"Real power lies with people"

Christine Milne , leader of the Tasmanian green party, was recently in New Delhi to attend the New Horizons programme, an effort to promote better understanding between Indian and Australian policymakers. Milne, an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, spoke to Max Martin about the first ever green party in the world and its present concerns in a state which is the worst hit by atmospheric ozone depletion

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

On the beginning of the world's first green party:
It all began in 1970. The Tasmanian government had decided to build a major power station which would have drowned the magnificent Lake Peddar. The campaign against the government's decision was started by a group of Tasmanian environmentalists who contested the elections in the early '70s.

On the party's current agenda:
Four fundamental principles of the Tasmanian Greens are ecology, social justice, peace and participatory democracy. What we have to do is not only protect the environment, but also bring about a more inclusive system of decision-making and more local level grassroots community development with a little bit of economic outcome, ensuring social justice. We have comprehensive energy policies as well. We believe in energy conservation rather than excessive utilisation.

On the campaigns the party has activated:
In 1982, the Tasmanian government announced yet another dam on one of Tasmania's most beautiful wilderness rivers. The campaign against it became famous worldwide. Thousands of people came from all over Australia to engage in non-violent protests very much in the Indian way. The Gandhian tradition is something that we admire tremendously. We often use quotes of Mahatma Gandhi in rally speaches to encourage ordinary people to come forward. That is what I mean by personal responsibility. It is all right to ask the government, the bureaucracies and the corporate structures to perform, but the real power lies with the people. Democracy is a combination of every individual. If everybody takes action, it will succeed. That is the lesson we have learnt from India.

During the late '80s, there was a proposal to build a pulp mill in Tasmania. This would have resulted into a lot of pollution. So I successfully initiated a campaign to oppose the mill. Thereafter, I was elected a parliament member in 1989. In this campaign, we had developed the slogan 'Tasmania Clean and Green', and I was delighted to see the same in Delhi -- 'Delhi Clean and Green'.

On the issue of forest policies and conservation:
The main area of fight is still the forests. We have been able to work out good forest policies. We did a lot to ensure that tourism development did not cause destruction of the environment, especially forests. Unfortunately, other parties in the parliament are absolutely committed to destructive logging. Even now, we campaign strongly on biodiversity and the importance of moving to plantation-based forestry. It is heartbreaking to see the magnificent natural forests being depleted, to find woodchips being sold cheap to industries who then export it at huge premiums to Japan for making paper pulp.

On indigenous people and the environment:
For a long time, there has been tension between the indigenous people and the environmental movement because the indigenous people want autonomous control over their areas of land. Some of their aspirations, naturally, are different from that of the environmental movement. But in recent years, there has been a growing awareness among the aboriginal communities that we have to work together to fulfil these aspirations of the indigenous people as well as protect the environment.

On consumer-based action:
Two years ago, one of my colleagues went to Japan along with one of Tasmania's aboriginal leaders to educate the Japanese environment movement about working with us in stopping Japanese companies from buying our forest products. So, we also have consumer-based action along with non-violent protests and rallies. There is a major campaign against the woodchip companies. The consumers are deciding not to buy their timber or any other product.

On global warming:
We are involved in the campaign against global warming. As a result of the global production of ozone-depleting substances, the thinning of the ozone layer has made a substantial hole over Antarctica and the place worst affected is Tasmania. A lot of Tasmanian people are suffering from skin cancer and fatal melanoma. We don't produce a lot of chlorofluorocarbons ; the fatal diseases we are inheriting is because of enormous pollution contributed by other countries.

On Australia's poor environmental record:
What is done is of course very effective. However, Australia's performance in the matter of greenhouse gases (ghgs) is really abysmal. There is very strong criticism by environmental movements all around the country, and the Tasmanian Greens also condemn the federal government in no uncertain terms. One of Australia's main export items is coal. That is why Australia always joins other nations in trying to water down the targets, trying to avoid setting targets in environmental trade. In our view, Australia has inherited the 'Dirty person of the Pacific' acronym from the uk, which used to be the 'Dirty person of the North Sea'. On the issue of global warming, Australia has allowed economic self-interests to undermine our global responsibility on environment. Our per capita production of ghgs ranks second highest in the world.

On Australian mining companies with bad environment records coming to India:
What India should be very vigilant about is to ensure that the companies operating here, meet the highest environmental standards. The environment movement and the mining movement in Australia have a very tense relationship, to say the least. The arguments are over the development of mineral resources in magnificent wilderness areas in Australia. So the mining industry is trying to push into areas where aboriginal people have significant interest or areas which have a high conservation value. I think India has to make sure that its protected areas are really protected from mining as well.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.