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Legislative Assembly

06 February 2019
Tim Read  (GRN)


Dr READ (Brunswick) (10:35:01): I acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, the traditional owners of this land, and pay respect to their elders past, present and emerging. I thank Jane Garrett and before her Carlo Carli for their service as members for Brunswick. I regularly see Carlo at the Brunswick Zebras soccer club. I also want to acknowledge Cindy O’Connor, the Labor candidate, for her decency and courage in the recent campaign, and indeed all the candidates. To the people of my community in the Brunswick electorate, thank you for choosing me and thanks for all that I have learned from you. I will work hard to ensure that your voice is heard in this chamber. I started my medical career as a GP in community health and then specialised in sexual health and HIV research and treatment. I have always had a strong focus on prevention and on continuous questioning and improvement of care, inspired by many mentors including Kit Fairley at the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and my late father, Richard Read, a biochemist and nutrition scientist. I joined the Greens because Greens’ policies are focused on the future, on leaving the world in good shape for those who follow us, including the most disadvantaged in society, and because Greens MPs do not shy away from naming the problems we face even when it seems tactless or uncomfortable to do so. With this in mind I will focus now on what I see as some of Victoria’s biggest public health challenges: heatwaves and climate change, our approach to drugs and crime, and diabetes. Today’s young people are rightly angry about the lack of action on the biggest threat to their future: climate change. They look to government to protect us and our world now and in the future. That bushfire 10 years ago that was on a 46 degree day and that tragically killed so many people who we remember today was preceded by a heatwave with three days in a row of temperatures above 43 degrees that probably killed more than twice as many people. The Chief Health Officer counted 374 extra deaths that week. In the 2014 heatwave another 167 extra deaths were counted. In the last 12 months alone heatwaves killed up to a thousand people in the UK and more in Canada, Pakistan and India. Global warming is also turning cold, wet, mossy forests into fuel. Even forests that have never previously known fire are burning. That is why we are now losing thousand-year-old pines in the cool rainforests of Tasmania. That is why the forests of northern Canada regularly explode into flames. I spent some of my childhood in a town in the forest in Canada and I remember the snow lasting well into spring. But in the spring of 2016 a firestorm destroyed a sizeable portion of a sub-Arctic town well north of where I had lived. Two-and-a-half-thousand homes were destroyed in Fort McMurray, Canada. It often snows at that time of year but not during the 2016 heatwave. That town sits near a vast oil deposit and many of those houses were built with money earned from extracting that oil, which ultimately became carbon pollution. A Greens MP, Elizabeth May of the Canadian Greens, spoke about the connection between climate change and that fire, earning herself a rebuke from Prime Minister Trudeau for being tactless. But by then it was too late to talk about politeness and tact. It was already 10 years after Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, had told the world that decades of extracting and burning fossil fuels have heated our planet. Here in Victoria in 2016 we knew that brown coal was just as responsible for that fire in Canada as it is for the increasing frequency and worsening of fires here. Powerful forces are giving us these firestorms, manipulating our weather, shifting our seasons and changing the very conditions of life in forests, farms, rivers, oceans and in our cities. And still, even now, Victorian furnaces burn tens of millions of tonnes of coal each year, 13 years after Al Gore’s film. The government plans to get out of coal by 2048, but that is a leisurely pace that does not match the seriousness of the disasters we have had, let alone what is to come. 2048 is too late to stop burning coal. We can do it in a decade and we can also cut emissions resulting from animal agriculture, from gas, emissions from transport and aviation and from the logging and burning of native forests, those wonderful stores of carbon and a clean water supply east of Melbourne. Victoria has stunning natural beauty and it is worth protecting. This challenge above all is what has propelled me into Parliament. My interest in prevention and questioning what we do highlights other challenges for our state. I am astonished that we have had such an increase in our prison population over the last 25 years. There are more people in Victorian prisons than ever before and more per person than at any time since the 1890. There is very little we do, when you think about it, in public policy that has changed so little since the Middle Ages compared to the way we treat offenders. We lock them up. We spend a billion dollars a year on prisons and we are building more—for a million dollars a bed—and yet more than 40 per cent of prisoners reoffend within two years. I acknowledge that many of these people have committed serious crimes. But if a treatment for a serious illness had a 40 per cent failure rate, we would look at the research to see what we were doing wrong. We can see that lack of housing predicts reoffending. The percentage of Victorians in prison has tripled in 25 years. The percentage of housing in public hands has declined over the same period, with 82 000 people now on the public housing waiting list. We should be responding to research, not to headlines. We should be building more public housing than prisons. Much of our criminal justice system is taken up with drug offences, but we cannot claim any success with prohibition. Drug use is widespread despite the millions spent enforcing prohibition. So why do we keep doing more of the same, expecting different results? There is a large, sustained cannabis black market in Victoria but prohibition only serves to prop up the prices and clog up the courts. Cannabis is not entirely safe. Smoking it is bad for your lungs and psychiatrists worry about its impact on mental health, but alcohol and tobacco are also harmful and we regulate them through a legal system to reduce the harms. More than one-third of Australians have used cannabis, and prohibition just adds to the harm by involving organised crime. It is time to break the business model of the dealers and replace the cannabis prohibition with a sensible, harm-reduction model. We must offer care and counsel to users who have problems, rather than punishment. Party drugs like ecstasy are very popular at music events. Seven per cent of Australians in their 20s have recently used ecstasy, and collapses and deaths are occurring with some regularity, often because what was sold as ecstasy contained something else. When the chocolate mousse at a restaurant causes a salmonella outbreak, investigators swoop in to collect samples from the patients and the restaurant; we care for our mousse-eaters. But we steadfastly refuse to provide care and pill testing, such as is done in the UK and Europe, and so we lose the opportunity to engage with people using drugs. Rather than turning our backs and saying, 'You get what you deserve’, we can test the pills, provide accurate advice and show that we care. The war on drugs has become a war on youth, and it is time to stop. Now, let us talk briefly about diabetes. How many of your friends have diabetes? The prevalence of type 2 diabetes has grown at an alarming rate in Australia, hastened by our high consumption and sedentary lifestyles. We drive, we take escalators, we shop and we get takeaway, where previously we walked, we took stairs and we cooked. Obesity, type 2 diabetes and an increasing risk of heart attack and stroke all go together, fuelled by a lack of exertion and the processed food and sugary drinks that are so cheaply and widely available and so heavily advertised. Have you ever taken your kid to the supermarket and tried to get out past the lolly counter? You have got to try to convince them it is broccoli. Victoria’s excellent health care is at risk of being overwhelmed. Public transport and bikes dominated our election campaign in Brunswick, not just because they reduce carbon emissions, but because public transport provides opportunities, like work and education, to those who do not have cars, and it relieves congestion for those who do. Bikes and public transport do not just take cars off the road, they make us healthier. Public transport makes us walk to tram stops or cycle to train stations. Walking and cycling, known as active transport, make our bodies more sensitive to the insulin we produce and help prevent diabetes. We have got a lot to do to meet this particular public health challenge, but getting more people onto public transport and bikes is actually one of them. This illustrates the point in Joel Pett’s famous cartoon which asked, 'What if climate change is a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?’. Let us start by creating a better Brunswick. In Brunswick we are choking on traffic, and we just cannot fit any more cars. Many of the objections to new apartment developments are actually reasonable objections, not to more people, but to their four-wheeled friends, the cars. Promoting alternatives to driving will make our roads less congested and reduce transport emissions, but it is tough to ask people not to drive unless we get our Upfield train line running more than three trains per hour. Our trams are pretty frequent, but they are often simply too packed to board, as new apartments seem to arrive faster than more public transport. The people in the uniquely isolated nook of Parkville Gardens desperately need more than one bus per hour. With these public transport shortfalls, it is no wonder that more people ride bikes to work from Brunswick than from any other part of Australia, so let us protect them with better bike lanes. Many of us do not want to drive from one polluting traffic jam to the next, so let us make the alternative transport options work better. The people of Brunswick do not want to see Brunswick built for cars; they want to see Brunswick built for people. Let us do that and make it an example for the rest of Australia. I will be proud if I can help meet these challenges. Before I go I must raise a housekeeping matter: why do we still let money influence who gets into Parliament? Parliament recently took admirable steps in limiting the size of political donations, but donations from fundraising entities, unions and candidates remain uncapped, so let us finish the job and cap them. To really make sure, let us also cap campaign spending, as is done in many countries. But that is not the only problem. In November upper house seats were bought for as little as $50 000 by manipulation of group voting tickets. I am not sure what is more embarrassing—the manipulation of the preferences or the low price. We must make it easier for voters to direct their preferences in the direction they actually prefer. I conclude by thanking all who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to turn Brunswick Green for the first time. I thank my mother, Judy, and her partner, Peter; my sisters Angela and Ursula; my children, Martin and Louisa; and especially my wife, Angela, for all they have done to help nurture and inspire me. And I have been inspired by the Moreland Greens. I cannot thank enough the hundreds of people from in and around Moreland who have volunteered so much time to campaign for the Greens in Brunswick in 2018 and in four previous elections—a monumental effort spanning 16 years. I am proud to join my Greens colleagues here and grateful to all the Greens across the state who have encouraged and supported me along the way. To all in this house, I look forward to working with you. Members applauded.