SPEECH: Sustainability

Today Mark spoke about sustainability and South Australia's role in the increasingly urgent debate about the world that we will leave to future generations. 

Today I want to talk about sustainability and South Australia's role in the increasingly urgent debate about the world that we will leave to future generations. My inspiration for this topic was a lecture delivered last night at the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre at the University of South Australia by Professor Ian Lowe.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University and an adjunct professor at Flinders University. He has held a wide range of advisory positions to all levels of government in the broad areas of energy and environment. Among the many awards for his work, he was made an Order of Australia way back in 2001 for his services to science and technology. Ian Lowe was president of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 2004 to 2014 and he chairs the Wakefield Futures Group.

The Wakefield Futures Group is a fairly new organisation based in Adelaide. It consists of 10 prominent Australians, mostly scientists, who share a deep concern that Australia as a society and an economy has failed to set goals and implement policies that will lead to a future that is environmentally sustainable and desirable as well as socially just.

Many of their members are nationally and internationally famous for their work in a wide variety of disciplines and include prominent South Australians such as Professor Fran Baum from the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University and Professor Rob Fowler from the University of South Australia Law School. Other members are from prominent universities interstate, and I note it includes Professor Carmen Lawrence from the School of Psychological Science at the University of Western Australia, who of course is a former premier of that state.

Why is it called the Wakefield Futures Group? The name Wakefield reflects the group's base in South Australia where the ideas of social pioneer Edward Gibbon Wakefield underpinned a radically new approach to funding the establishment of a free and tolerant society. The group believes that this began a tradition of social innovation that has repeatedly resurfaced in South Australia over the last 180 years: from giving women the vote in the 1890s to the social reforms of the Dunstan government in the 1960s and 1970s. I think we could add to that list initiatives such as container deposit legislation or banning single-use supermarket shopping bags. These are initiatives that were largely welcomed here but have struggled to gain traction interstate.

Coming back to Ian Lowe's address last night, the first thing I would say is that they had to find a bigger venue. Over 350 people registered to come out on a cold winter's night at dinnertime to hear a professor talk about sustainability, so this is absolutely an issue that is resonating with South Australians. I have spoken before in this place about groups who are taking personal responsibility and direct action on a range of issues, from the extinction crisis to the climate crisis. They include Extinction Rebellion, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the School Strike 4 Climate, as well as the more established environment groups, such as ACF or the Wilderness Society, who continue to hold a candle to the way our governments treat our environment.

At the heart of Ian Lowe's presentation was the starting principle that the future is not somewhere we are going, it is something that we are creating. There are many possible futures to choose from, but we should be trying to create a sustainable future. He then points out that, if you look at what we are actually doing, you would be forgiven for thinking the objective was to make our world as unsustainable as possible. At the state, national and global level, we have rapid population growth; growing consumption per person; we are depleting non-renewable resources; we are overusing renewable resources, such as water, forests and fisheries; we are disrupting the climate; we are losing biodiversity; we have an economy that depends on increased use of resources to fuel growth; we are becoming less equal; we embrace materialism; and we foster fundamentalism.

One of Professor Lowe's great skills is to explain complex issues clearly and to unmuddy the waters that those who benefit from business as usual seek to keep dirty and opaque. He also has the great advantage of having been around the block a few times, so he is able to point out that the reports, the warnings and the recommendations for transitioning our society and economy to a more sustainable basis are decades old. Whether it is the Club of Rome back in the seventies or more recent national and international forums, the advice has always been the same: things are going very badly wrong and time is running out to fix them.

I am delighted that there is now a new voice for reason in South Australia. The Wakefield Futures Group is one that all members of parliament should pay attention to. They are planning a number of future events featuring their esteemed academic members and I would urge all honourable members to attend where they can.