old gatekeepers want us to or not. I have no illusions about the ability of politics as usual to deliver this vision or prevent some of the more catastrophic collapse scenarios on offer. If only it were as simple as electing another white male politician to parliament to fix all of these things. Our political system might as well have been staring into the headlights for the last 30 years, as the deepening crisis mounting outside these marble halls continues to mount.
So for real leadership I look to a young woman perched 40 metres up a 400-year-old karri tree in a last stand for Challar in the wild south-west. I look to fourth generation farmers who locked the gate and linked arms with allies from far away when the gas industry came trespassing. And what happened on the beach at Walmadan, where the people of the West Kimberley mobilised against the political might of the gas industry? That was leadership. Whatever it was that got you and the 80,000 or so others like you out to March in March, it is good to be reminded that there are a lot of us. On behalf of all of you—and with the consent of the whips—I seek leave to table your statement of no confidence in this government.
That is understood. No discourtesy intended, Senator Kroger—I did check with the whip before you arrived.
We know that the state is already turning to the tools of mass surveillance and police intimidation against those who put their bodies on the line in defence of country and community. Without the freedom to organise and the freedom to communicate online or off, all our other freedoms are at immediate threat—an invisible electronic thread that links the pirate and the hacker with the public interest whistleblower and the young climate campaigners fighting to secure the future of their generations—and, I might add, those who bore witness in the Victorian parliament only a few days ago, when the right to lawful dissent and protest was taken out of the statute books.
The stakes are high, as high as the ruination of Fukushima on the Pacific coast of Japan, as high as small island states facing saltwater inundation and forced evacuations as our planet warms. We are all in this together. Wherever you are in this great country tonight, however you can help to turn the ship, it would be—noted.