Despite stern looks from the National Party MPs opposite, the new Greens member for Ballina, Tamara Smith, has made clear in the NSW Parliament that she will stand and defend the beauty of the north coast and the livelihoods of its residents.
‘We are the jewel in the crown [of NSW] and we deserve to be resourced accordingly’ she said of the region in her inaugural parliamentary speech on Tuesday (May 12).
‘The electorate of Ballina extends to the Gondwana rainforest of Nightcap National Park in the north and the forest and cascading streams of Federal in the west. It stretches to the most easterly point of Australia, in Arakwal country at Cape Byron, and to the heritage town of Wardell in the south. It is quite honestly one of the most beautiful regions of the world, and it is no wonder that its residents love it with a passion.’
Stealing the future
Directly addressing the threat to the environment posed by fossil fuels and coal seam gas, Ms Smith noted that ‘We are stealing the future, selling it in the present and calling it gross domestic product.’
‘[Ballina voters] defiantly stood up and said, ‘No, you will not destroy what we rely on to survive and that which belongs to all’.’
The speech was met with a standing ovation from the public gallery, where Ms Smith’s family, friends and supporters had gathered to watch.
Holly Brooke, a Greens supporter, said that ‘it was great to hear her talking about her personal experiences of hard times, as well as her successes’.
‘I liked hearing about Tamara as a person, and understanding her background and what’s led her to Greens politics’
Creatures great and small
Greens MLC, and former Byron Shire mayor, Jan Barham watched with her upper-house colleagues from the gallery.
‘Her inaugural speech set the tone for so much of what is important for the Greens of the north coast.’
‘Tamara identified what it means to be a Green: to have a love of nature, to respect the future, advocacy for disadvantaged – things she knows only too well from living on the north coast. She has set herself a duty, as she put it: “creatures great and small, a voice for all”.’
In her speech Ms Smith said that the burden was on all MPs to ‘remain at all times mindful of the many who have no voice and no opportunity to be heard.’
She drew attention to the struggles faced by many in her community, and of her own experiences as ‘a teacher for 20 years in public schools in remote and regional New South Wales’.
‘I know what it is like to raise a family on one income, to be unemployed and to uproot my family and move 2,000 kilometres away from home to the outback.’
‘I have been that working mum who is sitting up at night finishing her studies so that her child can have a better life.’
Of her election, Ms Smith simply said that her primary duty was to her constituents, and that she didn’t live up to their values and expectations, she knew she would ‘not deserve to be back here in four years’ time.’
As part of her role as a Greens MP in the NSW Legislative Assembly, Ms Smith has been appointed the Greens spokesperson on Marine Parks and Fisheries, Regional Development and Small Business.
In the March 28 election Ms Smith picked up the seat of Ballina with a 27.8 per cent swing against the Nationals candidate Kris Beavis. This marks the first time the Greens have won a regional seat in the NSW lower house. Ms Smith and Newtown MP Jenny Leong are the first female members of the Greens ever elected to the Legislative Assembly.
The speech can be watched in full on the Byron Ballina Greens YouTube channel.