Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Indigenous Australians, Environment
I am proud to acknowledge, as this parliament does every morning, that I am speaking on the land of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people; to pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging; and to thank them for the incredible contribution they make to our city and our region, as they have done for tens of thousands of years. I would also like to acknowledge the next generations of First Nations Australians, who will carry forward the incredible diversity of culture and language of the oldest continuous civilisation long into the future. I sincerely hope that our future, and the future of First Nations peoples, is one defined by successful reconciliation, a fully closed gap and a fully implemented Uluru Statement from the Heart, including a constitutionally enshrined voice to this parliament, the successful signing of treaty and treaties, and the undertaking of the important truth-telling process.
I'm proud to be a member of a government that is committed to this future and committed to righting the wrongs of the past. I'm proud to be a member of a government that in this term of parliament will put to the Australian people a referendum to change the Constitution, to recognise First Nations Australians in the nation's birth certificate and to establish the voice to parliament. We're doing this—we're pursuing this important reform—because the Uluru Statement from the Heart was a gift from First Nations people to the people of Australia. It was a clear, consensus-driven statement that does not ask for much, from a community that could have asked for so much more. As the Prime Minister said at the Garma Festival on the weekend:
The Uluru Statement is a hand outstretched, a moving show of faith in Australian decency and Australian fairness from people who have been given every reason to forsake their hope in both.
I'm proud that the government is getting on with implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, as we have been committed to since it was given in 2017. The Prime Minister also outlined at Garma what the likely question put to the Australian people will be, namely and simply:
Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?
I believe that Australians will wholeheartedly embrace this proposal because, in the words of the Prime Minister:
I believe there is room in Australian hearts for the Statement from the Heart.
Uluru is vitally important to reconciliation and to give First Nations Australians a voice on matters that affect them. But this is not an either-or. It's not about addressing closing the gap or the voice to parliament. We need to do both, and they are important in supporting each other.
This is not the only thing that the Albanese government is doing to improve outcomes for First Nations peoples. The Albanese government is completely committed to the doubling of the Indigenous rangers program and to boosting funding to the Indigenous Protected Areas by $10 million a year. We will deliver the promised cultural flows of water in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. We're doing this because we know that First Nations land and water management leads to better environmental, social and economic outcomes. The Labor government will invest in justice reinvestment to turn the tide on incarceration and deaths in custody. Australia has seen the tragic deaths of over 500 First Nations Australians while in custody since the royal commission more than 30 years ago, and we are committed to ending this crisis. We're going to scrap the punitive and failing Community Development Program, and, right now in this House, we're in the process of getting rid of the cashless debit card.
The process of reconciliation is a long one, but Labor is completely committed to ensuring it is done and done right. Whether it be the full implementation of the Uluru statement or the numerous policies we committed to before the election, it's incumbent upon us to do the work, and that's exactly what we will do.
I'd also like to speak in this grievance debate about the State of the environment report, which was recently made public by the new Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek. The report showed that the general outlook for the environment in Australia is poor and deteriorating. It is an environment suffering from increasing pressure from climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and resource extraction. It's an environment that, as the report says, 'holds the key to our survival and wellbeing', and its decline will affect us all. As the report notes:
The natural world is not separate from the human world—it is the source of our food, water, air and raw materials. Our culture and wellbeing are interwoven with the places where we live and walk. Ongoing environmental decline also has negative … impacts on industries, businesses, regions and individuals.
It has been devastating to read these report findings, which were hidden from us by the previous government, including findings that we have lost more mammal species to extinction than any other continent; that Australia now has more foreign plant species than native species; that the Murray-Darling experienced its lowest water level on record in 2019; that the Black Summer bushfires burnt out more than eight million hectares of native vegetation; and that in the past five years alone an extra 202 plant and animal species and 14 ecological communities were added to the threatened list.
The report was buried by the Morrison government. It was handed to the then Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, in December, but it took the new Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, to release it following the election. It was the same with the second Water for the Environment Special Account report, which was handed to the Morrison government in December and buried. Minister Plibersek released it today, and it shows that the 450-gigalitre target cannot be achieved under the current program settings and that the Morrison government had no intention to deliver on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
We know that Australians want better for our unique environment. I know this because my constituents contact me about climate action and environmental protection more than any other issue. The election made it clear that Australians are sick of excuses, and they want action to protect our environment. This morning I had the privilege of visiting the Red Hill Nature Reserve to meet with Landcare volunteers the Red Hill Regenerators. I am always struck by the work of these Landcare volunteers. Many in our community would not be aware of just how hard they work to look after our natural areas—which, in Canberra, our bush capital, are many, in amongst our suburbs. This group was formed 30 years ago and has transformed the reserve from one covered in weeds and rubbish to being a nationally significant woodland which is home to more than 50 regionally rare or threatened species and 12 nationally threatened species. There are amazing groups like this all over the country, and that shows what can be achieved.
Imagine what could be done with national leadership. I am proud that Labor will provide that national leadership on the environment. That's why we have introduced legislation for a more ambitious 2030 emissions target as one of our top priorities in this first sittings. That's why we are establishing an environmental protection agency and making it easier for First Nations Australians to protect their cultural heritage. That's why we will set a national goal of protecting 30 per cent of our land and 30 per cent of our oceans by 2030, joining the global push to safeguard biodiversity. That's why, importantly, we will respond by the end of this year to the Samuel review into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which has failed to protect our unique natural environment and conserve our precious diversity, as it was originally intended to do. This is a really important part of environmental protection. In the last parliament we campaigned against and voted against the then government's legislation. In response to the Samuel review, they wanted to rush through legislation to actually weaken those laws.
It is vitally important that these laws protect our environment in a meaningful way, and this is what people in Canberra, including the Conservation Council, talk to me about on a regular basis. In particular, they're very concerned at the moment about the Lawson grasslands, which are currently under review. There's no point in these reviews if these laws do not actually protect our environment. I'm very pleased that Labor is going to seriously reform those laws and respond to the Samuels review in a proper manner by the end of this year, as is required.
Protecting our environment is core business for Labor, and I am very proud that this government will deliver on this for Australians.