Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:30 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Senator Conroy) to a question without notice asked by Senator Waters today relating to the protection of koalas.

I do not know how many folk had the opportunity to see the Four Corners program on the ABC last night, which documented the plight of our national icon. It was very alarming, and it exposed the fact that populations are crashing along those eastern states, particularly in my state of Queensland, where we have seen mulga lands populations and koalas in the so-called koala coast drop by up to 80 per cent in 10 years. That is an unbelievably rapid decline and it demonstrates just how urgent this problem is.

I was pleased that the former Leader of the Greens, former Senator Bob Brown, was successful in getting a Senate inquiry up into the status of koalas and their health and the need for their protection federally. That Senate inquiry recommended some action and ultimately it culminated in the federal minister listing the koala on our threatened species lists. While it was a very sad day for that to have to happen, it does at least mean that the federal government can now do something to try and protect the koala and turn around that trajectory that is on a pathway to extinction. That happened in April this year and it meant that Minister Burke now has the power to do something to stop or to put conditions on big developments in koala habitat that are going to have a significant impact on koalas in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT. Minister Burke, I thought quite wisely and correctly, last night acknowledged on the program that 'the only reason we have had to intervene at all is that the states have on their own allowed numbers to continue to go into free fall'. He is exactly right. Under the states' watch we have seen koala populations completely bottom out and they are on a path to extinction in Queensland and New South Wales.

My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the answer to which I found a little unsatisfactory, was why on earth, when the minister himself is acknowledging that the states are sending koalas to extinction, would the minister give away these new powers that he now has to protect koalas right back to those very state governments that are obliterating koalas and koala habitat? It makes absolutely no sense to me. I was eager to understand the government's reasoning and unfortunately I still remain perplexed as to the logic behind that decision. As listeners might know, in April the Prime Minister capitulated to big business and state Premiers and agreed to hand off much of the federal government powers to protect the environment, hard-fought powers that have taken a good 30 years to gain and to expand. With one stroke of a pen, responsibility for threatened species, for migratory species, for Ramsar wetlands and for National Heritage places was all signed over to the states come March next year.

Folk might recall that last week I spoke in the chamber about the terrible record the states have in upholding their obligations to protect the environment and the fact that they cannot even comply with existing standards to do that. I am absolutely floored and flabbergasted as to why the federal government would have any trust that a government at the state level can do its job to protect the environment. It is something that I think the Australian public would be outraged at. What is the point of stepping up and protecting koalas and then shortly thereafter agreeing to give that power right back to the states, which are sending them on that trajectory of extinction? I will continue to raise this issue as it seems there is no good reason behind the government's position and unfortunately no inclination to change that position.

I would urge Australians who are concerned about koalas or who are concerned about our internationally significant wetlands, our migratory species and our heritage places—the Kimberley is a great example—to write to the Prime Minister, to write to federal minister Tony Burke and to write to their local MP and ask them to reconsider this decision to wash their hands of responsibility for those key icons and key species. The states have shown they will not protect the environment, they will not make those hard decisions, they will simply give developers and miners everything they want. Short-term profits will reign supreme and future generations will feel the loss of those environmental icons. If you are concerned about Australia's environment, please let the government know that they must change their mind about handing off their powers to the states, which will trash the environment and send our species to extinction.

Question agreed to.


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