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Issue #1595      May 29, 2013

Saving the planet

Giz Watson valedictorian speech to WA Parliament

In 1997, Giz Watson first entered the WA Legislative Council as one of the first Greens politicians. This was the year of the Third Wave of industrial legislation changes proposed by then maverick right-wing Minister for Industrial Relations Graham Kierath under the government of Liberal premier Richard Court. It saw the biggest public march in the state’s history to parliament of over 35,000 people.

However, in the state’s south west another controversy was brewing and that was the logging of old growth forests and it was on the wave of discontent which this generated that saw the rise of Giz Watson to politics to try and save these vital biospheres and habitats of unique flora and fauna.

“It was this campaign to protect old growth forests which led the Gallop government, with the critical support of the Greens in this place (the Legislative Council) to increase the forests and woodlands and conservation reserves from 265,000 hectares to 800,000 hectares, and to create around 30 new national parks and conservation reserves, plus a substantial reduction in the amount of logging in our forests.”

Now some of those forest blocks which were saved are under attack due to shortcomings in the definition of “high conservation forest” and a forest conservation campaign continues in the south west of the state to this day.

During her 16 years as a parliamentarian, Giz Watson and the Greens took a progressive and activist position on a number of other issues which were recalled during her address. These included gender discrimination (Giz herself has a long term female partner), anti-uranium mining, mandatory sentencing versus judicial discretion, and control of cats to protect wildlife, the only Bill for which she had received a death threat.

She also spent 12 years on the Standing Committee on Legislation and played an instrumental role in 2004 in the passing of a Bill to ensure that third party access to the court records in criminal courts of summary jurisdiction was not lost. The author of this article was involved at the time in petitioning State Parliament over the issue and with the assistance of Giz the Committee was convened and the Bill was successfully passed.

The scrutiny by Giz Watson and other Greens members of the large amounts of legislation submitted to the parliament was something that earned the Greens accolades, not only in parliament but in the WA public service where Giz and others were known to meet with various public officials in their offices to sort out any problems of interpretation and drafting.

Ms Watson also spoke of the “unfinished business” of the parliament, with climate change at the top of the list. Giz spoke of the, “accelerating climate change and reducing rainfall which is upon us now”, especially in the south west of WA which has seen a 15 percent decrease in rainfall since 1975 and a 45 percent decrease in stream flows as per data from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Giz noted that, “the drying climate is already impacting on the health of our forests, agricultural land, wetlands and threatened species and will increasingly impact on human health and well being.”

Other unfinished business included the lack of commitment, interest and political leadership to turn away from non-renewable energy and to embrace cleaner and more efficient renewable energy. There is also the failure to carry out our international obligations to protect the biodiversity of WA’s unique plants and animals. “In WA there are 419 plants and 233 animals listed as likely to become extinct or rare and therefore in need of special protection.” In addition to which there are “21 ecological communities listed as critically endangered, 28 as vulnerable and three as presumed destroyed in the Threatened Species and Ecological Communities database. Only 20 percent of Western Australia’s biological subregions meet the objective of 15 percent or more reserved and 11 percent of the subregions do not contain any formal reserved areas.”

Finally, before concluding her address with her many thank you’s, Ms Watson noted how, “troubled I am by the vast inequality in electoral spending (between the range of parties in the WA parliamentary system) and the effect this has on democracy. It is becoming harder and harder for political parties that decline the donations – and the influence – of corporations to compete in election campaigns.” Giz added that the Greens will continue to advocate for a cap on election expenditure to provide a more level playing field.

The manner in which the March 2013 WA state election campaign was conducted and its outcome is proof of the failure of the private funding of election campaign expenditure.

The Liberal Party received such heavy financial support from the corporate or capitalist sector that rumour has it that they had the equivalent of $500,000 in expenditure per electorate. Did this produce a more enlightening and informative election campaign that was prepared to tackle the difficult and pressing policy issues confronting this state?

One could argue that after seeing the voluminous election material which piled into people’s letter boxes, the radio and TV ads and the billboards and internet advertising that the campaign by the Liberals and Nationals spun mostly in the opposite direction towards distraction and distortion.

The Greens and to a lesser extent the ALP ran a campaign which tried to address the pressing issues of the day such as improving road congestion through a light rail system, addressing housing shortfalls, “justice re-investment” instead of the knee jerk law and order refrain, renewable energy projects such as solar thermal in the Goldfields and a re-adjustment of some of the wasteful and excessive public works projects such as the Elizabeth Quay and the Burswood Stadium.

On March 9, 2013, the message of the Greens and ALP went unheard and so against their own best interests voters returned the Liberal Party with an increased majority. The Greens had their parliamentary representation halved with the loss of Giz Watson, the Upper House member for North Metro and the similarly hardworking Alison Xamon who represented the East Metropolitan area of Perth.

Giz Watson delivered her valedictorian speech on the afternoon on Thursday May 16, before an appreciative chamber and a gallery packed with about 60 family, friends and supporters who gave her a standing ovation. Xamon’s last day was May 21.

The Greens may have lost two hard working and charismatic parliamentarians but all Western Australians lost two of the hardest working, committed and dedicated politicians this state has seen in the last 20 years. Their loss will be keenly felt by all like minded and progressive Western Australians.   

Next article – A lost generation: The need for a new system

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