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NSW Greens

John Kaye

Thanks for the invitation and thanks on behalf of Lee Rhiannon Greens member of the NSW legislative Council who unfortunately can't be here, and congratulations to the organisers of this meeting. It's meetings such as this and organisations such as yours that do a lot more than politicians to save the environment. And particularly congratulations to the authors and promoters of the Port Hacking Report Card. It's documents such as this that shift the agenda away from the politicians and the bureaucrats and back to the community where it rightfully belongs and where it will really go somewhere.

For the Greens, the starting point on issues such as this is not just the issue of our core commitment to sustainability and to the idea that special places like Port Hacking have value, but also our commitment to social justice - to a fair and more equitable society; a society where everybody, regardless of their wealth, disadvantage, or their location (whether their rural or urban), has access to a high quality environment. I think people of my age had special experiences, when we grew up, of exploring wild places and of going out there into the natural environment and seeing our first dolphin jump through the water or seeing our first flying fish or observing our first sea snail. And it's those experiences as children and as adults which civilise us, which turn us into full and complete human beings, and which make us more capable of relating to each other. It's those experiences, on a grand scale, that make us a cohesive and civilised society. Yet surprisingly, and disastrously, we're losing those experiences. The way we are degrading our waterways, our coastal zones, our natural environment, will mean that the children who grow up now will not have the same access to the experiences we had. We are placing the very basis of our society at risk, which is a society that is connected with each other through our natural environment.

This Port Hacking Report Card is a most depressing read. It is a high quality illustration of what is going on in our natural environment. It talks about the way in which you can watch Port Hacking disintegrate. You can watch the natural values of Port Hacking be pulled apart. It talks about the growth in gross pollutants. When a kid goes for the walk with his mum and dad along the beach and discovers our natural places, finding that it's covered in plastic waste just doesn't provide the same experience. It detaches us from our natural environment. Port Hacking is being destroyed by sediments and by heavy metal pollution in those sediments. Seagrass beds are going, and being replaced by invasive species such as caulerpa. The Report Card talks about degraded foreshores, erosion of foreshore trails, the loss of natural cohesion and about the loss of those scenic view corridors and viewscapes that contribute markedly to informing the way we 'read' areas like Port Hacking. It talks about the loss of species, about the growth of oil pollution, and the loss-of-quiet as those loathsome jetskis and high powered motor boats invade our privacy as we enjoy the natural environment. The Report Card also talks about the terrible problem of dredging and the way that dredging is destroying not only the area where it dredges, but other areas as well as a result of changes in the flow of silt and water.

I think it's important for us to ask "Why is this happening?" Superficially it's happening because of a combination of inappropriate development on the foreshores, because of a spread of powerboats and jetskis and the invasive and damaging infrastructure which supports them such as marina and boat-launching ramps. It's also caused by the failure to control industrial or domestic runoff and wastes and by a poor quality or, non-existent enforcement of those regulations which do exist. That's why, at a superficial level, we're losing our natural environment. But there's something much deeper going on here. There's an issue here which was discussed earlier today, in that the policies that surround areas like Port Hacking aren't actually too bad in terms of the words they contain within them, but there is a massive failure to convert those policies into real and substantial action which will protect the natural environment. There's also a failure to invest in resources in the management and regulation of these areas to create and to protect the sort of environment that we need in order to pass on to our children. It is substantially a failure of the political process. And there are two reasons why the political process is failing to protect the natural urban environments. I think the first one is an issue of political courage. The most outstanding example of a failure of political courage was the way in which the commercial fishermen were driven out of our waterways in favour of the recreational fishing activities. There is no doubt that we have to bite-the-bullet on recreational fishing and we have to put rings around its growth rate. If we don't do this then we will be damaging our fish stocks into the future. Yet our current politicians have failed to address that issue. The second major political failing is the failure of the two major political parties to come to grips with the real issues that surround development. And they will never come to grips with them sadly, until they break their addiction to donations from developers.

Our development laws are an issue and Arthur spoke before quite eloquently about the changes to the Environment Protection and Assessment Act that when through in 1999. They went through with the support of the Opposition and the Government - Coalition and Labor. Why did it go through? Because both parties went to the election thoroughly cashed-up by developer campaign donations. And until that nexus is broken, we will continue to see the political process being corrupted. There is a cure to all this. That cure, the Greens argue, involves deep-seeded political changes. It involves reform to the way we plan and manage waterways, and reform to the way we regulate the uses of them. Most substantially and most importantly we'll be going to the next election with a raft of changes to the way we do planning in NSW. We'll be looking again at the issue of Environmental Impact Statements. EISs at the moment are paid for by the developer, i.e. by the proponent. The proponent chooses the consultants who write that report a situation which our American brethren would refer to as a 'perverse incentive'. The consultants have an incentive not to deliver honest statements. We have a major crisis with EISs in Australia. In other countries around the world, that has been resolved. It has been resolved using pools of consultants paid for out of blind trusts and with blind sources of money. In Australia we need to seriously examine the way in which we get expert advice into our planning process, to examine who pays for that advice and the quality of that advice. We need to put the community at the forefront of planning. It is the community in the end that values the natural asset more than any politician or bureaucrat ever could. It is time to revise our planning system and to make sure that community consultation is no longer a green wash, but a serious way of informing the planning process.

The Land and Environment Court continues to be a scandal. There are reforms to the Land and Environment Court before the State Parliament at the moment which are at best superficial and are at worst, a distraction from the real game in town which is getting the Land and Environment Court to respond in a meaningful way to the planning imperatives as seen by the community. We'll be talking about putting teeth into the concepts of environmentally sustainable development and the Precautionary Principle. The sad reality is that there are lots of piece of legislation and plans and documents that float around the NSW regulatory process that talk about ESD and the precautionary principle. but when it comes down to it, they are never applied. I have not seen one example where a community group has said "there are real risks about going ahead with this plan, you shouldn't do it because it violates the precautionary principle" and governments or bureaucracies have backed off on doing something. Now someone may wish to correct me on that and if that's the case I'll be very happy, but I doubt whether they can. And that needs to be changed. We need to take the issues such as ESD and the Precautionary Principle away from just being words, and turn them into things which inform all policy-making in NSW.

And finally, we desperately need to clean up developer campaign donations. We need to stop the situation where we have politics for sale and move to a situation where politicians can and do respond to the community and not to those who pay for their election campaign.

There are some specific issues that I want to talk about with respect to estuaries and wetlands that the Greens are very keen on. I think a number of good things have been said here today and I'm certainly taking away bits and pieces of paper to feed into our policy process. We will be coming out with a policy on wetlands and estuaries in late July of this year, but I can tell you some things that will be in there for sure. The first thing will be a complete and enforced ban on jetskis and high powered motor boats in all estuarine waterways of NSW. This is an issue on which we've made some progress already. Lee Rhiannon, one of our Greens members in Parliament, has been campaigning on this issue for four years now and has finally embarrassed the Government into banning jetskis on Sydney Harbour and into other regulatory steps. These are small steps at this stage but we've made the first stage. We have broken the nexus between the Labor Government and the jetski lobby and we need to keep pushing on that. As a community we need to get behind the idea that we don't want jetskis roaring around our inland waterways, nor do we want them anywhere near where we are swimming. Likewise with high powered motorboats. They are churning up the bottoms of estuaries like Port Hacking, and elsewhere, and they need to be pushed out to sea as far as we can get them away from the coast as possible.

The Greens will also be talking about restrictions on recreational fishing, retractions which genuinely and in a sustainable way, look at the way we can manage recreational fishing, so that we don't deplete our fish stocks into the future. It's a difficult issue and one which takes courage for politicians to take onboard. You would think that a party like the Greens could say these things without any collateral damage but it turns out that's not true. It turns out we have members who fish and are actually quite angry with us for saying things like that but we're going to them anyway because its our commitment to sustainability.

We want an end to all new marina and boat mooring facilities in estuaries in NSW. No more! There are more than enough now. So much so, that we want to look at selective closure of existing boat launching and boat mooring facilities in estuarine waters in NSW. A process for identifying those that should be closed and that are currently doing damage, and a process for closing those. We want much tighter controls on residential developments in the catchments of estuaries around NSW and we want much tighter controls on the heights and floor spaces, the bulk of developments which are in the viewcatchment of our coasts and waterways. Every time I have a visitor from overseas or even from interstate and I take them for a walk along some coastfront in NSW, they are horrified by what we are doing. We have to protect the scenic qualities of our coasts. That is what we pass on to our children. It's what we have as a collective resource for all of our society. It is a matter of seizing control of the growth-of-greed and actually addressing the real issues around what is the public viewscape and what is worth protecting. All of this is going to cost. There is serious money involved in carrying out these sorts of programs but we have to find those funds. We cannot go on with the situation where we have increasing private wealth and increasing public poverty. If we do that then we hand on nothing to our children. It is time we took serious steps to spend serious money on protecting our environment.

I have to say in conclusion that you can't leave all of this to the politicians. The urban environment is far too important just to leave up to politicians. And with all due respect to Arthur and Andrew and Bruce and even to my boss Lee Rhiannon, with all the best will in the world, politicians aren't going to get it right. And sadly not all of them have all the best will in the world. Some of them don't have goodwill towards the environment and towards the sort of values that we all represent. So it is time we moved beyond that. Leadership in the campaign to save our natural environment has to come from the community. The Greens will do the best they can to empower the community and to take from meetings like this, the voice of the community into the election campaign and into the Parliament. But in the end it is up to the community to voice for itself, what it wants. The Greens are optimistic about the outcome of this. We believe that Australians are people of goodwill and of commonsense and are people who have a sense of fairness and justice We believe in the end they will overcome and we will save these sorts of environments.
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