Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Climate Change, Environment and the Arts Committee; Report
I rise to speak on Managing Australia’s biodiversity in a changing climate: the way forward, a report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts. This is a very important report, as was the previous report that was spoken on by you, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, and by the member for Swan, the deputy chair of the health and ageing committee. I would like to acknowledge the contributions that you have both made and also acknowledge the fact that in the time it has been operating in this parliament that committee has never had a dissenting report. Similarly, the report I am speaking on today is a report that all members of the committee agreed to, and this committee also has a long history of delivering unanimous reports.
This was a very wide-ranging inquiry which went over the whole of the parliament. Two discussion papers were tabled in that time and those discussion papers have been debated in this House. This inquiry made seven recommendations which are very important for the future of biodiversity and it acknowledged the impact that climate change has had within Australia. I would like to run through just a couple of those recommendations and, in doing so, to talk around them.
The first recommendation was a requirement for five-yearly reports, using existing frameworks. It is important that there be five-yearly reports and there be a focus on looking at outcomes, looking at what has been achieved, and monitoring the progress as we go along. This would look at a number of different factors. It would look at loss of distribution and invasive species, which were identified as a very big problem during the inquiry, as is the impact climate change is having on species. The second recommendation was for the development of a central national database incorporating a consistent and adaptable model of uploading and storing information that is able to be scientifically accredited.
Throughout the inquiry we were confronted with some pretty persuasive scientific evidence that should be used and put in place, and everything that happens should be measured against that scientific evidence. The whole process has to take note of the science. To digress a little, one of the programs we heard about was citizen scientists, which is where volunteers collect data—it is mainly observational collection of data. It is very valuable. I think the more you involve the community in seeking and providing this information, the more they understand the issues around climate change. If people have ownership of their environment and ownership of what is happening, there are going to be much better long-term outcomes.
We looked at the ongoing funding processes. We also looked at fire and the impact it has on our biodiversity. We looked at marine and terrestrial biodiversity and corridors and we felt this should be included on the agenda of the Council Of Australian Governments. That was included in recommendation 4.
One of the issues we heard a lot about from people providing evidence to the committee concerned the funding cycle and the fact that organisations and individuals had to constantly apply for grants. Also, the level of accountability and the requirement to get on this grant roundabout often impinged on the effectiveness of programs. We find that in just about all areas that members of this House look at—the constant piloting of the program, constantly putting in applications. It can be a very successful program but the organisation has to re-apply and often a pilot will no longer be continued once it has been found successful. The committee felt there was a need for a longer term, allowing a proper baseline—a recognition that programs can run for maybe even up to ten years. There would be accountabilities written into the process and there would be criteria that organisations would have to meet to continue along that time line. The committee felt that this was something that needed to be looked at pretty seriously. We looked at the implementation of the recommendation of the independent review of the Australian government's Environment Protection Authority. We wanted to ensure the success of the national plan for environmental implementation, and that was one way in which we saw it could be achieved. We looked at the publishing of information about project scopes and time lines and the scientific community being widely consulted, as well as those people who are intimately involved in environmental protection and in looking after our environment. One of the programs we were all very impressed with was the Atlas program. We felt that the government should work with Atlas to develop a sustainable form of funding for Atlas and we recommended:
… that the Australian Government provide funding to the CSIRO and Atlas of Living Australia to:
- assess the current level of digitisation of biological collections in Australia
- coordinate the digitisation of biological data into the Atlas.
This would make it much more easily accessible.
One of the issues I want to concentrate on is grant fatigue and its link into that time line. Recommendation 12 of the report looks at grant fatigue and the need to make improvements in that area, so I will not go further into that.
Recommendation 14, and I feel this is a very important, recommends:
… that the Minister refer an exposure draft of the EPBC Amendment Bill to the Committee for review prior to introduction in the Parliament.
The committee heard a lot about the proposed changes to the EPBC Act. We were very concerned about the impact these changes could have on our environment. Whilst no member of this House believes that there should be too much red tap or green tape, we do believe there has to be proper processes in place. By referring approvals and controls back to the states we are in some ways jeopardising our environment. Quite often the biggest developers are our state governments. The state governments will then be making decisions on their developments.
It is very concerning that these changes could actually lead to the considerable weakening of the protection of our environment. I certainly do not want to see that, particularly when we are looking at issues in relation to state governments. In New South Wales, my state, the New South Wales government currently is allowing shooting in national parks. That really concerns me, because I think shooting in national parks not only has the potential to damage the environment—the fauna and flora—in those parks, but it also has the ability to endanger lives. All governments are beholden to be very mindful of that. I have spoken to environmentalists and members of the community who are very concerned about shooting in national parks. I have also spoken to people who like to hunt. Those people expressed their concern to me about shooting in national parks.
I have real concerns about handing more power to the state governments because by doing that there is a real conflict about protecting our environment. It is not only shooting but also logging in national parks, and state governments are making noises about logging in national parks. I do not think that the EPBC Act should give more power to a state government that is looking at activities such as logging in national parks because there is a conflict of interest between what is best for the environment, for environmental protection and for state forestry. I feel that this really needs to be considered very carefully.
Members have heard about the issue with running cattle there in the alps of the Snowy Mountains. It was the state government that was pushing that particular activity, and it was because the Commonwealth government had the ability to ask, 'Is that in the overall interest of the environment?' that cattle were not allowed to run in that national park.
I put on the record that I am very concerned about any change to the EPBC Act. That goes to recommendation 14 of the report and the fact that prior to any changes of that act it should be sent to the committee to be reviewed, and that review should look at the impact that handing over control or the decision-making process will have. So often, it conflicts with what the state governments are doing. It was also determined by the committee that the Australian Alps put in place a model that is similar to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
I commend this report to the House and I will finish where I started. Like the health and ageing committee report, this was a unanimous report that was supported by all the members of the committee. I thank all those who have been involved in developing what I think is a really good blueprint for our environmental future and for preserving Australia's biodiversity in a changing climate.