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Larissa Waters pays tribute to Felicity Wishart

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Larissa Waters 11 Aug 2015

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (22:09): I rise tonight to mark the tragic passing, on 20 July, of Felicity Wishart, the leading light of Queensland's conservation movement. She was dear friend to me and to many, including other members of this chamber. Felicity, or 'Flic' as she was almost universally known, was one of our planet's greatest champions. She served nature and worked to protect our common home with a quiet determination, amazing strategic nous and a sense of perspective matched by few others. Her first foray into the environment movement was getting arrested at the age of 16 in the Franklin Dam protests. She enrolled in the Bachelor of Science (Environmental Studies) course at Griffith University. After graduating, she worked at the Australian Conservation Foundation on protecting Queensland's tropical rainforests, which today delight visitors from across the world in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

Flic moved on to help protect tropical rainforests across the Asia-Pacific. She was instrumental in the Ecologically Sustainable Development unit established by the then Australian government in partnership with the WWF and the ACF. She worked in government and in academia in Victoria on sustainability issues, where she helped secure the removal of cattle from alpine parks and developed an understated style which would serve the environment community so well during the next 15 years. While in Victoria, she served as the co-convenor of the Victorian Greens for several years. In fact, she was there on the day the Victorian Greens were formed.

In 2000, Flic returned to Queensland and became the director of the Queensland Conservation Council, our leading conservation group and con council in Queensland. She was part of every major environmental reform in Queensland in the past 15 years. Alongside other groups, Flic led the victorious campaign to stop broadscale land-clearing in Queensland—a long overdue reform—bringing together her leadership, communications expertise and skill in mobilising community pressure to reach that stunning and very necessary outcome.

When I was just a junior lawyer at the Environmental Defenders Office in Queensland I worked with Felicity, for the Queensland Conservation Council, on the Nathan Dam Federal Court case—a case which is now in environmental law text books—setting the parameters for a broad assessment of environmental impacts which looks at the downstream impacts facilitated by a development. The minister, of course, had not done so in that case; when government's ignore law, it is often the bravery of public interest environment groups that holds them to account.

After a time working for the Wilderness Society, Flic returned to Queensland to lead the Fight for the Reef campaign for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, bringing concern for the Great Barrier Reef and its fate to the awareness of many. That is, of course, an ongoing campaign, and Flic was at the forefront of it. The recent change to ban offshore dumping from capital dredging is a testament to her commitment, passion and tenacity. The health of the reef and its future in an age of climate change, industrialisation and pollution has moved into the heart of mainstream debate. This woman was a force and she always conducted herself with grace, good humour and determination. She was a much loved friend to many and a role model for many young women in the conservation movement.

At her memorial yesterday, which a good 200 people attended—including me, Senator Rachel Siewert and the Deputy Premier and the environment minister of Queensland—there were countless testaments to her humanity and her character, many of which came from young women who had had the pleasure of working with her in the conservation movement. Her legacy will endure in the confidence she has instilled in those women and the courage she has fostered in so many.

On the morning of Flic's passing, I read a quote from her in The Courier Mailin which she was railing against the latest oil spill on the Great Barrier Reef and warning of further accidents and damage from ships heading through the reef. So it was a shock for me to find out later that afternoon that she had passed away in her sleep. I would like to read some messages from a group on Facebook which has sprung up to pay tribute to Felicity. People have been sharing their fond memories. The first one says: 'My enduring memory of Flic will always be as the inspiring, relentless and thoughtful heart of a campaign that is on the verge of achieving the almost unthinkable.' Another friend says: 'She was a giant among change makers, and a mentor to many. Long live her eternal inspiration and wisdom, which we now keep alive in each of us.' Another says: 'Flic, you were the lighthouse of our movement, and I am certain so many of us will spend the rest of our days trying to emulate your spirit and see your vision realised.'

That her passing should have made itself felt in so many corners of Australia is a testament to her character. She was truly a model for how to be in the world. Flic's legacy will serve to strengthen our collective resolve to fight for the ideals to which she dedicated her whole working life: speaking up for the natural world against brutish and short-sighted vested interests; cherishing and protecting the wondrous forms of life with whom we share this beautiful planet; and intergenerational equity, leaving a safe and liveable climate on this planet for our grandchildren to inherit.

The Australian Greens applaud Flic's momentous contribution, and we send our deepest condolences to her partner, Todd, and her two young sons, Bardi and Clancy. In the words of her colleagues and friends at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, who, like all of us, will miss her dearly:

All Australians, whether they realise it or not, owe a debt of gratitude for her work. We are all beneficiaries of her life and work … Her legacy will endure. Her fight is our fight.

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