Nature Conservation Council Annual Conference 2011


Professor Don White, Pepe Clarke, Delegates

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and pay respect to their elders.

Sixteen months ago I became a Member of Parliament.

As a Member of the Legislative Council, I don't have a local electorate, rather I represent the whole of New South Wales.

The very first citizen of New South Wales to contact me, in order to lobby me over a policy matter, was Pepe Clarke.

He rang me, and asked if he could come and meet me, on behalf of the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, about the Marine Park Moratorium Bill that was before the Parliament.

I learned that Pepe was just as new to his job as I was to mine.

We met, on July 14 last year, Bastille Day, and - I can only speak for one of us - a beautiful relationship was born!

The Nature Conservation Council has played a central role in the New South Wales environment movement for more than half a century.

And you honour me with the invitation to address you today.

I said to Pepe at our first meeting that I intended to be an advocate in the Parliament - and in my Party - for the environment.

I said in my inaugural speech in the Parliament that I would argue for a society where economic prosperity and our quality of life are not underwritten by the needless destruction of our environment.

My political involvement has a purpose and a direction.

I am a Labor man

-committed to equality, solidarity and social justice.

I believe that today our quality of life depends less on the things which individuals obtain or purchase for themselves, but rather more on the things which the community provides for all its members from the combined resources of the community.

Providing these things - which only the community, not individuals acting alone, can provide –

should always be the essential purpose of any state government.

And one of these 'things' is the protection of our natural environment.

I believe to be true what Hungarian social democrat Karl Polanyi said in 1945,

"To allow the market mechanism to be the sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment would result in the demolition of society".

I see the environment movement today engaged in the same struggle against market fundamentalism that the labour movement embarked on following the Industrial Revolution.

If you look at the history of the labour movement, there is an ethical tradition

- one that I admit has been hard to find in recent years –

that has always rejected the commodification of all aspects of our lives, and struggled for a sense of security and the protection of communities.

That tradition has sought to conserve what is valuable and meaningful, in the face of relentless commodification.

The environment movement seeks to conserve the natural world from the rapaciousness of unfettered market forces - because the natural world is valuable and meaningful.

The great American environmental essayist Edward Hoagland recently wrote that,

".... the survival of wild places and wild things, like the permanence of noteworthy architecture, or the opera, or a municipality of languages, or old shade trees in old neighbourhoods, is not a priority for most people".

There is a moral seriousness at the heart of both the environment movement and that ethical tradition inside the labour movement

-      a moral seriousness that is at odds with today's celebrity drenched culture.

I believe in an ethical and ecologically sustainable economy and society, for the common good.


And as Shadow Minister for the Environment my advocacy for the environment is underpinned by my fundamental belief in active government as a force for good.

Government action is required.

And government protection of our natural environment is part of the Labor tradition.

The very first New South Wales Labor government protected large tracts of the Sydney Harbour foreshore, including what is today the Taronga Park Zoo and Nielsen Park.

Bill McKell, the architect of modern Labor in this state, created Australia's great alpine national park, the Kosciuszko National Park.

McKell toured the high country in January 1942.

Over ten days, he travelled by car and on horseback, sometimes camping out, witnessing the effects of more than a century's grazing.

Premier McKell acted boldly, reserving the entire area - the first significant extension to the national park estate in the twentieth century.

Neville Wran's Government saved the northern rainforests, massively expanded the Blue Mountains national park system, banned sand mining in coastal national parks and introduced lead free petrol.

Neville Wran told the 1983 Annual Conference of the New South Wales ALP,

"When we are all dead and buried and our children's children are reflecting on what was the best thing the Labor Government did in the twentieth century, they will come up with the answer, we saved the rainforests."

Bob Carr's government saved coastal forests in the north east and south east regions, and created over one million hectares of new parks in western New South Wales,

and banned the broad scale clearing of native vegetation.

The first carbon trading scheme in this country, one of the first in the world, began in New South Wales in 2003.

The Carr Government required the state's energy retailers to cap per capita emissions, and forced them into carbon offsets when they exceeded those levels of emissions.

And in our last year in office Labor acted to protect the river red gums, and the cypress forests of the south west region – the most cleared landscape in all of the state.

Yet, I do acknowledge that the breadth of State Labor's agenda was assaulted by a small clique inside the government after Bob Carr's retirement.

Once Carr departed, the then dominant clique inside the government went out of its way to repudiate Labor's conservation agenda - the agenda of not only Carr, but of Wran and McKell.

Many people felt that we stopped being a Labor government: that we weren't on the side of the people, but rather hostage to self interest and to special interests.

Labor - the party formed to fight for the outsiders – ultimately became identified by many as a government for party insiders, property developers and coal mining companies.

Neville Wran's Government gave NSW the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The first objective of that Act was "to broaden the scope of planning effectively to embrace economic, social and ecological considerations in the preparation of environmental plans and in development control".

That Act adopted the comprehensive concept of environmental planning.

In the Parliament Paul Landa laid down three distinct objects of the legislation:

"first, to promote the social and economic welfare of the community and a better environment by the proper management, development and conservation of the State's natural and man-made resources;

second, to share government responsibility for environmental planning between the State and local government;

and third, to increase the opportunity for community involvement in environmental planning and assessment."

The Government that was defeated on March 26 repudiated the enlightened reforms of the Wran Government.

The actions of a small few, in seeking to turn a Labor Government into the political wing of the property development industry, were an insult to the memory of the Wran Labor Government.

Those of us who are left as Labor members of the NSW Parliament now carry a very heavy burden:

we must redeem the promise of Labor politics.

When Labor went in to opposition and John Robertson offered me a position in the Shadow Cabinet, I asked John for the Environment portfolio.

Those who had argued when we were in government that Labor's embrace of the environment was some new fangled dalliance, at odds with Labor tradition, were mistaken.

Protection of the environment is part of the Labor tradition.

And I am determined that it will be part of Labor's future.


The truth is, six months after the heaviest defeat in my party's 120 year history, NSW Labor must rebuild first as a combative opposition, before we can hope to be taken seriously as a credible alternative government.

And I am a combative opponent of the O'Farrell Government.

I have been, and am, a very harsh critic of the O'Farrell Government - and Environment Minister Robyn Parker in particular - when it comes to their approach to environment policy.

In just seven months we have seen:

-       the abolition of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water;

-      the removal of the restrictions designed to protect a critically endangered species, the grey nurse shark

-      a moratorium on any more marine parks;

-      the overturning of the zoning plans for the Solitary Islands and Jervis Bay marine parks that were the result of extensive consultation;

-    a war waged on renewable energy, with the 110,000 households in New South Wales who did the right thing and, at the invitation of government, invested in a clean energy future with solar disparaged as a privileged minority;

-      the solar industry going further downhill by the day;

-      some of the river red gum parks opened up for firewood collection; an

-      legislation passed to delay, by two and three years, the making of two new national parks in the south west Cypress region reserved by Labor, in order to extend logging.

Labor will fight the O'Farrell Government.

But we will do more than that.

Over the next three years we will work with the environment movement in developing a NSW Labor Environment Policy to take to the 2015 election.

Let me share some very preliminary thoughts with you.

It has become clear in recent months that the native forest industry is in crisis across the country.

New South Wales is not immune from this.

While Labor stands by the regional forest assessments and agreements that were completed over the last 16 years,

I believe that all of us in the political arena will have to rethink the future of the industry.

And you saw this week, Labor is committing to the conservation of koalas.

On koalas, I would like the environment movement to come to us with your top priorities – the core koala habitat in state forests that should be protected from logging, with a view to presenting a proposal to the Commonwealth for quota buyout.

When it comes to future additions to the reserve system, Labor is committed to the under represented but important ecosystems of the state's west.

That's why I've fought the Government so hard in the last fortnight over their decision to extend logging in the Yathong and Wilbertroy State Forests for two and three more years.

Labor will champion the renewable energy sector.

We are committed to building a vibrant new green economy, with hubs in Illawarra and Newcastle.

We must use the innovation of our state, with government facilitating, building jobs and industries in the regions.

I also want Labor to focus on, and talk about, rivers.

Fresh water systems are the most endangered ecosystems in NSW.

That's why, as a new and junior backbencher, I encouraged Premier Keneally to kill off Tillegra Dam.

We need to act to ensure our last healthy rivers stay that way, and intervene to improve the health of those that are faltering.


I am determined to build on Labor's conservation legacy.

The job is far from over.

The job is never over.

Thank you.