Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2023

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Answers to Questions

3:12 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make my contribution to the motion moved by Senator Canavan. We've just seen an example of a government under pressure, a government that's not prepared to argue its own case on its own activities. It isn't prepared to offer a defence of the things that it's doing. It just gets nasty and it just gets personal. That's the only defence that this government has. It rolls up the nasty, cranks up the personal and attacks individuals on this side of politics. That's all it's got.

They can't defend the fact that they are funding the Environmental Defenders Office, which is attacking jobs in salmon farming in Tasmania, which is attacking forestry jobs around the country, which is undermining the work rights and the opportunity to work of workers in this country. Senator Canavan quite correctly identified Mr Fitzgibbon, the chair of the Australian Forest Products Association, as saying:

But it makes no sense to hand taxpayers' money to activists so they can take legal action against the very government that gave them the money.

That's what's happening here. Activists funded by rich donors and, indeed, governments, through the Environmental Defenders Office, are challenging value-creating projects in the law courts. That's what Mr Fitzgibbon said. And that's what this government are prepared to do—to defend. They'll come out and attack Mr Dutton. That's all they have got. But they won't defend their own actions. They won't defend their own policies, because they can't.

Workers around this country—and I can tell you workers in my home state of Tasmania—are furious at the situation they've been placed in, in relation to the salmon industry. That industry is being attacked by the Environmental Defenders Office over a decision that was made by a Labor minister in 2012, 11 years ago. If Minister Plibersek upholds the attack by the Environmental Defenders Office, for the first time it will open up a decision under the EPBC Act for a project that's been underway for that period of time. And what does that mean? It means it will creates a precedent for every single approval under the EPBC Act. That's what the actions of the Environmental Defenders Office in Tasmania against the salmon industry right now will do. That's what this government won't defend: they're not prepared to stand up and defend that. They talk about everybody's voices being heard, but these environmental groups—funded by rich donors who want to make their environmental conscience salved—aren't short of money, and they're taking action all around the country. Potentially, they could undermine every single decision made by an environment minister under the EPBC Act if Minister Plibersek creates the precedent that sits before her right now.

That's a matter for the workers in the $1 billion Tasmanian salmon industry that's under threat through this process, but think of all the other projects. I have spoken to plenty of other Labor figures over recent weeks who understand this in a heartbeat, that, potentially, the precedent set by Minister Plibersek opens up every single environmental decision made under the EPBC Act. That's a genuine threat, and the government isn't prepared to stand up and defend that. Their funding of the Environmental Defenders Office puts all these projects under threat. All they can do is attack Peter Dutton. They're completely and utterly void when it comes to defending their actions. They are now the government; they're the ones making the decisions, and they should be prepared and have the courage to stand up and take responsibility for their decisions. But they can't. They can only do one thing: ramp up the personal, bring out the nasty and attack one individual.

The real issue that's concerning Australians right now is decisions being made by this government to fund the Environmental Defenders Office, which is attacking the jobs of workers around the country. They should be prepared to stand up and defend that process, but they won't—they'll only attack Peter Dutton.


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