SA Greens Set Out Agenda for New Parliament

In Parliament, Motions

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:30): I rise to speak to the Address in Reply. I support the motion; indeed, I thank Her Excellency the Governor for her wonderful service not just to our state but for her service in opening this Fifty-Fifth Parliament of South Australia.

I am reminded of the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime, and I think we are at an important moment in time. We have a new government, we are recovering from a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic, and climate change is hitting us at full force. This new Malinauskas government has made some big promises. They are big commitments, and the Greens are looking forward to working with the new Malinauskas government to ensure that they keep those promises, that they honour those commitments, that they realise some of their progressive agenda.

We are also here to push them to go bolder, to go better. We will hold them to high standards in their campaign promises for the future—absolutely, yes, for the future—but that future must be for all South Australians. Indeed, as the new Premier has said, ‘We’re here to govern not just for the next four years but for the next generation.’ Well, that next generation will be dealing with a world with more extreme weather as a result of climate change and the after-effects of COVID-19.

The Greens will work with this government—when they listen to us and are quiet in the chamber—to ensure that no-one is left behind as we move into an uncertain future. We have only one chance to recover from this pandemic. We can return to the normal we once knew or we can, in fact, create a better future if we seize this opportunity.

The most immediate crisis that needs our urgent attention to achieve that better future is, of course, the climate crisis. In September 2019, in this place, the members of the then Legislative Council passed a motion introduced by my former colleague the Hon. Mark Parnell declaring a climate emergency. I am proud to have been part of the chamber that declared a climate emergency: I hope to be part of the parliament in which both houses of that parliament declare a climate emergency in coming weeks.

In the intervening two years since this council recognised the severe and significant challenge we face, much has happened. We have experienced severe bushfires and floods have left people homeless; in fact, in Australia we are now seeing the first generation of what could be called climate refugees, as people, particularly on the eastern seaboard, face years of homelessness and transience.

We are also seeing biodiversity loss and vegetation loss, but this is just the beginning. We have declared a climate emergency, and I believe we will reaffirm that in coming weeks, but we need to start treating it like an emergency; that is, we need an action plan. Indeed, we need look no further than the IPCC report. In April the IPCC released its report on the mitigation of climate change. That report called for transformational change in all sectors.

In our region the majority of our greenhouse gas emissions are from fossil fuels and industry. Here in South Australia we have led the charge with renewable energy use, but we can be bolder and better by progressively moving away from fossil fuels entirely. That means repealing the electric vehicle tax. That means switching to 100 per cent renewable publicly owned energy. That means investing in electric manufacturing. That means supporting the new announcements today with regard to hydrogen.

With a progressive government at the helm, we Greens believe we have the opportunity for South Australia to be real change makers and for that change to have a lasting impact on our emissions for our planet and for the people yet to come, those future generations.

One thing that they will not thank us for was our stewardship in recent years of the St Kilda mangroves. Indeed, those mangroves will take generations to be restored and repaired, if that can happen at all. The conservation of natural vegetation is fundamental, also, to the mitigation of climate change. The dying of the St Kilda mangroves is a disaster. The previous government allowed it to happen, and those dill ministers of the Marshall government pickled our precious St Kilda mangroves, with more than 193 hectares lost.

In this place I called then for urgent action to halt the hypersaline water leaks and for recovery and for the long-term health of this global, globally significant wetland to be restored, and I am very pleased to have seen the Deputy Premier, the Minister for Climate, Environment and Water, be down there early on in her term as minister and Deputy Premier, talking to those who know best, working with the experts and the community. I do hope that the mangroves will be much loved by those generations to come in their previous state.

Another very important challenge that this state faces is, of course, the Murray River. It has long been a contentious topic, certainly nationally. The management of the Murray-Darling system does have implications for the health and longevity of our dearly beloved Coorong and Lower Lakes region in particular, a place cared for by those first nations people of the Ngarrindjeri throughout time, which now suffers from poor management upstream.

The new Minister for Climate, Environment and Water has gone on the record saying that this is, of course, enormously important for South Australia, and we do not disagree with her one jot. We look forward to working with Minister Close on progressing the health and wellbeing of our precious Murray River.

The Labour agenda was set by the then opposition and now Malinauskas government, and it is one where many of the announcements are very much welcomed by the Greens. We look forward to that commitment, for example, to jobs and work as being a major priority for the Malinauskas government. This is hardly surprising: it would be a priority for a Labor government.

But I put the Labor government on notice that they cannot pick and choose with workers’ rights, that all workers deserve rights and protections in their workplace, that sex work is work, that sex workers’ rights are human rights and that sex workers in South Australia currently are not even able to lawfully join their union, let alone enjoy the workplace rights afforded every other worker in this state.

We also hope that we can go bigger and bolder by exploring a job guarantee for our future generations and for wellbeing and a better normal for those now. A jobs guarantee is a long-term project, but it could be done with short-term trials that would take dedicated effort and require collaboration across all levels of government. But I believe the time is now right to start exploring a return to full employment, a rejection of the view that we should be locking into our economy high levels of unemployment.

To keep workers precarious, casualised, underpaid and at risk is not a better normal. It was the old normal. It is not something we should be returning to. We should be lifting our eyes to the stars and looking at solutions like a job guarantee to ensure those future generations enjoy prosperity in this very fortunate state we live in.

I know that Labor has announced many areas of reform for education and training, and we particularly welcome the recognition in disability of an autism plan and look forward again to working with the government on those areas. I imagine that my colleague the Hon. Rob Simms will have much more to say about those areas as we progress in this parliament, given he holds those portfolios.

We do caution the Malinauskas government, which has an intention for a university merger, that it needs to talk to those in the sector—not just those loudest voices in the sector. Universities are too precious to treat as an experiment, and we cannot afford them to fail. Renewed investment in education, quality public education at all levels, and something that is accessible to all with the removal of fees, is something that the Greens will long champion and hope that we can one day return to.

We support returning our public transport system into public hands. That of course includes the trains and the trams, but it also includes the buses. Once we see that public transport system back in public hands and the end of the failed experiment of privatisation of what are essential public services, we also need to see an increase in those services and infrastructure to support growing areas. We have just seen what the lack of that essential service in areas such as Mount Barker and the further northern suburbs can do. I hope it will not take electoral backlash for this government to act.

We also welcome the Labor government’s commitments to an increased intake of refugees. In the period of the election, I was very heartened to hear of the release of Amin Afravi, who was detained here in Adelaide. I am not sure if people are aware, but the sad legacy of our refugee policies in this country has seen people in this state detained needlessly, cruelly and for significant periods of time, against all human rights respect.

Amin Afravi arrived in Australia in 2013. He arrived by boat. He had left his family, including his young son, in Iran because he sought to avoid torture. Unfortunately, Australia did not save him from that torture. He was detained in Christmas Island for three years; he was detained in Manus Island for three years; and then under Medevac he was detained in Australia for three years. It should not take an election to have seen his release and his human rights restored, and the trauma that he has suffered may never be repaired. Since being in detention, he suffered inhumane medical conditions and without sufficient treatment.

In March, he was transferred to the Adelaide Immigration Transit Accommodation detention in Kilburn. I would like to think that everyone who was in Kilburn, South Australia, was afforded human rights in 2022, but this man was not. I am pleased that there has been some relief given to some of those we have treated so cruelly for so many decades now. In 2021, he described his time in detention as ‘an animal’s life.’ We would never treat animals as cruelly as we have treated this man. It was to our shame that he was detained in Kilburn, and I am so pleased that he has now been released.

There is much work to do as well with new industry and new ways of thinking. One that members will not be surprised to hear that the Greens will be placing at the priority of our work to reform and create a better path for future generations is that of drug law reform, and in particular around our treatment and criminalisation of cannabis.

Indeed the barriers to accessing medicinal cannabis, whether they be our road rules or indeed the ridiculously high prices that patients are required to pay, are just the tip of the iceberg. When we criminalise people who use cannabis, we criminalise not some drug dealer, we criminalise a person who perhaps has a health issue or perhaps seeks a recreational option. By declaring a war on drugs, however, we are actually continuing a war on people.

Many other jurisdictions around the world have now seen the error of this way. It does not work. Criminalisation of cannabis simply does not stop people from seeking access or accessing cannabis. What it does do is create a black market, a criminal opportunity, and a significant level of misery amongst many people who, for medicinal reasons, seek to access it.

It also creates misery for those who are seeking, like many people do in their younger years, to try new experiences. Simply having an approach of criminalising this particular drug I think is something that South Australia needs to leave behind as we look to be bigger, bolder, better and smarter in our approaches to drugs in our culture.

Treat drugs as a health issue and not a criminal issue and we will end up with healthier populations and fewer criminals. To me, it seems a no-brainer. Unfortunately, so far, we have not had the leadership and the courage of politicians who are so far out of step with the general population on this that it is just not funny.

I ask members of parliament to look to New York, to Thailand, to jurisdictions that once heavily criminalised the use of cannabis, and to look at their new approaches; to look at Portugal and the success that they have had there; to look at this issue, which is a health issue, as simply that; to allow people to get help when they need it and to stop criminalising people, particularly from the most marginalised and vulnerable communities, and creating more human misery and higher levels of criminality when it is simply needless and does not need to continue, let alone the financial impact and the financial opportunity of creating a legal, lawful cannabis industry here in this state when we know that it in fact grows quite well in this state. We have a long history in this state of it being grown, and the criminalisation has simply not worked.

Another sector that this government, I believe, needs to invest in is the arts sector. It is still in crisis as a result of the pandemic. As of May 2020, arts workers lost $7.5 million of income in those first weeks alone of the pandemic. The source of that was the I Lost My Gig website in Australia. There has been a 55 per cent decline in revenue for arts organisations in that year, and it equated to a drop in revenue of over $73 million; 34,000 South Australian arts workers have been impacted. Yet, here we are—the Festival State—a state that has long celebrated arts and cultural life and that should be attracting, supporting and retaining our artists and our arts workers, yet unfortunately because of COVID we are losing not only those skills but literally those people from this sector.

For our next generation we need to cultivate that arts sector. We need to bring it back to being the thriving entity that it was as well as the addition that it makes to our collective cultural landscape. It is often said that Winston Churchill, when faced with the idea of cutting the arts budget during the war, responded with the proposition that he would not cut the arts budget because otherwise what were we fighting the war for? It is not true; he did not really say it, but what I love is that somebody wrote that and we have repeated it time immemorial for decades and decades, and that is the power of the arts.

I also want to reflect on the election. Mr President, I congratulate you on your elevation to the Presiding Member of this place. I note that we have changed sides in this chamber and that the blue team and the red team have swapped seats, but the musical chairs continues to exclude the minors and the crossbenchers being proportionally rewarded for the vote that they achieve in the elections with the seats that they then hold in this place.

We have 69 seats in this parliament in total, and we have only two Greens, in this council in the upper house, and that is because, of course, despite the Greens having the biggest electoral success we have ever had, where we had a 2.5 per cent statewide swing in the House of Assembly and a 3.2 per cent swing to us in the Legislative Council, and we saw the wonderful Hon. Rob Simms returned rightfully returned to his place in this council, our 9.1 per cent of the vote in the lower house does not give us 9.1 per cent of the seats.

In fact, if it were a proportional system in the lower house, we would have four seats in the other place. It is not a fair system when the minors cannot break through and it is a winner take all, 50 per cent plus one, election. Almost 100,000 people voted for the Greens in the state election, but we only hold two seats. Here we are, and we will honour those 100,000 people and we will make this government bigger and bolder and better, and certainly a lot greener.

I do, however, want to thank our 47 lower house candidates, who campaigned fiercely in their communities, who were diverse and dedicated and did so without the likelihood that they were going to be elected. They proved that not only are Green votes powerful but the Greens are a powerful force. I have to say that particularly in the seats of Heysen and Unley, where we polled particularly well, we put the old parties on notice that even with their current system of 50 per cent plus one we are going to give it a red-hot go.

The Hon. R.A. Simms: And West Torrens.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The Hon. Rob Simms, of course, has been returned to this place, and I am sure that that will not be the last interjection that he makes about the member for West Torrens, or the potential new Greens member for West Torrens one day. I do in particular want to acknowledge our second Legislative Council candidate, Yesha Joshi. I had hoped that the Greens would elect an additional two, to create three positions in this place.

Many members of this council know that Yesha joined my office as a trainee in my first year in this parliament in 2010 and she then became a permanent staff member, first as my office manager, then as my researcher, eventually going on to work for the former Treasurer in the Department of Treasury and Finance in the public sector, but I am assured that certainly that did not change the flavour of her commitment to the political party of the Greens.

She would have been a wonderful addition to this place. She would have added to our diversity, she would have lowered the mean age substantially, and she would have certainly been feisty, because I can tell you, you do not want to pick a fight with Yesha Joshi. It is a fight that she put up valiantly and we only narrowly lost. I congratulate the Hon. Russell Wortley for that seemingly impossible achievement of coming in on the fifth spot on the Labor ticket, but I also note that it was a progressive swing that was on.

I note that the Greens, the Animal Justice Party and the Labor Party worked quite closely in this election. I also want to pay tribute to Louise Pfeiffer, who was the lead candidate for the Animal Justice Party, and assure those who supported either the AJP or the Greens or the Labor Party that we will do our darndest to improve animal welfare in this state, and we have a big agenda ahead of us. I note that the Labor Party came to this election with the biggest list of promises I have seen in the animal welfare space in some time and we look forward to them honouring each and every one of those commitments.

With those words, I note that we have some way to go in seeing to fruition some of the big ideas outlined by the Malinauskas Labor government. I certainly look forward to working with the community, with South Australians and with all sides of parliament on those big ideas, such as a Voice to Parliament, such as Treaty, such as the Hydrogen Jobs Plan, and honouring the faith that has been put in us by the community for what is this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I never thought I would live through what we have lived through in the last two years, and I am sure most South Australians did not see it coming. I am sure most South Australians want us to do better in the future, to create that prosperity, to govern for not just the next generation but for future generations and for that future to be for all of us. With that, I commend the motion.