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Lynn MacLaren MLC

Lynn MacLaren MLC's Inaugural Speech

Project SafeCom's Chairwoman enters State Parliament

"You will hear from my accent that I am an immigrant to Australia. Thanks to Rotary International's youth exchange program, I studied for a year in Albany, Western Australia in 1979. It was in Albany that I experienced that "aha" moment. On a Spring day, atop a granite outcrop overlooking the blues and greens of the Australian bush, I realised that 'everything matters'."

"Back in the Mojave Desert in my home state of California I pursued journalism studies and worked at a small daily paper. I returned to WA three years later and eventually settled in Perth where I used my skills as a technical writer and desktop publisher, establishing my own business that I had for 7 years."

Below is the transcript of Lynn MacLaren's Inaugural Speech in the West Australian Parliament. Lynn is the "short-term" Greens MLC for the South Metropolitan Region, replacing Jim Scott for the duration of the term until May 2005.

While it is a short term, we congratulate Lynn (Lynn was also Project SafeCom Chair during the 2004-05 term) with this appointment, and with the speech: it seems that it's one of the few times refugees and mandatory detention get a mention in the WA State Parliament.

Lynn MacLaren MLC
Inaugural Speech in Legislative Council

Parliament of Western Australia

31 March 2005

Thank you. In reply to the Governor's opening of Parliament, I take this opportunity to make some introductory remarks as the newly elected Member for the South Metropolitan Region.

I'll only be here a few short weeks, so I beg your indulgence at this time in allowing me to address a range of issues relevant to this Parliament. During my brief term, I look forward to the opportunity to progress electoral reform and to contribute carefully to decision-making in the Council.

How one person came to be in Australia

By way of Introduction

You will hear from my accent that I am an immigrant to Australia. Thanks to Rotary International's youth exchange program, I studied for a year in Albany, Western Australia in 1979. It was in Albany that I experienced that "aha" moment. On a Spring day, atop a granite outcrop overlooking the blues and greens of the Australian bush, I realised that 'everything matters'.

Back in the Mojave Desert in my home state of California I pursued journalism studies and worked at a small daily paper. I returned to WA three years later and eventually settled in Perth where I used my skills as a technical writer and desktop publisher, establishing my own business that I had for 7 years.

I shied away from public life until my 30's when live exports from the port of Fremantle triggered my sense of outrage at cruelty and my passion to make a difference. I wish to acknowledge the support and encouragement I have enjoyed from friends and fellow activists in the People Against Cruelty in Animal Transport, Animals Australia, the Greens, and many other community groups, including many people in the public gallery today.

My American parents have supported me in many ways but weren't too pleased about my home address halfway across the globe. My late father, who retired as an Air Force Major, would be proud of my political achievements, though he would be more comfortable sitting on the other side of the chamber. I am especially proud of my mother for starting up the local chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) - even though I lived on another continent when I came out as a lesbian.

Living in Australia for the past 23 years has given me a perspective on America that most Americans should compulsorily acquire. Growing up in America during the Nixon-Watergate-Vietnam years gave me an interesting perspective on accountability, peace, democracy and the American political system. Like many other progressives who enjoy freedom of speech, I am critical of American foreign policy. This stance would be irrelevant in many Parliaments outside the USA. However, in Western Australia, we have a strange relationship with that foreign power. Without the consent of this Parliament, we have the US military using Fremantle as an "away port," a defacto base to refresh their soldiers and supplies. They also use Lancelin as a bombing range. Like many Australians I am opposed to the military presence of a foreign power, especially when decision-making about the level of risk to our communities is not open and accountable, but by secret arrangement as in the SeaSwap programme. Of further concern, the presence of nuclear powered engines, nuclear weapons and depleted uranium munitions is without our knowledge or consent.

As a Greens Parliamentarian and activist, I have a responsibility to raise 'the community voice' in this chamber. And raise it I will;

Especially in regard to matters of injustice, indifference, short-sightedness and cruelty.

I believe another world is possible. And that each of you has a part to play in bringing about that transformation. As Patrick Parkinson wrote in a standard law text:

The challenge for the future of Australian law is to develop its inherited legal tradition to meet the changing needs and aspirations of Australian society at the end of the 20th century. In shaping that tradition, the words of the Apostle Paul seem apt:

"Test all things; hold fast to the things which are good."

Apostle Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:21)


Here is a shortlist of what I believe we should change:

The community has a right to participate in decision-making

This has to be MORE than rhetoric about "Community Consultation" Currently developers and governments weld all the power in planning processes.

During the last round of Planning System Reform communities lobbied unsuccessfully for a right for communities to appeal planning decisions that affect them. The planning system reform needs to include a right for communities to participate in the decision-making.

The Greens

I follow in the footsteps of the Greens WA first Member of the Legislative Council, Jim Scott, MLC. Jim is a pioneer of Greens politics, he was elected in 1993 and in 1997 I came to work with him. He resigned on Australia Day this year to contest the lower house seat of Fremantle. And while he was unsuccessful in breaking into the Legislative Assembly on this occasion, it is only a matter of time before a Green voice is heard in that place.

In the Senate, the Greens have doubled our voices. Western Australian Senator-elect Rachel Siewert takes her place in July next to Senator-elect Christine Milne (TAS) and Senators Bob Brown (TAS) and Kerry Nettle (NSW). Rachel will be the fourth woman from the Greens WA to serve in the Senate, in the legacy of former Senators Jo Vallentine, Christabel Charmarette and Dee Margetts.

So, while our numbers in the Legislative Council have fallen come May, make no mistake: the Greens, firmly supported by our pillars of participatory democracy, peace and nonviolence, social justice and environmental sustainability - are here to stay as an alternative to the old political parties.

Around the world there are more than 70 Green parties, with 500 elected members in national and provincial governments and thousands in local government. In 2001 representatives from the Global Green movement converged in Canberra to sign our historic Charter.

Among the keynote speakers was The Green OXYGEN Party's Colombian Presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. Ingrid made a huge impact on me at the Conference. Only a few months later, guerrillas kidnapped her and Clara Rojas, her vice-presidential running mate - they remain hostage 3 years later. Ingrid's kidnapping illustrates that political activists - even those who campaign for peace through non-violence - are targets for violence.

Violence and the Refugees Action Movement

Last weekend, we witnessed this much closer to home, when human rights activists at the Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia were set upon by an elite riot squad and mounted police. Reports tell us that flying kites and balloons triggered a violent assault by the police. Senator Vanstone is moaning about the cost to the taxpayer of what I would call the police's 'over the top', reaction. But what is the cost to our society when peaceful protest is met with aggressive force? Will this Government response serve to stifle the refugee justice movement?

About 80 people from Western Australia attended the Baxter Convergence this Easter. Six were arrested; several suffered bruises and scratches. One young man was cut on the face during his arrest. What were they trying to achieve?

"... five of us crossed a small perimeter fence and then used a nylon rope and small metal hook to pull off some strands of electrified wire running along the top of the main fence. We did this away from the main protest activity and police presence. We then dropped our equipment and stood with our hands in the air, peacefully giving ourselves up for arrest as the police arrived.

'We state that the damaging of the fence is non-violence, believing that in fact this fence represents the violence inflicted on innocent human beings by our inhumane policy'.

We also want to draw attention to the hypocrisy of our 'justice' system where we who have committed a crime are free to travel and enjoy our comfortable lives, while those who have committed no crime are imprisoned indefinitely."

Tonja Boyd, Nathan Harris, Dave Morris,
Mike Quinn, Khristo Newall

You may choose to condemn or applaud these protesters, but will you spare a moment to think about - to feel something about - the men, women and children who are living day after day in indefinite detention?

Western Australia breeds inspirational activists

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that's the essence of inhumanity - George Bernard Shaw

One of these activists is Greg who was arrested last month near the South Street entrance to the Kwinana Freeway for failing to leave a small block of bushland in the face of a bulldozer. Greg, who was camped several metres up in an ancient eucalypt, was making the last stand for Beckley Bushland. I only met him briefly, when he was setting up the tree dwelling that was to become his home for the coming weeks.

Greg displays the courage and determination shared by activists around the globe who put their convictions first - before their financial security, before their physical comforts - because they believe another world is possible.

Eighty percent of Beckley Bushland was cleared for a parking lot. It was a Banksia/Eucalypt woodland, with old growth Marri trees, Christmas trees, grass trees, Jarrah trees, Paperbarks and 4 species of Banksia. It contained the world's third largest population of the declared rare flora, unique to Western Australia, Grand Spider Orchid.

Yes, a small area, 0.8ha, was set aside to try to preserve the orchid's here, but with little hope of their survival. The activists and friends of Beckley Bushland, might find it difficult to trust the Government's commitment to protecting biodiversity. Especially when a larger multi-story parking lot could've been built on the opposite side of the freeway, with no loss of biodiversity.

The Ethics of the Environmental Challenge

Even if you don't value biodiversity for its own sake, there is a human-centred argument for setting aside wilderness areas. Peter Singer, the father of the Animal Liberation movement and Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University puts it like this:

"...At present there are both wilderness and non-wilderness areas. If we destroy the wilderness, that choice is gone forever. Just as we will spend large sums to preserve cities like Venice, even though future generations conceivably may not be interested in such architectural treasures, so we should preserve wilderness even though it is possible that future generations will care little for it. Thus we will not wrong future generations, as we have been wronged by members of past generations whose thoughtless actions have deprived us of so many possibilities, like the chance of glimpsing the thylacine when walking through Tasmanian forests. We must take care not to inflict equally irreparable losses on the generations to follow us.

"... a human-centred ethic can be basis of powerful arguments for what we may call "environmental values." Even from the perspective of such an ethic, economic growth based on the exploitation of irreplaceable resources can be seen as something that brings gains to the present generation, and possibly the next generation or two, at a price that will be paid by every generation to come. The price to be paid by future human beings is too high. But should we limit ourselves to a human-centred ethic?"

Environmental values, The Environmental Challenge

I agree with Peter Singer's additional argument that "the infliction of suffering on other sentient creatures should be given as much weight as we would give to infliction of suffering on human beings."

Ending Live Exports

We must immediately stop the live export of sheep, cattle, goats and whatever other poor animal exporters choose to abuse in this way. This barbaric practice of shipping animals for thousands of kilometres for weeks at a time results in the suffering and barbaric slaughter of millions of Western Australian sheep and cattle each year. Almost 6 million sheep are exported from Fremantle Port each year, depending on whether Saudi Arabia is in the game. Horrific suffering on board sheep ships during transport and at their destination is well documented. Almost 2 years ago, the Gallop Government was given evidence of suffering, death and unnecessary cruelty but it still fails to act. A thousand sheep died after what was regarded as a voyage in good conditions aboard the Al Kuwait. It is extremely concerning to me that the director-general of a government department has been called before the Supreme Court to defend allegations of failure to do her duty over a breach of the Animal Welfare Act.

This complaint was handballed from the Police to the RSPCA to the Local Government Department in what can only be described as gross mismanagement. Is the Gallop Government waiting for the clock to run out so the case is never heard? Could this case prove once and for all that the trade cannot be conducted humanely and is illegal?

The path to a new industry has been carefully laid out by successive inquiries. A transition strategy has been drafted. Does Geoff Gallop have the political will to stop this cruel practice and support farmers during the changeover to a chilled and packaged product? Or is his Ministry flouting the laws this Parliament has passed?

It is heartening that some farmers are embracing the marketing opportunity of clean, green produce. Biodynamic, organic, non-GMO and free-range labels - which used to be limited to specialty stores, now grace the shelves of our largest supermarkets. And vegetarian choices appear there, too, as well as on restaurant menus. The treatment of farm animals is not only a measure of our humanity, but it is also an issue of sustainability.

Economic Growth vs Sustainability

The Gallop Government proudly points to a state economic growth rate of 7.5% over the past 4 years and predicts a 5% rate this year. The economy is linked to the natural environment without which nothing can be produced. Yet most economic policy treats the environment as a limitless supply of raw materials and a bottomless pit into which we can continue to pour our waste without a second thought. Endless economic growth is still being pursued regardless of the limits of our finite planet.

As this is the "Chamber of Second Thoughts" it is appropriate that we reconsider this headlong race for growth, and put sustainability first. If we continue to foster unsustainable industries, our growth bubble will burst. We need to be serious about assessing projects using a triple bottom line approach. We should direct our capital into developing sustainable industry, and stop propping up unsustainable ventures which see our raw resources shipped out without investment in a sustainable future for WA.

Selling Off our Assets

One particularly gross example of selling off our assets for "a song" is the sale of the Cockburn Sound seabed off Coogee Beach for a private marina-style housing development. Not only is this development challenging our common law right to the seabed, but it appropriates an important regional beach and places future residents at risk due to Climate Change-related rises in sea level and severe storms. Perhaps worst of all, it destroys hope of sustainable development in this region.

Sustainable Perth

We know from the Government's own process of community consultation that Western Australians want a more sustainable urban environment to retain their quality of life. But why has the request for an urban growth boundary fallen off the agenda? Other cities have demonstrated success with such boundaries, along the principles of "Smart Growth":

there is a growing concern that current development patterns - dominated by what some call "sprawl" - are no longer in the long-term interest of our cities, existing suburbs, small towns, rural communities, or wilderness areas. Though supportive of growth, communities are questioning the economic costs of abandoning infrastructure in the city, only to rebuild it further out. Spurring the smart growth movement are demographic shifts, a strong environmental ethic, increased fiscal concerns, and more nuanced views of growth. The result is both a new demand and a new opportunity for smart growth."

Perth deserves more from its Government than lip service to community consultation and sustainable development. One way forward is to begin to inspire communities and local planners about how we can develop within an urban growth boundary.

South Beach

When it comes to sustainable development, we still have a lot to learn. Take for example, the development approved at South Beach.

South Beach, located just south of the Fremantle Sailing Club, is a popular family beach with a kiosk, playground, gazebo, grassed area and nearby heritage-valued Wilson Park. It is in walking distance for most South Fremantle residents and a portion is zoned for dogs.

A former factory for ANI-Bradken, a manufacturer of PVC, grows derelict within metres of the beach and a freight rail line along the coast divides the beach park from Wilson Park. Behind the factory are the former Robb's Jetty and Fremantle tip sites.

The Greens find many problems with the proposal as approved:

Are current planning processes, which approved this development, adequate to ensure sustainability? We would say "No".

Electoral Reform

Finally, I would like to reiterate my principled commitment to participatory democracy. With other Greens I commend the Gallop Government for trying to address the inequities of our voting system. However, we must not lose sight of the challenge to involve all Western Australians no matter where they live.

Our Global Greens charter articulates that:

We strive for a democracy in which all citizens have the right to express their views, and are able to directly participate in the environmental, economic, social and political decisions which affect their lives; so that power and responsibility are concentrated in local and regional communities, and devolved only where essential to higher tiers of governance.

This includes, but is not limited to:

The Gallop agenda for electoral reform is an important opportunity to improve participatory democracy in Western Australia. Moving away from vote-weighting is but one part of that overall picture - decision-making in cabinet, the role of political parties and independence of elected members, as highlighted by the Opposition yesterday, is another part of that picture. We all must face the challenge of ensuring the fair representation of people who live away from the population centre.

I thank you, Mr President, for this opportunity to voice the concerns of our community. I hope that in the coming months, our decisions reflect their will.