House debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Matters of Public Importance


3:14 pm

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

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

The government's mismanagement of environmental protection.

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 Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

'Australia's natural environment and iconic places are in an overall state of decline and are under increasing threat. The environment is not sufficiently resilient to withstand current, emerging or future threats, including climate change. The environmental trajectory is currently unsustainable.' Those are the words that start off the 'Key messages' section in the final report of the independent review of Australia's environmental laws. This is a report that was provided to the government in October—the government sat on it until January before releasing it—and it comes at a time of very significant environmental degradation, as the reviewer has said.

It is a fact that Australia's environment is in unprecedented decline. We have an extinction crisis, which existed before the series of bushfires that happened over the summer of 2019-20. We have the very dubious distinction of leading the world in mammal extinctions. Koala populations are on the brink of extinction in New South Wales. There's actually no national strategy for the koala; the last one expired back in 2014 . Platypus numbers also look to be in serious decline. These are animals that have a particular iconic status within the Australian identity, and we as a nation are failing to do enough to protect them.

And, of course, then came the bushfire crisis. It was a crisis in which three billion animals were killed or displaced. It's a horrific statistic. Unfortunately, it rolls off the tongue a bit too easily, doesn't it? Three billion animals. Think about the gravity of the loss that we as a nation suffered across the bushfires. I'm talking about the environmental loss. They were horrific fires. So many people lost their lives. So many communities lost infrastructure, lost property. There was a great deal of harm to business, to tourism. But in my portfolio of the environment it's important to remember the impact on our native species and our beautiful natural environment as well—three billion animals. It's a horrific statistic.

Australians are growing more and more concerned about environmental protection here in this country. They've been concerned about bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef. They've been concerned about the increasing biodiversity crisis the world is facing and whether our nation is doing enough to stand up for it. They've been concerned to hear that fewer than 40 per cent of threatened species have a recovery plan—and, because monitoring has been so poor, the government is not even sure which of those are being fulfilled. In fact, last year, when we asked the government why 170 of the 171 outstanding threatened species recovery plans were overdue, the government complained that we were too focused on plans. These are key documents that make sure we are doing what we should be doing to protect our iconic threatened species—and all of our threatened species; there are less charismatic ones as well. I still remember the reports about the fluorescent pink slug that was affected by the bushfire. I shouldn't be taken as being focused on cuddly koalas or the beautiful platypus; all of our native species are precious to us and to our ecosystem.

The statutory review is being undertaken in circumstances where we are now in the eighth year of a conservative coalition government. Over that period, the government has cut about 40 per cent of funding to the environment department. So we're seeing a situation where what has been sown is now being reaped when it comes to environmental protection.

And it's affecting jobs and investment as well. This is a government that is so hopeless it is able to preside over both an environmental crisis and a jobs crisis and fail to deal with both. The massive cuts to the environment department's administration under this government have had clear ramifications for environmental protection. At the same time, it's also caused decision-making in respect of major projects to be absolutely terribly maladministered and underfunded.

But you don't have to take my word for it. We know this because last year the Audit Office produced their most scathing report of their entire audit year in relation to environmental decision-making under the EPBC Act.

Mr Perrett interjecting

It is a big call—I take that interjection from the member for Moreton—but somehow the environmental decision-making came out on top of the most woeful, scathing report from the Auditor-General. Seventy-nine per cent of decisions were affected by error or were otherwise non-compliant. There was a massive blowout of about 510 per cent in the delays of approvals, and, of course, in a single year alone 95 per cent of key decisions were made beyond the statutory time limit. Every single late and poor decision that's caused by funding cuts is a cause of delay to jobs and investment. Of course there are some perfectly legitimate reasons why there might be delay. It might be necessary to consider the environmental ramifications of a project, to consider the assessment or to consider the work that needs to be done. But, when the delay is just caused by the reckless failure to properly resource the environment department, that's a problem, and it's a problem that is laid squarely at the feet of this government.

Mr Deputy Speaker O'Brien, I mentioned to you that we are currently going through the 10-yearly statutory review of Australia's environment laws and I read to you some of the key messages about the environmental decline that Australia's environment is facing. I also wanted to mention that the reviewer, Graeme Samuel, an eminent Australian, a highly qualified regulator—he came to this with fresh eyes but a depth of experience in regulation—has not pulled his punches at all when it comes to the environmental decline that is being faced in this nation. What he has said is:

The EPBC Act and its operation requires fundamental reform to enable the Commonwealth to:

    and a range of other recommendations. In fact, he's made 38 recommendations. He handed those recommendations and the entire report—and it's a substantial piece of work—to the government back in October 2020. As I said, the government then sat on it for three months and then dropped it out late on a Thursday afternoon in late January. It wasn't a sitting week; the following week was a sitting week. And did they bother to publish a response? Was a government response produced? Maybe that was the explanation for the three-month wait that we had for this to be revealed to the Australian people. No government response has been provided to the Australian people, so we don't even know where they stand on the 38 recommendations.

    Here's what we do know. Last year, when the interim report came out, it made a sweeping set of integrated recommendations that laid a blueprint for reform. The government, after spending millions of dollars and many hours of consultation, took that really good solid interim report and just dropped it over here and, ignoring it, they went over to the shelf, looked up 2014 and pulled down a piece of Abbott-era legislation that had failed. They blew the dust off it and whacked that into the parliament instead. We just got Abbott 2.0. We should have had Samuel. The opposition have said very clearly we will properly consider anything meaningful the government want to put forward that's consistent with Samuel, and they just gave us Abbott 2.0.

    And they've done it again when the final report was published. It's a report that annexes several proposed national environmental standards. Graeme Samuel has obviously done a lot of work. There were lots of consultations with everyone from the Minerals Council, the NFF and the BCA through to the Conservation Foundation, WWF, Wilderness Society, Humane Society, scientists and environmentalists. There were massive amounts of consultation with business, with industry, with the minerals sector and with environmental scientists, and millions of dollars were spent. And, again, what have they done? They've just shelved the Graeme Samuel standards and have gone back to the 2014 file and pulled out the Abbott-era standards. We know this not because they published a response to the report but because these were dropped out to the media, again, late in the afternoon.

    It is such a disgrace, because here are the conditions that the government have for reform: they've got a majority government and they've got a situation where the opposition has been constructive, has not cherrypicked and has not played the rule-in rule-out game but is standing here ready, willing and able to properly consider anything that they want to put forward that's serious. Instead, it's just wedge politics, Abbott-era proposals and absolute nonsense. The real victim in this is Australia's national environment.

    3:24 pm

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

    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.

    3:34 pm

    Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I very much thank the member for Griffith for raising this matter of critical importance. Sadly, all we've just heard from the minister are weasel words that mean nothing to the environment in my electorate. I have written to her and I've written to her predecessors to get them to come and do something for the critically endangered species in my electorate, particularly our koalas and our platypuses—

    Ms Ley interjecting

    Well, you haven't replied, you've refused to come and you've done nothing.

    Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    The member for Macarthur will address his comments through the chair.

    Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Sorry, Chair. As I speak, the koalas in my electorate are being killed, their environment is being trashed and this government and the New South Wales state government are doing absolutely nothing about it. I've written to them about Appin Road, which runs through our koala habitat, to get them to put protective fencing along the road. They've done nothing. I've written to them to try and protect our waterways. They've done nothing. They're allowing rampant development to occur along the Nepean River and the Georges River. They're allowing developers to cut down trees that, critically, the koalas use to move between the two major rivers—the Georges River and the Nepean River—to survive. We have the only chlamydia-free urban population of koalas in the country, and they are dying as we speak.

    This is me and my grandson with a koala that was rescued, very sick, having been hit by a car on Appin Road. I'm frightened that my grandson may be the last of my grandchildren to see a koala in the wild in my electorate. We have platypuses, or platypi, in our rivers, yet the government is doing nothing to protect our river system from the massive development that's occurring in Macarthur. I want to pay tribute to Professor Robert Close, from Western Sydney University, who has for years been tracking koalas, getting their numbers and researching their breeding habits. We have all the statistics. It's a huge population of koalas that is gradually being diminished by habitat reduction and rampant development. We have schools in my electorate, particularly St Helens Park Public School, where the children can be distracted looking through the windows at koalas in the trees around the school. I'm frightened that this will finish very soon.

    The Samuel report made multiple recommendations, which this government talks about but on which it does absolutely nothing. I've written to the New South Wales environment minister on a number of occasion. To his credit, he is the only one who has come out and seen our environment and seen koalas in the wild in the Appin area, around the Gilead development about to be developed by Lendlease. He has seen what a tragedy it would be to lose this environment, but it's already happening. I drove by the other day to see massive trees, koala habitat, being chopped down. I saw their stumps. No more trees were being planted. This is being done for a development that's going to occur.

    It is a perfect environment for a national park to connect the two rivers. In fact, the name Twin Rivers National Park was suggested about 20 years ago by the University of Western Sydney. That would connect the Dharawal National Park in my electorate to the national park around the Heathcote-Audley region and the coast, which would allow proper migration of the koalas. I really think it's an absolute tragedy that this government is doing nothing. As we speak, our environment is being destroyed: koala habitat and the habitats of many other animals, including wombats, kangaroos, snakes, lizards—lace monitors—and multiple bird species. This will be the last generation that will see them if the state and federal Liberal governments have their way.

    Members of the government have come out, I see today, to drive for nuclear energy. Do they really want that?

    Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    The member for Macarthur will just pause for a moment. That's twice now that you've used, effectively, a prop. I'm pretty lenient on things, but don't abuse the friendship.

    Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


    Mr Ramsey interjecting

    Mr Tim Wilson interjecting

    No, I don't, but I don't want multiple nuclear power stations around the country. Would you like it in your electorate? Would you like it in your electorate?

    Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    The member for Macarthur will direct his comments through the chair.

    Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I'm sorry, Chair.

    Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    And the member for Grey and the member for Goldstein will stop interjecting.

    Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I will address through the chair, as long as I'm not being constantly interrupted by terribly rude interjections from the Liberal Party members. (Time expired)

    3:39 pm

    Photo of Trevor EvansTrevor Evans (Brisbane, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management) Share this | | Hansard source

    Last year, Australia got its first national recycling laws. The nation-leading Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020 does a lot to protect our environment, and it was delivered by the Morrison government. Under our new recycling laws, Australia will no longer be able to export various waste streams overseas, things like waste plastics, waste glass, whole tyres and contaminated paper and cardboard. And record co-funding being delivered by our government is right now helping to build new state-of-the-art infrastructure in every state and territory to ensure we have the facilities here in this country to recover, process and recycle our waste streams onshore. By leveraging this record federal funding, and getting it matched dollar for dollar both by the states and territories and by industry, we've created a Recycling Modernisation Fund that is supporting almost $1 billion worth of new recycling infrastructure being built right now across our nation.

    The Morrison government's reform agenda for the waste and recycling industries has been unprecedented. No federal government before now has ever done this much to tackle this environmental protection priority head-on. Labor, in office, simply left it in the too-hard basket, along with so many other issues. Led by the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment, the Morrison government is driving a once-in-a-generation transformation of Australia's waste and recycling industries to deliver greater environmental sustainability and protection in Australia. And it's about economic sustainability as well as environmental sustainability, because this will enable much of our waste to be sorted, processed and turned into a valuable commodity that can be used again and again in Aussie manufacturing to support the making of the next generation of fantastic products. That's the circular economy, and that's true environmental and economic sustainability in action.

    Our practical reforms, which will reduce Australia's waste footprint, our action under the National Waste Policy and our record funding, including through the Recycling Modernisation Fund, will create over 10,000 new green jobs in recycling across Australia in the next decade. And, unlike Labor, the coalition government know that protecting the environment and building an economy is not a zero-sum game. Taking care of our environment also means driving practical reforms to empower industry to take more responsibility for the products they make and sell across each product's life cycle. That's why we're also turbocharging product stewardship.

    Product stewardship, of course, is a proud coalition legacy. Australia's first Product Stewardship Act was created by the Howard government to stop dirty used oil being dumped in drains and groundwater. Today, that scheme has grown to the point where it supports the recovery and the recycling of about 300 million litres of dirty used oil per year, supporting jobs at 11 oil recycling refineries around the country and protecting our environment. That's why, in addition to strengthening the legislative framework to empower industries to make new recycling schemes, the Morrison government is also, through its National Product Stewardship Investment Fund, investing in 15 new, exciting projects to help set up new, exciting recycling schemes in many important environmental priority areas. I'm talking about a new national product stewardship scheme for farm products, such as dairy silage wraps; a new recycling scheme for cosmetic waste; expanding the recycling programs for e-waste; a textiles recycling scheme; a new scheme to recycle the plastics in plant nurseries; and many more. Together, these schemes will not only reduce tens of thousands of tonnes of waste going into landfill each year, but in many cases they will stop things like plastics, dangerous chemicals and hazardous materials from leaching into the surrounding environment, our waterways and our oceans.

    We know there's still much more to do, but the Morrison government will continue on our mission of reducing Australia's waste footprint, boosting our onshore recycling capabilities, and tackling the plastics challenge. And we know that there's no other political party in Australia that goes even close to matching the Morrison government's funding commitments, our policies and our engagement when it comes to recycling. That's why there is this long and growing list of not just recycling industry players, experts and researchers, but also environmental groups and community organisations working so closely with this government on our reforms and supporting our policies. And we do it far more effectively than those on the other side.

    3:44 pm

    Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    During the Morrison government's continued failure to maintain and improve our nation's environmental protection laws, there are organisations that are still trying to do their best to protect our environment all while being undermined and/or ignored and underresourced by this government.

    In my electorate, I would like to recognise the Tasmanian Land Conservancy for its continued drive and dedication to nature conservation. The TLC is a not-for-profit apolitical and community-minded organisation whose ethos surrounds the important and growing challenge of preserving our environment for future generations to enjoy and appreciate and, importantly, it does it hand in hand with private landowners.

    Just outside Buckland on Tasmania's east coast, the Prosser and Back Rivers cut their way through a valley of grassy woodland. This 1,534-hectare reserve will protect threatened vegetation communities and 11 threatened plant and animal species as well as old-growth vegetation communities and freshwater ecosystems. It's all made possible thanks to a very generous bequest by the late Mr McGregor. It's a wonderful piece of Tasmanian territory. The pre-European values of this land are amazing. It's all done through private bequest, so the government's got no part in it.

    Also with the TLC, at Beaufront in Ross in my electorate, Julian von Bibra for the last seven years has been working very hard with the conservancy to restore 190 hectares. He says, 'Conservation now has a place on the farm balance sheet.' There are people out there doing the right thing for conservation and the environment, because this government is not doing enough for them.

    Another project in my electorate is the Derwent Catchment Project, which does amazing work in the Derwent Valley and the Central Highlands. They look after around one-fifth of the total area of Tasmania. The Derwent catchment's a vast region with extraordinarily diverse landscapes. Members may recall that the Derwent and Central Highlands area was devastated by bushfire a few years ago, and areas of Tasmania that have never known fire for literally tens of thousands of years were burnt. This of course is the contributing nature of climate change, a hotter climate with fires getting wilder and going to areas where they've not been seen in tens of thousands of years. A big shout-out to the Derwent Catchment Project for the incredible work they do.

    It would be remiss of me not to talk about the failures of this government when it comes to the environment without briefly touching on the Northern Midlands prison project in my electorate. This is largely a state government jurisdiction, but it also touches on federal jurisdiction. The plot of land that the Tasmanian Liberal government has chosen for this northern prison site is just outside the town of Westbury and the land that it's chosen was reserved under federal environmental law, using federal funding for environmental protection. Somehow the minister has allowed the state Liberal government pretty much carte blanche to do what it likes with this land.

    I don't for the life of me see how a prison fits the values of environmental protection and wildlife protection, but we'll see what happens. We've put a number of questions on notice to the minister on this very point. How on earth is she allowing the state government to do what it's doing, given the supposedly important nature of this land? It was deemed important enough to reserve; now it's being turned into a prison. We can have no confidence that this is the right site, because the decision-making process that the state government used to determine this site was completely flawed. So we've got no confidence that even the choice of this site was the right decision. I'm quite sure it's probably the wrong decision.

    Briefly, Labor are calling on the Morrison government to introduce strong national environmental standards—not too much to ask. We're asking the government to establish a genuinely independent cop on the beat for Australia's environment—not too much to ask—and fix the explosion in the unnecessary 510 per cent job and investment delays caused by the government's massive funding cuts over its term in office. This government is no friend to the environment and it should stop pretending it is.

    3:49 pm

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

    It's wonderful to be able to speak on this motion and the commitment the Morrison government has to the conservation of our environment. The very principle of stewardship and conservation goes to the core of who we are as Liberals. Need we remind those members on the other side of the chamber that we have consistently been at the fore of major environment challenges, while Labor has been trying to play catch-up.

    Mr Burns interjecting

    When I hear the interjections from the member for McNamara, it's sometimes difficult to remind him the Howard government was the government that established the Australian Greenhouse Office, while those opposite were twiddling their thumbs on the other side of the chamber. We have consistently been at the fore of major environmental discussions to conserve the health of this environment, from Landcare projects, investing in reforestation, the commitment of the Morrison government to soil C sequestration and soil carbon and the focus on the transition of our energy profile.

    What you get from this side of the chamber is not just a commitment to meeting the challenges of today but a commitment to facing the challenges of tomorrow. Before I saw the fossil the member for Macarthur get up and rant and rave about the members on this side's commitment to looking at new technology options for the future energy generation of this country—

    Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    The member—

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

    I withdraw.

    Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    won't use personal—

    An honourable member interjecting

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

    Well, the way he conducted himself in this space—

    Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    The member won't reflect on other members. He's withdrawn. Other members can stop interjecting also.

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

    We will continue to argue the case for technology and not engage in the science denial of the members opposite. We have an opposition that is full of nuclear science deniers. We have the Marxist member for Melbourne, who is part of their coalition, who denies the science of nuclear power, who has engaged in the science denial of genetically enhanced foods. One of his colleagues in the Senate, Senator Hanson-Young, has openly admitted that the Greens political party is being influenced by the science deniers of vaccines. At this critical time, the Greens are full of science deniers and we have a Labor Party full of nuclear science deniers, and they dare come into this chamber and lecture members on this side of the chamber who see the opportunity of technology to be part of the stewardship of the future of our environment and our economy to build the future of this country.

    That's why we won't take lectures from members opposite—because our record is proud and true, because our commitment is clear. While they want to hold back the future, we want to build it. Yes, the Morrison government have done it at every step, in terms of advancing our economy, our environment and our society. We have been consistent in our approach to managing the challenges, for instance, of Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The minister has looked very closely at what we can do to make sure we improve the legislation to build standards that can ensure the whole of the country is taken on this journey.

    We heard before from the Assistant Minister for Waster Reduction and Environmental Management about his commitments and his projects, particularly in the area of environmental stewardship, in making sure that we get a circular economy. We see the potential to repurpose existing resources—recycle them, repurpose them, reuse them—as part of the continuing economic growth of our country. That's one of the reasons why we are Liberals; we see the potential of turning waste to potential, while Labor is always part of the old industrialist mindset of abusing the environment to deliver for today.

    They have no vision for the future of this country. They do not see how they can improve and benefit our nation to be part of not just a greater responsibility for our continent but a contribution to a global effort. That's why their solution is always taxes. They say it isn't, but it always is. Before each election, they say they won't introduce taxes, and then as soon as the election is over they betray the commitment they gave to the Australian people. There are members on the other side of this chamber right now who are part of that betrayal and part of that misinformation. They continue to do it. When they go to the next election, they'll make the same promises. If they're elected to government, they'll break them again. The only solution that Labor ever see to any public policy challenge is to empower themselves, not to encourage Australians to take responsibility. They don't see the success of this country through the success of Australians; they see the success of Australia through themselves. That's why they have no commitment, no honesty and no consistency on these issues. (Time expired)

    3:55 pm

    Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I thank the member for Griffith for the opportunity to speak on this important issue: this government's mismanagement of environmental protection. In my first speech in this place, I spoke about my first experience of activism. It was actually environmental activism, sparked when I saw land cleared in a local rainforest which sent koalas fleeing for refuge in my parent's front yard in Port Macquarie in New South Wales. Today, because this government refuses to do enough, the koala is endangered. Native species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. Our environment, our coastline, our biodiversity, the place we all call home—it's all threatened by the government's inaction. Did you know the funding for the Commonwealth department of environment has been slashed by 40 per cent, and this government has absolutely no plan to rectify any of this?

    For the past 30 years, I've lived in the electorate of Corangamite in Victoria. I love our environment, and I will continue to fight for it: our green open spaces, our incredible wildlife, our magnificent oceans and waterways and our amazing blue sky. That love continues to motivate my work in this place. I know that people in my community are extraordinarily passionate about protecting our environment. More than 300 individuals and groups contacted my office when the government set about trashing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act last year. They were horrified the government had spent millions of dollars on the Samuel review of the EPBC Act and then disgracefully ignored the findings. Even before last summer's horrific bushfires, Australia was in the midst of an extinction crisis. Many animals, like the tiger quoll local to my area, are at risk. Since then, more than 1 billion animals have died and more than 12 million hectares of land has burned. The habitat of iconic Australian species, like the koala, has been decimated.

    I am fortunate to represent one of the most amazing parts of Australia. Corangamite contains some of the most famous surf beaches in the nation, including Bells Beach, Fairhaven Beach, Shelley Beach, Apollo Bay and Thirteenth Beach on the Bellarine Peninsula, just to name a few. From the stunning waterfalls and tree ferns in the Otways to Lake Elizabeth near Forrest and the wetlands in the Bellarine, my electorate is nothing short of spectacular. Everyone in my community is proud of our environment, and I stand with them in the fight to limit inappropriate development and sustain our biodiversity in green belts, like Spring Creek in Torquay and the Ramsar wetlands in the Bellarine. These are truly spectacular, and, as we drive along the heritage listed Great Ocean Road, we're all reminded of just how lucky we are to live in Australia. The steep cliffs that rip in the coast, the golden sands, the massive stands of eucalypts and the sounds of the crashing waves—it takes your breath away.

    Often in this chamber we debate matters that may seem abstract, but what is at stake in this debate is all too clear. It's our parks. It's our beaches. It's our native animals. It's our World Heritage sites. It's our coastline. It's the ancient sacred sites of our First Nations people. It's our communities. It's our livelihoods. They're at stake, but, in a time of climate change, with the intense development pressures on our coastline and our greenfields, we see this government cutting environment department funding by 40 per cent and trashing the EPBC Act.

    Our environment is 100 per cent entwined with our jobs and economy. We need one to sustain the other. I know that my community would not be the same without the incredible natural environment around us. It sustains jobs in our region. It brings people to our region to work, to visit and to live. But the government has failed in its duty to protect the environment for too long. In doing so, it has failed to look after our communities. Labor has loudly called on the government to introduce strong national environmental standards, establish a genuinely independent cop on the beat for the Australian environment and fix the environmental failures caused by their massive funding cuts. The government must act now to save our environment or get out of the way and let a Labor government do it.

    3:59 pm

    Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Thank you for the opportunity to outline the Morrison government's unwavering commitment to protecting and preserving our iconic and spectacular natural environment now and for generations to come. Our government is committed to protecting our environment and, at the same time, providing real economic leadership and reform as we prepare for our post-pandemic world.

    There are many examples that illustrate this, but I will outline three key areas of substantial investment. Firstly, in the Morrison government's most recent budget, we've made significant commitments to protect our oceans and waterways and to preserve our pristine national parks and heritage areas.

    We're also now transforming our nation's waste industry. Any MP in this House who's been to a local school will know how schools engage with and embrace waste and recovery and recycling. Now it's time that we, as an Australian community, get up and start to really lean into a circular economy, and that is where we are showing leadership with the Morrison government's commitment. We've committed $249.6 million to drive a billion-dollar transformation of our waste and recycling capacity that will not only help save waste but also create 10,000 new jobs over the next decade. These jobs will be generated through new initiatives such as the Recycling Modernisation Fund, the National Waste Policy Action Plan and the implementation of our waste export ban—real investment to create real impact.

    Australia generates about 67 million tonnes of waste each year, and only 37 million tonnes of that is recycled. That's why the Morrison government is stepping up. As the Prime Minister has said, 'It's our waste, it's our responsibility.' Our plan will work to end the 645,000 tonnes of rubbish, including plastic, paper, glass and tyres, that we ship overseas, mainly to China. It will also provide the basis for those who design, manufacture and distribute products to take greater responsibility for the impact of those products on the environment. I welcome anyone to look at the science and technology committee's waste and recycling report that has just been delivered to parliament.

    Secondly, I'm proud of our package to protect our oceans and marine ecosystems. Australians love the beach, but, more than that, we care about our environment. The package of $67 million includes $14 million to tackle the marine impacts of ghost nets and plastic litter, and $28 million for compliance, enforcement and monitoring activities. We need to put the work into this to make it happen. A further $20 million is being invested, through the COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund, to re-establish native oyster reefs at 11 sites across the country. This additional funding also means our parks and heritage spaces will receive more than $319 million, with a record $230 million for national park upgrades and $12 million to replace revenue forgone in tourism, resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, these are important investments in our natural resources to protect them now and for generations to come.

    We're also investing in our wildlife, and this is so important in our post-bushfire environment. I had the pleasure of welcoming the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, to Melbourne Zoo in early 2020, following the devastating bushfires. We're rolling out $200 million in bushfire, wildlife and habitat recovery funding. This includes phase 2 of our $149 million National Environment Science Program.

    Finally, we are updating the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This once-in-a-decade review has listened to over 30,000 voices from across the country, including scientists, businesses, environmental groups, state and territory governments, and our Indigenous Australians. This far-reaching review will work to ensure the act is fit to meet the challenges facing our natural environment.

    It's so important that we make sure we embrace the things that matter to all Australians, and that includes our natural environment. I'm proud to be a member of the government who continually champions environmental protection. Our plans are working, and we'll continue implementing initiatives and policies that will create jobs and protect our natural environment.

    All Australians should lean into ensuring Australia remains a continent that we can all be proud of, one that we can develop and keep safe for future generations, and one that we can all participate in safely and with confidence.

    4:04 pm

    Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    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.

    4:09 pm

    Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (Wentworth, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I welcome the opportunity to address this issue of environmental protection. I share some of the sentiments of those opposite who have concerns about our environment. I think it's undoubtedly true that the massive growth in the world's population and the growth in our living standards and the consumption that comes with that has put a strain on our natural environment. If you look back through history at the population of humans, around the time that settled agricultural societies first developed in 10,000 BC or thereabouts the world's population was about 2½ million people. At the time of Jesus's birth, around 0 BC, the world's population was about 180 million. It grew only slowly after that. It was about 300 million in the year 1000, 500 million in 1500 and one billion people in 1800. The point is that, up until the 20th century, the world's population had never doubled in a century and the world's GDP had never doubled in a century. But in the 20th century we had the world's population not only double once but double twice and the world's GDP did not only double once, twice or three times but doubled four times, in fact. So today we are 7.7 billion people or thereabouts in the world aspiring to and leading in many respects middle-class lives like we live in Australia. Undoubtedly around the world that is putting a strain on our natural environment.

    That is why, naturally enough, environmental protection has been elevated in people's minds as a priority. That takes a number of forms. It's the coexistence with our own natural world. It's the level of CO2 emissions and our contribution to the global climate. It's things like biodiversity and species preservation. It's issues like limiting our waste and it's imperatives like protecting our oceans. I think sometimes when you think of the scale of these challenges it can be easy to give in to despondency. But, piece by piece, step by step and issue by issue, we are making good progress in addressing these issues.

    I thought rather than rehashing some of the arguments that have already been heard today I would just go through some of the things that the government has announced literally within the last two months to address some of these issues. Just after Christmas, on 26 December, we announced a new $4 million body called Stop Food Waste Australia that will bring together some of the brightest minds in supply chain management and food waste NGOs to help tackle the problem and reduce or halve by 2030 the millions of tonnes of food that currently go to landfill each year. Each year, as many here would know, we throw away over seven million tonnes of food at a cost to the economy of more than $20 billion. Every household in Australia, on average, throws away some $3,800 of food a year. So this initiative announced before Christmas will help reduce that.

    In January we announced funding to assist recycling in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. In Victoria we have announced funding to help double that state's domestic glass-recycling capacity and increase plastic recycling by 40 per cent and create over 350 jobs in doing so. In New South Wales we announced $162 million for new recycling infrastructure to help transform the industry there. In Western Australia we announced $70 million in joint funding to drive a $174 million recycling boom in Western Australia. All of these were under our Recycling Modernisation Fund, which is designed to help build a circular economy in Australia, process more of our waste in Australia and extract more value from our waste in Australia—all worthwhile initiatives.

    We are also protecting our built heritage. I was pleased to see the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, in Sydney just earlier this month announcing the addition of a 100-hectare site in Sydney to our National Heritage List, the old part of Sydney known as the Governor's Domain and Civic Precinct, which covers Government House, Hyde Park Barracks, the Conservatorium of Music, the mint, New South Wales Parliament House, Hyde Park and the Domain, making sure that those areas are preserved for future generations.

    Even just this week, in fact, we've announced two important initiatives. The Minister for the Environment announced yesterday that we have joined the Global Oceans Alliance. We are committed to an initiative called the 30by30 initiative, which is intended to provide formal protection to 30 per cent of the world's oceans by 2030. In Australia we are already at 37 per cent of our oceans that warrant this protection. We will be providing assistance to other countries to make sure that they protect their own marine jurisdictions.

    Lastly and one of my favourites is an initiative we announced just yesterday under the National Environment Science Program, using artificial intelligence, technology and the traditional knowledge of Indigenous rangers to help increase the survival rates of turtle hatchlings in Australia's remote far north. So we are doing things. There's no cause for complacency but nor is there cause for despair.

    Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    The discussion is now concluded.