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Vale Dr Chrissy Sharp MLC

7 December 2021

This is the speech I gave today for the Condolence Motion for Chrissy Sharp MLC.

Guardian of the green | Manjimup Bridgetown Times
Manjimup-Bridgetown Times

I rise on behalf of the Greens Party to pay my respects and acknowledge the enormous contribution of Hon Dr Chrissy Sharp, former Greens Member of the Legislative Council for the South West Region.

I begin by paying my respects to and acknowledging the family present in the President’s Gallery today, including Chrissy’s partner Andrew Thamo, her children Tosh Thamo and Lara Bos, and her son-in-law Jeremy Bos.

I also acknowledge Chrissy’s friends and former colleagues, including Hon Diane Evers, Hon Lynn Maclaren, Hon Bill Thomas who are present today, along with those friends and colleagues who cannot be here in person, including but not limited to Hon Jim Scott, Hon Giz Watson, Hon Robin Chapple, Hon Dee Margetts and Hon Paul Llewellyn.

I never had the pleasure of working directly with Chrissy, but her passion and advocacy both in and out of this Parliament have left a very strong legacy in our Greens movement.

Personally, my first interaction with Chrissy was a memorable lecture she gave to my undergraduate class at Murdoch University on Forestry and the Environment in the 1990s -an issue which she remained passionate and involved for much of her life.

But back to the beginning …

Chrissy was born in London, England in 1947. Chrissy was the daughter of company director Alfred Sharp and Phyllis (nee Stone) and was educated at Bishopshalt Grammar School before going onto university.

At the University of Sheffield she completed her Bachelor of Arts with honours in political theory and institutions and then a Masters of Arts degree in political science at the University of Kent in Canterbury.

After extensive travelling Chrissy came to Western Australia in 1973. Ten years later she completed her PhD at Murdoch University on the politics and ethics of the logging of old-growth forests, her thesis titled Perspectives On The Shannon: A Study Of Subjectivity In The Making Of A Political Issue.

In the mid-70s Chrissy worked as a journalist with the ABC. Her radio interviews with First Nations people in Laverton over the arrests at Skull Creek helped prompted a Royal Commission into the incident and led to WA Police employing Aboriginal aides.

During this same decade, Chrissy got involved in the Campaign to Save Native Forests. Forests and sustainability were two of Chrissy’s fervent passions. Recalling first seeing the jarrah forest in Mundaring upon her arrival in Perth, Chrissy remarked she was “entranced by how ancient it felt”.

Chrissy was actively involved in three forest campaigns, one opposing the establishment of the woodchip industry, the campaign to save the Shannon Basin, and a campaign to prevent the expansion of bauxite mining in the jarrah forest.

It was through these campaigns Chrissy met her partner Andrew Thamo.

In the late-70s Chrissy and Andrew moved from the city to a farm in Balingup, where they started a local business, the Small Tree Farm.

Inspired by Dr. E.F. Schumacher and his work Small is Beautiful, the Small Tree Farm is a small-scale family farm has been a tree planting hub for over three decades.

In the 1980’s Chrissy co-founded the Golden Valley Tree Park, WA’s largest arboretum, in Balingup and helped organise many community tree plantings.

As a tree farmer, Chrissy’s great interest and passion was to demonstrate how economic needs can be harmonious with the protection of native forests and environmental protection more broadly. This is still a key pillar of our Greens movement today.

From 1983 to 1985 Chrissy sat on the Donnybrook–Balingup Shire Council, followed by a stint on the South West Development Authority’s advisory committee.

In 1989 Chrissy was appointed as the first female member of the Environmental Protection Authority, retaining her membership with the change of Government until she resigned in 1994 over forest issues.

Chrissy was a founding member of the Greens (WA) when the party was formed in the early 1990s. In 1997, Chrissy was elected to the Legislative Council as a Member for the South West Region, serving two terms before retiring in 2005.

Chrissy was appointed as the first woman to chair a standing committee in the history of Western Australia’s parliament.

This was the Standing Committee on Ecologically Sustainable Development. Later in her second term of parliament Chrissy chaired the Environment and Public Affairs Committee.

Both Committees were amongst the most active committees in those two terms of state Parliament, in terms of the number of and the influence of those inquiries.

Over those eight years, Chrissy chaired fifteen inquiries and was responsible for all petitions tabled in the Legislative Council. Three of the inquiries were related to the issue Chrissy was most passionate about, forests.

Her son Tosh recalls:

 “One time she even dragged her committee, including members of the major parties and of course Hansard down to Giblett Forest Block and took submissions from protestors in-situ. She used to go to great lengths to make the findings of these inquiries as unanimous as possible, due to her passion for consensus decision-making”.

In her valedictory speech Chrissy remarked:

“I found my committee work a wonderful opportunity to do politics the way I like to do politics; that is, with cooperation across the parties, and by being solutions focused”.

With the Greens holding the balance of power in the Legislative Council for the duration of her two terms in Parliament Chrissy and her colleagues collaborated with great energy and success to move a large number of amendments.

Chrissy termed this collaboration as a form of “constructive compromise” and gained as she described:

“not our ideal position, but some improvement in that area of governance closer towards to Green principles”.

This constructive compromise saw greater social equity in public schooling, significant environmental outcomes, rights for IVF offspring, State recognition of native title, a moratorium on the introduction of genetically modified crops, legal abortion, LGBTIQA+ rights, and changes to the electoral system.

During her time in Parliament, Chrissy introduced five private members bills. Chrissy was also passionate about harm minimisation and the decriminalisation of cannabis.

Her first two bills dealt with the proposed decriminalisation of marijuana and the legalisation of hemp. Chrissy introduced the first Bill to legalise medical marijuana in any State in Australia.

Her other three Bills focused on environmental issues including regulating land clearing, protection for fauna in areas of state forest open to logging, and the High Conservation Value Forest Protection Bill, the latter being in her view, despite its rejection by the Legislative Assembly, “quite influential in the reversal of the Regional Forest Agreement very soon after that”.

Following decades of community campaigning, in December 2001 Chrissy had what she described as the great privilege to be in WA’s Parliament to see the significant move towards her goal to protect old-growth forests by the addition of 853,000 hectares to the forest reserve.

This was a significant milestone in the protection of WA’s biodiversity, and I’m sure had Chrissy been here this year she would have joined us in celebrating the recent announcement to end logging of native forests.

In explaining her decision to leave politics during her valedictory speech in 2005, Chrissy referred to the difficulties as a country resident on juggling “the responsibilities of farming, raising a family, servicing an office that is located 300 kilometres away, chairing a committee and holding the balance of power in this place”.

Despite an immense workload while holding the balance of power, Chrissy and her Greens colleagues didn’t qualify for parliamentary party status and were expected to be across every issue and Bill with no more staff than a normal backbencher. You would often find Chrissy still at Parliament in the early hours of the morning photocopying one page at a time.

After standing down from politics, people would often comment to Chrissy “You must be so relieved to get away from politics”. She would reply “Oh no – I still stand for politics. It is all we have got to find a way forward for our society”.

Chrissy continued to be active in environmental sustainability following her retirement from Parliament.

In 2018 Chrissy and her partner Andrew Thamo were joint WA Environmental Volunteers of the Year for their 40 years work to establish the Golden Valley Tree Park, in partnership with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attraction.

She also worked with the Forest Products Commission on Djarlma Plan, as part of an independent panel.

As a very close colleague of Chrissy’s told her son Tosh,

“Chrissy stuck to reason, not ideology. Because of this she had this knack of bringing about change without conflict. Politicians by title are supposed to be honourable. Chrissy really WAS honourable. In fact, she was probably the most honourable person in the whole building”.

I’d like to finish with an excerpt from Chrissy’s book Being in the Balance of Power, which will hopefully be published posthumously,

“Our pragmatic working ethos was a rule: we never traded across issues only within them. We never considered supporting an un-principled move on a non-core issue for gains in what for us was a more crucial area. Each issue was dealt with on its own merit. And our political relations with all the parties were respectful despite our differences… The noisier a Parliament, the less work it is getting done”.

Vale Chrissy.


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