Thursday, 18 February 2021
Matters of Public Importance
I just can't let the member for Griffith get away with her criticisms of the Samuel review. Yes, it was due to go to the government on 31 October last year; yes, the review is now in the public domain; and, yes, we have dedicated ourselves to a range of measures, including a short-term response, as agreed by national cabinet, and a longer-term response. But the Labor Party also reviewed this act, because it has a statutory review every 10 years. The Hawke review was released on 30 October 2009 and the government response was on 24 August 2011! So not only did we see almost a two-year gap when Labor undertook this statutory and very important task, but we didn't get a single piece of legislation through the parliament following that. Nothing happened—nothing at all.
The one thing that I suspect the member for Griffith—indeed, the Labor Party—and I agree on is that nobody loves the EPBC Act. You have different perspectives, you come to it with different points of view, but you all agree that it is not fit for purpose and it is outdated. It might have had a couple of minor amendments, but effectively it never has been amended. That's why we are committing ourselves to the task in a careful, consultative way, and we expect that the agreement that premiers made with the Prime Minister towards the end of last year will be noted and responded to by the parliament as a whole. We are working that through carefully.
On Thursday 28 January I tabled and released the report of the independent review of the EPBC Act, prepared by Professor Graeme Samuel. We need to ensure that the act is serving its intent to both protect our environment and grow our economy as we work to recover from the COVID-19 recession. I know that the Labor Party agrees with that, because, having heard the member for Griffith interviewed, she certainly has linked the reforms to this act with a jobs recovery from COVID.
Consistent with his interim report, Professor Samuel concluded that the EPBC Act is not working for the environment or for business. He made that very clear. It's a far-reaching report. It's important that we continue to work alongside stakeholders as we go through each of the recommendations. The member for Griffith has suggested there is something that I or the government don't want or don't like in the report. We appointed Professor Samuel. I thank him for his dedicated work. He's undertaken comprehensive, thorough and no-holds-barred process over a period of 12 months. He's handed us a good report. We are taking, as I said, some early, necessary, agreed-on-by-all-jurisdictions steps while, longer term, we work through the detailed recommendations of what I said is definitely a far-reaching report.
I met with a group of stakeholders that I've been keeping in touch with during this process and was keen to hear their thoughts—demonstrating that ongoing consultation. Unlike Labor, which failed to introduce any legislative change in response to their previous review—and it took two years to deliver the response—I am committed to ensuring that our environment laws are fit for purpose. Our immediate priority is to improve the efficiency of the EPBC Act. We remain committed to progressing single-touch approvals underpinned by national environmental standards. Single-touch approvals will remove duplication and accredit states to carry out environmental assessments and approvals on behalf of the Commonwealth. That absolutely aligns with Professor Samuel's review and his suggestion that a sensible, staged pathway is needed.
Remember: standards and harmonisation are two of the key themes of his report. We've immediately picked them up. National environmental standards will make the existing requirements of the EPBC Act clear. At the moment, they don't have clarity. We will create legislative frameworks that will pave the way for future change. We will build and improve the standards over time. The first standards will be interim. Two years later there will be a development of final standards. The critical starting point is to have clarity, to ensure efficient and streamlined single-touch approvals. As I said, each premier and chief minister, at national cabinet, recommitted to this priority reform in December 2020. So we're working with jurisdictions. We're working with the will of national cabinet to make that happen. State Labor premiers understand and agree with our approach whereas federal Labor seems to be opposing merely for the sake of opposing.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) Bill 2020 and bilateral agreements will reduce regulatory burden, create greater clarity for all parties, accelerate job-creating projects, promote economic activity and create certainty around environmental protections. The government has also committed to modernising the protection of Indigenous cultural heritage, and I'm delighted about that because it's so important. The process is already underway. I've already jointly chaired a roundtable meeting of state Indigenous and environment ministers, which took place in September 2020. We need to ensure the EPBC Act is serving its intent to both protect our environment and grow our economy as we work our way out of the COVID-19 recession. The process is too important to stall. The fact is we need to start, we need a staged process and we need reform. I'm delighted that the member for Brisbane will talk on recycling and waste, as it's another area that is critical to the government for protecting the environment and understanding that we can't keep contaminating the oceans with landfill, overusing and overconsuming. We need to remanufacture and reprocess so much of what we throw away.
I want to touch on recovery plans because the member for Griffith started with those. I want to make the point to the House, as I have before, that 99 per cent of threatened species and ecological communities listed under the EPBC Act have a conservation advice and/or a recovery plan—that's 99.9 per cent. Those listening may be thinking: 'Well, that's a conservation advice, but not a recovery plan. What's there difference?' Emeritus Professor Helene Marsh has said:
Conservation advices are effective and efficient recovery instruments that can be amended much more easily than a recovery plan to adapt to new information or changing circumstances such as occurred in Australia as a result of the fires. A conservation advice is not a 'recovery plan lite'.
I think that's an important point to note. Of the more than 1,900 threatened species and ecological communities, I acknowledge there are 171 species that require a recovery plan to be in place that don't have a plan. But I will continue to work with the Threatened Species Scientific Committee and be guided by their expert advice. All except one—just one—of these 171 species have a comprehensive conservation advice in place. I just mentioned Professor Marsh's opinion of those conservation advices and the strength of them as a recovery instrument, and they have been prepared by our Threatened Species Scientific Committee.
The member for Griffith accused me of talking about plans. I'm very happy to talk about practical on-ground actions because we dedicate a lot of time and money to on-ground actions, such as the $200 million for bushfire recovery. I'm delighted to say that, in the critical areas burnt by the Black Summer bushfires, the community has helped design how we spend that money—controlling feral animals, removing weeds, replanting, creating seed banks and using the traditional knowledge of the Indigenous people in those areas. The member for Macquarie is here. I know that she is very concerned about the Blue Mountains and has put forward some good ideas about how we recover in those areas. Similarly with the South Coast, the North Coast, Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills, we have worked so closely with communities, and I invite everyone to look at the work that is happening, in conjunction with the advice of our expert scientific committee, as that money is rolling out.
We love our iconic national species, and, like the member for Griffith, I like the prickly, scaly, spiny ones just as much as I like the koalas. I must remind you, as you may not have been in the parliament then, that in 2012 there were just three examples of 46 species that didn't have recovery plans and were kicked down the road. Recently I wrote to the South Australian minister to finally deliver a recovery plan for the grey-headed flying fox, which should've been in place when Labor was last in the portfolio, in 2012, but it was again kicked down the road. We've worked hard on those because we love our iconic species and we want to do the very best by them.
We also know of the damage that feral animals do. Last week I was in my electorate, near a place called Rankins Springs, and I was talking to some land managers about the malleefowl mounds that were set up to protect this beautiful endangered bird of the rangelands of western New South Wales. All the work that had been done—the malleefowl does have a recovery plan—was being undone by foxes. A fox was caught on camera with a chick in its mouth. Too often we see that as we pick up the extraordinary damage that feral animals do around Australia. Since 2014, we've spent $34 million on addressing feral cat damage alone. We've allocated over $16 million to safe havens and islands, and we've got more funding on the way. I know these dollar amounts roll off the tongue a bit, but I also encourage people to see how we have made a difference by fencing and removing feral animals and allowing our extraordinary native wildlife to come back to make us all proud.