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Adjournment speech: Environmental conservation

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 13 Apr 2018

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:37): In the 1980s, with the help of AusAID—the Australian government's former aid agency—the scientific community, indigenous activists and people from Ecuador and abroad, the Los Cedros biological reserve was created in the Andean cloud forest of Ecuador. The rainforests of Ecuador are some of the most diverse in the world, with many endemic and endangered species of plants and animals. The reserve is now threatened. Former Ecuadorian vice-president Jorge Glas secretly granted mining concessions across 13 per cent of the country. The protected forest of Los Cedros is located within land that can now be mined. Recently, the Canadian company Cornerstone made its first attempt to start prospecting in Los Cedros. 

This is not just an Ecuadorian issue. It is a global issue. It is imperative that we take action to stop the degradation from proceeding and urge the Ecuadorian government to rescind the existing new concessions that cover three-quarters of a million hectares of bosques protectores, including Los Cedros and a million hectares of indigenous reserves. The indigenous peoples have been fighting against mining in Ecuador for over a decade. These new mining concessions that cover a million hectares of indigenous land will have adverse effects on the people and the environment those people depend on. 

In December 2017, a large delegation of indigenous activists marched on Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, to demand that the Ecuadorian government respond to their concerns regarding the concessions granted to mining companies. They wanted to know whether these concessions complied with article 57 of the Ecuadorian Constitution, which states that indigenous groups have the right to free and prior consultation before extractive projects take place near or, in this case, on their land. While Lenin Moreno, the new Ecuadorian president elected last year, has promised that there will be no new oil and mining concessions, this has not been enough for the Indigenous communities and their supporters. They are calling for the concessions made by the previous government to be rescinded. Ecuador's protected forest are considered to be one of the most critical global conservation priorities. The impacts of large-scale open pit mining within rainforests cannot be understated. Deforestation, species loss, erosion, contamination of water systems and desertification will occur if mining is allowed to proceed. 

This deal with mining companies also runs counter to Ecuador's constitution. It was in 2008 when Ecuador made international headlines for the revolutionary decision to become the first country to recognise in its constitution the inalienable rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish. The constitution codified the rights of nature and gave the people the authority to petition on its behalf. The Ecuadorian people are advocating for these forests, but they need our support. 

In 1988 Australia, through AusAID and the Rainforest Information Centre, helped to create the Los Cedros Biological Reserve. It would be appalling to not take action to stop the devastation that mining will inevitably bring. I urge the Australian government to appeal to President Moreno to rescind the concessions that were made under former Vice-President Glas. We must also urge Australian mining companies not to follow the Canadian company Cornerstone into the unique forest systems and indigenous lands of Ecuador. Now is the time to encourage Ecuador's government to abide by its own constitution. Surely President Moreno will not allow the short-term profits from mining companies to win the day. That path will leave behind a spoilt and impoverished landscape, unable to sustain the people or creatures that rely on it. I congratulate members of the Rainforest Information Centre for their work to save the rainforests of Ecuador, and, in particular, John Seed for his work to set up the Los Cedros Biological Reserve.

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