Thursday, 12 November 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail
Under this government, Australia's natural environment is in serious decline. Our threatened species and national icons like the koala are under serious threat, exacerbated by the summer's national bushfire crisis. The environment laws are not fit for purpose. The government have made a mess of administering the environmental laws, and now they're making a mess of reviewing them.
Last summer's bushfires caused more than 17 million hectares to be destroyed. Three billion animals were killed or displaced. But, even before the bushfires, Australia had the highest mammal extinction rates in the world. Yet, after the government announced $50 million in immediate so-called support for wildlife harmed by the fires, it dragged its heels in getting that money out the door, with only $19.1 million of it spent in the same fiscal year as the bushfires occurred. Minister, how can Australians trust this government to protect the environment when your government is all about the photo-op and never about the follow-up?
Our threatened species are in decline. Fewer than 40 per cent of threatened species have recovery plans, and the government seems to be completely clueless about whether all the recovery plans that do exist are being implemented properly. The Morrison government recently announced a new 10-year Threatened Species Strategy, but there's no funding attached to it—and it replaced the previous failed five-year strategy. Minister, when will there be a funding commitment to back up the new strategy, and when will the new strategy be in place?
Koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory were listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act back in May 2012. The government has announced that they are being formally considered for uplisting in the wake of the fires. The government was supposed to create a recovery plan for the koala by 2015, but as at October 2020 that recovery plan still does not exist. It is now five years overdue from the original deadline. The previous Labor government's national koala conservation strategy ran until 2014, and the Liberal-National government has not yet bothered to replace it, so there is no current strategy in force. Minister, how can Australians trust this government to make sure that future generations don't have to resort to reading about koalas in the history books? When will the threatened species recovery plan for the koala be finalised, and what will be done to ensure that its implementation is monitored?
The second 10-yearly statutory review of the EPBC Act is now underway. The interim report released in July recommended immediate reform directions, but the government tabled a bill that was inconsistent with that interim report and instead tabled a bill that was described recently by the then Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann, as being a 'Carbon copy of a bill pursued by Prime Minister Abbott in 2014'—a 'carbon copy' of an Abbott-era bill instead of a bill that gave effect to the interim review from respected regulator Graeme Samuel. The final report was due to be provided to the government in October 2020.
Minister, when will the final report be made public? Does the government intend to bring forward legislation that is consistent with the interim report or the final report for this parliament and the Australian people to consider? Will that legislation, if it exists, contain interim national environmental standards, and, if so, will those national environmental standards have the support of a broad cross-section of the Australian community, including environmentalists, business, industry, resources, regulators, lawyers and others, including of course traditional owners? Will the government be proposing an independent compliance body, and, if so, what form will it take? Is the government considering the Academy of Science's proposal for a bureau of biodiversity to substantially increase data collection, which is a serious issue identified in Graeme Samuel's interim report. When can the Australian people expect to hear something meaningful from the government in relation to the interim report's strong concerns about the protection of Indigenous heritage and the imperative to reform decision-making to ensure Indigenous peoples are respected and get a real say in relation to environmental decision-making?
In 2020, the Australian National Audit Office released a scathing report on this government's decision-making under the EPBC Act. Approval delays had blown out by 510 per cent. Seventy-nine per cent of decisions were affected by error or were otherwise non-compliant. In a single financial year, 2018-19, 95 per cent of key decisions were made late. The government have tacitly admitted that it was their longstanding underfunding of the department that caused these delays and problems, by providing additional funding. Minister, will the government apologise to the workers whose jobs have been delayed and the firms whose projects have taken longer to get off the ground because of this government's budget cuts and woeful administration of environmental decision-making?