Thursday, 18 February 2021
Matters of Public Importance
It's been clear to me for some time that this government doesn't really care about our environment. Everything they do contradicts environmental protections, and we have seen the condition of our environment deteriorate rapidly since they came to office. There are probably no better examples of the government's failures on the environment than the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act amendment it pushed through the House in September and its continual failure to properly address the findings of the Samuel review of the act. I was down to speak on the amendment when it was before the House last year, but this government was so afraid of what Labor might point out about its environmental record that it shut down the debate. It was appalling behaviour. That bill did nothing to protect our environment, support jobs or give business the certainty it needs. It cherrypicked aspects from the interim EPBC Act review. It is not a true reflection of Professor Samuel's recommendations.
My electorate on the New South Wales South Coast is a beautiful place. Our environment is one of our main drawcards, and it brings people from near and far. But our environment was absolutely devastated by last summer's bushfires. There was blackened bushland as far as the eye could see. Countless animals were either killed or left without adequate habitat and food. Our wonderful community groups were there picking up the pieces and doing their bit, but where was the government? It was making more flashy announcements and false promises but not delivering. It was not taking any serious action to address the unprecedented nature of what we were facing. Ask any environmental group on the South Coast and they will tell you the government has been missing in action. We still haven't done a proper ecological audit, so we don't know the full cost. We don't know enough about what the bushfires actually did to our environment.
Then there is the regeneration of our bushland. I recently met with a pair of dedicated environmentalists in Yatte Yattah. They lost their home in the bushfires and they have a harrowing story to tell. But one of the things they are most upset about is the loss of their beautiful bushland. What's left is being overtaken by weeds, and it is clear it will be a difficult and time-consuming task to get it back to what it was. I'm not talking about a little backyard garden. I'm talking about hectares of land destroyed and in need of repair. They have asked the government for help to regenerate, but there is really nothing available for individuals like them. They are being left to fend for themselves, shuttled between government departments and told to monitor grant websites. All the while, they try to rebuild, deal with their trauma and live surrounded by burnt bush.
Consecutive Liberal-National governments have failed to implement recovery plans for threatened species. There are estimates that fewer than 40 per cent of our threatened species have a national recovery plan, and the government is clueless about whether existing plans are being implemented. The Liberals and the Nationals have cut the environment department by an estimated 40 per cent since they came to government, and now they are trying to rehash Tony Abbott's one-stop shop from 2014. These attempts simply put the environment, jobs and investment at risk. They do nothing to strike the right balance. Instead, they are trying to tip the scales. Local people do not want to see our environmental protections watered down. The Samuel review of the EPBC Act is the most significant opportunity for reform in the last 20 years. It is heartbreaking to see those opposite wasting it. We need to get this right. After spending millions of dollars and countless hours on the review, they are pursuing second-rate so-called standards that are inconsistent with the review's final report.
Every major achievement in environmental protection in our country's history has been delivered by Labor governments. We created Landcare, an absolutely vital organisation in my community that is doing amazing things in the wake of the bushfires. There are dozens of Landcare groups, and each one of them is achieving fantastic things, all thanks to Labor. We created the largest network of marine parks in the world. I'm lucky enough to live right next to one of the most beautiful marine parks in Australia, the Jervis Bay Marine Park. That is Labor's record, and I'm proud of it. It's time the government started truly working towards making sure our environment is preserved and nurtured so it's there for future generations.