House debates

Wednesday, 21 June 2023


Nature Repair Market Bill 2023, Nature Repair Market (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2023; Second Reading

4:33 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Just before debate is resumed on this bill, I remind the House that the question now is that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Goldstein to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Wentworth be disagreed to.

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

I rise today to speak in support of the establishment of the nature repair market. The Nature Repair Market Bill 2023 will be a significant step forward in the Albanese Labor government's nature-positive plan. I live in one of the most beautiful areas in the world, the south coast of New South Wales. I feel it is my responsibility to help keep it that way. In Gilmore we have some of the most innovative and passionate people you'll ever meet, people who take it upon themselves every day to think of new and improved ways to look after the land that they are the custodians of. The beauty of the land, the people and the culture are just to some of the reasons we need the nature repair market.

This market will provide easier access for businesses, organisations, governments and individuals to invest in projects aimed at protecting and repairing our precious natural environment. The goal is simple: we want to leave the world around us better off for our children and grandchildren.

The Australian government has committed to protecting 30 per cent of our land and seas by 2030. Commitments such as this are crucial, given the horrendous findings of the 2021 State of the environment report, which, to be clear, paints a grim picture of environmental degradation, loss and inaction. To achieve a nature-positive future, we need significant investment in conservation and restoration. We must harness the power of business and private sector investment to reverse environmental decline, and we have all the elements in Gilmore. We just need to harness them, which is what this bill will help us achieve.

Let's talk about a few examples of environmental protection that are happening in my electorate. I grew up on a dairy farm, and through the decades it's fair to say I've seen a lot of change. From my conversations with farmers over the years, it's clear how far ahead of government they are in recognising the impact of our changing climate and the need to adapt for the future. It's this experience we need to harness. Take dairy farmer Rob from Narrawilly Farm and Croobyar Farm at Milton, which has been a dairy farm for more than 160 years. Over the past 30 years, farmer Rob has been busy regenerating the land by planting more than 1,000 trees each year, rehabilitating rainforest and creating wetland areas. Farmer Rob says, 'We are custodians for a short period of time, and I want to leave the farm in a better condition than how I received it.' And farmer Rob is not alone; we know that 94 per cent of farmers are actively undertaking natural resource management, including tree planting, protecting waterways and destocking during dry periods to maintain ground cover.

Further north, in Kiama, one cannot help but be struck by the story of The Pines, Kiama. Established as a dairy farm in 1854, The Pines is a family run microdairy, run by Kel and Mahlah Grey. They manage all facets of farming themselves, using organic, biodynamic, holistic and regenerative farming methods. Using minimal processing with their small and lovingly cared for herd, The Pines makes a range of regenerative dairy products, including award-winning cheese, yoghurt, a range of artisan gelato and, of course, milk. The Pines places a huge emphasis on sustainability and enhancing the precious ecosystem of the farm, where the wellbeing of animals and the land is at the forefront of everything and regenerative farming practices ensure nothing from the farm goes to waste.

These farmers and many like them are ahead of the game because of the decade when we had a government that did not care about climate change and did nothing to support farmers to adapt. The former government stuck their heads in the sand about what climate change means for the future, which is why, after a wasted decade, the Albanese Labor government aren't wasting time. We're going to make it easier for landholders to repair and maintain the land. We're going to help farmers like Rob realise their dreams of leaving the land they work on in better condition than they received it. The Nature Repair Market is going to be a key part in realising the Albanese Labor government's Nature Positive Plan, and I know it'll make a huge difference to the lives of farmers where I live on the New South Wales South Coast.

The proposed legislation will allow the Clean Energy Regulator, an experienced and independent statutory authority, to issue tradable biodiversity certificates to Australian landholders. These certificates can then be sold to businesses, organisations, government and individuals, ensuring participation in the market. It's a tested system and it's going to work. All landholders, including Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, conservation groups and farmers will have the opportunity to participate. The breadth of restorative activity is so broad. It'll be things like weeding, native species planting and pest control, and it will include projects on land and on water, encompassing lakes, rivers, marine areas and coastal environments. I'm sure this will be welcome news for local land care groups, such as Shoalhaven Landcare. They have a very successful fox control program.

Importantly, the Nature Repair Market will create employment and economic opportunities, especially for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. It will promote and uphold the principles of free, prior and informed consent, respecting their connection to country and enabling them to shape projects that reflect their knowledge and values. Just last month, I went on a cultural burn in Mogo. It was incredible. To watch people caring for country and the land was remarkable, all while they were taking the time to explain the burn to community members present. I saw how the Walbunja Rangers and Batemans Bay Local Aboriginal Land Council cared for the land.

This is the type of activity that the Nature Repair Market will support. Cultural knowledge will be recognised and valued as it always should have been.

Managing how and when land burns is so important, and I'll tell you why. Like everyone in our communities, we all went through the horrific bushfires of 2019 and 2020. These fires were devastating on every level. People lost their lives, homes and livelihoods, and the repair bill was absolutely eye watering. But if the land were managed better, like it was by our First Nations people, I think it could have been different. I saw how the bushfires burned out of control through almost 90 per cent of my electorate of Gilmore, but the Walbunja Rangers and the Batemans Bay Local Aboriginal Land Council were able to burn the land recently with ease. In doing this, they were able to ensure that part of the earth wouldn't burn out of control in the future. The Nature Repair Market Bill will allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to participate in a market based economy to deliver services like cultural burns, because they help the environment—they repair nature. I'm excited for the traditional owners of the South Coast to be able to practice these important cultural traditions and to be recognised for their contributions to maintaining our beautiful region. But it doesn't stop there.

I'm excited to see more projects, like the $1.5 million delivered in federal funding from the Urban Rivers and Catchments Program for a project connecting community to Shoalhaven waterways, supporting great local organisations like Shoalhaven Riverwatch and Shoalhaven Landcare. This project will reduce rubbish and pollution and engage bush care groups and bush regeneration companies to re-vegetate the Shoalhaven River. There will also be an education program incorporated into the urban rivers program. Local schools will assist in the regeneration and maintenance of the Shoalhaven River. This will help educate the next generation of people who will live and work in the Shoalhaven. It will also ensure that people in the next generation understand the importance of managing and caring for our waterways like the Shoalhaven river.

From waterways to the skies: I want to revisit a topic that is close to my heart, something that I speak about every year when I attend the birdlife event in Ulladulla. That is the beautiful birdlife we have in the Shoalhaven. Living on the south coast of New South Wales, we are so privileged to be surrounded by the most incredible abundance of bird species. Sometimes, when you live here, you can forget just how special that is. We just take it for granted that we see these unique and rare species in our own backyard. Being surrounded by so much beautiful birdlife is a privilege, but it brings with it a key responsibility to protect and enhance those species that we share this beautiful place with. We as individuals all bear that responsibility. It is hard not to feel passion about that when we are so immersed in it. That's why I always get excited to see the passionate people who come along to talks like at BirdLife Shoalhaven and BirdLife Australia at Ulladulla and Shoalhaven Heads. These are passionate people doing what they can to help our native species. Thanks to all those people for all that you do and for your dedication.

Of course, individuals also rely heavily on a government structure and policy framework that supports and enhances the work they're doing. They should be able to rely on a framework that is working with those who want to protect our species, rather than leaving them to do all the heavy lifting. I'm so proud to be part of the Albanese government because we are taking seriously the responsibility of government's role in this.

When I spoke at the Bird Haven Festival conference in 2022 at Shoalhaven Heads, it was not that long after the 2021 State of the environment report was released—a truly shocking and heartbreaking assessment of where our environment was at. In particular, the impact of the bushfires, an ecological bomb, was stark and obvious. The report outlined immense habitat loss for our threatened species. The report also outlined an eight per cent increase in the number of plant and animal species that were listed as threatened. What was clear was that government needed to do more, urgently.

We didn't waste any time starting that, which is why I'm so pleased to be speaking on this nature repair bill. The previous government wasted enough time, and because of that we need to move quickly. We need to move quickly if we're going to turn this ship around. Luckily, we now have a master at the helm of our ship. The Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, got straight to work and has put some truly incredible notches in her environmental belt over the last year. Her focus is making Australia nature positive: protecting threatened species, boosting recycling efforts, protecting more of our land and oceans, and supporting First Nations communities to manage land, sea and country.

The government is putting its back into managing our environment for future generations. Finally, the environment is back front and centre where it belongs. It is vital that we have strong environmental protection laws functioning effectively this country. We want an economy that is nature positive to help us halt destruction and repair nature, and this legislation is based on just that. The principles are clear: clear national standards of environmental protection, improving and speeding up decisions, and building trust and integrity. For the first time, we will introduce standards that decisions must meet, which describe the environmental outcomes that we are seeking, and the new environmental protection authority will make development decisions and enforce them properly. Putting protection of threatened species and ecosystems at the heart of decision-making, key parts of our nature positive plan include: delivering national environmental standards, improving environmental data and information, progressing regional planning, improving conservation planning, reform of approaches to environmental offsets, and enhancing First Nations partnerships to give First Nations people a stronger voice in our system of environmental protection. The government worked closely and collaboratively with environmental groups and the business community to get to this point. This is well-thought-out legislation, and of course it is backed up and supported by research, by the science. What we're trying to do now is push Australia's environmental protection forward in a positive way for the first time in a decade. The job is big but we are working together to get it right.

I want to take a moment here to thank our community groups. Government would get nowhere without the hard work and dedication of incredible individuals and environmental groups. There are too many groups to name but I would love to give a shout-out to all the volunteer groups maintaining and improving our ecosystems on the South Coast. Recently I had the opportunity to join the team from Seven Mile Beach Landcare for a morning of weeding. Volunteers have been passionately caring this coastal bushland for many years and you can see the difference. I also had the opportunity to see first-hand the work of Boongaree Bush Care at Broughton Creek near Berry, with the planting of trees and the establishment of a reconciliation garden. It cannot be overstated how important our local conservation groups are right across Gilmore. Citizen science projects and educational awareness presentations for the public are so invaluable, sharing knowledge and understanding with local people. I sincerely thank each and every person across Gilmore who has put in the work to improve and maintain our environment.

In conclusion, the establishment of the Nature Repair Market is a transformative step towards a nature-positive future. It aligns with our international commitments, generates investment and job opportunities, and creates new income streams for landholders, including Aboriginal people, Torres Strait Islanders and farmers. It represents a clear break from the neglect and environmental degradation of the past. I urge all members of this House to support this crucial legislation. Let us stand together to repair and protect our precious natural environment for the sake of future generations. I commend this bill of the House.

4:48 pm

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise in support of the nature Repair Market Consequential Amendments Bill 2023, and I want to acknowledge the work of the minister, who is present with us in the chamber, the Minister for the Environment and Water, for her excellent work in this portfolio. The Albanese Labor government is delivering on its nature positive plan with the establishment of the Nature Repair Market. The Nature Repair Market forms part of our nature positive plan to protect more of what is precious, repair more of what is damaged and manage nature better for the future. This market will make it easier for businesses, organisations, governments and individuals to invest in projects to protect and repair nature.

The Australian government is committed to protecting 30 per cent of Australia's land and seas by 2030. The same goals have been adopted globally under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. These goals reinforce the findings of the 2021 State of the Environment Report and its story of environmental degradation, loss and inaction. The report, which is more of a report card with a miserable scorecard, says that the Australian environment is in very bad shape and getting worse. Australia has lost more mammal species to extinction than any other continent. Considering we are an island continent with one government responsible across this wide land for environmental policy, the blame rests solely with those opposite, who presided over this.

It found that, for the first time, Australia has more foreign plant species than native. It found that habitat the size of Tasmania has been cleared. The report found that, with up to 80,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre, plastics are choking our oceans. The report found that flows in most Murray-Darling rivers had reached record low levels.

This decline doesn't happen by accident. Our environment has fared terribly under the Liberals and Nationals. During the last decade that they presided over this nation's environmental policy, they axed climate laws and, despite having a widely supported blueprint to do so, they chose not to fix Australia's broken environmental laws. In turn, they failed to land a single one of their 22 different energy policies. They promised $40 million to Indigenous water, but they didn't deliver a drop. They had a recycling target of 70 per cent, which was stuck at 16 per cent for four years. It shows that those opposite simply set recycling targets with no plan to actually deliver them. Not only did they not deliver on their promises; where they did take action, it was to vote against the safeguards mechanism, a policy they had previously championed. Again, where they did take action, they cut highly protected areas of marine parks in half and they cut billions from our environmental departments.

As the Minister for the Environment and Water said in introducing the Nature Repair Market Bill to the House:

Just because something is difficult, doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. It means we should … do it properly.

It's a real reflection of this government's approach to policy and strong faith in our country and economy, and this government's ability to be able to advance good governance. In this spirit of action and progress, this will be a world first scheme. Under the nature repair market, landowners can be paid for protecting and restoring nature on their land. It will make it easier for businesses, philanthropists and others to invest in repairing nature across Australia. We need significant investment in conservation and restoration for a nature-positive future. Business and private sector investment can contribute to reversing environmental decline. In fact, a recent report found a biodiversity market could unlock $137 billion in financial flows to advance Australian biodiversity outcomes by 2050.

The bill will enable the Clean Energy Regulator, an independent statutory authority with significant experience in regulating environmental markets, to issue Australian landholders with tradeable biodiversity certificates. The certificates can then be sold to businesses, organisations, governments and individuals. There is an economic dividend to environmental policy. We will be supporting landholders, including farmers and First Nations communities, to do things such as replanting a vital stretch of koala habitat, repairing damaged riverbeds or removing invasive species. Importantly, it will enable participation and create employment and economic opportunities for Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. This bill will promote and enable free, prior and informed consent for projects on their lands or waters. It will enable Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders to promote their unique knowledge and promote it on their terms. There will be opportunities to design projects that reflect the knowledge and connection to country of our First Nations people and to utilise their skills and knowledge for a nature-positive future.

This is the power of economic policy that has the economy working for people, and not the other way around. Private companies, conservation groups, farmers and other landholders are increasingly looking for ways to achieve positive outcomes for nature. We want to leave nature better off and help create an Australia that is sustainable now and into the future, with legislation that ensures the ongoing integrity of the market, encourages investment in nature and drives environmental improvements right across Australia. The nature-positive plan reflects our commitment to restoring public accountability and trust, a common feature across the depth of the Albanese Labor government's approach to policy and governance in this term.

What this means in practice is that the bill will enable the Clean Energy Regulator, an independent statutory authority with significant experience in regulating environmental markets, to issue Australian landholders with tradeable biodiversity certificates that are then sold. It means that the bill provides for biodiversity certificates to have integrity and represent a natural environmental improvement. Buyers can then invest in the market with confidence.

Transparency will be a core element of the scheme. Comprehensive information about projects and certificates will be available on a public register. Additional information will be regularly published by the regulator, and there will be the active release of relevant data by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. This will enable parliament and the public to monitor the scheme and provide an opportunity for citizen oversight. It will support certainty and value to the market. This mechanism will ensure that statements made under certificates will accurately reflect the projects and investments they represent and that the projects in the carbon and biodiversity markets are not affected by misleading claims.

The environment is an economic driver. It has always been—whether to repair the diversity for flora and fauna that shapes the natural environment around us, parts of which can be found nowhere else in the world, or whether to do so for the food, livestock and farming that are the basis of trade and our national economy. This is as much an economic policy as it is an environmental one. This recognition is particularly evident through the market mechanism which underpins this bill, which has been outlined.

What of our tourist industry or the drivers of corporate social responsibility initiatives? In my electorate of Calwell, we have the magnificent Woodlands Park and the Moonee Ponds Creek Trail. These are environmental attributes that many schools in my electorate use to educate our next generation about the importance of preservation, about protecting habitat and species and about recycling. Through this bill, this government is giving weight to the environment for a generation of young people who are becoming increasingly concerned about our footprint on wildlife and our natural habitat.

These are issues which concern people amongst our communities who expect government to have a role in creating the mechanisms to invite and to repair and to not only protect what is damaged but create the natural conditions for a habitat to exist where it would otherwise have perished. The government are not just committed to doing things differently; we're committed to doing things right, however difficult things might be. I commend this bill to the House.

4:57 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank all of the members who have participated in what I think has been largely a very constructive debate. I want to particularly thank my colleagues but also a number of the crossbench members of parliament, who have made some suggestions to the bill that I'll be going through later on and who have made very constructive contributions.

Our government is committed to protecting more of what's precious, restoring more of what's been damaged and managing nature better for our children and our grandchildren. That's what this legislation is about. It's about restoring habitats, it's about eradicating pests, it's about improving our soils, it's about helping threatened species, it's about protecting our beaches and it's about making our land more resilient to drought and floods. This bill does this by making it easier for businesses, for philanthropists and for other Australians to invest in projects that repair and protect nature. It will establish the framework that is needed to measure, monitor, report and track these projects.

This scheme will be open to all landholders, including farmers, First Nations peoples, conservation groups and businesses. It will be built on integrity and the best science, with independent experts providing advice as the market develops, and it will contain strong compliance and assurance so that everyone can have confidence in the environmental benefits being provided.

There will be full transparency about the operation and performance of the market and of the Clean Energy Regulator in administering the scheme. The regulator will publish annual reports and be subject to questioning through Senate estimates. It will be subject to regular independent reviews and the scrutiny of the Auditor-General.

Our government is committed to using every available tool to halt and reverse environmental decline. Our latest budget confirms that no government has spent more on the environment than the Albanese Labor government. This bill is another piece of the puzzle, but it's an important piece in a broader nature-positive agenda.

As members of parliament will know, we are developing comprehensive reforms to our environment laws. Last December I set out our government's plans to fix our broken environmental laws. This is a huge undertaking. Work on the design of these laws is currently underway, and the draft legislation will be available for public consultation later this year.

These reforms include changes to environmental offsets. As the government has made clear in its response to the Samuel review of our environmental laws, offsets will only ever be used as a last resort. Offsets cannot make unacceptable impacts on nature acceptable. That doesn't work. Our new laws will make sure that offsets are used to more than compensate for acceptable and residual environmental impacts—like for like—so that nature is demonstrably better off overall.

These changes to our environmental laws are coming, but it's important that we pass this bill now. Once this bill passes, we can start to develop the detailed rules or methodologies that will be needed for projects to proceed. The development of methodologies is not simple. It's not quick. We need to start work on that now. The Clean Energy Regulator will need to set up its systems and recruit the expertise it needs to administer this new scheme. All this will take time. It will take at least 12 months before the scheme is open for business and the first projects can start coming forward. By that time, I certainly hope we will have passed our new Commonwealth environmental laws.

Demand for these projects is something that will also develop and grow over time. Changes to the safeguard mechanism will create new incentives for carbon projects. These projects will include, for example, the planting of trees and the regeneration of depleted landscapes. We want to provide every incentive for these carbon projects to also deliver biodiversity benefits for nature and for the sustainability of our farms to protect waterways, to reduce erosion and to provide habitat for native species. This is what farmers have been telling us that they're already doing and they want to do more of. It's why work on this scheme started under the previous government. Companies are also telling us that they want to invest in nature. It's something that their customers are demanding of them, their shareholders want to see and their staff also want to be part of.

This is part of a global movement because businesses internationally understand that we have a biodiversity crisis as well as a climate crisis. Right now there is a global, industry led initiative called the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures that's helping organisations report on their nature related risks and opportunities. This task force is made up of individuals and organisations with assets of over US$20 trillion. I want to make sure that we have an operational nature repair market properly up and running for when businesses are ready to start investing and managing their nature related risks at scale, and that means we need to start setting this infrastructure in place now.

We acknowledge that this is new and innovative policy. For some time now Australia has been at the forefront of efforts to measure and value environmental services, and that's something we can be proud of. We know there are challenges to delivering on a successful market and it will take time for this market to be established and to reach maturity, but we have to start tackling those challenges now. We need to send clear signals to scientists, to business, to farmers and to other landholders that we want to see more investment in nature repair. Private investment is not designed to replace government investment. It will complement government efforts. It will add private money to the stream of investment our government is already making in nature protection and restoration. As I said a moment ago, no government has invested more in nature than this current government.

This bill will facilitate further private investment and philanthropic investment. It will help connect individuals and businesses that want to be part of that better future to landholders who want to repair and protect our unique environment. It will enable farmers and First Nations communities to be rewarded for their ongoing stewardship of our country.

This bill has been developed in close consultation with many parties—with First Nations groups, with farmers and other landholders, with scientists, with economists, with legal experts, with environmental NGOs and Landcare groups, with businesses, with philanthropists and others who want to demonstrate their environmental credentials, and with investors who want a transparent, regulated, high-integrity scheme for supporting nature repair. We've said we're open to refining and clarifying the bill where appropriate. We've agreed to better define the role of both the regulator and the environment department in supporting participation and shaping the market. We've reinforced the scheme's integrity and transparency to ensure that projects deliver real outcomes for nature. We've made improvements to support First Nations participation in the scheme and better protect First Nations interests in land and restoration of land.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to thank many of the Independent members of this House for their support and for their active engagement in the content of this bill. Many of their suggestions have been accepted by the government, will be accepted by this House and have led to genuine improvements to the bill. The objects of the bill will better reflect the government's goal of no more extinctions in Australia as well as implementing our international obligations through the convention on biodiversity. The objects will be subject to five-yearly statutory reviews that will report on how well the nature market is achieving its goals. Amendments will also give landholders more options for how they participate in the scheme. They'll be able to determine whether or not a biodiversity certificate issued for their project can be used as an offset. Further amendments will improve transparency and integrity by expanding the publication of information both in the parliament and on the public register of projects.

I specifically thank the members for Curtin, Goldstein, North Sydney, Clark, Warringah, Wentworth and Calare for their very active engagement on the Nature Repair Market Bill, for their proposed amendments and, I hope, for their support for this important bill. I thank all members for their contributions and I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the minister. The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Wentworth moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The honourable member for Goldstein has moved an amendment to that amendment, adding words. The immediate question is that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Goldstein be disagreed to.

Question agreed to.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Wentworth be disagreed to.

Question agreed to.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question before the House is that this bill be now read a second time.