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Speech: War on Trees

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 2 Feb 2016

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:43): The New South Wales Premier, Mike Baird, is waging a war on trees-quite literally, a war on trees. It is extremely destructive, occasioning great hurt, and right now he is not stopping. In one suburb, Randwick, along Anzac Parade, 400 trees are being turned into woodchips. These are beautiful trees-trees that are habitat to an amazing array of birds, possums and an incredible number of insects. The biodiversity is considerable. Many of these trees are now being destroyed by 'Mike Baird's chainsaw massacre'. That is what the locals are calling it and that is what the supporters of the local residents, who have worked so hard to protect these trees, are saying about what is happening.

This is another ugly side of what sometimes goes down in Sydney. It did not end with the corrupt activities that we heard about in ICAC during the latter years of the former Labor government. There are still a lot of dodgy deals going on. Maybe they are not illegal, but I would certainly argue that they are very immoral. What we have here is this ugly Sydney story of compromised politicians, corporate greed and, in this case, the all-too-powerful Australian Turf Club.

These trees are being cut down for a new light rail service. Now, we should not have a competition between the trees and the light rail-there is no need at all. The light rail could easily be built on the other side of the road, right beside the Randwick racecourse, where so many of these people will be going who will use this light rail service. But the reason appears to have more to do with the Baird government spending public money to save ALTRAC, who are the owners of the light rail, some money in their construction costs. If that is not the reason then the Baird government should come out and explain why in 2015, when people know the value of these trees and when people are so passionate about this, they would cut them down and cause so much devastation.

I do congratulate the many residents, supporters and environment groups that have rallied in such numbers to try to save these trees. Allison Road resident Louise Boronyak-Vasco and five others tied themselves to one of the trees slated for destruction. Jeff Angel, long-time director of the Total Environment Centre, which has done outstanding environmental work in New South Wales over many decades, was one of hundreds of people who have rallied to save these trees.

Imagine that the Premier were standing here and what he would be saying. He would be saying, 'Everything's okay. We're going to plant more trees.' They are even going as far as saying, 'We'll plant eight more trees for every one that is cut down.' Planting eight saplings does not take the place of one grand, big fig tree that is home to so many unique creatures. There is just no comparison. Yes, we need more trees-we know that. But you do not cut down this great beauty-these beautiful trees that line Anzac Parade.

Understandably, passions have been, and are, running high where these beautiful, living, breathing creatures are being killed. One person likened it to me as 400 ghosts-he said, 'It will be like 400 ghosts tracking Mr Baird right through to the next election.' This area is in Turnbull country, and a lot of the frustration has been with the Prime Minister. People know that he does not have the final responsibility for how this light rail operation is going to occur, but what they do know is that Mr Turnbull is in the same party as Mr Baird and that they are political allies-why can he not represent his constituents, pick up the phone and actually make representations for them?

So I would like to share with you a letter that Josie McSkimming from Coogee wrote to The Sydney Morning Herald. It sums up the despair and the anger that so many people are feeling, and it is not going away:

My despair and frustration is increased by the impotence in being able to do nothing abut it. Emails to politicians, submissions to the light rail authority-nothing.

A desperate phone call to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's office (he is the federal member responsible) met a very terse and brusque response: "It's a state matter," I was told in no uncertain terms.

Turnbull and his people do not want to know about it. I've tried what an ordinary citizen can, but to no avail against the vested interests of those horse racing fraternity and their planned hotel and the complete intransigence of the government.

If you voted for Mike Baird, take note. I will never vote for this government again.

Josie McSkimming Coogee

This issue is not going away. The trees probably will all eventually be cut down. When you drive down Anzac Parade-which many of you who do not come from Sydney probably do when you come to the airport and drive around Sydney-you see it is a beautiful parade. The destruction is extreme. It is unnecessary and reminds us how extensively we need to organise to stop this war on trees. It is not just occurring in our cities. It is not just occurring at Randwick. It is right across the state because of the way the New South Wales government has changed the law.


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