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Nick's Inaugural Speech

Media Release
Nick McKim 9 Sep 2015

Inaugural Speech - Senator Nick McKim

Thank you Mr President

I acknowledge the first people of this land, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people. I acknowledge and pay my deep respect to their elders past, present and future.

I also acknowledge that adequate reparations have not yet been made for the wrongs that Australia's original inhabitants have suffered since European arrival. I look forward to the day when there is a Treaty between Australia's first people, and those who displaced them from their land.

Mr President, it's been a bit of a winding old journey for me to end up here. I was born in England, moved from London to Tasmania with my family when I was five years old, and I'd like to sincerely thank my parents, who are here today, for that, the best decision they could have made.

I've worked in a wide range of jobs including as a Huon Valley apple picker, a shepherd in Scotland, and a biodynamic market gardener in Switzerland. I've guided clients through the breathtakingly wild and beautiful Tasmanian wilderness, and I've worked in advertising and public relations. I know what it's
like to sweat for a living, and more recently, to talk for a living.

I've spent time between jobs unemployed, so I know what it's like to have to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table. I'll never forget the tough times, no matter how lucky I get. And I have been lucky, to have the privilege of being a Member of the Parliament of Tasmania for thirteen years, leading the Greens for six of those years, serving as a Minster of the Crown in the Tasmanian government, and now rising to make this, my inaugural speech in the Australian Senate.

Mr President, I do so at a time when politics, the chosen profession of everyone elected to this place, is in a fair bit of strife.

It's in strife because our people are completely over being treated with a lack of respect - being taken for granted - by so many of their political representatives.

They're sick of the constant sniping and negativity that characterises so much of what passes for political debate in this country, and in this parliament.

They can't believe that our Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition could get up every morning and ask themselves ‘How can I win the next election?' rather than ‘How can I better serve the people we are here to represent?'

And they shake their heads that those same political leaders let themselves be seduced by the 24 hour media cycle, that voracious beast which they constantly feed out of fear that it might devour them if they don't keep it sated. They are sick to their back teeth of the endless zingers, and the relentlessly
focus grouped one-liners, which basically take voters for fools.

The canary in the mineshaft of our body politic is falling silent.

The early warning signs are there for all to see - the anti-politician vote, the ever increasing churn in support for parties and candidates, an increased volatility in the electorate, and a desperate hunger for real political leadership. There is a tangible yearning for hope in our community, for something better than what the old parties are offering.

I commit to exploring new ICT platforms that will allow me to have a far more genuine engagement with the people I serve.

Mr President, I'm proud to be part of a party, the Australian Greens, that places a priority on respectful engagement, building genuine relationships, in being up front about the challenges we face, and working collaboratively to deliver solutions.

A party that knows politics is really just a tool that we use to talk about what really matters to us - our families, our friends, our communities, our wellbeing, good health and quality education, and the ecosystem that ultimately sustains it all.

A party that understands that our financial and economic systems prioritise greed over compassion, put profit before people and the planet. The Greens will not sit silently by while policies driven by greed gobble up the future of our children and grandchildren.

A party lead by someone in Richard Di Natale who is offering genuine political leadership at a time when Australia so desperately needs it.

A leader for our times if ever I saw one.

And what times they are. Global warming is already shifting the equilibrium of the earth's ecosystem and therefore impacting on every single person on the planet, every single thing we do and every form of life on earth. Today the world that Australia is part of faces unprecedented challenges, but also unparalleled opportunities.

Our scientific knowledge is increasing exponentially, and technological developments, particularly in renewable energy and information and communication technology, are providing us with the tools to respond to the task before humanity and deliver sustained prosperity in a way that is very different to how we have tried, and failed, to do it in the past.

It's been observed recently that Uber, the world's largest taxi company, owns no vehicles, and that Airbnb, the world's largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something highly disruptive is happening. It's called the shared economy, or the collaborative economy, and it's coming to a mobile device near you. And it's turning a generation of interconnected people into entrepreneurs.

The collaborative economy is a peer-to-peer economic ecosystem which relies on data and connectivity, and it's growing exponentially at increasing speed.

A PriceWaterhouseCoopers report found that just the four major sectors of the collaborative economy had annual global revenue of $21 billion - a figure that it predicts will explode to $478 billion within a decade.

It is already transforming sectors like accommodation and transport, and services such as equipment rental, energy supply, labour hire, money lending and even child care will be next.

It brings down prices, it cuts out middle-people, it encourages innovation and, crucially, it's environmentally friendly because it avoids greenhouse emissions through the more efficient use of existing resources. It's the free market working as it should, for the benefit of people and the environment.

The opportunities that come with the collaborative economy will shift people away from welfare and into economic independence. And the free flow of information and data can protect consumers and reduce regulatory burden on governments, freeing up more money for the delivery of essential public services.

The drivers of the global economy in the years ahead won't be the cumbersome, cost heavy corporate dinosaurs of the past; it'll be the small businesses, the innovators and the entrepreneurs of the future.

And the Greens will be right there with them, advocating for more support, less protectionism, and the lightest possible regulatory touch from government.

Mr President, throughout human history, our biggest challenges have arisen when ecologies collapse, and when the equity gap, the gap between the ‘haves' and the ‘have nots', is at its widest.

This is the situation currently facing us on a global scale. It is manifesting most obviously in the human tragedy unfolding before our horrified, disbelieving eyes in Europe where millions of refugees have been displaced and thousands have died as they and their families attempt to reach peace, sanctuary, the chance for a better life, or just simply a chance at life.

As the Greens and so many decent Australians have said, Australia must do more. We cannot turn our back on the world for obvious moral reasons, but also because it is not in our national interest to do so. The world's problems are our problems.

I can inform you now, that my home state of Tasmania - a big-hearted community with a proud history of welcoming new arrivals - stands ready to help. Our message as Tasmanians is that there's room in our hearts and homes for the desperate people of Syria and Iraq. We stand ready to help.

Let me tell you a story about Tasmania and refugees.

When the Australian Government built a high security detention centre at Pontville, and filled it with children and young adults, Tasmanians broke into it.

Not all of us were convinced about asylum seekers, but we couldn't help ourselves because down in Tasmania we welcome strangers - so in the locals went, carrying gifts of beanies and food.

We opened our schools to them, and opened our hearts.

The National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America has recently published a study entitled Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications of the Recent Syrian Drought. It concluded that human influences on the earth's climate are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.

As the report's co-author Richard Seager, of Columbia University in New York, said "Added to all the other stressors, climate change helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict."

The abject human misery and tragedy on our TV screens is real and it is deeply confronting. But, with nearly 60 million people currently forcibly displaced in the world according to the UNHCR, I'm so very, very sorry to say, we ain't seen nothing yet.

Global warming is ushering in profound change to every facet of our lives at citizens of this planet. But with that change comes social and economic opportunity.

The opportunity is there for Australia to make smart, informed decisions, to get ahead of the game as market leaders, to show the world how we can transition an economy out of an over-reliance on resource extraction and into the industries of the future.

That's why we need to keep the coal in the ground, and reintroduce a price on carbon, for our sake, and for the sake of every person and every species we share this amazing, miraculous planet with.

And that's why we must reject the false choice between jobs and environmental protection. We can, and must, create a future that secures both.

From electric vehicles to renewable energy, from carbon sequestration to environmental remediation, from localised production of everything from food to electricity, we can live more sustainably and create more meaningful work.

Mr President, there are many national issues that currently demand action. Many.

Marriage equality is an issue whose time has come. It is a reform based on the values of compassion, love, respect, and celebrating the diversity that is one of Australia's absolute strengths. It will strengthen families, provide a sense of stability for children and make marriage more relevant to more Australians.

How can we as leaders ask our people not to discriminate on the basis of sexuality in schools, businesses and communities when we still have discriminatory legislation?

The Greens have led this political debate in Australia since we tabled the nation's first Marriage Equality legislation in the Tasmanian parliament in 2005. Every Greens MP has voted for Marriage Equality every single time, and we will continue our relentless work to champion this reform until every Australian - regardless of their sexuality - will know they are equal before the law in all respects.

Mr President, there is an epidemic of men's violence against women in Australia. This year alone in Australia 60 women have been killed by a man they know. As a White Ribbon Ambassador, I implore more men to take leadership on this issue, to stand up against violence, sexism and for true gender equality in our country. Violence against women is a problem caused by men, and it won't be solved until men man up and take responsibility.

On the topic of responsibility, I can't let this chance go by without talking about corporate responsibility. Or the lack thereof in Australia and around the world today. With a few brave exceptions, corporations continue to behave like psychopaths. Fair dinkum, if people behaved with such reckless disregard for the public good we would lock them up in jail for the harm that they do.

Politicians have to accept the responsibility for this because over time we have tripped over ourselves to hand over way too much power from the chambers of our parliaments to the corporate boardrooms which are so unaccountable to the people whose lives they are destroying.

It is time for parliaments to reclaim that power. We need to completely change the regulatory frameworks that govern the way corporations operate and require them to act for the greater good.

So, Mr President, to Tasmania, the best place in the world to live and a place that I love so much.

A beautiful heart-shaped island hanging at the bottom of the world. A place with competitive advantages that the rest of the country can only dream of.

Clean air, the cleanest in the world, abundant fresh water, world-class soils, renewable energy, spectacular wilderness, carbon rich forests, our kind, innovative and deeply resilient people.

We lead the world in Antarctic and marine science. We have more scientists per capita than any other state in the country.

We have world class medical and scientific research facilities. We have a first class university ranked in the top 2% of universities in the world.

A place with the clean, green, clever and creative brand that gives us the opportunity to add a premium to what we produce for the global markets.

I listen to the rest of the country laugh at Tasmania, and like many Tasmanians, I chuckle quietly to myself because we know Tasmania's time is coming. We have got what the world wants and more and more what the world is willing to pay for.

Yes, we're the smallest state, but that's actually one of our biggest assets. Because small places know that relationships matter. Because we're closely connected with each other, which means that we can be nimble and flexible and fast on our feet, better able to change in response to a changing world, and to change fast. To adapt, evolve and innovate.

But to do this there are some steps that we need to take.

Tasmania's island status is one of our great competitive advantages, but also one of our biggest challenges. The cost of getting people and goods across Bass Strait has held Tasmania back for far too long, but the solution is simple - make Bass Strait part of the national highway, and ensure that National
Highway funding right across Australia is distributed on the basis of genuine need, rather than the political imperatives which too often skew funding priorities.

And we need to improve the carriage of data between Tasmania and the world. There is a proposal before the Tasmanian government for another fibre optic connection which would improve competition, bring down prices and increase redundancy. It is vital for our future that this go ahead.

We should also start work on a business case for draining Lake Pedder, that jewel of a wilderness lake in the South west wilderness with its spectacular quartzite beach. Pedder was flooded in the 1970s, breaking the hearts of so many Tasmanians. But it also became the crucible of the environment movement, and led to the forming of the United Tasmania Group, the world's first Green political party.

Restoring Lake Pedder could be achieved with a loss of just 2% to Hydro Tasmania's system energy output in a state that is forecast to have an electricity glut until at least 2027. It would put Tasmania on the front page of every newspaper in the world, and establish Tasmania as a global leader in environmental remediation, one of the industries that will boom in the 21st Century. I have in my office a bag of sand that belongs on the Lake Pedder beach. I so look forward to the day that I can pour that little bag of sand back onto the magnificent Lake Pedder Beach.

The Tasmanian economy has been undergoing a quiet transformation for a decade, moving out of an over reliance on resource based industries into a more diversified and more resilient economy. It's a transition that's been driven primarily by the innovation and creativity of our people, not by our governments. It started later than it should have, and because of that has been harder for some Tasmanians than it needed to be. And it's not finished yet.

But look at us now. We're selling cherries to Japan, truffles to France and tulips to Amsterdam.

We're creating jobs in viticulture, acquaculture, cut flowers, honey, small fruits, boutique beer and cider, in broad acre farming. We're creating jobs in the digital economy, the creative economy, the knowledge economy and, of course, in tourism. We now have over a million tourists arriving here every year - and they are staying longer, and spending more money.

They're not coming because Tasmania is the same as anywhere else; they come because it's different.

We're slowly ending our reliance on competing in global markets by offering cheaper prices on bulk commodities, by dropping wages, relaxing workplace safety and environmental standards - because we've got too much respect for our people and our place to do that.

In a world racked by climate disruption we are on track to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2020, and we have some of the most carbon rich forests in the world. It's an asset that we have a moral responsibility to protect for future generations.

Tasmania is a wild and beautiful archipelago. Our wilderness not only nurtures our souls, sequesters carbon, supports biodiversity, but underpins so much of our future prosperity. The Tasmanian government currently wants to log and mine in the United Nations listed Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

This is as senseless as proposing to mine the great pyramids of Egypt and using the rubble for road gravel.

We must look after our place for its own sake, and for the future we can create as a beacon of sustainability and prosperity to the rest of the world.

In a world of poisoned and dying environments we have healthy and clean agricultural land.

In a world harried by scares about food contamination we have high quality, clean, safe food supplies.

In an overcrowded world, where people don't know their neighbours and rarely see green and growing things, where countries are shattered by division and sectarianism, we have space, we have peace, we have supportive communities and safe public places.

In Tasmania we can live in a city and at the end of our working day we can go fishing, or surfing, or for a walk in a forest.

You know, if you are a Tasmanian, whether you are a sea-changer, a migrant, whether you arrived yesterday, or your people have lived here for 200 years, or 40 000, if you are a Tasmanian you are part of something unique.

Our rate of volunteering soars above the national average.

We are supposedly the poorest state in the country, but that's because some people measure wealth using only money.

Remember, in times of crisis Tasmanians are the biggest donors per capita to national appeals for help. That's richness right there, not poverty.

The mainland states and the rest of the world can watch us with envy, and we are happy to welcome their people, who come here fleeing drought, and violence, and overcrowding, and excessive heat, and disillusionment with their big city lives.

We've lived through depressions and recessions, we've lived through redundancies and factory closures and we not only survived, we never forgot who we are and what we have here and we never stopped being proud of ourselves, and of our island home.

We Greens and countless Tasmanians have fought for this place and we will never abandon our stewardship of it. Never.

There are howling gusts of change blowing all around the world. But Tasmanians live in the roaring 40's. We don't mind a bit of weather down there Mr President, and we're more than used to change.

This century is the sustainability century, and it's Tasmania's time to shine.

Mr President, I want to end by acknowledging the many people who have helped me on my journey through life and politics.

To all of the staff who have supported me so well during my time in politics, and to those that still do, thanks for putting up with me putting in so much time and effort .

To all the Greens members and volunteers and supporters who have advised me, supported me, pushed me, cajoled me, backed me in, and voted for me over many elections, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I want to particularly thank two people who are known well here, Bob Brown and Christine Milne. Like them, I have come from the Tasmanian parliament to the senate, truly following in the footsteps of giants. Thank you both for your leadership, and your friendship.

My mum and dad, John and Joanne, who never stopped believing in me even when I had trouble believing in myself. My brother, and his beautiful family. My family - my magnificent partner Cassy O'Connor, who I love so much and who somehow loves me right back, and without whom I simply could not do what I do, and her beautiful daughters Stella and Mara who make me so proud and bring me so much joy.

Thanks guys, I will give it everything I've got to do you all proud.


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