Saturday, 18 August 2012

sinking debate

What has Australia come to, that we can treat asylum seekers so cruelly, while claiming to do so from compassion?

How can we tolerate crocodile tears for drownings at sea from politicians who demonise the very people who have died?

What future have we in our region when we demand our neighbours take from us the burden of responsibilities we are treaty-bound to assume ourselves?

What of our reputation when we impose harsh requirements on poor client states to do what they do not want to do – take on the politically embarrassing refugees who have come seeking our help?

What madness is it when an opposition leader is praised for his mantra of ‘turning back the boats’ when he could not do so even if this were a desirable end?

How can we take seriously those who talk of ‘the people smugglers’ business model’ as if this desperate movement of people were somehow workshopped at a Harvard MBA school?

By what folly have we permitted the term ‘border protection’ to insinuate itself into our discourse about those coming to our country seeking our protection – as if by crossing our borders to ask for our help they compromise the borders whose protection they invoke?

And how is it that those who call for compassionate treatment of asylum seekers are all but accused of murdering them at sea?

The current debate on asylum seekers has seen a new nadir in the Australian body politic. Not only are the arguments callous, they are  detached from evidence and logic, swamped by calculations of political advantage, and it seems the vast majority cannot see or does not care what this is doing to our country.

Let us go through the current position. 

Low numbers

About 6000 people currently come to Australia by boat each year seeking asylum. 

These boat numbers are (for the 90% accepted as genuine refugees) part of our humanitarian intake. In 2010-11 our humanitarian intake accepted just 8971 people from overseas, and 4828 people already here (ie 13,799 in total). The budgeted figure for 2011-12 is 14,750. The figure has now increased to 20,000, something which asylum seeker support groups and the Greens have been seeking for years.

Australia has a total annual migrant intake in excess of 110,000 per annum, so the numbers coming by boat are a very small fraction.

Compared with other nations, our intake is tiny. For example, Canada in 2010 granted asylum to 23,160 refugees, and in the same year France granted asylum to 47,790. We had 6,535 boat arrivals in 2010, but Greece had 46,015, and Italy 82,248.

Australia can easily absorb the numbers who come. The hysteria that politicians and others have been able to generate about these small numbers plays on deep-seated fears in our community. We have never properly acknowledged that we dispossessed others who were here before us, and we in our turn fear those who come by boat. We always have. It has nothing to do with objective difficulties to our nation. After all, as we proclaim in our national anthem:

For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share

Why are we tying ourselves in knots over a problem that we should be able to handle with comparative ease?

Political Imperatives

At the time of writing, Labor wants to get asylum seekers off the front pages, because the issue is doing them harm. The Coalition want to keep that issue there, because it helps them. Labor has been prepared to offer anything to the Coalition to get rid of the issue.

As a political circuit breaker, they appointed the 'Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers' which has now submitted its recommendations - based on the terms of reference it was given.
The panel recommended that the Humanitarian Program be increased to 20,000 places per annum - a positive.

However, the panel also recommended processing in PNG, Nauru, and Malaysia, as well as a ‘no advantage’ principle to ensure that no benefit is gained through circumventing 'regular migration arrangements'.

Legislation very rapidly cobbled together after the report was delivered has now passed both houses of the federal parliament, with the Greens the only party to oppose it,

That legislation goes beyond the recommendations of the expert panel. It denies asylum seekers basic human rights. In particular, the legislation explicitly states that asylum seekers are to be denied natural justice, it explicitly states that 'protections' to asylum seekers are not legally binding on the government, and it removes the role of the Minister as guardian of unaccompanied children - thus removing his (or anyone else's) accountability if he does not act in the best interests of the child.

"Queue jumpers"

By definition, a person cannot seek asylum as a refugee unless they have fled their own country. There is no queue in Iraq or Afghanistan to take them. They must get out as best they can, and then find somewhere to live. Some are able to be assessed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but even then they are not guaranteed resettlement – many who have taken boats to Australia have already been assessed to be refugees by the UNHCR. Some have no opportunity to be assessed before they take a boat to Australia.

As the UN has pointed out, queue jumping is a myth.

By all means let us establish orderly mechanisms for refugees seeking to invoke our protection to come to Australia, but until we do, it is frankly dishonest to use the term ‘queue jumper’ because for most who come by boat there is no queue to jump.

"Border protection"

We all want our borders protected. After all, the term implies invasion by some foreign military force after which our borders may be redrawn and we lose part or all of our country. We don't want that.

But that is nothing to do with the case. People coming here by boat as asylum seekers do not threaten our borders. They invoke the protection of our borders. It is as foolish to use the border protection paradigm as it would be to speak of a mediaeval person seeking the sanctuary of the church threatening the church's jurisdiction.

Crossing the border to seek our protection does not threaten our borders at all, and it is folly to use the term. The only threat to our borders comes from politicians who have excised large parts of Australia from the so-called 'Migration Zone' where the usual rights and legal protections no longer apply. That really does threaten our borders, because it creates a large zone which is not fully accepted as part of Australian jurisdiction.

International relations

Australia was one of the first countries to sign the Refugee Convention in 1954. This followed the disgrace of the world failing to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe, and was an attempt to ensure that this would not happen again.

We have obligations under that convention, obligations we have undertaken before the nations of the world. 

It is our obligation to assess whether a person claiming asylum here is a genuine refugee. We have an obligation of 'non-refoulement' - ie not forcibly returning refugees to the country from which they have fled. It is our responsibility to accommodate those who have come here seeking protection.

How can we expect our most important regional partners, Malaysia, Indonesia (curiously not mentioned in the experts' report) and Thailand, to agree to take on new and heavy responsibilities to thousands of desperate people seeking asylum when the starting point for negotiations is that we won’t? They will expect billions of dollars to be thrown in, but they will despise our attitude.

We are left with offshore processing in poverty-stricken client states like PNG and Nauru, pending the outcome of patronizing, protracted and indeterminate negotiations with Malaysia and other similar nations. That is, the Pacific Solution and all its attendant dangers and damage.

Unless Australia is willing to undertake its fair share in dealing with this problem - starting with the obligations we have publicly undertaken - we will damage our international standing. 

We need good relations in our region. We need to be a good neighbour so we can ask for help when we need it. This roughshod shirking of our responsibilities is doing our nation long term harm.

Psychiatric harm

We already know that the mandatory detention of asylum seekers - including in offshore facilities like Manus Island and Nauru - causes serious long term psychiatric harm. 

The longer detention now contemplated will cause more harm. It is unconscionable for a government to contemplate causing such harm to people, especially those who have already suffered and have come seeking our help. The dehumanizing involved in holding people in such institutions with inadequate facilities, no proper access to legal assistance, no definite end to their incarceration, is damaging to those held, but it also brutalises our nation. How can we do this to people and not expect this cancer to metastasise through our body politic?


One of the most insidious aspects of the current debate is expressed as concern for the safety of asylum seekers. Safety as a value cannot be criticised. Everyone's in favour of it. And there's no doubt that the losses of asylum seekers at sea are tragic.

Pardon me for saying so, but much of this concern for the safety of asylum seekers is frankly hypocritical. The coalition have made much of their reputation for being 'tough on asylum seekers', and they have boasted at the toughness (lack of compassion) in their policies. It is hard to see anything sincere about their concern for the safety of asylum seekers. If that were a genuine concern, why do they not also care about the mental harm mandatory detention policies have done to so many? 

Many politicians have demonised asylum seekers, a fact not lost on the UN, which has repeatedly criticised Australian politicians for doing so. Scott Morrison, for example, has said that they “bring disease … wads of  cash … and large displays of  jewellery”. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, knowing the claim to be false, continues to refer to asylum seekers as 'illegals'. The media only rarely challenge him for the lie. 

When such men proclaim their grief for the people they continue to demonise it is hard to take them seriously. Beware the confected grieving of powerful men. There is often a deeper and uglier agenda beneath.

And in this case the agenda is justification of harsh measures against asylum seekers 'to deter them'. 

The conventional wisdom has been that John Howard stopped the boats, and he did so by harsh measures. But the Pacific Solution coincided with the Norwegian sponsored peace agreement in Sri Lanka - during which time there were no Tamils fleeing from that country. It coincided with the shocked quiet that initially followed the invasions respectively of Afghanistan and Iraq. Weighing up John Howard's policy in order to determine whether to come to Australia, if it happened at all, was low on the list of asylum seeker priorities.

An ugly feature of this argument has been vilification of those who oppose offshore processing as 'supporting people dying at sea'. There are many examples of this particularly vile rhetoric. The twittersphere has recorded tweets such as 'Greens support profiteering from people dying at sea' and 'I prefer to support people dying at sea so we can feel good while eating our tofu at expensive fundraisers'. It is not just asylum seekers who are being demonised now. Those who call for their humane treatment are accused of supporting their deaths. This represents a new low in our national debate and is the kind of hyperbole apt to divide a country.

People who get on boats to come to Australia do so knowing it is dangerous. They are fleeing from tyrannical regimes. If they wait for resettlement in refugee internment camps they can wait all their lives. Coming here by boat is not a lifestyle choice. And we think we can deter them? We can only do this if coming to Australia is less attractive than facing down the regime they want to flee.

They are Hazaras fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Tamils fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka, people who have reached the point of desperation. As the panel has noted, they are genuine refugees - 90% are found to be so after they arrive.

To pursue deterrence as a policy in this area is to choose a dangerous moral position: we will cause harm to someone who has committed no crime in order to make some other unspecified person decide it's not worth it to come. Holding or hurting someone who has committed no crime in order to make someone else act in a different way is in my view immoral - it is the same moral choice as taken by the extortionist. 

Having chosen the path of deterrence, any effective deterrent must make the option of coming to Australia nastier than the option of remaining to be persecuted by a tyrannical regime. 

Is that the kind of country we want?

'Protecting people' from the risks of boat travel to Australia has as its counterpart leaving them exposed to the risks they seek to escape.

Making people wait on Manus Island or Nauru for years will not save lives, and there has been no credible case made that it could - but we know it will cause detainees long term harm. 

I do not believe that this is genuinely about saving lives at all. I do not believe that has been the guiding principle for action by government of either stripe on this issue. It's about giving refugees a hard time so the government can claim to be tough on boat people.

This demeans Australia. The world will rightly despise us for such behaviour.

No advantage

The expert panel on asylum seekers has recommended a ‘no advantage’ principle to ensure that no benefit is gained through circumventing regular migration arrangements. In practical terms, it is hard to know what this will mean.

As Julian Burnside puts it so well: 
What are the dynamics of all this?  Sending people to Nauru or PNG and resettling them at the time when they would otherwise have been resettled is obviously intended as a deterrent (or ‘disincentive’ as the report calls it).  Same for turning boats back.  The point is to make coming to Australia less attractive.  There’s a couple of problems here.  First, how do you determine when a person would otherwise have been resettled?  Do you measure the average time in an African camp?  Do you look at the average time the same person would have spent in Malaysia or Indonesia?  That will throw up a different answer. It’s going to cause problems. The average time for resettlement can range from 5 years to 40 years. Let’s take 5 years to keep the maths simple. A boat person will get a ‘5-year penalty’.  Presumably they will be held in Nauru or Manus Island during that time, before being resettled somewhere (the report does not say where they might be resettled).  If this year’s boat people number (to August) is used as the annual average arrival rate, then Nauru (or Manus Island) will have to accommodate 35,000 boat people while the principle of ‘no advantage’ plays out. That would involve the population of Nauru increasing by 540%, or the population of Manus Island increasing by 81%.  (If they came to Australia, the population would increase by 0.002%).  Has this been run through the common-sense filter?

The policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers, and even more so the policy of offshore detention, costs our nation billions of dollars. It's as if money is no object on this issue. Which is scarcely surprising, because the policy is not driven by reason.

Compromise and being reasonable

The Greens have been criticised for not compromising on this issue. They are not realistic. They are not 'players'. They are 'out of touch'. Often, compromise is a very good thing, and the Greens have demonstrated a capacity to compromise on issues and work through them again and again. 

But compromise is not an end in itself. If the compromise leads to an amelioration of harm, or an increase in good, it is worth doing. But if there is no improved policy outcome to be gained from compromise, sometimes all that remains is the simple dignity of standing firmly for what you believe in, bearing witness that at least someone was prepared to oppose an evil.

Time will tell, but I believe the Greens will be vindicated for their stand.


We are not seeing the kind of leadership Australia needs on this issue. We have leaders advocating cruelty to vulnerable asylum seekers for their own political advantage. Our leaders make no appeals to any great vision of what Australia should and could be. We have no inspiring declaration of independence from our founding fathers to which they can look for guidance. Our leaders do not invoke the great principles of human rights, in relation to which Australia once took a lead. When the UN Human Rights Committee criticises our asylum seeker policies and particularly mandatory detention, Australia petulantly ignores the rebukes.

Where there are no great principles invoked, all too often we are left with self-interest.

And indeed we see a debate which is self-serving, dishonest, divorced from facts and logic, and which gives licence to treat vulnerable people cruelly. When we regard it as acceptable to mistreat the vulnerable, we are doing long term harm to our nation, for we diminish what it means to be Australian.

We Australians think that the kind of divisions we see in other nations cannot happen here. But they can happen anywhere if leaders are not astute to keep our community healthy. The recent debate on asylum seekers, and the decisions to which it has given rise, carries with it the danger of fraying the fabric of our community.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Rare Trees

Flower of Eucalyptus recurva - one of the oldest and rarest plants on Earth

We keep discovering more about the Australian bush.

Once we had the tallest trees on Earth.  We have our Wollemi pines, survivors from the age of the dinosaurs, discovered in the 1990s to the astonishment of the world.

High on the slopes of Tasmania's Mount Read, beside the small glacial Lake Johnston, there is a patch of huon pine approximately 1 hectare in extent. At an altitude of 1000 metres, it is the highest occurrence of huon pine recorded.

In 1995 (the same year as the discovery of the wollemi pine), researchers were astonished to find not only that all the trees in this stand were male, but that DNA tests showed them to be genetically identical. They were clones of the one tree, evidently spreading as branches made contact with the soil and a fresh trunk sprouted. Huon pine pollen samples from Lake Johnston's sediments were dated at 10,500 years.

The oldest individual trunk in this colony may be 2000 years old, but the lonely male organism as a whole is in excess of 10,500 years old, probably having become established before the last glacial period, maybe as long ago as 30,000 years.

Perhaps the rarest eucalypt is Eucalyptus recurva - discovered in the 1980s and also known as the Ice Age Gum or the Mongarlowe Mallee. It is a mallee, with many stems sprouting from a single lignotuber (underground root ball).

The species is known from only four sites on the southern tablelands of NSW - three of the sites having just a single individual, and the other having two. Some of these five individuals are genetically identical.

The oldest of these plants, near Windellama, south east of Goulburn, is considered to be 13,000 years old and a relic of the ice age. It is possibly the oldest plant on Earth.

Because of the plant's extreme rarity, the exact locations of each known specimen is a closely guarded secret - although all are on private property.

Another particularly rare mallee - this time in Western Australia - is the Meelup Mallee (Eucalyptus phylacis). It was also discovered in the 1980s and is currently known from a single clonal population comprising 27 genetically identical individuals over a range of .09 hectares in the Shire of Busselton. The distance between the ramets (i.e. clonal individuals) suggests that this plant is also very old, and the estimate is between 6,380 years and 6,660 years. Its lignotuber extends for some 40 metres.

Eucalypts are difficult to classify. Species seem to blend into each other, and often different species can appear quite similar, and the same species can have very different appearances. Scientists now recognise three distinct genera of eucalypts: Angophora, Corymbia and Eucalyptus.

There have been many new species of eucalypt described to science in recent years, such as the Wollemi stringybark (as distinct from the pine), named in 2011, or the two species of eucalypt from northern NSW first described to science in 1999 - Eucalyptus quinniorum and E. oresbia, just two years after five new species were discovered in the same State. In 2001 a further species was discovered in NSW - E. boliviana - confined to a small stand near the crest of a single hill.

In 2009 scientists at Kew Gardens in London announced they had identified two new species of eucalypt from Western Australia. And more seem to be discovered all the time.

Often these new species are identified in small, isolated clumps of trees. Historically, and into the present day, many such clumps have been routinely cleared or logged, and in the process we have lost unguessed riches from our land's biodiversity.

We whitefellas are newcomers to this land, and have not yet learned all that it has to offer. The rare and wonderful secrets it is gradually revealing encourage us to treat it with profound respect.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

My father's fungi

Tarra Valley Archway by Jason Green

When I was a young boy, our family stayed in Tarra Valley in Gippsland.

Tarra (rhymes with 'Yarra' - it is not pronounced like Scarlet O'Hara's home) Valley is a remnant of the magnificent forests which once covered the Strzlecki Ranges. It was a wonderful experience for four brothers - roaming freely through this rain-soaked wonderland of old growth forest, with tree ferns taller than a two storey house, massive trees, fallen logs fermenting back into the oozing soil, lyre birds and leeches in abundance, and many places to become lost.

We stayed with Karamoana Healey (to us, always 'Mrs Healey' - she was part Maori, and her first name has that origin) in her house in the forest. It was on land now part of the national park, but then adjacent to it. Mrs Healey was ranger (called 'caretaker' at that time) of Tarra Valley National Park (as it was then called - now Tarra-Bulga National Park). She had no electricity, and the walls were lined with newspapers. I slept in a room made by closing in one end of the verandah - a room which boasted the exotic extravagance of a harmonium. Her extended family often visited, and we enjoyed meeting them. Mrs Healey was a woman with immense energy, and she loved Tarra Valley and knew what all its lyrebirds, animals and insects were up to.

In 1990, 30 years since we had stayed there, Sally and I went back with my parents. We looked for the old house. It had been in a large clearing, and we knew where it should be, but couldn't seem to locate it. Finally we noticed a shelf half way up the side of a road cutting - perhaps that was the remains of her drive after the road was widened? We climbed up, and walked through the bush. My father walked ahead, and called out. He had found hydrangeas, and knew we were in Mrs Healey's garden. Soon, to our great excitement, there was the house itself.  Rain was getting in and the veranda had already collapsed. It wasn't going to stay upright for much longer. I looked at a rusty hurricane lamp on a post outside, and tore a small strip of the 1930s newspaper from the wall to keep as a memento. It was the classified section, and houses were selling in Canning Street Carlton (where Sally and I then lived) for 150 pounds.

How had we come to this enchanted place to holiday in the first place?

My father, Neville Walters, worked for the CSIRO's Division of Forest Products in South Melbourne. His office looked out on the underside of the King Street Bridge - and if he were there today he'd find, instead of his quiet laboratory, the echoing cacophony of Crown Casino.

Dad was a mycologist - he studied fungi. He spent decades building what is now Australia's major collection of fungi, named after him, and which is housed today in the National Herbarium of Victoria adjacent to Melbourne's Botanic Gardens.

This short clip from Gardening Australia (you have to go down the page and choose the item 'The Fungi Collector' to view it) describes the collection he built up.

Dad had collectors all round Australia sending him fungi.

Several of them came to visit us, including Jim Willis, H J Cann and the one who gave him more specimens than anyone else - Mrs Healey. After a long correspondence with my father, and after visits from him for field trips from time to time, she invited us all to come and stay.

My father was English, but the turmoil of the war tossed him up on the shores of Australia, where he met my mother. He loved the Australian bush, and knew a good deal about it - more than most who have grown up here. He studied botany at Melbourne University post war, and soon specialised in his beloved fungi.

Whilst a childhood highlight for us was going for family outings to magical bush places, we struggled to take in the Latin names for the various plants - and especially fungi - which Dad would carefully recite for us.

Meanwhile his collection of fungi was building, and today stands as an important baseline for the fungi of Australia as we confront the challenge of climate change. It is a significant legacy, but perhaps more is the legacy of family and friends with an intense appreciation of the forests and bush he loved.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Bob Brown

Address at the Greens dinner on Friday 22nd June 2012 to thank Bob Brown on the occasion of his retirement from the Australian Senate

My fellow Greens,
A few years ago, Bob and I spoke at an event in Orange in New South Wales.

On the way back to Canberra, we detoured to drive through Trunkey Creek. There’s nothing flash about Trunkey Creek. It’s a modest settlement that hardly deserves even the name of village. There’s a pub – called the ‘Black Stump’ - an old and now disused general store, a cemetery, and a brick police station with an attached house built in 1879. Bob’s father was the Trunkey Creek policeman, and this is the house where Bob spent his early years. It has cells where, I have it on good authority, Bob’s father, perhaps training his son for bigger things to come, once incarcerated him.

We drove around the settlement, Bob sharing warm memories of what was a pretty normal rural upbringing.

Bob’s background is completely ordinary.

And yet, on that foundation Bob has, by the alchemy of clear-sighted decisions, and being prepared to swim against the tide, built an inspiring contribution to this Earth and to all of us here tonight.

In 1976 Bob, by then a GP in northern Tasmania, was walking down a street in Launceston when a forester named Paul Smith approached him. Paul invited Bob to join him in rafting down a remote river called the Franklin - a river which Bob had never heard of until that conversation. When Bob and Paul paddled down from the Collingwood bridge, disappearing from sight around a bend in the river, they were venturing into a largely unexplored area of Tasmania. On that journey, which opened magic places of remote wilderness to him, Bob named several of the features of the river. At Propsting Gorge he and Paul went into an HEC hut where they saw plans for a series of dams up the river. The rest, as they say, is history.

Galvanized by the imminent threat to this last great wild river, Bob overcame intense shyness to speak with spell-binding force at rallies all around Australia, including our own large rallies here in Melbourne.

In the Franklin blockade, Bob was arrested at the end of 1982. The offence, on conviction, carried a $100 fine, and yet Bob was jailed for weeks because he refused to sign the unreasonable and, as it was later held, unlawful bail conditions which were imposed.

Then, as new year 1983 came in, Norm Sanders resigned from the Tasmanian parliament to run for the senate, knowing that on a recount, Bob would be elected. Bob came out of prison to be declared the new member for Denison that day. Later that same year, the High Court, in one of its most important constitutional judgments, upheld the regulations of the Hawke government which made the Franklin Dam illegal, and the river flows free to the sea to this day.

I say – thanks to Bob, but Bob has always eschewed the role of hero over the Franklin campaign – although he inspired so many. He points to all those who were involved in this campaign. For Bob, his leadership has never been about self-aggrandizement, but always about community.

When Bob stood for election in the Tasmanian state parliament in 1982, the Robin Gray led Liberal Party held a rally in St David’s Park in Hobart. There they released hundreds of balloons adorned with the message ‘Brown is a Green queen’.

I have never seen anything other than magnanimity and equanimity from Bob in dealing with this kind of homophobic reaction to his sexuality. Coming out was an act of grace and courage which was done to help others who were coming to terms with their own sexuality. In the face of the kind of intolerance he faced, Bob never succumbed to it himself.

One of the striking features of Bob Brown’s contribution has been his courage. Bob has been beaten, shot at, had cars firebombed, had a bulldozer drive at him when he was under its scoop, and been frequently arrested - to say nothing of being repeatedly vilified.

He has also showed remarkable compassion. He has travelled to countries like Mexico and Colombia to negotiate the release of kidnapped Greens, and contributed $100,000 of his own money (taking out a bank loan to do so) to arrange freedom for Nigel Brennan, the Australian photojournalist kidnapped in Somalia.

In 2001, when the Howard government sent troops onto the Tampa to prevent, at gunpoint, asylum seekers approaching the courts to secure their rights, it was Bob Brown who spoke out against it immediately. It is worth recalling the political context. An election was due at any time, and Bob faced imminent electoral defeat. Both Labor and Liberal had announced they would preference against him. The Howard government’s action was very popular with many voters.

Bob’s reaction was not to hide, but to call a press conference and state his opposition to this capitulation to Hansonism. Indeed at first it was only Bob who took a stand. It took the Democrats 24 hours to condemn the Howard government. Kim Beazley remained resolutely irresolute – trying to make himself a small target right up to the time he lost the election.

Many pundits predicted that Bob’s reaction was electoral suicide, but it was Bob’s very willingness to put himself on the edge which saw the Green vote go up a gear at the election in November 2001. We jumped from 2% nationally to 5% nationally. Bob was able to achieve election in Tasmania without the preferences of Labor or Liberal. And under Bob’s leadership, how far we have come since then? A national vote in excess of 10% and the balance of power in both houses.

We have seen Bob speak out again and again – addressing the huge rally here in Melbourne on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, and who can forget Bob standing up in Parliament to confront George W Bush about the treatment of Australians in Guantanamo?

Bob likes starting things. Not just the Wilderness Society – which formed at his home in Liffey - but also the Greens, which he built in Tasmania and then across Australia with numerous meetings, and in 1991 when he won the Goldman Environmental Prize (the Nobel Prize for Greenies), he used the prize money to found Bush Heritage Australia, which now manages 1 million hectares of Australian land for its biodiversity and employs over 70 staff, with an annual budget of $20 million. Last year Bob donated his beloved Liffey to Bush Heritage Australia.

Anyone who has spent time with Bob, or read his writings, knows that the fine detail of nature brings out the best and most lyrical in him. With my family I walked with him to Mt St Gwinear in the Baw Baws once. Bob was very steady and present to the bush around him – sometimes stopping to photograph tiny details, alert to all around him and taking in all it had to offer.

How do we thank you, Bob, for a lifetime of service?

I first met Bob in Hardware Lane 33 years ago. Bob’s been there all my adult life – a figure so often able to express what is right even while I’m still struggling to find it. A moral compass for our nation. A beacon for the planet.

Our small thanks tonight cannot augment the sparkling gifts you have given to the Earth and to us all in your career, Bob. But we offer it, and we are inspired by your example to serve the Earth and our fellow beings to make this world a better place.

Please charge your glasses, and let’s drink a toast to our Bob Brown. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Michael Schilling from the Cardinia, Casey Dandenong Greens

My name is Michael Schilling. I am the convener of the Cardinia, Casey Dandenong Greens and am the endorsed Greens candidate for the Federal seat of LaTrobe. I am endorsing Brian Walters for senate pre-selection. I believe Brian is the person who can take the party to the next level by increasing our vote. Brian is a master of communication and has the ability to inspire. This quality, in conjunction with his extensive and diverse knowledge base, puts him in good stead to join Richard in the senate. Brian has the particular ability to reach out to non-Green voters and to inspire them to vote Green, which is critical for the future longevity of the party.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Matthew Wright - climate and energy campaigner

Matthew Wright from has been kind enough to provide me with his endorsement below.

I commend the innovative thinking, leadership and contribution that Matthew and the team at Beyond Zero Emissions are providing towards transitioning Australia to a zero carbon future. Matthew has recently won the Australian Banksia Foundation Award, the Young Environmentalist of the Year award as well as the Ecogen Clean Energy Young Industry Leader Award - to say nothing of the Wild Environmentalist of the Year Award.

Matthew Wright
Climate and Energy Campaigner

Brian's demonstrated commitment to social justice and the environment through his work as a leading SC has been a great service to Australia. He would make an outstanding Senator for the Greens.

Brian Walters has shown a commitment to seriously addressing dangerous climate change and our energy security problems in Australia. He demonstrates through his actions that he will work for the community to transition us from our 19th century fossil fuel based economy to a 21st century renewable emergy powered clean tech economy.

I support Brian Walters as he has a clear and unequivocal conviction to address the social justice and environmental problems that an addiction to fossil gas and fossil coal bring with them.

Brian understands and strongly supports the essential transition we need to make to a zero carbon clean energy future including solar and wind energy, and shifting our transport to mass electric transit and electric vehicles.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Meet the candidate events for Greens Senate preselection

It has been great to get out among Greens members at the recent Meet The Candidate events for the Senate preselection. If you a member of the Greens in Victoria, I hope to meet you at one of these events.

Castlemaine Meet The Candidates event

Castlemaine Meet The Candidates event

The meetings are:

Saturday 4 February - 2 pm, Castlemaine Uniting Church Hall, Lyttleton St Castlemaine

Saturday 11 February - 4 pm, Ambrosia's - Shop 13, 84 Bemersyde Dr Berwick - Melway Ref 131 D2. Note that there's a fundraising dinner after the meet the candidates event!

Thursday 16 February - 7 pm, Swinburne University Student Union building, Level 3 UN building, John Street, Hawthorn. At this session candidates will be asked to focus on education issues

Saturday 18 February - 12:30 pm, Beechworth Old Schoolhouse Gallery, 17 Loch St, Beechworth (opposite the Burke and Wills Museum)

Sunday 19 February - 2 pm, Ross House, 247 Flinders Lane Melbourne

I have also recorded some recent videos on some important topics on my Videos page, including:
  • The perils of Coal Seam Gas
  • Green carbon and protecting forests
  • A message to the Hume Greens
  • Accepting asylum seekers rather than incarcerating them
  • Australia's addiction to gambling
  • We need to move to 100% renewable energy, not build the HRL coal-fired power station

Thursday, 19 January 2012


We Greens in Victoria are now in the process of choosing our lead senate candidate for the next federal election. It is an important step for our party, and for the values we uphold. I am standing for preselection and voting will commence at the end of this month. All Victorian Greens members are entitled to vote.

As you make your decision, please take into account these endorsements from people who know me.

Ben Oquist
Chief of Staff, Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown 

Brian has been one of the great Greens in Australia. Working tirelessly behind the scenes as an adviser and legal expert for years and more recently as a star candidate at the state election. The Greens have been lucky to have his services.

Brian's demonstrated commitment to social justice and the environment through his work as a leading SC has been a great service to Australia. He would make an outstanding Senator for the Greens.

Matthew Wright
Executive Director, Beyond Zero Emissions.

Brian's demonstrated commitment to social justice and the environment through his work as a leading SC has been a great service to Australia. He would make an outstanding Senator for the Greens.

Brian Walters has shown a commitment to seriously addressing dangerous climate change and our energy security problems in Australia.  He demonstrates through his actions that he will work for the community to transition us from our 19th century fossil fuel based economy to a 21st century renewable emergy powered clean tech economy.

I support Brian Walters as he has a clear and unequivocal conviction to address the social justice and environmental problems that an addiction to fossil gas and fossil coal bring with them.

Brian understands and strongly supports the essential transition we need to make to a zero carbon clean energy future including solar and wind energy, and shifting our transport to mass electric transit and electric vehicles.

Pamela Curr
Greens member, former candidate, and asylum seeker advocate

Brian Walters SC is an outstanding candidate for the Senate. His role in environmental and human rights issues has earned him wide-spread respect. Brian’s position as a former President of Liberty Victoria and his role as a leading human rights lawyer along with his reputation for integrity and hard work both inside and outside the party gives the Greens our best chance of adding to the Greens Senate team.

Brian’s legal background in human rights provides the knowledge and expertise needed at a political level to initiate and examine legislation in this crucial area.

As a founding member of the Greens, Brian played an important role in taking the Greens from its minor party origins to the position the Greens now occupy on the political stage. 
I believe that Brian Walters has the reputation, communication skills, energy and ability to convince the people of Victoria of the value of Greens representation.  

Brian’s background and skills will strengthen the Green Senate team at a time when the community are looking to the Greens for political leadership on the things that matter.

Clive Hamilton

Brian Walters is exactly the sort of candidate the Greens need to make the next big leap as a political party. He is determined, savvy and passionate. He would be a candidate who is not only committed to the values of the Greens but has proven his capacity by rising to the top of his profession. Brian has gravitas as well as passion, and is the sort of candidate who would immediately be taken seriously in the politics of Canberra. I would feel proud and confident to welcome him to Canberra as Greens Senator for Victoria.

Michael Schilling 

convenor, Cardinia, Casey Dandenong Greens

My name is Michael Schilling. I am the convener of the Cardinia, Casey Dandenong Greens and am the endorsed Greens candidate for the Federal seat of LaTrobe. I am endorsing Brian Walters for senate pre-selection. I believe Brian is the person who can take the party to the next level by increasing our vote. Brian is a master of communication and has the ability to inspire. This quality, in conjunction with his extensive and diverse knowledge base, puts him in good stead to join Richard in the senate. Brian has the particular ability to reach out to non-Green voters and to inspire them to vote Green, which is critical for the future longevity of the party.

Terry Lane
Broadcaster, writer and former secretary of Free Speech Victoria

BRIAN WALTERS and I first met when he was representing Alan Gray in the infamous Forest Friendly Building Timbers case when the timber industry was threatening to use the Trade Practices Act to bankrupt Alan by having his book banned. We won, thanks in no small part to Brian’s total commitment to the cause. From that point we became collaborators in the organisation Free Speech Victoria. I always admired Brian’s integrity and intellect and I hoped that he would be elected to parliament, either state or federal, where he would be an adornment to the legislature. As a Greens voter it would give me immense pleasure and confidence to vote for him in the next Senate election.

Julian Burnside

I have known Brian Walters for over 25 years. We have worked together in several cases, including defending the Gunns 20 case. We also share a concern for human rights issues. Brian was president of Liberty Victoria immediately before my term as president, and we both continue on the committee. We have shared platforms speaking about human rights issues on many occasions. I have found Brian to be dedicated and courageous in defence of the issues he supports. Brian brings great experience as an advocate, tactical skill, and a commitment to causes that matter for Australia today. I am happy to endorse his bid for the Senate.

Anne O'Rourke
Greens member, Monash lecturer, former Greens State executive 
My experience of Brian, his character and principles, and his fearless advocacy of civil liberties and human rights, comes through our mutual involvement with Liberty Victoria.

Brian is a Senior Counsel, and as President of Liberty, was always on call, speaking on issues ranging from the treatment of refugees, anti-terror legislation, government accountability, and the right to free speech and assembly.  

As Vice-President of Liberty Victoria, I was able to closely observe Brian in a leadership role. He displayed strong leadership skills, marked by good humour, consultation with, and respect for, the other members of the Liberty committee.  Under fire from conservatives, Brian always remained calm and eloquent in his demeanour.  

Brian’s green credentials are as impressive as his human rights achievements.  He is author of ‘Slapping on the Writs’, on the use of litigation to silence community groups.  He co-founded ‘Wild’ magazine and instituted the ‘Wild Environmentalist of the Year’ award.  He successfully defended Bob Brown on charges of obstructing logging in Gippsland in 1997-8 and rafted down the Franklin to join the blockade in 1982-3.

Tim Costello

I have known Brian Walters for most of my life from school days at Carey and then Monash University  Law school to his career as a Barrister. I know Brian to be an extraordinary mind matched by an exemplary character. He has a passionate commitment to both the issues of justice and the environment. For me he is exactly the sort of policy driven politician that this nation needs in Parliament. I  write this not as one who is a member of any political party but as a personal reference. I have written similar references in the past for Liberal and Labor candidates for preselection whom I respect.

Barry Heard
Vietnam veteran and author of Well Done, Those Men and other books

I have known Brian Walters for several years. He is a fine family man and highly respected in his own profession. I supported him in his unsuccessful attempt into State election. His loss was due to the politics, not the quality his candidature.

He will bring many skills and knowledge of the game of politics as a potential candidate. Brian can see through the banter. His work background is perfect for the position. Verbally precise, astute, and clear: politics needs this today. He is a supporter of many good causes, on one of which I have had the privilege to work with him. 

As a man of principle, there is no other field in politics suitable for Brian Walters. He is Green to the core. 

Vanessa Bleyer
Solicitor in the Brown Mountain and other logging cases

My name is Vanessa Bleyer. I started practising as a lawyer 10 years ago, following a number of years working as a law clerk with Brian Walters SC. Brian introduced me to the law relating to protecting native forests. Since then, I became an environmental lawyer, using the law to protect native forest such as Brown Mountain in East Gippsland. Brian’s guidance and support moved me to do this work. I have worked with Brian on cases such as the Gunns 20 case. Brian is a highly skilled, respected and effective lawyer. Our environment will greatly benefit from Brian being in the Senate.

I strongly endorse him and am honoured to do so.

Alan Gray
Editor, Earth Garden magazine

My name is Alan Gray, and I’ve been the editor of ‘Earth Garden’ magazine for the past 25 years. Throughout most of those 25 years I’ve also worked closely on various environmental campaigns with Brian Walters. Without the legal and moral support of someone as committed to Greens values as Brian, it would not have been possible for me — or many other activists — to conduct some of our vital campaign activities. Brian’s support over these years has been immeasurable.  He has the intellect, the skills and the compassion to make a wonderful Greens Senator for Victoria. I am delighted to endorse his candidature, and I urge you to get on board the Brian Walters campaign.  We Greens will be very lucky indeed if we can secure Brian as our Senate candidate.

Melanie Sharp
Performer, activist, post-graduate student and mother

Brian is one of the most inspiring public speakers I’ve seen. When he’s spoken at forest fundraisers I’ve organised, we’ve had packed houses, largely due to Brian’s reputation, knowledge of environmental issues, and charismatic delivery. Our audiences were always spellbound. Brian’s dedication to environmental issues over many years, and his personal qualities and legal skills, would make him an exemplary Greens senator.

Paul Collins
Paul Collins, writer and broadcaster and member of the ACT Greens

Brian Walters is precisely the type of man The Greens need to have in the Australian Senate. He is a very long-term and committed member of the party who has already had experience standing for election on behalf of The Greens. He has excellent environmental credentials, is an experienced bush-walker, is one of the founders of the magazine Wild and has had long-term community involvement in a wide range of areas including Liberty Victoria, The Wilderness Society, the Victorian National Parks Association, the Protectors of Public Lands and Free Speech Victoria. He has had a lot of experience in dealing with the media and is very media savvy. 
He is an experienced barrister and senior counsel who has worked on many environmental cases, including acting for Senator Bob Brown in the Goolengook case which led to forestry operations in East Gippsland being found to be illegal with 300 other protestors having their cases dismissed. Brian’s broad experience, maturity, community involvement and above all his long-lasting and passionate concern for the natural world make him an ideal candidate for The Greens in the Senate. I support and endorse him.

Rod Quantock

Brian has a life-long passion for, and commitment to social and environmental issues. He is an experienced advocate and negotiator. Parliament would be a better place with his ^@# on one its plush seats. He also has a very nice suit. (That's very important in politics.)

Nomination Statements

Marcus Ward
I joined the Victorian Greens in 1999. I have been a candidate for the Federal seat of Burke in 2000, the state seat of Macedon in 2002, and the lead Western Victoria candidate in 2006 and 2010. I have also assisted with campaigns for the federal seat of McEwen as well as local council elections.

I wish to nominate Brian Walters for the Victorian Greens lead Senate candidate for the coming federal election.

I first met Brian in 1999 when a logging company was threatening to sue me. Since that time I have worked with Brian on many campaigns. Under pressure he is uniquely cool, careful and decisive. 

Brian is a man of extraordinary capabilities. His professional and person contributions have earned him wide respect. He is a founding member of the Greens. He is past president of Liberty Victoria, past president of Protectors of Public Land.  His profile and wide appeal will draw new support to the Greens.

Brian is an accomplished barrister who has used his professional skills many times to come to the aid of people protesting in support of Greens ideals. He successfully defended Bob Brown after Bob had been arrested for protesting at Goolengook. Brian was also instrumental in having the “Gunns 20” case struck out.

Brian’s 2010 campaign for the state seat of Melbourne clearly demonstrates his electioneering skills and dedication.

I have no doubt Brian will make a very significant contribution for the Greens and for Australia as a candidate and as a federal senator.

Marcus Ward

David Jones

Founding member of the Bendigo Branch in 1996.
Convenor of Bendigo Branch on numerous occasions.
Federal candidate twice.
Local Government candidate three times, successful in 2004,
Mayor City of Greater Bendigo 2006 and 2008.
Lead Upper House candidate Northern Vic Region 2010.
Ex member of State Exec, Council, Regions Council.
Currently co-convenor of Bendigo Branch and member of VCECC.
Imagine you are a member of the Federal Parliamentary team, you expect all new senators to bring media ability, commitment, leadership skills, and a raft of other characteristics. Brian brings all of these things, but crucially he brings the unique ability to enter the Senate with the professional history of being one of Australia’s most respected SCs. This skill set would be of huge value to the Federal Parliamentary team. Brian also brings a long history of working with Bob Brown through his legal representation for and with Bob over a number of years across a wide range of issues and court cases. 

This ability to add great value to the Federal Parliamentary team is what for me singles Brian out from the other excellent and capable candidates. In Victoria we are now faced with the most important decision we have faced. We must be strategic and pragmatic in our choice of our next Senate Candidate and choose someone who adds to the team we have in an unambiguous and powerful way. Brian showed in the 2010 State election that he has the mettle to handle great pressure and stress. We need all of these skills in our next Senator.

David Jones

Wendy Radford

2005-2012 Convenor/Secretary Bendigo Greens
2006 Campaign Assistant, Northern Victorian electorate
2007 Foundation member Country Greens Network
2008-9 Convenor, Country Greens Network
2009-10 Convenor AGV Water Policy Working Group
2008-11 Convenor Central West Regional Council
2009 Greens Local Council Candidate
1986-1992 Foundation Chairperson, Wangaratta Family Planning Clinic
1997-2000 Environment Victoria, Forest Campaigner
2003-2012 Foundation member and Convenor Bushlinks
2004-2012 Community Representative, City of Greater Bendigo Natural Environment Advisory Committee
2004-2012 Convenor/Secretary Bendigo and District Environment Council

I nominate Brian Walters as a Senate candidate because he would represent both country and city Victorians with passionate, principled dedication and an unrivalled knowledge and experience of the law in defending and promoting our biodiversity, environment and human rights.   He has a proven capacity for leadership and an ability to communicate the heart of important Greens issues through the media, as shown in the last election campaign.  He remains unflustered and performs eloquently under pressure. Perhaps most importantly for me, he has a vision of a fair and environmentally sound future that he has worked hard to bring into being over the last 30 or so years: a founding member of the Victorian Greens, 'Wild' magazine, President of Liberty Victoria, defence of Bob Brown and advising him for many years.  He would strengthen our Senate team with his detailed knowledge of legislative practices and depth of understanding of how to get things done.

Wendy Radford

Steve Norwood

I have been a member of the AGV since 2004.
I have been active in both the Bendigo and Castlemaine branches and on the Central West Regional Council.
I am currently the treasurer of the Castlemaine branch. 

I am pleased to nominate Brian Walters SC as a Senate candidate in Victoria to contest the next Federal election. Brian’s commitment to the environment and to social justice issues over a considerable period of time is a matter of public record. Candidates with such a high public profile and reputation of integrity are what the Greens need in order to increase their Federal parliamentary numbers. The results in the seat of Melbourne at the 2010 Victorian State election show that Brian has the prerequisite media skills and profile to be able to potentially achieve a Senate quota despite the collusion of both old major parties to keep Greens out of elected office. The skill set he would take to Canberra would further enhance the already positive effect the Greens have on influencing legislation.

Steve Norwood