House debates

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Matters of Public Importance


3:13 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Clark proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government’s approach to the protection of the environment.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm confident that I speak for a great many Australians when I say that the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments have done a dreadful job of caring for Australia's environment. I will start to address that issue by first of all talking about the most pressing environmental concern this country and the globe has, and that is climate change. It is abundantly clear that the federal government does not have a plan to deal genuinely with climate change and instead is committed to a carbon future, in particular through its fascination with gas. Let's not beat around the bush: gas is not a transition fuel; gas is a carbon fuel. The fact that this government has laid out a road map for reliance on gas for decades to come is all the proof you need that this government is not committed to dealing with climate change.

Let's not fall for the spin from the government when it says it is doing something about climate change. Let's not fall for the spin when the government talks about our emissions going down. The only reason they've gone down in any significant way is because of a temporary reduction in global and national emissions on account of the pandemic. We can be absolutely confident that once this pandemic is behind us the economy, industry and transport will come back with a vengeance, and not only will we return to the old levels of emissions we will return to much higher emissions.

It is not good enough, it is simply unsustainable, for the government to use the Kyoto credits. No other countries are doing that. There's no basis in international law or within the agreements that are on the table. What's needed, of course, is for the government to lay out a roadmap and put us on the pathway to 100 per cent renewables and zero net carbon emission, and that would be so easy to achieve. For a start renewables are cheaper than carbon energy. It's that simple. It's an undeniable fact that to build wind, solar and other technologies is cheaper than to build a new coal-fired power station or a new gas-fired power station. And let's stop this nonsense about, 'renewables are only effective when the wind blows and the sun shines'. Anyone with any nous understands perfectly that wind and solar are just two parts of the jigsaw. They're just two technologies which we would use as part of a holistic solution that would also rely on technologies like batteries, hydro, pumped hydro, geothermal, wave, tidal, green hydrogen. There are so many ways that we can have reliable and cheap energy in this country. It just takes the political will to commit to it and the political will to discard coal and to discard gas. It is well within this country's capacity to achieve what I describe and what the community wants. We've got the know-how. We've got the money. We've got an abundance of renewable energy resources. It just takes the political will to do it.

Of course, when we talk about the environment it is more than climate change. It's also about our flora, our fauna and our threatened species in particular. To that end, what the government needs to do is stop misusing changes to the EPBC Act and actually commit to an entirely new environmental framework for this country. The EPBC Act would be a good act if it was improved. But it doesn't go far enough. We need an entirely new legislative framework that goes way beyond the EPBC, that will genuinely provide protection for all flora and all fauna in this great country and that will provide protection for our river systems, our water resources and so on. It needs to have tough standards. It needs to have an independent panel to implement it. If the government can't bring itself to a radical overhaul of our entire environmental framework then let's at least get the EPBC Act right. Many Australians, many members of my own community, were not just disappointed, they were downright alarmed that, when Professor Graeme Samuel completed his interim review into the EPBC, rather than the government saying, 'Wow, a very, very credible person looked at this made some very important recommendations and we commit to implementing those recommendations', instead the government cherry-picked one recommendation—that environmental approvals be devolved to the state and territory governments—and rammed through this place, in a recent sitting week, the necessary change to the EPBC Act. Even though Professor Graeme Samuel was absolutely clear in his review of the EPBC Act that any devolving of authority for environmental approvals must be accompanied by an independent agency to oversee the implementation of the EPBC Act—an independent body, a national watchdog, that would be able to lean on tough national standards that would need to be complied with by the state and territory governments. It is not good enough. I say to the minister: if you're going to cherrypick one recommendation from Professor Samuel, you must also go to his other key recommendations, because Professor Samuel was absolutely crystal clear that you must not devolve authority to the state and territory governments unless you do, indeed, have an independent watchdog—a strong watchdog—and you have tough national standards.

I'm particularly concerned for my own state of Tasmania as a result of this development in this place—which, by the way, was rammed through here without proper debate and now is sitting up and hasn't even been dealt with by the Senate. So why the federal government would ram it through here without proper scrutiny by the crossbench and the opposition—or even by its own members—beggars belief. There was no urgency, because the Senate hasn't got to it and won't get to it for ages. And I hope the Senate does what it did in 2014, I think, when it rejected a similar proposal under the Abbott government to devolve environmental approvals. I do worry for my own state, because, in my own state, not only do we now have the prospect of the Tasmanian government having the authority to make the environmental approval for projects; we also have the recent ramming through the Tasmanian parliament of the major projects legislation, which basically gives the government and the minister authority to run roughshod over proper process.

I'll add to that another layer: the fact that Tasmania has the weakest political donation laws of any jurisdiction in the country. In fact, it could be said we've got no donation laws in Tasmania.

So we've got the federal government devolving decision-making for the environment to state and territory governments—in my case, obviously, to the Tasmanian government. We've got the Tasmanian government now with legislative authority to run roughshod over proper process and basically declare anything it wants to be a project of state significance. And we've got next to no donation laws, so we don't know who's giving money to which party and to which candidate. You add that to the mix, and we have a recipe for an environmental disaster in Tasmania. And, in large part, the key ingredient in that recipe is the federal government allowing the state government to make environmental approvals.

Surely everyone in this place understands that this country has one of the most remarkable collections of flora and fauna of any place on the planet. And we are the custodians of it. This government and this minister are the custodians of that. But at the same time we have a frightful extinction rate. And what are we doing about it? We're doing bugger-all! We can do better than this. And it's not just about what we want or what our political donors want or what our mates in industry want or what our mates up the Murray-Darling want with their water. It's not about them. It's about the inherent value of our natural environment in this country and the fact that we are custodians of that for our children and their children and forever into the future. I'll tell you what: future generations are going to lament our generation and this government, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, for being key players in the destruction of this priceless natural environment that we have in our country. Frankly, we are betraying our children.

So I call on the government and I call on the minister: lift your game. Do better on climate change. Do consider a whole new environmental framework to protect the natural environment in this country. Go beyond the EPBC. But I say to the minister: if you are going to lean just on the EPBC, then listen to the experts—listen to people like Professor Graeme Samuel—and implement their recommendations. Have a national watchdog. Have tough standards. And only then consider giving authority to the state and territory governments, because, if we'd relied on them in the past, we would've dammed the Franklin and we'd have oil mining on the Great Barrier Reef. (Time expired)

3:23 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Clark for bringing this important issue of environment protection to the parliament today. I think other crossbenchers are speaking on this MPI; I don't know that the Labor Party is. So I'm actually delighted to have an opportunity to talk about the government's record and our key commitments on the environment.

The member for Clark started with energy, and I know that the energy minister has laid out a practical, low-emissions pathway, including his announcement last month of a $1.9 billion investment package in new and emerging low-emissions technologies. Renewables are often a key indicator of a country's commitment to clean energy, and Australia has a per capita rate that's one of the highest in the world. We will overachieve our 2030 target as part of our commitment to the Paris agreement. I'll leave that there, with the very competent energy minister.

I want to mention two other areas that the member for Clark talked about, before I come to the things that we are doing—and we're very proud of every single one of those. He talked about the EPBC Act. He knows me better than this, and my commitment to strong compliance and my commitment to Graeme Samuel's recommendations on strong compliance. I've talked about that several times since the interim report was released. It is disingenuous for the suggestion to be made that we are stopping at the statements we made at the interim report stage and that we are not waiting for the final report, because, of course, we are. And I've said that many times.

I've also made it very clear that we're not simply sending the power to do approvals in a devolution model to the states. We are accrediting the states against strong Commonwealth led national standards. Graeme Samuel is working on those standards. He's held some excellent meetings with key stakeholders, because it's important you get broad agreement for this and that you come up with standards that demonstrate strong Commonwealth led interest in the environment, which is what the EPBC Act is about, but also that you have everyone at the table. So Graeme Samuel has undertaken an excellent process and I look forward to his final report, and I want to reassure the member for Clark that it is not just about devolution to the states; it is about strong Commonwealth standards and it is about accreditation of the states against those standards. I'm not dragging those states kicking and screaming to the table. I haven't got D-day after which they will all have to do it and we will step away. Absolutely not. If they don't want to do it, they don't have to. They all indicated at national cabinet with the Prime Minister on 24 July that they wanted to—that they wanted to step into this policy area because the act, at the moment, is duplicative, it's inefficient and it doesn't give that clarity and consistency. While I don't like to characterise the environment debate as people on one side wanting conservation and people on the other side wanting development—because it's actually not really like that in the real world—what I do want to say is that no-one on either side of this debate loves that act. The fact that we are acting swiftly and sensibly to reform the EPBC Act should actually be getting a loud cheer from this parliament. Unfortunately, I don't think that's happening.

The member for Clark talked about threatened species and our iconic natural environment. I agree with him 100 per cent. We are custodians of an incredible biodiversity that had been threatened since white and European settlement 200 years ago. We have amazing ecosystems and we are acting to protect them. I want to run through a few key statistics: 99.9 per cent of all listed species and ecological communities have either a conservation advice and/or a recovery plan in place guiding recovery action; since September 2013, 36 recovery plans have been made, covering 100 threatened species and five threatened ecological communities; since May 2019, I have added 43 species and six ecological communities to the national threatened species list and transferred 13 species between listing categories, based on expert advice from the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee; and since May 2019 I have also approved 71 conservation advices. We're about to enter a new 10-year Threatened Species Strategy. I welcome to the views of the member of Clark and, in fact, the views of every member of this parliament on what that strategy should look like.

In covering the three key points the member for Clark made, I'd like to move on to our record in the environment.

Ms Butler interjecting

The member for Griffith is interrupting. I don't mind if she interrupts me anytime with a question or a proper motion on the environment or an opportunity for me to demonstrate our commitment to the environment. We do have a proud and strong record, as a coalition government that achieved World Heritage listing status for the Great Barrier Reef in 1981 and banned oil and gas operations on it. We're backing that up today with $2.7 billion of investment in the reef. It was a coalition government that created the EPBC Act, and we're actually going to reform it. John Howard created the world's first ocean policy in 1998. It was a coalition government that established one of the world's largest representative networks of protected marine parks—2.8 million square kilometres, the size of Argentina. The coalition government created the position of minister for the environment, and the Morrison government is continuing the coalition's strong track record on the environment through comprehensive policies and record funding: $1.8 billion in this year's budget of new money over the next five years.

And it's not all about the money; it's about the policies. We've got those too. If you think about Australia as an island nation and the oceans, there is $14.8 million to tackle the marine impacts of ghost nets and plastic litter and $28 million for compliance and enforcement in our marine parks. We will re-establish native oyster reefs at 11 sites, providing employment opportunities and, importantly, enhancing the marine habitat. We're building on our leadership in the space of international blue carbon partnerships on rainforests and we're working really hard, as I said, across the reef to manage crown-of-thorns starfish and reduce marine debris pollution. We've got an ambitious world-leading Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program.

The member for Clark comes from Tasmania and he, like me, will be very proud of the Australian Antarctic Division and our investment in Antarctic science. In fact, the work that is done in Antarctica on southern climate systems is internationally acclaimed by the IPCC. We are the experts, because in the north they know a lot about the north, but we own that space in the south. We're drilling a million-year ice core. We've had to slow down due to COVID, and we wish all our expeditioners well in what is a difficult time for them. But that will give us clues as to how the climate on Earth changed a million years ago. So the investment that we're putting into our Antarctic Division is really, really important, and I think the division is extraordinary and loved by every Tasmanian. And I want to send good wishes to Tasmania; you haven't opened up your border to people from New South Wales, but, as soon as you do, I'm looking forward to coming down there and appreciating some of the natural environment.

People talk about climate adaptation and resilience; we're walking that talk. We've always lived in a changing environment. The rate of change we face today is unprecedented, I know that; and the role that science plays in helping us is vital. So, with our $200 million bushfire wildlife recovery funding, we took the advice of experts. I put together an expert panel of scientists to list the species and the ecological communities most at threat. We've delivered $50 million of that bushfire funding for immediate habitat restoration. We're developing plans with seven communities across key fire scars in Australia for how they will spend a further $110 million of that funding, using the community's wisdom, their interest and their commitment, and making sure that every single dollar hits the ground in practical, meaningful action, and, most importantly, that it helps our threatened species; it helps our precious wildlife.

The importance of our national parks is something we've been able to underscore in our recent budget, with a $233 million investment in our six iconic Australian national parks. One of the things we're most proud of is how we bring traditional owners to the table, whether it be for their advice throughout the bushfire royal commission on Indigenous cultural burning, recognising their connection to country, their sense of loss at so much of what has happened to their own iconic species since white settlement, or their views on how to manage the land in an incredibly sustainable way in the interests of everyone who uses it. We're tapping into that wisdom as part of our science of adaptation and resilience.

We've got a National Environmental Science Program. It's just issued round 2 of funding, about $149 million. It's through hubs of marine science, threatened species, and climate and adaptation science, and I really look forward to the work that our scientists bring to us.

I should mention the Bureau of Meteorology, which is in the environment portfolio. There is a record investment in the bureau to make sure that the Australian community can continue to have reliable, secure and ongoing access to weather, climate, water and oceans information.

We as Liberal and National parties have a strong and, I would say, a powerful record on the environment. Fifty per cent of our environment is managed by farmers, and we bring them to the table in the amazing movement of Landcare, as well as the great work we're doing in biodiversity. (Time expired)

3:33 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to finally be able to debate the Morrison government's approach to the environment. Earlier this year, the government commissioned a review, led by the eminent Graeme Samuel, of the performance of the Commonwealth legislation protecting our natural environment and biodiversity. In June, Mr Samuel presented the interim report, with a final version due by the end of this month. But, on 3 September, pre-empting the outcomes of that report, the government put forward its proposed amendments to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, allegedly in response to the review commissioned.

The recommendations of the review were quite clear, and there were many; however, the government chose to pick only one—the devolution of responsibility for environmental management to the states. The review explicitly recommended against implementing this in isolation from clear national standards and an independent federal cop to police those standards. Of course, what did we do? Instead, the Morrison government presented and passed—rammed through this parliament—a rehash of a failed attempt at legislation from 2014, in the Tony Abbott PM era. In fact they were so embarrassed by this legislation, you can only assume, that there wasn't a single member, really, prepared to speak on behalf of that legislation. Instead, the government chose the actions of gagging debate and circumventing the consideration in detail stage, where amendments were pre-empted. The government should be ashamed of their behaviour that day. That is not how you manage the environment, not how you be a good custodian of the environment.

This is an issue Australians care deeply about. We are people blessed with abundant nature. We're famous for our unique wildlife, from iconically cute koalas to dangerous—I would say infamously dangerous—snakes, spiders, sharks and crocs. In my electorate of Warringah, a survey of constituents revealed that the protection of our natural environment, and the climate, is the No. 1 concern, and I would say it is not the only electorate where that is the case. It is echoed in many electorates across the country. It should be a primary consideration. We hear a lot of facts and figures that the government wants to claim credit for—accomplishments it wants to boast about. Let's talk about some of the real facts we have on the table when it comes to protecting the environment. Since enacting the EPBC Act, we've had 1,890 species listed as threatened. Four species per decade, on average, are going extinct. Native animals are being preyed upon by feral cats, which are in 99 per cent of Australia. We've got animals whose habitats are being wiped out by land clearing. We have a horrendous rate of land clearing in Australia. Approximately 44 per cent of Australian forests and woodlands have been cleared since European settlement. We have animals that have been decimated by the scorching blazes of the summer. Over three billion animals perished or were displaced. So protecting our environment is now more critical than ever.

I've been inundated with correspondence from people, in Warringah but also in many other electorates, who are worried about the environment. They want stronger environmental laws, not weaker ones. So it was really a horrendous day when the government chose to push through weak laws, and now those bills are sitting there unpassed because they haven't even been put through the Senate. There was really limited consideration of the Samuels report. The devolution model proposes a high degree of risk. That was completely ignored, of course, on promises that more legislation is coming. But, really, what faith can we have?

We saw recently the government's lack of commitment to addressing rapid biodiversity loss at the UN leaders pledge on biodiversity. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said earlier this month that his government would not sign up to this pledge. He said he was not signing the country up to the commitments to reverse biodiversity loss because the plan was inconsistent with existing policy. Sixty-four countries signed up to the pledge to protect 30 per cent of land and sea area by 2030 in an effort to reduce the rapid deterioration of biodiversity. But, no, Australia, the US, Brazil, China and Russia refused to sign. They're not facts to be proud of. We were lonely companions amongst environmentally recalcitrant nations. I think it's symbolic of the government's approach to environmental protection, and I urge the Morrison government to do more.

3:38 pm

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by echoing the sentiments of the Minister for the Environment, who responded to the matter of public importance raised by the member for Clark this afternoon; in particular, the point that we welcome this opportunity to talk about the outcomes, policies and measures of the Morrison government in stewarding our environment, because they go to the core of who we are as a Liberal government. As a Liberal government, we understand responsibility; in fact, liberalism is anchored by the principles of responsibility and empowerment and handing to future generations an economy as prosperous as the one we inherited, a society as united as the one we inherited, and an environment that's as healthy as the one we inherited.

The one question I do have to ask is whether the Leader of the Greens is going to be speaking on this motion, and I suspect he will. This government, our party and our record, has been consistent in supporting the environment as part of advancing this forward-looking nation. As the minister outlined, we were the party that established a minister for the environment. The minister left one thing off the list. John Howard's government established the Australian Greenhouse Office, something no doubt the Greens and others would like to airbrush out of history, particularly when you compare it to the Greens as a political party being founded on a platform to oppose renewable energy investment—and we should never let them forget that.

I was reminded of this the other day when I got an email from Christine Milne AO, a former member of the other place, from the Bob Brown Foundation, with her and the founder of the Australian Greens arguing against more renewable energy investment in Australia and particularly connecting renewable energy from Tasmania to the mainland. It is just despicable. But that's the difference between their approach and ours on this side of the chamber. We are achieving practical outcomes, delivering for the Australian people and taking the community sustainably forward with us. That's compared to the high and lofty rhetoric of our political opponents, not just those in the opposition party but those in other parties and, at times, Independents, who like to talk the talk but have no practice in reality at walking the walk.

We see this critically in the area of climate change, where our government took targets to the last election and the one before it to deliver outcomes by 2020 and 2030, and we are in the process of developing those for 2050. Compare that to our political opponents, who set lofty ambitions of what they wanted to achieve by 2030, but you do not hear them utter a word about it anymore. In fact, they now talk about targets so far outside their control they're guaranteed to make sure they are never held to account—that's for any single person sitting in this chamber. It's an abrogation of their responsibility. They like to talk the talk, but they are not interested in the delivery.

What we have focused on at every point is how we transition the Australian economy to take Australians with us by making sure we deliver not just with the targets but with practical outcomes and investment to make sure the improvement in the environment is realised. Whether it is the $1.9 billion reef plan, whether it's our investment in the Antarctic, whether it's the investment in ARENA, whether it's the investment in the CEFC or whether it's small-scale investments throughout the country to transition different parts of the economy in agriculture and energy—no matter where it is—we are there and contributing every step of the way.

We saw this only last night in this chamber with the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management trying to pass legislation in this very parliament to modernise our recycling sector. That's important legislation which will lead to more investment to critically address some of the issues we've had around the volume of exported materials that can be recycled here, creating jobs and investment in our great country. And what was the political response? It should have been for our opponents to support it every step of the way and stand up and speak in favour of it. Instead, they frustrated it and obstructed it at every point. It took hours to pass through this parliament and for no reason other than political vanity from our political opponents because they simply have no plan of their own in comparison to the concrete measures we are implementing every day as part of the legacy of this government.

3:43 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] This government has a list of achievements that no-one would be proud of. If species extinction was an Olympic event, Australia would sadly be getting a podium finish under this government. Because our environment laws are so weak, Australia has become a global leader in species extinction. We've got environment laws that are so weak that they don't protect animals and they don't protect our environment. But, also, our environment laws are so weak that they don't protect our First Nations heritage either. Under our environment laws and with this environment minister, we've seen the destruction of the Juukan caves. But we've also seen, recently, under this government—approved by the federal Liberal government and carried out by the Victorian Labor government—the chopping down of sacred Djab Wurrung birthing trees in Victoria. That is how weak our environment laws are: they lead to massive extinction and they allow the destruction of natural and Indigenous heritage.

One of the things that the government could do, if it wanted to, is to put in place some strong standards. That's what has been recommended to it by the independent review: a cop on the beat and some strong national environmental standards. The government doesn't want to do that. Instead, the government bowls up legislation which hands off power to make decisions to the very same state governments that the laws are meant to protect us from. It has been state governments who've been responsible for much of the environmental destruction in this country, and we need strong national standards to keep those rogue state governments, which are very often in the pockets of the developers, in line.

But there's some good news. As we've watched significant rates of species extinction and seen, here in Australia, the first mammal climate extinction event, with the extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys, it can be easy, at times, to feel despondent and that the task is too hard. But we are seeing some very good news as well, due to the global climate movement. Climate change is, of course, one of the biggest threats to biodiversity that we've seen. One of the biggest threats to our flora and fauna is from rising temperatures and the fires that we saw burn several billion creatures last summer and take out large parts of our natural environment. What we're now seeing is the global environment movement starting to step up and take action. And our trading partners are listening, even if Australia is not. As a result of decisions taken by Japan, Korea and China, who have all committed to net zero emissions targets, three-quarters of Australia's thermal coal exports are now going to go. Once those targets kick in, 75 per cent of Australia's coal exports, which go to those three countries alone, will not have a home. So we are seeing action on the coal front. In response to the environmental movement and people wanting climate action, we are seeing other countries starting to phase out their use of coal.

But we are seeing this government sitting on its hands and ignoring the reality—the reality that coal now has a limited future. What we should be doing is planning to support coal workers and communities as other countries transition out of thermal coal. I repeat: just three countries alone having now committed to net zero targets means that three-quarters of our coal exports are on borrowed time and will be at zero at some point very soon. Now, that will be good news for the environment, but we need to look after the communities and the coal workers who are currently being sold false hope by the government and being told a lie. The government tells them that coal will remain in the system for decades to come. Labor says the same thing. But it is simply not true. And if you don't want to listen to the Greens, listen to what our trading partners are saying: they don't want it anymore. We need to give our coal communities a future for when the rest of the world tells us to stop digging, because that day is now coming.

That is why we need not just strong environment laws but a green new deal. We need a plan of government-led investment and action to provide decent, meaningful jobs for people in coal communities in this country—jobs in manufacturing; jobs restoring our transmission lines; jobs building new public housing. That is what a green new deal and strong environmental protection and looking after workers and communities looks like.

3:49 pm

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Like the minister and the member for Goldstein, it is my great pleasure to talk on this MPI today and to talk about the record of Liberal-National governments when it comes to environmental management, because, like them, I would pit the record of the practical achievements of Liberal-National governments when it comes to managing the environment against the virtue-signalling and grandstanding of Labor, the Greens and the Independents any day of the week. Those opposite are all talk and no action.

Many of the great environmental achievements in our nation to protect, preserve and value our environment occurred under Liberal, not Labor, governments and not the Greens or Independents. It was the Menzies government that signed the Antarctic Treaty, preserving that pristine environment for future generations. It was John Gorton who established the Office of the Environment and who banned drilling and mining on the Great Barrier Reef. It was the McMahon government that appointed the first Minister for the Environment, Peter Howson. It was the Fraser government that banned whaling in Australian waters, a coalition government that declared the Great Barrier Reef a marine park, a coalition government that banned sand mining on Fraser Island and that made Kakadu and south-west Tasmania World Heritage areas. It was the Howard government that established the mandatory renewable energy target in 2000 that created incentives for investment in renewable energy. It was the Howard government that established the climate action partnership between Australia and the United States, that initiated collaboration on climate change with Japan and that signed bilateral climate change agreements with China, New Zealand and the European Union. It was the Howard government that established the Natural Heritage Trust, and it was the Howard coalition government that established the Australian Greenhouse Office. It was a coalition government—not Labor, not the Greens and not Independents—that passed the first Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. We are the custodians on this side of the chamber for that legislation that has guided the environmental management of our nation. It was the Howard government that increased the green zones in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park from five per cent to 33 per cent, the world's largest representative network of protected marine parks. It was coalition governments that took direct action that enabled us to meet and beat Australia's Kyoto emissions targets when so many other nations around the world were failing to meet the same targets, despite all of their big talk. They weren't meeting their targets, but this coalition government was just getting on with doing it. It was our government that set the new Paris aligned target of 26 to 28 per cent emissions reduction on 2005 levels by 2030. It is our government now that is on track to meet and beat this 2030 target. Finally, it is this coalition government—not Labor, not the Independents, not the Greens—that established the position of a dedicated assistant minister for waste reduction, who is here in the chamber, who yesterday passed Australia's first Recycling and Waste Reduction Act, the first such act that Australia has seen, despite, as the member for Goldstein said, the political games of those opposite, who sought to simply obfuscate and delay its package with silly political games. It is the priority of the Labor members, of the Greens and of the Independents to play those silly games. We on this side of the chamber, coalition governments, are happy just to get on with protecting and managing our environment.

It is Labor and their mates in the Greens that are the prophets of environmental doom and gloom and of crisis and emergency and that are the foretellers of death and destruction, yet when they are in government, what is it that they achieve for all of this rhetoric that they give to the Australian people? They give us broken promises on a carbon tax, a scheme that, for all their grandstanding, the Greens failed to support. The give us pink batts. They give us recycling and clunkers for cash. Labor members gave us targets at the last election that were uncosted. They had no idea of how many jobs of Australians it was going to cost to achieve those targets. Now they would say to everyday Australians that they are environmental vandals just for lighting their gas stove or expecting cheap and reliable energy to see their goods manufactured or their businesses survive. Everyday Australians won't wear the rhetoric of the Labor members opposite. They know they don't have to choose, either the environment or the economy. They know that this coalition government will both protect and manage our environment and protect and manage our economy and keep Australians in jobs.

3:53 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to talk about a very important environmental issue to begin with, and that is the Murray-Darling river system. It is a classic case of tragedy of the commons. At any given point in time there is only so much water in the system. The water resources are divided up by a series of allocations, and the problem is that more water has been allocated than the river system can actually sustain. This is a fundamental problem that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan sought to solve, and, as climate change is reducing the long-term flows in the river system, the problem is only getting harder to solve.

There are two main ways the plan seeks to achieve a solution. First, the government, via the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, buys water to ensure the river continues to flow and that the river system gets enough water so that the ecosystem does not collapse. This has proven to be the most cost-effective way to keep water in the system. The other way the government hopes to keep water in the river is by building infrastructure to manage the water more efficiently. This is far, far more expensive to the government, but more palatable to the large corporate water users, who do not want to see any water leave the market.

In 2015 the federal government caved in to pressure from the large corporate irrigators and introduced a 1,500 gigalitre cap on buying back water, deciding to prioritise funding for infrastructure projects instead. However, the government have not even reached that cap; they are deliberately going slow. I am calling for the 1,500 gigalitre cap on buybacks to be recovered as a matter of urgency. The quickest, cheapest and most efficient way of recovering water is by immediately reinstating voluntary water licensing buybacks through an open and transparent tender system. Without this, the Murray-Darling Basin, the river, is doomed to a slow death.

I've got the end of the river in my electorate. We have the most vulnerable part of the river. We don't want to see this plan fail. In recognition of our vulnerability, leading up to the 2018 by-election in Mayo, I called upon the federal government and South Australian government to establish an institute in the region. Such an institute would be dedicated to research on how we make the river more resilient and how we look at and manage salinity, wetlands, ecosystems and nutrient levels to provide real-time summaries on the ecological condition. It's hard to believe that we don't have this at the end of the river. Whether it's emails, letters or feedback to many community forums, the environment would have to be in the top three topics of concern raised with me as the federal member at every single forum. Every day I get emails about the environment. The nation is genuinely concerned about how we are managing such a finite resource.

I voted against the government's plans with respect to the EPBC Act. This absolutely devastated my community. I can't believe the way the government rushed through that bill, not allowing the member for Warringah to even put forward the amendments that she had, very good amendments. She didn't even get the opportunity to speak to those amendments. Change should not be rushed, especially when there's a strong case for further inquiry and establishment of appropriate safeguards. On streamlining approvals for the bill, because what we've already had was just a temporary position, particularly just with an initial review, we don't have a final review and yet the government is determined to change the EPBC Act without any due diligence by this parliament. Professor Graeme Samuel is conducting the final review. He released an interim report, but the government only cherrypicked what it wanted out of that report. It must be heartbreaking, if you are someone such as Graeme Samuel, to do all of this work and then have your work cherrypicked for what is really for the benefit of corporate Australia, certainly not for the benefit of the environment.

Centre Alliance will continue to be very concerned with respect to the EPBC Act. We will continue to be very concerned with respect to the management of the river. South Australia has the most to lose if we don't get the Murray-Darling Basin Plan right. I think South Australia has the most to lose if we don't get the EPBC Act right. This parliament can't do that. We are custodians for the next generation of our environment. We are here to protect the environment for the next generation and we really need to do a much better job in this place of working together for the benefit of the environment and not for the benefit of corporate Australia

3:58 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

We live in a great country. Australia is unique in many different ways. It's definitely the best country in the world, and one of the reasons why it is the best country in the world is our wonderful environment. Our weather is brilliant. We have such a good environment. In 2011, before I came into this place, I had the privilege of travelling right around the country in a caravan for six months with my young family at the time. We really have a wonderful country. In fact, I went to the member for Mayo's electorate, to Kangaroo Island, and was out spotting echidnas and koalas with the kids. It was a great time.

I, as a federal member of the Coalition, love the environment, and Liberal-National governments have done a lot for the environment over the years. It was a Liberal-National government, federally, that created the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act back in 1999. It was a Liberal-National government that achieved World Heritage listing for the Great Barrier Reef, way back in 1981. It was a Liberal-National government that established the world's largest representative network of protected marine parks. It was a Liberal-National government that created the position of Minister for the Environment and elevated that position to cabinet, and it was a Liberal-National government that, just yesterday, passed the nation's first recycling bill in this House, under the assistant minister for recycling—the first in a federal government.

We've also announced the biggest single investment made in Australia's Commonwealth national parks, with millions put into tourism and infrastructure and creating more jobs—Indigenous rangers and jobs in remote communities. We've also invested an additional $216 million, pledged last year, to upgrade and remediate the Kakadu National Park, which I've been to as well; it's a wonderful place. We've also invested $1.9 billion over a decade to implement the Reef 2050 plan, which includes funding to improve water quality, manage the crown-of-thorns starfish and reduce marine debris pollution. This is an unprecedented investment, and what do we get from those opposite when this happens? We've given the money to the wrong group, whoever it is. But the fact is a lot of money has been put into the environment.

Let me say as well: the Liberal National Party shadow minister Mr David Crisafulli has committed $80 million—and you'll know this, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta—for protected areas in Queensland over the next four years. That's $20 million a year under Deb Frecklington and the LNP, if they're elected this weekend. To put that into perspective, the Labour Party, the current Palaszczuk government, is putting $1.5 million a year into it.

In my own electorate, we're doing a lot for the environment. There are lots of tree plantings going on. Five years ago we put tree planting into Clontarf, Griffin and North Lakes. Those melaleucas are now five metres high. People are concerned about koalas, particularly in the city, because of dogs, roadkill and so forth. I would say to the people in my electorate who are concerned about koalas: look at the LNP's plan before you vote this weekend. There's $80 million for protected areas, including koala conservation, which is $20 million per year, compared to $1½ million this year under the Palaszczuk government.

We're also doing a lot with climate change, as you know, Deputy Speaker. Australia's emissions are down 12 per cent today, compared to 15 years ago, per capita. If you want to go back to 1990, we're down 41 per cent. That's a 41 per cent emissions reduction compared to 39 years ago. We've also signed the Paris Agreement. We've got a commitment of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030. We will meet that target, just like we met our Kyoto target, yet those opposite don't even have a target and those on the crossbench, in their irrelevance, just say we're not doing enough—not all of them, but some of them. The fact is: when you look at what we're doing on climate change, we're doing a lot.

Let me just mention electric vehicles and charging. A lot of people are driving EVs, and the number will only continue to grow. The Morrison government has invested $21 million into electric vehicle charging, for those wanting to make the switch to EVs, and we're doing that without killing jobs in our traditional mining sectors. Only the Liberal and National parties will protect the environment, create more jobs and look after Australia's future.

4:04 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm proud to represent a region endowed with diverse and beautiful geography, with mountains, rivers and fertile lands. We are rich with national and state parks, wetlands, rivers, grasslands and abundant fields, fauna and flora—from the grass trees in the Warby Ranges to orchids in the Chiltern state park. We are rich in cultural heritage too. These are the lands of the Waywurru, Dhudhuroa, Bangerang and Taungurung peoples. Where I live, in Wangaratta, the signs of the Bangerang people abound. Rings trees, canoe trees and birthing trees signal that these are lands that are abundant in food, water and spirit. These custodians have protected our environment for tens of thousands of years, and frankly I find it a bit rich when the member for Ryan says people here on the crossbench and in other places are all talk and no action. That's coming from someone who's coming from the city of Brisbane, from a small electorate of 370 square kilometres, I believe.

I'm representing 29,000 square kilometres of magnificent natural environment, and that natural environment drives our local economy: tourism, food and fibre, forestry, viticulture, agriculture, timber processing and manufacturing. Our great outdoors attracts visitors for skiing, trail running, kayaking, caving, bushwalking and camping. We have internationally renowned wine and gourmet food growing in our rich, fertile valleys. We have skin in the game. The protection of the environment is inseparable from regional prosperity, our jobs, our economy—our way of life. Our fresh air, clear skies and majestic beauty have not happened by accident. The relationship between conservation, regeneration, protection from invasive species, and agriculture and productive land use is one we live every single day.

The importance of the environment to my constituents is why I, as an independent MP, will scrutinise any attempt by any government and, in this case, this government to water down its protection. Today we are debating the government's approach to the protection of the environment. We only need to look at the actions of the government at the beginning of September to answer this question. On that awful night, the government guillotined debate and rammed through its EPBC amendment act—and, as the member for Clark pointed out so acutely, for what point? It's still sitting in the Senate undebated. This started the process of taking the Commonwealth out of environmental approvals, which would leave states and territories as the sole approver for projects.

I opposed the bill on the basis that it was rushed, that consultation had not concluded and that the protections recommended by the review's interim report were not included. And I say this as someone who has 50 per cent of the water going into the Murray-Darling Basin coming from Indi: there was no chance to debate the water trigger. I also supported the member for Warringah's well-founded amendments. There was no chance to debate those either. But on that night the government silenced all debate. This is a government who say they are worthy custodians of our environment. This is the government who quite rightly told us they introduced the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act many years ago. I think their forefathers would be rather disgusted by the fact that there was no opportunity to discuss that very act.

If that night in September is anything to go by then I fear this will happen again the next time the House considers environmental protection. If that's the case then I want to make some more points right now. Firstly, we can't rush the EPBC Act. It's flagged to get a major overhaul. It will affect projects for generations to come, and we need to get it right. We need robust environmental laws for the sake of our way of life. If we don't have strong protections, what would happen to heritage towns like Beechworth and Chiltern? Could we still keep our alpine resorts pristine by warding off inappropriate development? These environments are key to Mansfield, Bright and Myrtleford and to their economies too. And how could we protect our incredible natural environment that brings in billions of dollars in tourism in our magnificent alpine areas in Buxton and Taggerty or our wetlands in Yea and Winton? We need these assets protected. Protecting our environment creates jobs, and we have a small army of biologists, conservationists and heritage workers employed to do great work under a solid environment protection act.

Climate change poses an immediate threat to our environment and tourism and agriculture systems too, and we need meaningful action on climate change now. I support the member for Warringah in her bid to have the Climate Change Bill 2020 debated in this House. I commend her for her leadership. Likewise, the work from our electorate is strong and important for our environment.

4:09 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I travel around my electorate of Cowper. Everyone here knows that it is the most beautiful electorate in Australia, from Port Macquarie up to Coffs Harbour, with the beautiful valleys of Macleay and Nambucca in between and the plateaus of Dorrigo. I speak to all the schoolchildren and with people in the street, and we talk about the environment and what we as a government are doing, but I always bring it back to thinking globally and acting locally. That is what I've been trying to do as a first-term backbencher, in talking to people and in understanding what they want—thinking globally but acting locally.

I'm very pleased to say that this government has helped my electorate locally. I'll look at the beautiful Solitary Islands Marine Park, just north of Coffs Harbour: the marine park is home to more than 550 species of reef fish, over 90 species of hard coral and is dotted with islands. It brings in an estimated annual economic value of about $1.3 million to the region. One way our government has been enhancing the protection of this park is through the Communities Environment Program. The Dolphin Marine Conservation Park, which is an iconic business in Coffs Harbour—it's been there for decades—received a $20,000 grant from our government to help marine wildlife and improve conservation education.

On 10 September, I had the great pleasure of meeting up with one of the scientists there from Dolphin Marine Rescue and five local schoolkids to release two green sea turtles at Diggers Beach, just north of Coffs Harbour. It was great fun. We got in the water and let these well-advanced turtles go. It was one of the great experiences I've had not only in this place but growing up as a country boy. Given that, globally, the population of green sea turtles are on the decline, it was great to be able to release these two turtles back into the wild. The kids who attended were part of EcoGrom, an education program run by Dolphin Marine Rescue for children interested in marine biology.

It would be remiss of me not to talk about the government's approach to the protection of the environment in light of the black summer fires. In my electorate of Cowper, fires burned across the very dry landscape from about September to February 2020. In response, it was environment minister Sussan Ley who came up immediately after with the Treasurer and the Threatened Species Commissioner, Dr Sally Box. In response to those fires, the environment minister provided an initial investment of $50 million on that day. Among those other measures, up to $25 million was provided to national resource management groups in bushfire affected areas to carry out emergency interventions, $7.5 million was provided for on-ground wildlife rescue and $5 million was provided for Greening Australia to reseed native vegetation in areas destroyed by bushfire. In May, our government committed a further $150 million to bushfire affected regions to prevent extinction and limit the decline of native species. This took our government's investment in bushfire recovery for native wildlife and their habitat to $200 million. So again, when I talk about thinking internationally but acting locally, this is what our government is doing for me and for my constituents for Cowper locally.

The government are concerned about the environment and continue to invest. I was very pleased to be part of the government's stance to reduce waste and increase capacity in Australia's waste and recycling industry, through the $1 billion transformation of our waste and recycling industry, and I will continue to work both here and at home to ensure that we continue to do the good work.