2001 Inaugural Speech

May 29, 2001

I am honoured to stand here today on Nyoongah land to deliver my inaugural speech to this Chamber. I congratulate you, Mr President, on your election to that position. I believe your rulings will provide fairness, tinged with the necessary degree of humour. I also extend my congratulations to Deputy President Hon George Cash on his election. His former role as an impartial President befits him well for this office. I extend my congratulations to all parliamentarians on their election to this Chamber, and I look forward to working closely with them over the next four years.

Legislative Council
Tuesday 29 May 2001
Inaugural Speech as PDF
Hon Robin Chapple MLC
(Member for Mining & Pastoral)

HON ROBIN CHAPPLE (Mining and Pastoral)I am honoured to stand here today on Nyoongah land to deliver my inaugural speech to this Chamber. I congratulate you, Mr President, on your election to that position. I believe your rulings will provide fairness, tinged with the necessary degree of humour. I also extend my congratulations to Deputy President Hon George Cash on his election. His former role as an impartial President befits him well for this office. I extend my congratulations to all parliamentarians on their election to this Chamber, and I look forward to working closely with them over the next four years.

I must preface my speech with an observation. I accept and commit to the oath I gave on 22 May, but feel I need to explain that I would much rather have sworn allegiance to the people of this country than to a foreign monarch. As a republican, I hope that by the end of my term I, or whoever follows me, will be able to swear allegiance to the people of this great country.

For a number of years I have been a social and environmental activist throughout the north west and Western Australia generally. I see my election to this Chamber as a new plateau in that activism. I now face a significantly greater challenge if I am to lift the level of support for social and environmental issues in the Mining and Pastoral Region within this, the parliamentary arena. The challenge that now faces both my electorate assistants and me is to lift the representation of the region to new heights and to provide those communities with a genuine conduit to this Chamber. My two newly appointed assistants, Rebecca Park and Scott Ludlam, will join me in the toil to represent our massive electorate.

First, I must thank all the Greens (WA) candidates, helpers and friends who assisted me in achieving election to this Chamber: Scott Ludlam, the No 2 candidate on my ticket; Scott Ryan, our Burrup candidate; Andrei Nikulinsky, our Kimberley candidate; John Blinkhorn, our Ningaloo candidate; and Deb Botica, our Kalgoorlie candidate. I also wish to extend my congratulations to Deb, who has just been re-elected for the third time to the Kalgoorlie-Boulder City Council with the highest vote of the poll.

Many people have supported me in my campaigning efforts over the years and during the last election period. Although I cannot mention them all, I express my thanks to some special people: my daughter Sara, who from her teenage years has helped me in all local, federal and state government elections I have ever contested; my friend Annie for all the reality checks and support she has shown me over the past few years; Stewart Jackson for always providing the right political advice; my mate Cliff for being my greatest sounding board and my mate Steve for just being excited; and Jo Vallentine, a friend who has been, and always will be, a magnificent inspiration to me. Finally, I thank two people for whom I have had the privilege to work; both have provided me with guidance and true friendship. The first is my colleague Hon Giz Watson, whose standards I will seek to emulate in this Chamber. The second is Hon Tom Helm, a previous MLC for the Mining and Pastoral Region, a former proud member of the Labor Party, and a person who in my eyes epitomises the phrase “a true believer”. Lastly, but most importantly, I thank all the regional voters who had faith in our green agenda.

My journey to this Chamber has evolved socially and politically over time. It might surprise many members on the other side of the Chamber to learn that I actually started, so to speak, on their side of the floor as a junior stockbroker in Threadneedle Street in the City of London. I then worked in motor racing manufacturing with the late Bruce McLaren; and in industrial farming industries in England; and I then did some global adventuring before arriving in Western Australia in 1974. In Australia, most of my time has been spent in the north of this State and, to a lesser degree, in the Northern Territory. I had the privilege of working for a number of Aboriginal nations before spending 12 years in Port Hedland, seven of those as a town councillor. I am now proud to stand here as an elected member of the Greens (WA) to represent from a green perspective the future needs and responsibilities of the Mining and Pastoral Region of Western Australia and our planet. The representation I will give to these areas will be based on the four pillars of the Greens (WA) structure, which form the basis of our visions for the future: social and economic justice; participatory grassroots democracy; peace, disarmament and non-violence; and environmental sustainability.

We have not inherited the earth from our parents; we are merely borrowing it from our children - these words come from a Kenyan proverb and were reiterated often by a champion of mine, the late Jacques Cousteau. I hope this saying will help guide my thinking during my time in this Chamber, and may in time become the focus of many other members here. During my term as a member for the Mining and Pastoral Region I hope to remain true to these visions and not be distracted or consumed by the minutiae and game play of this Chamber. With these words in mind, I will now address my hopes and concerns for the areas I represent. The Mining and Pastoral Region covers many bio-regions, industries and social groupings, and as such has many diverse problems and needs. Unfortunately, the social and environmental history of the region has been inconsistent, seesawing through pluses and minuses based on the various political wills of the day.

Those of us who have been working in the mining industry in Western Australia believe that the mining industry of this State has attempted to lift the level of its game significantly. Here in Western Australia companies work towards presenting a good image, but the truth about what happens on the ground at their mines overseas in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Nevada and Montana et cetera is very different. I urge any Australian or Australian-based international mining company that operates in other countries to apply the same, if not better, conditions to their mines operating overseas as they would in Australia. On 10 May 2001, the Chief Executive Officer of Placer Dome, Jay Taylor, in discussion with non-government organisations said Placer Dome was not interested again in working in Indonesia. On the same day of that discussion, Placer Dome announced to the media that it was going back into Indonesia in association with a number of joint venturers, partners in goldmining explorations in South Kalimantan. Mark Twain often called a mine a hole in the ground owned by a liar - unfortunately, that seems true again. Placer has over time abandoned several projects in Indonesia as a result of those projects not being viable. Most of these projects have had significant negative impact on the environment and the communities of Central Kalimantan, South Sulawesi and West Kalimantan. At issue is the fact that in Western Australia Placer operates one of the best mines on environmental and social grounds. Why can the company not do that overseas? The level of injury in the mining industry in Western Australia is still far too high, with four fatalities already this year. I do not consider it acceptable that the lives of one mine worker and three contractors should be lost within a mere five months. Seven fatalities occurred last year; two in 1999; seven in 1998; 12 in 1997; seven in 1996; and eight in 1995. These figures are rattled out as a statistic, but these people were all somebody’s son, daughter, husband or wife. The industry must be made safer. If in-house management of safety is not working, then the Government must take back the reins of control.

The economy of Western Australia has depended on the mining industry for more than a hundred years. Why then do we pay such little respect to the men and women who risk their lives on mine sites every day? I call members’ attention to the Wittenoom asbestos mine in the Hamersley Ranges, surely one of the most tragic examples of corporate negligence in Western Australian history. The mine has been closed for decades, but the miners and their families are still dying from exposure to asbestos-laden dust. They may have expected swift compensation to help ease some of the enormous difficulties they are facing; instead, even today they are subject to delaying actions by lawyers who know that if the claimant dies before the claim is finalised in court, the family will receive a much reduced compensation payout. I will certainly be supporting moves by Larry Graham to close this loophole so that the families can receive full compensation, even though the original claimants may have passed away.

The people of the north west, who are responsible for the wealth we take for granted down here, also deserve much better. If we travel 600 kilometres south from Wittenoom we come to a remote sheep station called Yeelirrie. Not many people know that WMC Resources Ltd has left 35 000 tonnes of raw uranium ore in four large stockpiles on that station. This radioactive rubble is a known carcinogen and is blowing in the breeze right now because WMC claims it is conducting metallurgical tests. One of the priorities of my term in office is to have WMC clean up this appalling mess. I look forward to the day when I can support my colleague Hon Giz Watson in passing the Nuclear Activities (Prohibition) Bill, which will ban uranium mining from this State. There are some minerals that we have to learn to leave alone.

Over the past seven or so years the pastoral industry has come to grips with some of the historic problems created by the many years of overstocking. Many station owners and managers are now trying hard to restore these land systems. The Department of Conservation and Land Management and many mining companies are trying to destock their properties to give perennial vegetation systems a chance to recover and re-establish, but the Pastoral Board, with its head firmly buried in the early 1900s, insists that these organisations continue to stock their properties. It seems absolute nonsense that the industry wants to do the right thing, yet bureaucracy will not let it. Australia’s rangelands have suffered some of the most severe damage to Australia’s environments since European colonisation, including the world’s highest rate of mammal extinction, threats to the survival of many rangeland ecosystems, and degradation of over half of the rangelands. Today Australia’s rangelands are the most poorly represented in the conservation estate. We need to conserve and restore many of the rangeland species and ecosystems. This work needs to occur in conjunction with the rangeland residents, most notably the traditional owners.

Four main processes are threatening rangeland, biota and ecosystems: overgrazing; inappropriate fire management; feral animals and weeds; and diversion of water to industrial and urban use. Rangeland ecosystems require management and it should be up to the Government, on behalf of the community, to provide sufficient resources. I do not subscribe to the view that pastoral production, which in association with other processes has destroyed many ecosystems, both in the past and currently, should be required to provide and/or pay for the management of rural areas. This is simply not equitable. It is basically government decree on behalf of the whole community demanding excessive stocking rates that cause the problem.

In every election the Greens (WA) have promoted regional population growth, coupled with the idea that a significant percentage of moneys raised by royalties in regional areas should be returned to those regions for local development purposes. Regionalisation or decentralisation has been a key direction of mine ever since my early days as a Port Hedland town councillor. Unfortunately, the opposite is occurring, with town after town in the Mining and Pastoral Region closing or becoming so small that it can hardly survive. Why, one may ask, when the region has most of the resources that are generating so much revenue and wealth for the State? It comes down to a number of reasons. One reason is the greed of successive Governments which have retained in the Perth metropolitan area the economic wealth of the Mining and Pastoral Region. In 1999-2000, $776.5 million was raised from mineral and oil royalties from the goldfields and the north west; little was returned. During the establishment of the gold royalty, the Greens (WA) argued that moneys raised from the goldfields - $33.5 million last year - should actively benefit the goldfields. Other political parties did not support our views. There are many ways in which moneys raised in the region can be used for the development and enhancement of regional communities: by greater returns to local authorities, and by the establishment of a trust from royalties, similar to the Alaskan model. I will continue to push for regional revenue return, rather than allow regional moneys to continually be squandered on belltowers and the like in Perth.

Fly in, fly out work forces do nothing for regional economies or communities, and these practices must be abandoned. Fly in, fly out work forces came about for several reasons. Certainly economics played a significant part, but there were other reasons behind this. During the mid 1980s the major mining companies realised that as technology improved, their senior administration did not need to be located at the site of their mines or their ports and that a significant saving in wages, remote allowances and housing costs could be made by returning their corporate staff to Perth. Governments, through their state agreement Acts at that time, could have intervened and stopped the move. They did not, and the rot had started.

The implementation of the fringe benefits tax in remote areas was a further impediment to regional growth, and was cited as the major contributor to fly in, fly out work forces. The original idea of a fringe benefits tax was to ensure that corporations and fat cats did not dodge their responsibility to pay tax. Instead it has become a major impost on the mining companies and small businesses in remote areas. Major companies cite fringe benefits tax as a significant reason for their support for fly in, fly out work forces on their new projects. I believe that in many cases this is merely being used as a decoy, and that the demise of union-represented work forces is one of the real agendas. Where it is clearly unacceptable to establish a new town because of the size of the project, its remoteness or environmental constraints, fly in, fly out work forces can be supported but on the proviso that the workers come from regional centres. If this is not done, the resulting contraction of local populations will have, and has had, a catastrophic effect on regional economies and the community itself. The side effect of this is more and more overpopulation, with all the accompanying social and environmental problems suffered by large cities all over the world. Decentralisation is the way to go.

During the 1980s many of the major mining companies had moved towards supporting and developing stable communities in the north west. This was done by encouraging family units to move with their partners to company housing in the towns developed by the corporations. It was done to provide a stable work force for the companies, following high staff turnover in the 1970s. I joined the mining companies at about that time. In the early 1970s the average time a worker stayed with BHP was 27 days - hardly enough time to train a person on the job.

By the end of the 1980s stable townships and a sense of community had developed all through the Pilbara. This unfortunately posed a problem for the major mining corporations because when a dispute developed between a company and the unions it involved the whole community. There was no social distinction between workers and staff; they were all community members. Invariably disputes involved the community versus the company, rather than being restricted to a section of the work force. It was not uncommon to see families on the picket line, rather than union representatives. Quite often wives working in corporate administration were asked to go home by their companies because their husbands were outside the gate. The mining companies had to break the community spirit in order to break the union movement. Corporations found an answer to their desires in the fringe benefits tax. It gave them an out, an excuse to move to fly in, fly out programs, thereby diminishing the population in the north west, where shift members and work force hardly met and families were kept separate in any dispute. I believe that a sense of community must be returned to the regions. Fringe benefits tax must be altered to reflect the needs of regional communities and fly in, fly out programs must, in most cases, be stopped.

The plight of Australian indigenous people has now become an international disgrace. With broad support in the community for the process of reconciliation, this process must come from the people and not the bureaucratic organisation. However, how much do we really know about the first nations of this country? We must recognise that at the time of colonisation there were over 600 nations in this country. Over time we have lumped all these nations - Pintubi, Indjibandi, Kariara, Wanambi, Nyoongah and so on - into one European identity of Aboriginal. Would anyone else be allowed to amalgamate all the nations of South America, Europe or Africa into one culture based on landmass? Austrians are proudly Austrian; Croats are proudly Croation; and Peruvians are proudly Peruvian. As I have already stated, I had the privilege of working for a number of these indigenous nations, each of which has its own distinct individual culture and history. I hope to be a conduit for the aspirations and stories of these people, who rightly feel that their needs have been neglected and opposed by distant government departments here in Perth.

I move now to the global scene, which is also of significant concern to us: overpopulation has often been seen as the root cause of many kinds of social and environmental deterioration. Rain forest destruction, desertification, many pollutants and the spread of disease are linked to an expanding population and increased pressure on limited resources. Because rapid population growth exacerbates many environmental problems, it is intimately linked with all our efforts to protect the environment. However, it should be remembered that the richest 20 per cent of the world’s people consume 80 per cent of the world’s resources. The massive imbalance hidden in this statistic means that a child born in Australia or the United States of America will consume up to twenty times the energy and resources of a child born in the industrialising world. For those of us in this so-called first world it is a simple matter to condemn the practices of other peoples but, really, our own societies need to change. The rate at which we are consuming natural resources is jeopardising our planet’s health and threatening the availability of water, fisheries and forests for our children and future generations.

This brings me to the issue of free trade or fair trade. The concepts of sustainable environments, social development and free-trade policies are fundamentally in conflict with one another. In India, for instance, trade liberalisation in the form of tariff reduction and liberalisation of foreign investment in the automotive sector helped increase automotive production by 136 per cent. That was good for India’s gross domestic product but it contributed to the doubling of urban air pollution levels between 1991 and 1997. In Uganda, trade liberalisation in the form of industrial privatisation and tariff reductions on fishing technology contributed to the overfishing of Nile perch in Lake Victoria. Export revenues increased in the short term but led to the overexploitation of Lake Victoria, causing a 20 per cent reduction in catches and a degradation of the lake’s ecosystem, which then led to negative impacts on water quality and a reduction in community health. In Argentina, virtually the same thing happened: trade liberalisation and the promotion of fisheries exports led to a fivefold growth in fish catches in the decade 1985 to 1995. The profits gained by international fishing firms from that liberalisation are estimated at $US1.6 billion but the resulting depletion in stocks ultimately led to a net direct cost to the country of about $US500 million in damage to the populations of the most exploited fish species.

The total value of global exports has grown from $US350 billion in 1950 to almost $US5.5 trillion in 1999, all of which involves massive mobilisation of transport, rather than transport minimisation, at huge environmental costs. The present means of calculating the worth of nations fails to recognise that not all economic growth is good. The Greens (WA) support sustainable development, not malignant growth. Why? Because local industries, regional economies and entire ecosystems are failing as a result of unfettered, global competition.

Rather than developing policies to raise the working conditions of developing nations, we are required to lower our costs to compete with nations whose opportunities for social equity are continually held in check by global corporations and international money lenders. Even Klaus Toepfer, the executive director of the United Nations environment program, said that trade liberalisation contributes to economic growth, yet the benefits have not been fairly shared between countries and, in some cases, have led to greater environmental degradation and increased poverty.

In March this year the Howard Government gave the United States the impression that there is a growing interest in free trade in Australia. A WA Australian Labor Party Senator, Hon Peter Cook, mirrored this impression when he committed to supporting free trade in principle. Australian diplomats and free-trade lobbyists have been working with the local American companies in a bid to secure a free-trade deal. I believe this is a continuing sell-out of the Australian way of life for all - workers’ rights, health care and education - leaving just a few who can afford private education and health services.

With bipartisan support from major parties for free trade, where does this leave the Australian people? It is clear there is growing disquiet among Australians from all walks of life over the issues of corporate globalisation, the activities of the World Trade Organisation and the covert development of the multilateral agreement on investment. The continuing garage sale of Australia’s human and natural resources must be stopped.

A new round of trade liberalisation talks will be launched at the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Qatar in November this year. We clearly need a new direction at that meeting. Corporate globalisation, if it is to exist at all, must be geared towards sustainable and social global development, not to the ethos of profit at all costs. It is interesting to note that at a meeting in Germany in March this year, ministers and officials from more than 70 countries identified that environmental considerations must be much more taken into account in Qatar. We must be vigilant to ensure that does not amount to more cynical green washing.

On the positive side, in early April 2001 a gathering of most of the world’s green parties met in Canberra. The Asia-Pacific federation was represented by 21 countries; the European federation by 28; the African federation by eight; and the American federation by nine. More than 700 people - about half from overseas - held the planet’s first ever official meeting of the greens from around the world. The successful aim of the conference was to establish a global charter and to articulate the principles and values of the greens at an international level.

The charter is a work-in-progress and will continue to evolve. The greens are the only grouping of political parties that are establishing a global network in response to the global threats of climate change and multinational corporations.

The Greens (WA) often concern themselves with the difficulties of entering the political arena. Any difficulties we might have pale into insignificance when compared with the adversities that face many of our global green compatriots. I was privileged, while in Canberra, to meet the Colombian green’s presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt. Ingrid is an inspiring young woman who has a significant chance of winning the Colombian presidency; but at what cost? She is permanently surrounded by 10 bodyguards, has had numerous death threats from corporations and drug lords, and has had to move her whole extended family to New Zealand for their safety. With this in mind, the barbs that may be thrown around this Chamber from time to time seem rather less threatening.

Western Australia is a dynamic and progressive State, which has developed its own culture and direction and, as such, has embraced green thinking seemingly more readily than any other State in Australia. As we have seen, the people of this State acknowledge its beauty, rarity and environmental values, and work tirelessly to protect them. I remind the current members that any Government that forgets this State’s values does so at its peril.

Hopefully, the new Government and the potential passage of legislation through this Chamber will lead to the development of a package of truly progressive, social and environmental legislation.

I look forward to my term in this Chamber, proudly representing the future of the Mining and Pastoral Region, Western Australia, Australia and our planet. I commit my time in this Chamber to representing the needs of the community, the environment, a healthy and sustainable future for all future generations and to my grandchild in the gallery, Tailor Jack. That is why I am here.


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