Back to All News

Speech: Amazon rainforest

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 25 Aug 2011

Adjournment speech, Thursday 25 August 2011

On the second matter, many thousands of concerned people have come together this week in united opposition to the assault on the Amazon's rainforests and its peoples from an unprecedented level of development. Monday of this week, 22 August, was International Day of Action for the Amazon. I pay tribute to the many Australians who rallied to the cause in Canberra as part of a worldwide action held in 17 countries and six US cities. As the Greens forests spokesperson, I add my voice to this worldwide coalition of Brazilian and international nongovernment organisations, human rights activists, environmentalists, students and concerned citizens.

The focus of this week's action was to call on the Brazilian government to reverse their recent decision to grant approval to build the Belo Monte hydro-electric dam on the Xingu River in the Amazon Basin, one of the Amazon's major tributaries. If built, it will become the third largest hydro-electric dam in the world, behind the Three Gorges Dam in China and the Itaipu Dam on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. As well, the day's action voiced opposition to the 60 other dams that have been given the go-ahead by the Brazilian government and which will flood the heart of the Amazon rainforest and displace tens of thousands of local indigenous tribal people who have been living in harmony with the Amazon jungle for millennia.

The Belo Monte Dam project will have devastating social and environmental consequences for indigenous peoples and other riverbank communities living along a 100-kilometre stretch of the Xingu River, such as family farmers, fisherfolk and Quilombolas—the descendants of African slaves who escaped their slave plantations in Brazil and made their home along the river. The affected stretch of river is known as the Big Bend, where 80 per cent of the river's flow will be diverted into an artificial reservoir. The dam will cost $20 billion to construct and has attracted unprecedented subsidies for huge dam construction companies, raising serious questions among the Brazilian public about the project's efficiency and economic viability.

Brazil's congress is also preparing to approve a major roll-back of the Brazilian forest code, which could have disastrous social, economic and environmental impacts in the Amazon and other forest regions. Local people defending the forest, who are questioning the approval process for the dams, are being murdered and intimidated. Their government is failing them. An amnesty for illegal deforesters that is coupled with proposed changes to the forest code has also sent a message that unlawful activities will be tolerated by the state.

Given the Belo Monte Dam's astronomical cost, aside from accounting for its massive social and environmental impacts, Brazil would be better off pursuing more sustainable energy alternatives. A 2007 study by the World Wildlife Fund Brazil found that, by 2020, Brazil could cut its forecast electricity demand by 40 per cent by investing in energy efficiency. The power savings would equal the output of 14 Belo Monte hydro-electric plants. The study projected national electricity savings of up to $19 billion by 2020 and a growth of eight million new jobs through power generation from renewable sources such as wind, solar and small hydro.

The struggle to save the Amazon rainforest is of critical importance to our planet, given the important role that this forest plays in the world's natural systems. I urge others to find out more about this issue and to add their voice to the call to halt this disaster. I believe the two issues I have spoken about tonight, trade relations in the Pacific and the development in the Amazon rainforest, require the attention of the Australian government to prioritise the needs of local people and their environment.

Back to All News