I’d like to begin by acknowledging we’re gathering here on the traditional land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. This was, is and always will be Aboriginal land.
I look around and think could there be a better bunch of people than the people in this room this evening? And while I know many of you – what’s wonderful is that there any many faces here tonight who I haven’t met yet. So please, if I don’t get to you first, come and say hi once I’m finished up here.
Strangely, it’s much more nerve-wracking giving a speech in front of 150 or so of the people you most admire as opposed to if I was doing it in the parliament in front of many of the people I least admire.
Thank you all so much for coming and for your continued support.
You know many people – good friends among them – are saying to me “what a time to be entering parliament! Are you sure you want to be doing this right now?”
And they’re right. It’s a tough ask of people to have faith in politics at the moment.
Because we’re seeing women quitting politics because of the toxic, sexist culture.
A culture that seems incapable of having politicians act in the best interests of people and the planet.
A culture where the influence that vested interests wield can only be described as obscene.
Where inertia and paralysis is all our politicians are offering us in the face of the biggest threat facing humanity – climate change.
So it’s no surprise that faith in politics and our democracy is at frighteningly low levels, particularly among young people.
But it doesn’t have to be that way and it can’t remain that way.
It’s our job and my job to do everything we can to provide people with hope for the future.
So what makes someone not only choose to enter parliament – to many that’s strange enough – but actually return for a second go?
Now that I’m not giving this speech in parliament you’re going to get the uncensored version – parts of it anyway – of what’s shaped my values and maybe get to understand a little bit more of why on earth I’ve chosen this path.
I grew up in a small country town in Queensland, pretty much in the heart of Pauline Hanson territory.
I loved animals obsessively and had many pets – goldfish, birds, dogs, cats, mice and I hate to think what else. I wanted to be a vet, until I worked out that meant actually operating on animals and sometimes putting them down.
My love of nature stemmed from my parents love of exploring national parks. They took me to some of Qld’s most beautiful places like Fraser Island, Lamington National Park and Noosa National Park and some of my fondest childhood memories are of walking in rainforests and touching every bit of moss I could see, and endless days at the beach exploring rock pools, learning to catch waves and so many fish from beaches and jetties.
This was in the 1970s and it was also the days when all of the family would sit down together to watch the nightly news. I was about 7 when footage started to flood our TV screens of thousands of baby harp seals being clubbed to death by Canadian sealers. Seeing these defenceless baby seals with their big brown eyes and fluffy white coats, which is what they were being killed for – bludgeoned to death as their mothers tried in vain to defend them was incredibly distressing for many people at the time.
I cried the first few nights when. And then I got angry. I picked up the phone and called Greenpeace and they sent me a poster and a petition and I walked the streets of my hometown having conversations and gathering signatures. That was the first time I had done something about injustice and cruelty against those that couldn’t defend themselves and it felt so great.
I remember my mother calling me a tomboy as a young girl. What a ridiculous expression to describe a little girl that can’t see the point in wearing silly dresses and prefers to run around in shorts and ride bikes like her big brothers and finds barbie dolls really boring. This behaviour is all kind of cute when you’re 4 or 5 and tolerated in primary school but by High School it was very much frowned upon and punished.
My catholic school was co-ed in Years 11 and 12 and that was when I first really experienced and understood sexist behaviour. I was always acting up – in class, at lunchtime, at social events – but I began to notice just how challenging my behaviour was to the teachers because of my gender.
Behaviour that was acceptable in the boys – particularly if they were good at rugby – was just not tolerated in me.
I think that infuriated me so much that instead of conforming I rebelled. I was expelled in Year 11, along with my best friend, for breaking out of boarding school one night and drinking at a male friend’s parent’s house. He received no punishment at all.
After much pleading from my dad, I was able to return to my school – it was in Toowoomba in Qld – but only as a day student. So private boarding was arranged with a family who lived above a small laundromat in town.
The condition to me coming back was I had to go home every weekend. So I was effectively barred from an entire town on weekends as a teenager.
A few years later in Brisbane I found myself having to navigate Queensland’s archaic abortion laws. The barriers, including access to information and services as well as the expense were huge.
The choice I was given was to travel across the NSW border to a doctor in Tweed Heads. I felt ashamed at the time – not because of my decision to have an abortion, which I easily came to – but because we were made to sneak around the system, like criminals because what I was doing was illegal.
It was partly this experience that spurred me a couple of years later at university to play an active role in the pro-choice movement.
Here in NSW and in Qld it is still illegal.
Abortion was written into the NSW Criminal Code in 1900, by men who are all dead today obviously. How disgraceful that it remains there because of the influence of the hard right of the Catholic church on members of the Liberal and Labor parties worried about their preselections.
Senator Mehreen Faruqi’s private members bill to remove abortion from the criminal code just last year was narrowly defeated in the NSW Upper House. Thank you Mehreen for your outstanding work.
And you can rest assured we will get abortion law reform done.
At university like any good Bachelor of Arts students I became a ratbag activist. We established a women’s collective on campus – we spelled it w-i-m-m-i-n – and I soon found myself running in a left ticket for the student union. We won. This was at the height of the attacks on student unions and we organised rallies and campaigned hard against the move towards voluntary student unionism.
While friends in Labor left and the Greens at the time asked me to join their parties, I shunned the conformity and the herd mentality that I witnessed in the campus political clubs.
Being a politician was the furthest thing from my mind when I grew up and remained so throughout my 20s. I had no faith in the system, I loathed everything to do with “men in suits”, as I called them, and my experiences with authority continued to be… challenging.
In those days the police were notoriously heavy-handed even years after the National Party’s 30 year rein in Qld. By the way people are craving stability in politics at the moment but spare a thought for someone born in 1970 and having Joh Bjelke-Petersen as their state Premier right up until the age of 17.
At uni I lived in rambling share houses with other activists, which often doubled as meeting places for the rainforest action group, the Uni food co-op or the wimmin’s collective. A number of times our meetings were interrupted with loud knocks at the door and it would be the police for yet another drug bust.
The 90s were a pretty heady time for me in all senses of the word.
At the end of our year running the student union I moved from Brisbane to Melbourne and then Adelaide studying part-time and working a couple of jobs in bars and offices to pay the bills.
It was in Adelaide that I finally joined the Greens at the end of the last century, largely because of my concern over climate change and deforestation, particularly the senseless destruction of Tasmania’s beautiful forests.
In joining the Greens I found my home, my purpose and my people.
The Greens are the only party that truly comprehends that we humans are a part of nature. We understand that a healthy environment is fundamental to our wellbeing and part of that is ensuring that nature’s wild places are protected.
Wild places are not only important for us to explore and restore ourselves in, but also for the planet’s wellbeing and for the rich diversity of incredible species that we share this earth with. They too have a right to exist and to flourish. We are so far ahead of the old parties in recognising this.
I also joined the Greens because we have the courage to stand up for those who don’t have a voice.
In 2001 I was working in the Greens office in Adelaide when our phone started ringing off the hook. People were quitting the Labor Party in droves and joining the Greens because Bob Brown was the only federal politician who had the courage to call for compassionate response for those 433 refugees, including 43 children, rescued by the brave captain of the Tampa.
We continue to be the only party that stands up for those poor men, women and children whose only crime – and it isn’t one – is to flee war, conflict and persecution and seek refuge for themselves and their family in a safe country.
I am so proud of the work we continue to do to stand up for refugees and against racism.
We also continue to be the only party that has the courage to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and call out its obscene influence over policy making in this country.
It’s more than distressing for so many of us who have been campaigning for action on climate change for years to see such gross dereliction of duty by our so-called political leaders.
Because climate change is here now and it’s literally killing thousands of people.
Just in the past twelve months Pakistan recorded the hottest ever temperature anywhere on the planet in April at 50.2 degrees.
Wildfires in California were the largest in the state’s history and were so large, so extreme that they developed their own weather system and needed 40,000 firefighters to fight it. The Californian Governor called it the ‘new normal’.
Japan recorded its hottest ever temperature during a two-week heat wave which killed at least 80 people and hospitalised 22,000. This, after torrential floods earlier in the summer left 200 dead.
In the last few days, people have died in the US and the Philippines because of hurricanes which are more frequent and more destructive due to oceans warming to the point they are now experiencing their own heat waves.
And here in Australia we had our hottest Autumn on record and maximum temperatures for June and July this year. We are gripped in a drought that people are declaring ‘once in a lifetime’, flows to Sydney’s Warragamba dam are at their lowest levels ever recorded and 40% below the previous record! our bushfire season came two weeks earlier than ever before – in the middle of winter – and predictions are that this fire season will be ‘horrific’.
And we haven’t even hit summer yet.
We are well and truly in a climate emergency.
Yet our new Prime Minister has been less than shy about his love of coal and has appointed people around him with alarming ties to the fossil fuel industry.
His new chief of staff is the former deputy chief executive of the Minerals Council of Australia, his new environment minister a former mining company lawyer and his new Energy Minister an anti-renewables campaigner.
So what’s clear is that we can’t expect any action on climate change from the federal government until we kick them out at the next election.
In the meantime in the absence of federal policy, it’s up to the states to do some of the heavy lifting. The NSW government has a net zero emissions target by 2050 but no renewable energy target and continues to approve new coal mines and coal seam gas.
Our politicians are complicit in the greatest crime being committed in the history of the earth. Their willing adherence to neoliberalism has seen public assets sold off, our public service squeezed to within an inch of its life and the market brought in to solve all problems.
This has been a colossal failure and it’s making people sick and homeless, driving inequality, dividing communities and killing our planet.
This is why people are losing faith in democracy – not because of democracy itself, but because neoliberalism is weakening our democratic institutions and our community bonds and robbing our kids’ futures.
Here in NSW the Liberals have embraced the small government theme with relish taking a wrecking ball through the laws and institutions designed to protect our environment.
Land-clearing is happening at the fastest rate in a decade and has increased by 800% over the last three years. That’s on private land where much of our remaining koala and many other threatened species habitat can be found.
Currently, in our public native forests, if threatened species like koalas are found in our public native forests the bulldozers and chainsaws can’t be brought in.
But the government has plans to allow up to 45ha – that’s 45 football fields – of our native forests to be clearfelled even if koalas and other threatened species are living there.
A few days ago I visited the Nepean and Hawkesbury valleys in western Sydney to meet with locals. They told me about their campaign to save their local koala population. These koalas are the healthiest – they’re chlamydia-free – and most genetically diverse in the country, but they’re at risk from the onslaught of housing developments and roads.
I joined their campaign on the spot.
I was also told by a scientist there that the Greater glider is now locally extinct in western Sydney because its habitat where it has lived for millions of years is now too hot.
And just yesterday the government caved in to the extreme Shooters & Fishers party and scrapped all sanctuary zones from its proposed Sydney marine park.
As I see it, a marine park without sanctuary zones is not a marine park!
Our so-called environmental laws are not doing enough to protect nature. In fact, instead of protecting threatened species and biodiversity they are facilitating their destruction.
That’s why I commit to working on a new set of laws to protect our environment including exploring the potential of laws to give rights to nature. In other words to give nature legal standing in its own right.
I admit that this is a big jump from where we are which is why I’d love you all to be a part of it.
I’ll soon be making my way around the state engaging with experts and communities in a conversation about how best to design laws to really protect nature for future generations, rather than continuing to allow for its ongoing exploitation.
New Zealand has done it with the Whanganui River, so has Bolivia and other parts of South America as well as parts of the US. We can too.
However, the attitudes held by the majority of our parliamentarians to the environment are embarrassingly archaic with many in the Liberals and Nationals having a particular disdain for science.
Actually I want to say to all of the scientists in NSW – thank you. The work you do is essential to all of us working for a more sustainable future.
And I will not sit by while this government or future governments continue to cut funding for science, cut jobs in science and attempt to discredit you and your work. I will be your voice in the NSW Parliament.
To the mining industry – there’s now one more MP here in NSW that will stand with communities and fight day and night to stop every proposed new coal mine, coal mine expansion and CSG well in this state.
I’ve visited communities across NSW, including right here in Sydney in St Peters, and I’ve watched in awe as they stood strong in the face of big coal and gas trying to wreck their land and water and communities.
Some have lost their battle and others are holding on. Like the community of Gloucester who are in the fight of their lives to save their beautiful town, at risk from a proposal to build a whopping open cut coal mine almost on top of them.
To Julie and Garry and everyone in Gloucester, thank you for your long courageous fight. You are champions and you will win and we are with you all the way.
And to the hard right catholic influencers in both the Liberal and Labor parties who threaten MP’s preselection if they dare vote for abortion law reform or voluntary assisted dying, look around you and welcome to the 21st century. Marriage equality was your wake up call.
In my previous term in Parliament I introduced a Voluntary Assisted Dying bill and the pushback by the conservative forces was huge. George Pell even took it upon himself to write to every Member of Parliament denouncing Cate Faehrmann’s evil intentions.
But sorry George, the public support for the right for terminally ill people to die with dignity is huge. I’m not going to be silenced by yours or anyone else’s scare campaigns and misinformation when it comes to allowing people to die with dignity.
I commit to working hard with others to see this long overdue reform done.
And while we’re at it, as the drugs and harm minimisation spokesperson, I’ll be active in the push for drug law reform, which starts with pill testing at music festivals and scrapping drug dogs, because that’s how we save lives.
I have huge faith in the power of ordinary individuals and communities to make decisions that are more equal, more sustainable and more just than most of our current mob of politicians can ever hope to do.
That’s because ordinary people, like the Greens, are free from vested interests and we call out and campaign against the corrupting influence of corporate money on our democracy.
Neoliberalism relies on people being bored with politics. It relies on disillusionment and division. The elite few who are benefiting most from its excesses rejoice in everybody else’s loss of faith in democracy.
So it’s our job to restore that faith and one way we can start is by bringing communities together in ways that inspire and empower them to be the change they want to see. To quote Gandhi. Why not?
So I thought I’d start something new in the parliament. I’m calling it Science in the House and it will provide a platform for some of the best minds to discuss our most critical and challenging issues and the solutions for them – and you’re all invited.
Outside of parliament how about we do something like Champagne for a campaign – where you and I get to chat over a drink with some of the smartest trouble-makers and change-makers in the business – and we raise money for a local charity while we’re at it. You’re all invited to that too.
Stay tuned for the first of these regular events in the next couple of months.
We need to make our democracy accessible and The Greens have a big role to play in that.
The only way the seemingly insurmountable challenges we face can be overcome is by more people getting involved and being a part of a movement working to create change.
Because communities coming together have won. We’ve stopped coal seam gas in Bentley in Northern NSW, in St Peters and in Gloucester. We’ve stopped the destruction of aboriginal heritage and dinosaur footprints for an LNG hub at James Price Point in WA. We’ve protected some of our most precious forests and national parks. We saved the Franklin River in Tasmania and the Rocks here in Sydney.
I know that sometimes it feels like we’re going backwards. But that’s all the more reason for us to come together and step up and take them on.
We have a moral responsibility to future generations to get this right.
What I can tell you is that it feels a hell of a lot better getting out of bed each day when others have your back and you have theirs.
So thank you for your continued love and friendship and support, particularly to my wonderful partner Paul whose love and strength through some pretty tough times has been phenomenal.
As a young girl, after sending my petitions back to Greenpeace, just like tens of thousands of other people around the world did, the Canadian seal hunt was shut down for a time and I got a little taste of what it felt like to change the world.
Little did I know just how much saving the world would need forty years later.
So let’s get to it.