Thursday, 30 November 2006
Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006
Debate resumed from 29 November, on motion by Senator Santoro:
That this bill be now read a second time.
upon which Senator Carr had moved by way of an amendment:
At the end of the motion, add “but the Senate:
- expresses its serious concern that:
- the bill is being rushed through the Parliament without proper consideration or consultation,
- the Howard Government has failed to halt the decline in Australia’s natural environment and best agricultural land,
- the bill contains no measures to cut Australia’s spiralling greenhouse pollution or protect Australia from dangerous climate change,
- the bill will increase the Howard Government’s politicisation of environment and heritage protection, and
- many of the proposed changes in the bill will reduce ministerial accountability and opportunities for genuine public consultation; and therefore
I will sum up my comments earlier by saying that, immediately on seeing the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006, Humane Society International and World Wildlife Fund Australia expressed their alarm because the proposed changes mean that the potential of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage to politicise what should be an objective scientific process in assessing the wellbeing of Australia’s threatened wildlife species and habitats will be increased.
When I travel around this nation I see a continent not just in serious trouble as far as the environment is concerned but facing a cataclysmic process of extinction of species and habitats and destruction of the very fabric of life which gave rise to the predominance of we homo sapiens over the planetary biosphere. One of the world’s great thinkers, Stephen Hawking, has mused that it may be that ours is potentially like other planets in the universe, getting to the stage where, by taking over through the growth of intelligence and the powers that there are in the natural living system, we will destroy the ability of life to continue on the planet.
Here we have before us a piece of legislation which seeks to remove responsibilities and powers from the federal minister and the federal government rather than to greatly enhance them. We have just seen the process in relation to workplace relations where, through the corporations powers, the government has used greater powers than ever before to ensure that businesses predominate over workers in the split-up of the nation’s income and the wellbeing of the people of Australia. But when it comes to the environment and the species of this great nation, the reverse is occurring. The bill before us seeks effectively to shed off to the states and the developers not just the powers but the responsibility that the government has for this nation’s cultural and environmental amenity. The greed factor in this age of materialism is marauding our environment and robbing our children and grandchildren—indeed, people around the planet—of their right to inherit a living planet which is sustainable and where people live with the planet rather than off it.
There is no coverage of this debate in today’s press. As I said earlier, we will be considering the legislation tomorrow but the government will gag the debate. It brings home forcefully the delinquency not just of the government but of responsible authorities across the board in not just failing to prevent this cataclysm for the environment in this rich, wealthy nation of ours but turning their back on it. Those who vote for this legislation know what they are doing. They will be turning their back on this nation’s need for much stronger government intervention to prevent that spiral dive into death for so many of the species, so many of the ecosystems and so much of the living face of this continent, let alone the planet. It is disgusting legislation and the government should be ashamed of it. No doubt it will use its numbers to put it through the chamber. History will record this as a dark day for the environment.
I was chair of the environment committee and the Democrats spokesperson on the environment at the time the 1998-99 legislation was set up, in conjunction with the states through the COAG process. The current system of federal powers over approval of major projects that posed a threat to environmental sites and species and ecosystems of national significance was established. I should say that this legislation arose partly from a Senate environment committee examination of federal environment laws back in 1997, I think, when it was first initiated by my former colleague Senator Meg Lees. I chaired that inquiry as well.
The ALP and the Greens opposed the legislation at the time and this placed the Democrats in a balance of power—our preferred position always—a responsibility that we took very seriously. The bill was put to one of the most extensive Senate inquiries over the last decade. We conducted hearings in most states. We received hundreds of submissions. It was a very thorough examination of the proposed legislation. It was contentious. Conservation groups were divided on its merits. The Humane Society, the Worldwide Fund for Nature and many of the conservation trusts were supportive. The ACF, the Wilderness Society and a couple of others were strongly opposed to it.
The process was, however, very useful in the development of hundreds of amendments to improve the bill. Whilst the government has shown only modest interest, if I can put it that way, in implementing its own environment laws, it is fair to say that the EPBC Act is now widely regarded as a powerful piece of legislation that has been used extensively by groups and individuals, including, I note, Senator Brown. The process for scrutinising the bill is in stark contrast, however, to what has happened with this enormous 409-page amendment bill. Many of the changes are technical and minor but others very significantly water down the legislation.
It is not surprising that the government would want to do this. In fact, I am astounded that it has taken as long as it has. The government has had the numbers in the Senate since July to pass whatever changes it wanted, to undo all of the amendments negotiated by the Democrats, if it chose to do that—and some here are certainly in that category. But to give people two weeks to make a submission to the all too commonly short inquiry is, frankly, outrageous. It is a slap in the face too to the hardworking conservation groups that have acted in good faith to make the laws work to protect the environment. That is one of the most disappointing parts of what we are dealing with today. Despite that, the submissions we have received have been very good and very useful.
But it is also a slap in the face to state governments, who were part of the process in the first instance. The Victorian state government say—quite politely, I thought—in their submission that there was no consultation at all with them. They say that they welcomed the so-called streamlining but pointed out that the new fast-track refusal mechanism appears to create new administrative complexity. They say the same about reconsideration of decisions at the referral stage, which they say creates a new degree of uncertainty as to the status of the minister’s decision at this early stage of the process. They point out that section 131AA adds a new process which seeks to oust the proponent’s usual rights to natural justice. They say that the bill would increase the EPBC Act in size and in administrative complexity. They say that they have great concerns about the potential for greater uncertainty, a greater administrative burden and increased duplication in process—so much for this legislation being all about streamlining.
I repeat that there has been no consultation and a ridiculously short time frame, and yet this is largely an administrative and technical bill and not urgent. It is a watering down of hard won gains for the environment. I thought I would draw on the HSI, TCT, and WWF submissions for a quick overview of those changes, because it is important to get them on the record. They all make the point that it would have been more appropriate to have had a public process to fully analyse and consider the different models in terms of an overhaul of threatened species and heritage public nominations processes and invite community input—for example, with a discussion paper. I seem to recall that there was an extensive discussion paper that kicked off this legislation back in 1998. Instead, the community has been presented with a truncated process that seeks to bulldoze the bill through without proper scrutiny and analysis. Unfortunately, we have become accustomed to that kind of process in this place.
On the removal of the merits review, they say that greatly reducing the ministerial decisions that can be challenged by third parties is a backward step. On the removal of the matters of national environmental significance triggers, that five-year review that is in the law at the present time is useful and the government has advanced no reason for removing it. Regarding the constraints placed on the threatened species public nomination and listing process, these conservation groups say that it will potentially wipe 550 threatened ecological communities from the current waiting list for protection under the EPBC Act, amounting to millions of hectares of endangered habitat across the country.
The say that it will make it harder for the public to secure legal protection for threatened species and ecological communities with a new requirement for public nominations to comply with the themes set by the minister or risk having their nominations left off lists for consideration. It will give the minister arbitrary discretion to remove a publicly nominated species or ecological community from the annual list of species to be assessed for listing. Currently, the minister gives his scientific committee repeated extensions to postpone consideration of politically controversial nominations, such as commercial marine fish and ecological communities occurring on private farmland. A new amendment will allow him to remove controversial nominations from the committee’s consideration altogether. It will allow the minister to refuse to assess a threatened species previously rejected for protection, even if its conservation status has worsened and it will also open the process to abuse for controversial species.
On conservation advice and recovery plans, the amendments remove the mandatory requirement to develop a recovery plan once a threatened species or ecological community is listed under the law as threatened. On critical habitat, the amendments remove the mandatory requirement to identify critical habitat for threatened species in any recovery plans that are developed. On heritage nominations and the listing process, they say that this is a major backward step that gives the minister unprecedented discretion over the listing process by constraining public nominations into themes rather than considering the heritage status of the place being nominated. The minister will also have the power to omit politically controversial places from the priority assessment list provided by the Australian Heritage Council prior to the list being available for public comment.
On third-party enforcement, the removal of the provision preventing the Federal Court from requiring undertakings for damages as a condition of granting an interim injunction creates a significant new barrier to third-party enforcement through the courts. Third parties, as they point out, have used the courts very judiciously so far and the government has provided no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the need to repeal section 478. On strategic assessments, they say that while cumulative impact assessment is desirable in principle, the ANEDO submission raises numerous issues that need to be addressed in the amendments to ensure proper consideration of matters of national environmental significance, particularly those that are poorly delineated, such as critical habited for threatened species. All submissions complain about the lack of a new matter of national environmental significance trigger and point out the amendments are a missed opportunity to introduce triggers for broadscale land clearing, greenhouse emissions, unsustainable water use and large dams.
What I thought was interesting in the submissions that were received was the number of complaints about the existing system. The ACF point out that very few resources have been made available for the implementation of this legislation. They say:
The inadequacy of resources available to implement the major provisions of the EPBC Act is evident on a review of the DEH’s Operation of the EPBC Act 2005-06. According to that report, there is a backlog of 640 threatened ecological communities requiring assessment. While the Department received 9 new nominations that year and was considering a total of 33, the Minister made only 5 decisions. The situation is not much more encouraging with respect to threatened species. The Explanatory Memorandum refers to some 250 threatened species recovery plans having been adopted under the Act, but many of these have not been reviewed and are years out of date. In 2004-05, there were scheduled reviews of some 20 threatened species recovery plans, not a single one of which was completed according to the statutory schedule. One reason cited for these delays was the ‘volume of recovery plans becoming due for review’, according to the review of the operation of the EPBC Act for that year. Five out of the six reviews of key threatening process abatement plans were also not completed.
To go on, in the ACF submission, they point out:
A dedicated EPBC enforcement unit within the Department of Environment and Heritage did not even come into operation until 2004, and resources remain modest.
The environmental assessment budget for 2006-07 is $13.8 million—a $1.3m decrease from the previous year, with a further $1.6m to be stripped from the budget for 2007-08. This amount has to cover not only the assessment of 300-500 project referrals every year, but also appears to include all monitoring and enforcement actions under Chapter 4 of the Act, as well as post-referral and post-approval monitoring of compliance with conditions.
The Australian government will thus spend less money in 2006-07 in assessing and monitoring activities that could impact matters of national environmental significance than it will on helping people take their cars across Bass Strait ($36 million), managing asylum seekers offshore ($68 million), or subsidising the consumption of draught beer ($170 million).
This is to point out how little this government really gives by way of priority to the environment.
Another submission on this bill that I think is worth quoting here is from Birds Australia. They say:
It appears that the listing process is becoming more subjective, controlled by decisions by the Commonwealth Minister rather than a clear, transparent, and scientifically based process.
They give an example of this:
... the proposed Section 194 provides for the Minister to create and consider conservation themes to guide the selection process for listing threatened species and ecological communities. There is no clear process for the rationale for these themes and public, or other government, participation in the establishment of these themes.
The status of current waiting lists for threatened ecological communities and species appear to potentially be in jeopardy. It is not clear whether they will be eliminated and a new listing process will start over. This is a serious matter as there are threatened ecological communities and species which are in urgent need of attention. The Minister should not be given the discretion to remove species or ecological communities from the annual assessment lists.
The Minister is given the power to refuse to assess a threatened species which had been rejected for protection in the past. The status of many species and ecological communities may change rapidly because of emergent or intensifying threatening processes. As long as there is a strong scientific basis for reassessment, the Minister should not be able to refuse such an assessment.
Birds Australia do say that there is a positive in this. They point to:
... provisions for industry to contribute funds to and/or actually carry out activities for research and establishment of conservation areas as part of recovery plans for species threatened by a project—
which they describe as an excellent move. However, they go on to say that what is of concern to them is:
... the apparent removal of mandatory requirements to develop recovery plans for newly listed threatened species and ecological communities and the mandatory requirement to identify critical habitats for threatened species in any Recovery Plans that are developed.
They go on to point out the importance of recovery plans for:
... successful outcomes of the EPBC Act and associated State and Local Government Acts and Regulations which promote ecological sustainability.
They are very active, as we all know, in assisting the development of recovery plans. Their members are also very active in carrying out aspects of those recovery plans in the field.
That is just a snapshot of what was able to be prepared by conservation groups for this legislation. I do not see amongst the submissions that were made too much support at all for this government’s approach. It is supposed to be streamlining; it is supposed to be improving the bill. But, as I said, those streamlining measures—the administrative and technical measures that are in the bill—are not urgent, so there would have been time for us to properly consider this legislation. It is a very significant watering down of an agreement that was struck back in 1999 on this legislation. It is typical of the government not to approach the Democrats. The Democrats negotiated in good faith, I might say, Minister Campbell. It was a long negotiating process but it was a thorough one.
We were not afforded any opportunity prior to this bill coming forward to give the minister our views, our opinion or comment on how this affects the agreement that was struck with the government. I think that is a real disappointment. One of the problems is that the government does not seem to realise that, in the future, it may rely on other parties in the Senate to get its legislation through and it may find itself in another position of negotiation. I have to say that I would be far less inclined to enter into a negotiation of that sort knowing what I know now about how ready this government has been to dismiss those agreements previously struck, just because it has a majority in this place.
An example is a trigger in the EPBC Act for greenhouse. This was part of our discussions. An undertaking was given by Minister Hill at the time that a good faith negotiation process would be commenced with the states to talk about a trigger. We saw little evidence that that had happened. Even though there is heightened awareness of the need for us to take serious steps on greenhouse emissions, there is still no admission by the government that this would be a good move. In fact, we have gone backwards in that sense, with the minister attacking the judgement made in Queensland earlier about a coal-fired power station, as I recall, and coming to the defence, again, of the coal industry in a way that is not helpful in dealing with the necessity for us to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 50 per cent by 2050. The minister should be working on ramping up those reductions, because two per cent a year needs to be sliced off our emissions if we are going to reach that target by 2050. A trigger in the EPBC Act, as we knew then and know now with greater urgency, would have helped us to achieve that. But that has not been the case, and it is a great disappointment that we now have a major review of this bill that does not do that but which in fact waters down what we currently have.
I rise to speak in opposition to the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006. As with most of the controversial bills that have passed through this chamber since July 2005, there has been an issue with the time frame in relation to this bill. Again, we see the Howard government rushing legislation through this parliament without proper consideration or consultation. This parliament and the people of Australia should have been provided with a decent opportunity to scrutinise and discuss the implications of the bill, but this government has its own time frame, its own agenda and is determined to have the debate done and dusted in this sitting.
The Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006 is just another example of the Howard government again missing an opportunity to improve on current legislation. It represents a lost opportunity to address the very real challenge we are facing in Australia and around the world: the challenge of climate change. We cannot get away from the fact that this bill is made up of 409 pages of proposed government amendments, and there is not one single mention of protecting Australia from dangerous climate change, nor is there any measure to cut Australia’s greenhouse pollution.
For all its importance, all its consequences and all the time and effort spent on bringing this legislation into this parliament it is disappointing that we have before us a bill that falls far short of the mark. Not only has this government failed to take up the opportunity to improve our legislation but, through the proposed changes, it will effectively weaken the existing legislation. If this bill is passed, it will weaken the protection that the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Australia’s major environment law, provides for Australia’s biodiversity and heritage.
The EPBC Act provides a framework for environment protection for any actions that are likely to have an impact on matters of national environmental significance in relation to World Heritage properties, Ramsar wetlands of international importance, nationally threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species, nuclear actions, the Commonwealth marine environment and places on the National Heritage List. It is our primary environment law. However, the greatest weakness of the EPBC Act is that it fails to address climate change. It is not considered a matter of national environmental significance by this government, and now, when the government has the opportunity to address this issue, it puts forward a bill that fails to do so. It represents a backward step in the protection of Australia’s natural, cultural and Indigenous heritage.
So what else is wrong with the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1) 2006? What are its other weaknesses? Firstly, it repeals the third-party appeal rights against ministerial decisions in relation to the exploitation and trade of wildlife, a right which has existed since 1982. This includes the import of species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, such as Asian elephants and the export of koalas to Thailand. Secondly, it effectively abolishes and archives the Register of the National Estate, which was established by the Whitlam Labor government and which now contains some 13,000 sites of natural, cultural and Indigenous heritage significance. The requirement for the minister to have regard to the register when making decisions will be phased out after five years. Thirdly, the significant implications it has for Australia’s natural and built heritage. The amendments will mean that the minister is to decide whether or not to include a place on the Heritage List. The minister will receive advice from the Australian Heritage Council in the form of an assessment of heritage values of the particular site. However, clause (5) says:
(b) the Minister may seek, and have regard, to information or advice from any source—
in making a decision as to whether a site will or will not enter onto the Heritage List. Ultimately it appears that the minister can completely ignore the advice of the Heritage Council—the experts, one would assume—and take advice from anyone.
The weaknesses in this bill continue with the undermining of public consultation processes and the politicising of decision-making processes. The government will no longer be required to review the matters of national environment significance, the triggers under the act every five years. And the scientific committee will no longer be required to assess state and territory lists of threatened ecological communities.
Concerns have also been raised that the bill may fast-track environmental assessments and approvals of major projects. It also abolishes the right to appeal some ministerial decisions relating to the protection of whales and dolphins, threatened species and other wildlife—all of this at a time when Australia is facing a plant and animal extinction crisis. Twenty per cent of our species are threatened with extinction by the end of the 21st century. Australia now leads the world in mammalian extinctions. So we trail the world in setting the example on climate change and, to our shame, lead the world in mammalian extinction.
Even the unanimous report of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills criticises the bill and the explanatory memorandum, raising serious concerns about the absence of reasons or explanations for some serious new offences and penalties and the decision to limit appeals on ministerial decisions. This bill—409 pages of amendments—should have addressed environmental issues and included measures to cut greenhouse gases and to ensure appropriate assessment of large-scale greenhouse polluting projects, measures to encourage energy efficiency and use of renewable energy and measures to address climate change. But it fails to do so.
On 5 September 2005, the member for Grayndler, Labor’s shadow minister for the environment and heritage, Anthony Albanese, introduced a private member’s bill to establish a climate change trigger under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The climate change trigger would enable major new projects to be assessed for their climate change impact as part of any environmental assessment process and would ensure that new developments represent best practice. We understand that a proposal for a climate change trigger has been with the federal environment minister since 2000. With the introduction of this bill we are debating today and the absence of a climate change trigger within it, are we now to take it that a climate change trigger has been formally rejected by the Howard government?
This government cannot be trusted with the environment. This week’s release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics of its Water Account, Australia, 2004-05 reveals that Australia’s well is running dry. Dam levels across Australia are down to 48 per cent capacity and are as low as 33 per cent across New South Wales and 39 per cent across Victoria. Climate change is clearly having an impact on water supplies, cutting dam levels in cities and water flow into the Murray-Darling Basin. The Murray is at its lowest level in 100 years.
John Howard has wasted a decade denying the existence of climate change. Australia is now facing the consequences of 10 years of denial and inaction from the Howard government over climate change and water. The Murray River is in dire straits. Since November 2003, the Howard government has promised buckets of money to recover water for the Murray but has not delivered one drop. The Murray-Darling Basin Commission website states that, as of 6 November 2006, zero water has been recovered under the Living Murray Initiative.
Climate change and water are two sides of the same coin, and Australia desperately needs a strategy for both. Without a plan to cut Australia’s greenhouse emissions and address climate change, John Howard does not have a water plan.
The Prime Minister does not have a water plan. Climate change is a serious threat, and the Howard government posturing about expensive and toxic nuclear energy is a distraction Australia cannot afford. The EPBC Act has failed to address environmental challenges, and now the Howard government has again failed to deliver to the Australian people on the environment—to our children and to future generations. In concluding, I quote from an article in the Herald Sun this week:
Our spring rains are 80 per cent below average, our dams are drying up, our farmland is parched and cracking, our farmers are killing themselves in despair and still the Australian Government equivocates about climate change.
We oppose the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006.
I note, from conversation with my colleague Senator Stephens, that not one government senator is going to speak in support of this bill. That must say a heck of a lot. I rise to make a few brief comments about the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006. I find much of the explanatory information provided by the government in respect of this bill quite intriguing. The bill’s explanatory memorandum does nothing more than reinforce this government’s track record of spin and misinformation when it comes to the way it governs this country.
The Howard government’s self-serving rhetoric has no bounds. It has become the hallmark of this increasingly lazy, arrogant and corrupt government. In evidence of this statement, I cite the minister responsible for the carriage of this bill. Unfortunately, this snide and arrogant minister has shown no compunction in trashing the environmental health interests of the public when it suits him to do so. The proposed amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, as contained in this amending bill, are clearly designed to pave the way for this government to further legitimise its standover tactics where the environmental concerns of local communities are concerned.
If any proof is needed of the minister’s total disregard for local communities who have sought the minister’s help to ensure that they and their children are not exposed to toxic industry outputs, one has only to look at the minister’s role in supporting the location of a new high-volume brickworks on Commonwealth land at Perth Airport adjacent to residential areas. A real measure of the minister’s arrogance and disregard for community concerns was demonstrated at a recent Senate estimates committee meeting where he claimed, without any prompting and with obvious glee, that the government’s decision to approve the BGC Brickworks at Perth Airport was a non-controversial decision. And I suppose he had to, because on Monday, in question time, in answer to a question by Senator Carr on nuclear power, Minister for the Environment and Heritage Ian Campbell talked about:
… Senator Carr’s comrades, who want to ensure that you roll over local communities and put wind farms where they do not want them.
The only way that Minister Campbell could possibly not think himself shameless would be if, in spite of the 5,000 signatures on the petition opposing the brickworks and the nine times—count them—the local Liberal member for Hasluck, Mr Stuart Henry, got to his feet in the other place to oppose them, he were to believe that the decision to approve the brickworks was actually non-controversial.
The Acting Deputy President:
Order! Please, Minister, do not test the chair.
As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, according to Minister Campbell, it would terrible if the Victorian state Labor government built a wind farm that reduced pollution if local people were opposed to it. But it is wonderful for BGC to build a brickworks that increases pollution, because all of those local people who oppose it, including the local Liberal member of parliament, do not matter. Minister Campbell does not give a fat rat’s what they think, because he has decided that the issue is non-controversial. The fact is that nobody, except for the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, the Minister for Transport and Regional Services and their buddy Mr Len Buckeridge, thinks it is right to build a brickworks less than 400 metres away from a residential area when there are plenty of alternative sites available.
You only have to read the environmental assessment report on the BGC Brickworks proposal by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage’s own department to gain the clear understanding that the Department of the Environment and Heritage did not like the proposal one bit. On page 10, under the heading ‘Departmental view’, the report states:
The proposal to build a brickworks within 155m of the ‘boundaries’ of the proposed brickworks site and the residential areas is inconsistent with the EPA Guidance Statement for Separation Distances between Industrial and Sensitive Land Uses.
The report goes on to state:
The Department also notes that the Western Australian Department of the Environment developed the Brickworks Licensing Policy 2003 to address the adverse environmental impacts of existing and future brickworks, and the Western Australian Government claims that the proposal is inconsistent with its planning policies. Given those factors and the public concern about the proposal, the technical studies provided to date are not considered adequate to address potential impacts.
Of course, such prudent expert advice from the minister’s own department did not deter the minister one bit from throwing his full support behind the BGC brickworks proposal. That brings me to my biggest concern with this bill. There are a number of amending provisions in this bill which remove the right of appeal to have ministerial decisions reviewed by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. We have a minister who has a track record of bizarre and incomprehensible decisions, who was humiliated in court over the shoddy way he went about the orange-bellied parrot wind farm fiasco and whose response is to stamp his feet like a petulant brat and say: ‘Well, stuff you. I’ll just make it illegal to appeal my decisions.’
The Acting Deputy President:
Senator Sterle, please be careful in the way you express yourself about the minister and his motives. Your language is verging on being quite inflammatory.
I am sorry, Mr Acting Deputy President. I am quite passionate, especially when 5,000 people have signed a petition saying that they do not want these brickworks. I do apologise for that, but I must say that it does amaze me. I must also add that, the way this bill is going, we may as well change the minister’s title to ‘King Campbell the Unquestionable’.
It is evident that this minister is intent on constructing a Commonwealth environmental protection regime where commercial interest can far outweigh the environmental health interests of local communities. I draw senators’ attention to page 1 of the bill’s explanatory memorandum, which puts the highest priority in respect of the proposed amendments on reducing environmental assessment, approval processing time and costs for development interests. In other words, the minister is saying that development interests should outrank environment and community health interests in final environmental assessment decision making. At least the minister is consistent.
With the BGC Brickworks fiasco we have seen a demonstration of just how far this government is prepared to manipulate federal environmental law in order to circumvent state environment and planning laws to support commercial interests. In the BGC Brickworks case, the financial interests of Mr Buckeridge and the owners of Perth Airport have won the day over legitimate community concern. The BGC Brickworks case has shown that if you live in a residential suburb adjacent to Perth Airport you can expect the Commonwealth government to sanction the building of toxic and dangerous industry up against your back door. You can also expect to have to send your children to local schools where there is the constant risk of a toxic pollution event emanating from industrial activities on nearby Commonwealth land.
I remind senators that I am not talking about a government decision taken 20 years ago. I am not talking about a decision that was taken 10 years ago. I am not even talking about a decision that was taken five years ago. No, I am talking about a decision that was taken by the federal government this year and which was supported to the hilt by Minister Campbell, as chief protector of the environment of Australia. The explanatory memorandum to the bill includes the statement:
that is, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999—
focuses Australian Government interests on the protection of matters of national environmental significance, with the States and Territories having responsibility for matters of state and local significance.
That would be cold comfort to the people of South Guildford, Rosehill, Forrestfield, High Wycombe and Maida Vale, who live next to Perth Airport. The proposed amendments in this bill give highest priority to fast-tracking environmental assessments and approval processes and to reducing the time and expense of development interests in meeting their environmental protection obligations. In conclusion, I strongly endorse the comments of those senators who have spoken against this bill—and I note that not one senator from the government has. I urge senators to oppose the bill.
The Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006 encapsulates all that is wrong with the current Howard government. Debate began in the other place less than a week after the 409 pages of amendments were tabled in the House, without a Bills Digest and without the informed public discussion that such an environmentally critical piece of legislation warrants. The legislation makes very important and significant changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which in itself, as you would know, Mr Acting Deputy President Murray, is a very long and complex piece of legislation.
It proposes more than 400 pages of amendments to the EPBC Act and yet public comment was limited to the magnificent total of 11 hours of inquiry in the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Labor senators had less than 10 minutes to question each witness who attended. Despite the bill’s importance to North Queenslanders, my constituents—we can gauge that from the number who made written submissions to the inquiry process because of the impact on the protection of the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics, to name two icons in my part of the world—not one individual or organisation from the region was able to appear before the committee.
The way this bill has progressed is just another example of the debasement of political processes, of democratic processes, by the Howard government. But it is worse than that. In the lead-up to the parliamentary debate, the public was deliberately misled about the import and impacts of the bill. For North Queensland, the EPBC Act is critical, and increasingly so, to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef in particular, through the management of the reef by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the Wet Tropics, along with our savannah lands and Cape York.
What is going to happen as a result of the proposed changes to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and this legislation is that the minister, who is well known for putting the Howard government’s political interests ahead of the protection of the environment, will get far greater discretionary power. To provide this minister with even greater scope for abuse of due process and disregard for environmental science and independent advice is dangerous in the extreme. The interface between proposed changes to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and these amendments are so-called by the minister ‘a simple alignment and harmonisation of the two acts’. In effect, the way that that will play out has not yet been analysed properly, but here we are passing a bill that has been exempted from the cut-off, has not had the scrutiny that it requires and has certainly not had the level of input that it should have had from my constituents in North Queensland.
This bill is not only bad for what it does do; it is bad for what it does not do. Its most glaring omission, of course, is climate change. It gives the lie to the Howard government’s claims to be concerned about the impact of climate change. Here was a golden opportunity to actually do something other than add verbally to the emission of greenhouse gases. My colleague in the other place the shadow minister for environment, Mr Anthony Albanese, has suggested that the act should include a climate change trigger—that is, a section that stipulates that new projects must be assessed for their climate change impact as part of any environmental assessment process if the project emits or is likely to emit more than 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent, per year or permits any other action, series of actions or policies that would lead to such an emission outcome. This is eminently sensible policy. It is eminently responsible policy and it is simple to do. But, no, the Howard government will not have a bar of it. The Howard government is content in its arrogance, its laziness and its incompetence to expose North Queenslanders and our natural heritage to all the demonstrable risks of climate change. It is prepared to bet the Great Barrier Reef and the tropical rainforests against the best science in the world and against the evidence that is plainly there.
Just a week or so ago it was reported by Central Queensland University researchers that yet another coral bleaching event had resulted in:
... 100 percent mortality of all hard coral species on the reef flats at Middle, Shelving, Monkey, Miall and Halfway Reefs ...
These are near Keppel Island. The researchers referred to the bleaching as:
... a fairly calamitous event. These reefs copped a fair hiding. They are definitely compromised.
One hundred per cent is a fair compromise, I have to say. This disaster comes on top of the widespread bleaching that occurred last summer, as we know. The impacts of climate change are right before this government’s eyes but it refuses to open them. It is hard of hearing as well. My constituents in the Torres Strait have been crying out for some Commonwealth leadership—any Commonwealth leadership—to deal with the impact of rising sea levels, which put them at immediate risk.
The issue that they want leadership on is a survey to establish baseline geophysical climate data—tide heights, land elevation, potential temperature rises, potential rainfall rises and the like—so that they can start planning for the future. But instead what have they got? They have got misleading information from the minister and the member for Leichhardt. There are 8,000 people who live in the Torres Strait, many of them only a metre or so above the existing sea level, and they cannot even get permanent tidal gauges out of this government to establish present high tide heights accurately. These are islands that were extensively flooded by king tides earlier this year and whose residents are afraid that they will be forced off their island homes by climate change. Only last week, there was a meeting of concerned residents on Thursday Island, in the Torres Strait, and it was reported in the Torres News of last week. The headline reporting of this meeting read ‘Everyone “can make a difference on climate change’’.’
The people of the Torres Strait are trying very hard to reduce their emissions and to think about ways to ensure that emissions from the Torres Strait do not impact any further on events that they predict are about to occur. The leadership is being shown by the people of the Torres Strait—not by this government. This government has done nothing to support the people of the Torres Strait in dealing with a real and emerging concern that scientists say could very well lead to people having to be moved from their islands in the Torres Strait in the foreseeable future. This is not something that is going to happen in a couple of generations time; it is something that scientists say could happen in the very foreseeable future—in our generation. But this government will not even give the Torres Strait Islanders a tide gauge so that they can find out what the tide levels are at the moment.
This legislation was a chance to provide a foundation in the EPBC Act for action against climate change. But the Howard government’s adherence to its free market dogma has meant that the opportunity has passed us by once again. Instead, we have a mishmash of spending that is largely reactionary rather than proactive, we have scientists who do not conform to the Howard government’s view of the world being told to be quiet or else, we have a policy on renewable energy that essentially actively discourages its use in Australia and forces its developers and proponents overseas and we have a pro-nuclear policy that utterly ignores the fact that nuclear energy is not greenhouse friendly and is not economically competitive.
We have a policy vacuum when it comes to carbon trading. We have a Prime Minister and an industry minister making the running on just about every aspect of climate change policy as they thrash around trying to make up for 10 years of lost opportunities. And what is the Minister for the Environment and Heritage doing while this is all going on around him? He is off to China to open a $300 million wind farm that is funded entirely under principles of the Kyoto protocol. Labor says: sign the Kyoto protocol, as a start, and then we can get on with the business of dealing with climate change.
In the 400-plus pages of amendments that this bill proposes, there is not one single, solitary mention of the words ‘climate change’. The environment minister does not want to talk about climate change because of his admission in this chamber that Australia was not meeting its own emissions targets. While he blocks wind farms in Australia and forces Australian renewable technology overseas, our greenhouse emissions continue to soar. Between 1990 and 2004, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose by 25.1 per cent, once you exclude the decisions of New South Wales and Queensland on land clearing—and I commend those governments for taking the hard but required decision on land-clearing matters.
When the environment minister made his admission, he offered no preventative measures. In contrast, Labor will take decisive action to avoid climate change impacts and to prepare the Australian economy for an era in which carbon based energy is in increasingly short supply. We know that signing the Kyoto protocol is just a start, but it is a very important start in dealing with climate change. We will also continue with amendments to the EPBC Act through the climate change trigger mechanism. Any action covered under the trigger mechanism will require ministerial approval—unless the minister decides that the action is not controlled under the act. If the action is approved, the minister can, under the act, attach conditions to the approval, such as the need to mitigate the resultant greenhouse emissions. Labor will also ensure that the minister considers whether the direct or indirect emissions of carbon dioxide that are likely to result from an action will be minimised by the use of best practice environmental management and low-emissions technology.
In effect, Labor will act to ensure that climate change becomes an integral consideration of the EPBC Act. We will add a new objective to the act ‘to protect Australia from dangerous climate change’; we will add a new principle of ecologically sustainable development to note ‘decision-making processes should consider and minimise where possible the adverse effects of climate change on Australia’; we will add a new section 3B, outlining the significance of climate change; and we will add a definition of climate change to reflect the definition of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was established under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The minister for the environment has stated that climate change is ‘a very serious threat to Australia’—yes, we know that—but his actions with regard to the amendments to the EPBC Act show otherwise. The failures of this bill are not confined to climate change. It curtails third-party appeal rights, it undermines public consultation processes and it politicises the decision-making processes. It removes the checks and balances and makes the application of the act much less transparent. The minister, who already plays fast and loose with his powers, becomes much less accountable. Our experience at False Cape in Far North Queensland—an iconic piece of land on Trinity Inlet, in Cairns—has exposed the current limitations in the act. Unfortunately, these amendments will extend those limitations so that any power that the community may have to question decisions made by the government will be further eroded.
The bill contains five separate measures to strip away the right to appeal ministerial decisions before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. They relate to threatened species, migratory species, marine species, whales and dolphins and wildlife trade permits. We have all had correspondence from the RSPCA urging us to change those measures which will strip away appeal rights. Labor will repeal the sections of the bill that remove the right to appeal ministerial decisions to the AAT.
This bill also further undermines our system of heritage protection by abolishing the Register of the National Estate. In its usual way, the Howard government has employed innocent-sounding phrases to hide the real intent of the government. The parliamentary secretary, in his second reading speech, referred to the archiving of the Register of the National Estate. If there were a shred of honesty left in this government, the parliamentary secretary would have said straight out that the register is being abolished. This bill removes the requirement for the minister to have regard to the Register of the National Estate when making decisions, and, five years after the act comes into force, the Register of the National Estate in effect ceases to exist. Labor will move amendments to restore the Register of the National Estate and to require the minister to have regard to the register when making decisions.
This is a sad and sorry piece of legislation. It is a dangerous bill and it is bad policy. It does nothing to extend or entrench the protection of the environment or Australia’s national heritage.
I rise as the 10th speaker in this debate on the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006, and I would like to place on the record, as my colleagues have, that we are yet to hear a convincing case from the government about why this is good legislation. It would seem that not even the government members of the committee that examined the legislation have been prepared to come in here and defend it.
If my time in this place has taught me anything about the political process, it is that each government will be remembered for its stance on only a few of the big issues facing our country. That is why I felt that it was very important to speak about the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2006. Due to the importance of this matter, in discussing this bill I will devote my time primarily to the issue of climate change, as my colleagues have done. However, I do wish to acknowledge the significant procedural concerns that my colleagues and I have both in terms of granting extra power to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage and also about the haphazard way that this bill has been designed and submitted to this place.
In the context of this parliament, climate change must surely be amongst the biggest challenges that we face. The community is certainly aware of the significant predicament facing the world if we remain on a course of environmental disregard. The massive attendances that were seen at climate change rallies earlier this year demonstrate to me that the community at large craves a serious dialogue on this subject—not the token gestures that it has been presented with during the years of the Howard government.
The Prime Minister has been making louder noises than normal about climate change lately. The populist value in the matter obviously has not escaped his highly tuned political radar. But, sadly, when it comes to the crunch, this government has done nothing about one of the biggest issues facing the world. It is not through lack of opportunity, I must stress. I take this opportunity to quote the Prime Minister in a speech he made regarding the 28th South Pacific Forum—a speech delivered in October 1997. He said:
A second significant outcome from the forum was the leaders’ retreat statement on climate change. My objective in discussions on this topic was to promote and protect Australia’s national interest. Some members opposite have criticised me for this, but I am never going to be apologetic about standing up—particularly abroad—for the national interests of Australia.
The Prime Minister went on to say:
Australia’s position is that any regime will be effective only if it is realistic and fair and therefore has a reasonable chance of being implemented. There is no gain for the environment from an agreement which is not worth the paper it is written on because the commitments are not credible and the burden of efforts and cost is not equitably distributed.
This strikes me as a particularly interesting yardstick in determining worth. To the government’s credit, they have stayed true to their word in this case, having not mentioned climate change once in the amendments to Australia’s primary environmental act—not one mention of climate change printed on paper. In 409 pages of amendments, the government could not bring themselves to even utter the term ‘climate change’ let alone devise a solution. I ask the government: did their advisers perhaps tell them that, if you cannot say anything nice, don’t say anything at all? Inaction on climate change and on the environment generally is one of the worst legacies the government will leave.
I acknowledge that devising the right response to such a complex problem is not easy. That said, the Kyoto negotiations and subsequent protocol provided this government with a solution that had the support of the global scientific community. The Prime Minister said this of Kyoto in 2004:
Australia will not ratify the Kyoto protocol until the ratification of that protocol will protect the long-term national interest of this country. We have a very simple proposition. We are not blinded by some mythical belief that by ratifying the Kyoto protocol you are going to bring untold benefits to Australia.
He then went on to say:
The problem with the Kyoto protocol as presently cast is that developing countries such as Russia and China would not be subject to the same strictures as developed countries such as Australia. And if we adhered to the protocol, as requested by the Leader of the Opposition, that would disadvantage the resource industries of Australia because they would incur burdens that the resource industries of countries like Russia and China would not incur. That is the reason why we will not sign.
I see absolutely no reason to believe that the government’s attitude to environmental management has changed. The fact that the amendments in this bill do nothing to acknowledge or deal with the environmental burden of global warming suggests to me that this government does not know, nor cares to know, how to contribute to the global climate change movement.
The recent growth in awareness within the media and the community at large about the importance of this issue has meant that the government must appear to not be sticking its head in the sand. The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, enthusiastically proclaimed to this place last month:
The problem of greenhouse gas emissions, the problem of climate change, is the mother of all global problems. People talk about ‘Think global, act local’. There are a whole range of environmental issues which you can talk about as being global—obviously, ocean type issues and water quality type issues can be quasi-global. But when it comes to greenhouse gases and climate change, a tonne of carbon saved in Australia or a tonne of carbon saved in China has an absolutely identical benefit for the environment.
I hate to rain on the government’s, and particularly the minister’s, parade, but that secret was already out. The trouble for them is that the Prime Minister has consistently, since his election in 1996, dismissed global collaboration in the name of national interest.
As an issue global warming is, as the name suggests, global. The national interests and the global interests are one and the same. Just as we rely on the rest of the world to consider the environment in their industrial practice, they rely on us to do the very same thing. This concept has by no means eluded the Australian people, but on the basis of this bill it still eludes the federal government. My Labor colleagues and I point out these issues not to be nay-sayers but rather to try and achieve a positive outcome for the Australian environment. That is why the shadow minister for the environment, Mr Anthony Albanese, moved a series of amendments to incorporate a climate change trigger into the act.
It is regrettable that the government has turned down this offer of support from the opposition and relentlessly pressed on with its mindset of blissful ignorance. However, that ignorance is sometimes evolving to be a direct denial of the very existence of climate change. On 20 August this year the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Mr Ian Macfarlane, took great delight in declaring himself to be a ‘sceptic of the connection between emissions and climate change’. If that is the view he insists on maintaining, I wish the remainder of his government colleagues luck.
Despite the Prime Minister’s new-found interest in things like solar power and climate change more generally, the truth is that the government is doing nothing to get serious about global warming. This month the Climate Action Network released its annual Climate change performance index, based on the last 12 months. Countries that were in the top 20 assessed performing nations included Malta, Argentina, Brazil, India, Latvia, Romania, Iceland, Lithuania, Morocco and Portugal. Australia, a country that under previous governments has often been an environmental leader, was placed 47th. Even regionally we were a poor performer, with both New Zealand and Indonesia above us in the rankings.
I contrast this to the media release issued by Senator Ian Campbell two weeks ago. Discussing new initiatives being undertaken by the US and Australia—or, for want of a snappier title, the coalition of the polluting, Senator Ian Campbell boasted:
The Australian Government is more interested in taking real action than in simple slogans. Climate change is a serious problem that requires a ‘multi-track’ approach and we will continue to take action through a range of international forums.
I ask this government and the minister: what are these multiple tracks? They clearly are not located within this legislation. If you do not wish to discuss climate change in our primary environmental law, where do you wish to discuss it? Has climate change perhaps become part of the tourism portfolio? Some illumination from my government colleagues would be most appreciated. It would seem that perhaps it is now part of the tourism portfolio, as I am sure we all recall the announcement of Minister Bailey suggesting that we put shadecloth over the Great Barrier Reef to ameliorate the effects of climate change.
I return to the claim that this government has made under successive ministers about Kyoto being an impediment to our economy. Some of my colleagues, including the shadow minister for environment, have already spoken of the missed opportunity to establish Australia as the centre of green technology in the world. Unfortunately, the environmental decisions that have been made by this government have been acts of politics, not governance.
In the case of this bill, we have evidence that this government is making policy on the run. In the month of November alone, the Prime Minister announced projects aimed at climate change objectives under the Asia-Pacific partnership, he demanded a water meeting and he went to the launch of a solar city project. I applaud the Prime Minister for his new-found interest in this topic. A quick scan of the press releases available from his website for the entire year of, say, 1998 reveals not one mention of climate change or global warming. Yet, all of a sudden, we are holding three such events in one month.
The government must surely be feeling generally nimble lately. This bill has been introduced with no exposure draft and with less than a week between its introduction and debate. Most alarmingly, no environmental or heritage groups were consulted in the formulation of this bill. As Senator Siewert pointed out yesterday, it is no wonder that the few environmental groups that supported the government on its first construction of this law have condemned it this time around.
The government in my home state of Western Australia, like all current state governments, has had the guts and the foresight to deal with conservation throughout its whole term, not just when the issue was worth a couple of points in the next opinion poll. The economy in Western Australia is booming, on the back of the strong minerals sector. Under the previous Premier, Dr Geoff Gallop, the state government made the very admirable decision not to develop the Ningaloo Reef tourism site. Furthermore, the government has a tremendous series of programs in place to allow people to start good environmental practice in their local communities. This includes rebates for wood heater replacements, subsidies for solar power within local schools and a very successful water-wise rebate plan. I am proud to say that the Western Australian state government has had a long-held focus on environmental policy rather than the ostrich approach that the federal government had adopted until extremely recently.
The trouble is that short-term interest and irregular piles of money do not make for good long-term results. I assume this bill to have been quite some time in the making, yet the government cannot bring itself to cater for an issue it seems ever so excited about all of a sudden. Temporary fixes are just that: temporary. I ask the government: what is next? What is the long-term plan to become a decent global citizen? When do you plan to start taking this issue seriously?
Of course, I should not limit those questions to the subject of climate change. The recent charade that was the Switkowski nuclear report is proof that the government is willing to handcraft any message that is politically suitable to its agenda. That is the prerogative of the government but, unfortunately for it, the result of reckless environmental legislation—like this piece of legislation—is that the degradation of Australia’s natural resources is becoming more and more apparent. You cannot PR your way out of smog. You cannot spin droughts. Poor green policy leads to poor green results. As the recent spike in awareness shows, people are waking up to the decade of policy inertia we have endured during the Howard government years.
I have been fortunate enough to hear from a lot of my constituents about the environment generally. As I have alluded to before in this place, I distributed a petition calling for a ban on nuclear power production and dumps within Australia, particularly in Western Australia. The response to that petition was nothing short of extraordinary. I am sure that we have seen a cultural shift in our community on the environment. Years of raising awareness through green NGOs and the media has been very well taken up by the general public. The combination of these campaigns and the visible changes to the environment in recent years has obviously led to a genuine concern within our community about the future. If the government insists on pursuing nuclear power, and other such follies, community awareness will quickly turn to community outrage.
Labor will not be supporting the legislation before us today unless our amendments are accepted by the government. We cannot in good conscience engage in a meaningful debate on the environment without acknowledging the biggest problem facing it. Let us be honest with ourselves, if with no-one else. We should be honest with the Australian people and face up to the fact that we have a serious problem. It disgusts many Australians that countries with far greater social and economic challenges than our own are able to take environmental issues much more seriously than we are. The passage of this bill as it is will only epitomise the reasons for that frustration.
I conclude with this observation: the people who raised this issue with me are not left-leaning; they are not even habitually environmentalists. Often they are parents or grandparents worried about the apathy and the incompetence this government displays on environment policy and that that incompetence will have catastrophic consequences for their children and their grandchildren. If the Australian people are thinking about the future, why isn’t their government?
I want to congratulate the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, and his predecessors in the Howard government for the very fine work they have done in protecting and nurturing Australia’s environment. In fact, in 10 years, the Howard government has done more for the environment than all other governments in Australia’s history put together. I often say that this is the greenest government Australia has ever seen. The congratulations for that go as far back as when Senator Rod Kemp was the shadow environment minister prior to the 1996 election. He was followed by Senator Hill, who was undoubtedly one of the most competent environment ministers ever to have graced Australian government, followed by Dr David Kemp, who was a very good environment minister, and now by Senator Ian Campbell, who is doing a very fine job in the portfolio.
Rather than there being policy inertia, as the previous speaker said, the current government has done more things for the environment than any government in Australian history. I could spend the whole 20 minutes of my speech listing the things that this government has done that the previous Labor government never even addressed in its 13 years. I will not do that, because time does not allow me to, but I will mention a couple. Versions 1 and 2 of the Natural Heritage Trust have put more money into the environment, done more good works for the environment and encouraged more people to do work for the environment than ever before in Australian history. I encourage the minister to make sure that, when the third version of the Natural Heritage Trust is considered by cabinet, it is adopted in line with the Keogh report to the government on that particular issue. I certainly hope that the next version of the NHT will be as well funded as the previous two versions.
Through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, this government has been responsible for putting about a third of the Great Barrier Reef under the protection of marine parks, up from about two or three per cent in Labor’s years. Labor talk about this a lot—Senator McLucas often talks about this—but it was the Liberal government that actually put a third of the Great Barrier Reef into marine parks, protecting what is undoubtedly one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Congratulations to the government for that.
If you look at a range of issues you will see that this is a government that has genuinely supported the environment with practical measures that actually do something, not just talk about it. I have not even mentioned the great work that Senator Ian Campbell has done in the areas of whaling and climate change, just to name a couple. The Howard government’s implementation of an oceans policy was not only a first for an Australian government but, indeed, a world first. Australia was proudly the first nation ever to have a recognised oceans policy. I am delighted that, at some time in one of my past careers, I had some significant involvement in the implementation of Australia’s Oceans Policy. It is a very significant document that other countries are now looking at and copying.
In relation to this bill, I share the concerns of other speakers about the timing—not so much of the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts report but of the consultation with those involved in this piece of legislation. I had the same concern with the very significant package of broadcasting bills which came before this parliament. As a member of the committee that looked at both packages of legislation I went along with the government; I accepted that there was a need to bring these pieces of legislation forward quickly. I have to say to my colleagues in the ministry that it will need a lot of persuasion for me to ever accept again that these inquiries should be as truncated as these have been.
I was very distressed on both occasions—during the committee inquiries into the communications package of legislation and this environment package—that people who could have added considerably to the outcomes sought by the government were not even consulted. They were not given any sort of advance warning of the legislation.
Over the years Senator Hill particularly built up a very close rapport with many people in the environment industry—not the ratbag Wilderness Society. You would never want to deal with those people; they are Senator Brown’s mob. They are in it for the politics, to try and defeat a Liberal government. They are not there for the environment; just to make political approaches that will help in their very, very left-wing social view of the world and the very left-wing policies that they put forward.
But there are some groups involved in the environment, whom you would not even call environment groups—people like the national parks associations and WWF. I expect that most people involved with WWF do not vote for us but they have, over the years—through nurturing by Senator Hill and me, as minister for conservation—had an input into government legislation. They understood what we wanted to do, although they did not always agree with it, but they came forward. They were invited to come forward and they were able to point out things that bureaucrats, with all their ability, commitment, intelligence and goodwill, simply had not considered. It was to our credit that we involved these people in consultation—not to defeat the legislation, because most of them understand where the government wants to go, but to come in and contribute to these Senate inquiries.
The same applies to the Senate committee. I have no desire to defeat, alter or misdirect the approach that the government wants to take in this bill. I understand a lot of the reasoning behind the legislation, but it could have been so much better—as could the package of broadcasting bills—if we had involved some of the people at the coalface who could tell us things that our public servants, with all the best will in the world, did not quite follow through on, think about or understand.
So I share the concern of others in this chamber at the process of the investigation into this package of bills. Like other speakers I am distressed that we have not been able to take advantage of well-meaning people. Most of the people who gave evidence were well meaning. There were a couple of the ratbags—a couple from the Senator Brown group who were just there to make a political point—but not many. Most people who came forward and wanted to make a comment had a genuine concern about the environment and a genuine understanding of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. I think they made some very valid points that perhaps we could have pursued. I was horrified, in evidence, to find that one arm of government had not even consulted another arm of government in an area that this legislation touched upon. I will come back to that later.
It is important to get these bills through and it is important to get them through in a timely fashion. I understand things depend upon it. But I think we as a government are short-selling ourselves and not taking advantage of the goodwill and understanding that could help improve the legislation we want to take forward. Like some others, I am distressed that some groups who gave evidence expressed a genuine feeling of betrayal. When this legislation was introduced in the first instance there were groups who were consulted. We did not always agree with them—and I suspect we would not have agreed with them on this occasion—but we did them the courtesy of putting it to them, getting their views and perhaps improving the legislation as a result of those views.
There were some environment groups who, whilst they were not altogether happy with the original EPBC Act, eventually saw the merit of it and became firm supporters. But they were not even consulted on this and they felt a sense of betrayal, which I felt for them as well. I certainly urge upon my colleagues that we should consult more widely and show people the legislation. I repeat—I have said it about five times—that we should do that not to divert the government’s goal or course of action but to improve it and get to the goal in a better way.
I congratulate, also, Senator Eggleston, who did a magnificent job as chair of the committee. He dealt with this in and very constrained timetable. I will not speak for Senator Eggleston but I will say that it is difficult for a chairman to deal with these issues when people want to make an input but simply have not had the time to do it. I recall the evidence of the Law Council of Australia. If ever there was a body that could look through all the clauses of a piece of legislation and quickly grasp it and understand it, it would have to be the Law Council of Australia, which comprises all the lawyers and great legal minds in this country. But even the Law Council of Australia came before us and said that they simply had not had time to look through the legislation, understand every clause and make as good a submission as they would have hoped to have made. I do not think that does our government any credit. Senator Eggleston had to deal with this as chairman. He had to deal with some angry people. He had time constraints—as the committee did—but he was able to very skilfully achieve the task he had been set and got to a conclusion and prepared a very fine report.
I congratulate the staff of the committee. They worked under considerable pressure and time constraints to get the report together. Quite frankly, I do not know how they do it. We as committee members sit there and listen to evidence and we make comments, ask questions and get some views, but someone has to commit it to writing in a sensible way. They have to understand the sentiments of the majority of the committee and prepare a report accordingly. I say to the committee secretariat, led by Dr Ian Holland—those involved are mentioned in the report—congratulations and well done on producing such a fine report under difficult circumstances.
I refer briefly to some of the recommendations in the majority report. Recommendation 1 deals with the government investigating the issue of heritage properties within the ACT that are located on designated Commonwealth land to ensure their protection heritage status is not compromised with the repeal of the Register of the National Estate. I have not, I confess, followed that up. I am not sure whether the committee has met to get the government’s response or whether the government or the department has got back to the committee on that. I certainly hope that the department has taken notice of that recommendation and has addressed it.
If the committee is right in its understanding, this is a classic example of an unintended consequence. Because of the ACT situation, because it is a territory, certain things happened that were not the government’s intention. Hence my point that perhaps with a little wider consultation such things would be addressed. Perhaps there is a government response that I have not caught up with. I hope—I am quite sure it will have—the department has followed up on that.
The second recommendation in the majority report suggests that the minister review the wording of proposed new subsection 179(6) in the light of certain issues. I quote from paragraph 5.64:
The committee does note that there may be an unintended consequence of the proposed amendment to subsection 179(6). The Australian Fisheries Management Authority is required to apply the Australian Government’s Harvest Strategies to all Commonwealth fisheries, and these will be specified in Plans of Management under section 17 ...
The committee went on to point out that with the current proposed wording of that paragraph:
Every Plan of Management developed by AFMA could be considered to be a plan referred to in subparagraph ... If so, this would have the effect (presumably unintentional)—
I would hope it would be unintentional—
of making every species of fish taken in accordance with an AFMA Plan of Management eligible to be listed as conservation dependant under subsection 179(6).
Different people would have different interpretations of this. I am concerned that legislation such as this would have the effect of changing fisheries management into environmental management. We have a very good fisheries management authority, one that is comprised of an excellent and very capable board and very capable staff. I believe that they are able to manage the fisheries in the best possible way. When managing these fisheries, conservation aspects, industry aspects and the sustainability of the fisheries have to be taken into account. No-one knows better than the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the industry that if fishing is not sustainable there will not be a fishing industry in Australia in future. But it needs the experts in fisheries management to determine that, not some department or organisation that is more focused on environmental concerns which sometimes, I suspect, are not appropriate. I hope that the minister and the department have reviewed that wording. I may pursue that a little further at the committee stage of the bill.
Finally, I raise an issue that is dealt with in recommendation 3 of the majority report and that I think other speakers have referred to. It goes to a suggestion that was made to us, and it was not an aggressive suggestion. Evidence came to us that said: ‘The department does a great job. They’ve got some very capable officers there, but they aren’t well enough resourced to do all the things that the EPBC Act requires them to do.’ Without going into a five-day estimates committee hearing I cannot say whether that is true or not, but from what I would call ‘guarded’ or ‘skilfully bureaucratic’ answers that some of the witnesses from the department who appeared before us gave—and I give them every credit for this; they did not want to agree with that and I can understand why they would not, and well done that they did not—I gathered, reading between the lines, that perhaps they share the concern of many people involved in these areas that they are not well enough resourced to do all of the things which the EPBC Act requires them to do. The committee’s recommendation, as a suggestion to the government—hopefully the minister will be able to use that to advance his claims as the budget process starts—is that the government consider whether the department is adequately and appropriately resourced to administer this very fine piece of legislation.
I repeat that I would like to raise some issues at the committee stage. I support the legislation and I support the minister. I also support our government, which, as I said at the beginning, is the greenest government this country has ever seen. I congratulate the minister and wish him every support and encouragement in his continuing role in looking after Australia’s environment.
I rise today to comment on the government’s amendments to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This act is meant to protect Australia’s environment and conserve biodiversity. We have just heard Senator Ian Macdonald telling us that this is the greenest government that has ever graced the parliament. He claims that on the basis of how much money has been spent, not on the basis of outcomes. I would put a challenge to the government. All of the environmental legislation in this country was abolished and put into this one piece of legislation—this omnibus legislation—several years ago and the claim is that it protects Australia’s environment and conserves biodiversity. My challenge to the government is for them to name me one single environmental trend that has improved since this legislation was brought in. It is not about how much money that you have spent—a gambler spends a fortune in the casino every day, but it does not mean that there is any outcome. You can spend whatever you like. I am asking about performance. It is not about how much money you spend; it is about outcomes. Let us hear of one single trend.
Are there any species that have recovered from the brink of extinction—from being critically endangered—since this government came to power? The answer is no. Is there any ecosystem trend that you can point to that is improving, be it desertification, be it wetlands or be it forest communities? Have any species been on the rise or become set for improvement since this legislation came into being? The answer is no. Every single trend, whether you look at coral reefs, wetlands, desertification, salinity, soil erosion or loss of forest communities, is going the wrong way under this government. The Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006 sets things even further back.
We all recognise that biodiversity embraces the entire variety of genes, species and ecosystems that constitute life on earth. It stems from over 3,000 million years of evolution. Humankind is part of biodiversity. Human existence would be impossible without biodiversity. It is crucial to the services supplied by nature. The climate; the provision of water and air; soil fertility; the nutrient cycle; the production of food, fuel, fibre and medicines; our economic competitiveness; employment security; and our quality of life all depend on biodiversity. But what we are witnessing, as I said, is a steady loss of biodiversity right around the planet and no more so than here in Australia. It is of great concern from all points of view. Many scientists are now desperate about the plight of biodiversity around the planet, especially since biodiversity loss is being exacerbated by climate change. Loss of habitat and alien invasive species, exacerbated by climate change, are driving extinctions around the planet at a rate never witnessed before.
We only have to look around Australia to see that. Look at the plight of the Tasmanian devil, for example. It is going to extinction as we speak, and nobody could have predicated even 10 years ago that that would be the case. Look at the plight of the coral reefs. Whether this government is prepared to acknowledge it or not, coral reefs have passed the threshold of dangerous climate change. It is too late for the world’s coral reefs. It is too late for the Great Barrier Reef here in Australia—it has passed the threshold. The acidification of the Southern Ocean having already weakened the corals in the Great Barrier Reef, we are now seeing global warming to the point where we are going to have bleaching events much more frequently than every five years. The reefs cannot recover from that level of bleaching. Evidence has just come in from the Seychelles showing that fabulous reefs have now been reduced to collapsed structures covered in algae. That is the fate in store for the world’s coral reefs. If you have a look in the Stern report, it points out very clearly in one of its diagrammatic pieces of evidence that with an increase in temperature of between one degree and two degrees the coral reefs die, and that is where we are proceeding very rapidly towards because the world is not addressing climate change and, with it, biodiversity loss.
We in Australia have a global obligation to protect biodiversity. We are signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity and we have ratified that convention. We also support—I would hope—the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Millennium goal 7 has incorporated biodiversity as one of the targets. In fact, at its most recent meeting the convention incorporated the 2010 target. Halting biodiversity loss in Europe by 2010 is a target of the European Union. Those countries are taking that seriously. We have the government of Finland together with the government of Germany putting a huge amount of effort into bringing together the multilateral environment agreements and building synergies between the framework convention on climate change and the biodiversity convention and moving that work forward so that when Germany chairs the G8 and hosts the biodiversity convention in a couple of years time that work on biodiversity will be well and truly advanced.
In fact, at the most recent COP on biodiversity, the decision of the COP urged:
which includes Australia—
Governments, international financial institutions, donors, and relevant interGovernmental organizations, as a contribution towards the Millennium Development Goals, to implement development activities in ways that are consistent with, and do not compromise, the achievement of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the 2010 target, including by improving environmental policies in relevant development agencies and sectors such as through integrating concerns relating to biodiversity and the Millennium Development Goals more directly into environmental impact assessments, strategic environmental assessments and other such tools, including at the national level through the national strategies for sustainable and the poverty reduction strategies and programmes.
It goes on to urge:
Parties to report on their actions at the national level to link efforts to achieve relevant Millennium Development Goals and the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity in their next national report;
I will look forward to Australia’s national report to the biodiversity COP on how these amendments to the EPBC legislation do that, because they go in exactly the wrong direction.
I have been a critic of this legislation since it was first developed. I stand by that criticism because there is no place that the government can point to where this legislation has facilitated either environmental protection or biodiversity conservation. In fact, it has facilitated continuing degradation of our natural and cultural heritage. It has not provided any incentive for developers and producers to engage in any voluntary environmental programs. And, as the Australia Institute concluded, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the environmental assessment regime has wasted an enormous amount of public and private resources without realising any significant environmental outcomes. That is my judgement about this legislation as well.
Now the legislation is to be made a lot worse. How is it to be made a lot worse? That has been outlined pretty clearly in a number of the criticisms made by the environment groups. It potentially wipes out ecological communities from the current waiting list for protection under the EPBC Act. That is because of the repeal of section 185.
Section 267 is amended such that a recovery plan is no longer a mandatory requirement once a threatened species or ecological community is listed under the law as threatened. So we are not even going to have recovery plans. How does that fit with our obligations under the CBD to show how national legislation actually facilitates the protection of biodiversity? We are no longer going to have mandatory requirements to identify critical habitats for threatened species in any recovery plans that might happen to be developed. As I pointed out, you cannot maintain a species unless you maintain the critical habitat for it. We are losing many of our migratory species as well because of loss of habitat surrounding loss of wetlands, loss of forest areas, loss of nesting sites and so on.
The new section in the act, 194K, gives the Minister for the Environment and Heritage arbitrary discretion to remove a publicly nominated species, ecological community or key threatening process from the annual list of species to be assessed for listing. The minister can make these changes for any reason that the minister deems appropriate, so any controversial nominations may never in fact be considered for protection. You have the minister now being able to refuse to have assessed a threatened species that was previously rejected, even if its conservation status has worsened. The koala is an example of a species that that might be applied to.
Section 324 is amended such that the nomination process for including places on the National Heritage List is also controlled by an annual thematic process at the discretion of the minister. There is the potential to allow the indefinite postponement of an assessment so that controversial nominations may never be assessed for protection. On and on and on it goes. What this does is effectively say that it is going to be up to the minister to decide what is assessed, when it is assessed, whether there is a recovery plan, whether the recovery plan is ever implemented. I do not know why you just don’t drop the pretence, repeal the whole bill and say that Australia does not have a commitment to environmental protection or biodiversity conservation—and actually be up front. The rest of the world knows full well that that is the effect of the regime that we currently have. It is now even more so because of this particular piece of legislation.
I intend to insert into this legislation by amendment a greenhouse gas trigger. As Senator Macdonald said, Senator Hill did talk about a trigger—in fact, at the behest of the Prime Minister, who, back in the late nineties, talked about putting a greenhouse gas trigger into the legislation. The government went so far as to put out a press release on 5 May 2000 entitled ‘Greenhouse trigger design released’. Senator Hill released the actual design for the greenhouse trigger, but it never went anywhere—it was just buried. Now the government has the temerity to say that this is not a good idea, when in fact it is its own idea that it chose to bury because it chose to do nothing about climate change.
My amendment on the greenhouse trigger goes much further than the half a million tonnes that the Labor Party has put in. That is because climate change is understood to be a much more accelerating and critical issue now than it was back at the turn of the century, a few years ago. We now know that climate change is the critical issue facing the planet and we have to act on it. How can a federal government say it is committed to reducing greenhouse gases nationally if it has no process for assessing the likely impact of greenhouse gases from any major development proposal?
So we have a situation where we have people bragging about the fact that the federal government is supposedly doing something on climate change while, at the same time, we have new coalmines up for approval. Queensland coalmines were approved, and now we have the Anvil Hill mine, which is set to generate 0.1 of one per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions in any one year. That is outrageous. And yet it cannot be considered in terms of Australia’s total emission reductions in the government’s plan because there is no greenhouse gas trigger at the federal level. You cannot be serious about trying to assess Australia’s capacity to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions if there is no capacity at the federal level to look at a development application and see how it might fit in with an overall strategy. So I intend to move that particular amendment.
I also have an amendment in relation to nuclear, to make sure that there are no further loopholes in the government’s legislation in relation to that by making sure that a nuclear waste dump, transportation of nuclear materials and uranium mining and processing facilities cannot be slipped through under the changes that the government is making through its bioregional processes.
I return now to climate change and the greenhouse gas trigger, in particular the appalling criticism in the Australian today of the judge in New South Wales who made a courageous decision in relation to the Anvil Hill mine. What the judge did in relation to the environmental impact assessment was to say that future greenhouse gas emissions should be taken into account in an environmental impact assessment. It is a landmark decision, and for the editor of the Australian to come out and say that this is a narrow ideological decision shows quite clearly that, whatever it says about climate change, the Australian is not serious about any actions that reduce greenhouse gases.
For the benefit of the editor of the Australian, what has to be recognised is that under international law it is illegal for one state to cause harm to another state. That is now codified in international law. Australia selling vast amounts of coal to China and putting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is in breach of the requirement under international law not to cause harm to another state. In fact, in most countries, it is illegal under domestic law for polluters to cause nuisance to the public and put defective products on the market, and damages must be paid. International and domestic law prohibit human rights violations, and domestic laws impose duties on directors of insurance companies or pension funds to act in the best interests of shareholders who may suffer financial harm as a result of climate impacts.
What we are going to see is increasing litigation around the world on the basis of human rights. One hundred million people around the world depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods. Countries that deliberately do not take action to reduce greenhouse gases and that refuse to ratify Kyoto are in breach of any obligations in relation to this matter, and there will be countries that take action against countries that do not do the right thing. Very soon you will see the European Union seeking to use trade law in order to say that profits generated in countries that do not reduce their greenhouse gases in a mandatory way are giving a subsidy to those, and that will be disputed under trade law.
Australia is setting itself up for a major fall here, because the rest of the world will not tolerate free riding, and that is how they see what Australia is doing on greenhouse gases. Every single day there is new scientific evidence. Just yesterday, scientists were talking about the Ross Ice Shelf, saying it has collapsed previously and collapsed quickly. A whole new body of law is being looked at in relation to climate change. Just look at the United States. On 8 April last year the Federal Appeals Court in Washington heard a case brought by two dozen states and others against the US Environmental Protection Agency for failing to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The federal court dismissed the case, but in June this year the United States Supreme Court argued and agreed that it would hear the case. It is still ongoing and the debate it has caused in the US is quite considerable.
So we are going to see the courts doing what governments ought to be doing. The judgement in New South Wales is a courageous judgement. It is completely consistent with what is happening around the world, and we are going to find that cases will be brought against Australian companies under international human rights laws for violating the right to life and livelihoods of people who depend on natural ecosystems because of what those companies and the governments that facilitate those actions permit. I am suggesting that this government is putting the Australian economy and people at risk of financial sanctions, not just ecological outcomes.
We have to have action on climate change. We have to have action to protect our environment and the ecosystems on which we all depend for our life. We get air and water. We get all of these services from the environment but they are being trashed. This legislation is doing nothing to turn around the trends of decline. I want to see some action from the government that will facilitate strong action, not the abrogation of everything to the discretion of a minister who, at his or her own whim, can do as they like. I find it extremely offensive that in this legislation all we see is how much money the government have spent. They cannot point to one outcome of an improved trend in biodiversity conservation. There is not one species that has been taken off the threatened, endangered or critically endangered lists because of the government’s actions. (Time expired)
I thank all the senators who have contributed to the debate on the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006. In closing the debate and in responding to some of the issues that have been raised, I will at the outset make a couple of points. The first point is about coalition senators contributing to the debate. For many years we have had a process in this place where we try to get legislation through. We know that the Labor Party and the Greens quite often filibuster and fill the speakers list and try to delay legislation.
Confronted with repetitive speeches and lengthy debates where literally no new material is added, coalition speakers, unless they have an incredibly special point to make—and we witnessed that today with Senator Ian Macdonald—basically share the government’s view about wanting to get the legislation through. Coalition senators have chances that opposition senators do not have to discuss legislation in the party rooms and other party forums. Unless they need to make a special point, the only contribution a coalition senator makes to the second reading debate on a bill when confronted with endless, often banal, contributions by opposition senators is to delay the passage of the legislation. So coalition senators do the government and, in this case, the Australian and world environments a benefit by not speaking. For Labor to seek to make some sort of cheap, pathetic political mileage out of the fact that the speakers list is filled up by Labor senators making generally banal and pathetic contributions is just that—quite pathetic.
Having said that, I want again to address some of the misleading statements by opposition, Green and Democrat senators. This bill is—and it was described by Senator Allison as such—generally speaking, a piece of administrative and technical legislation. It enhances and improves the environmental and heritage protection of the original act, which was brought into this place by the coalition and is heralded around the world by environment groups and other governments as a model piece of environment legislation for a federation. This bill is, generally speaking, a piece of legislation that makes the act more effective.
To say that we need to go through the sort of process that Robert Hill had to go through to build this historic piece of legislation, for an amending bill, is, quite frankly, absurd. To say that I have not consulted on this bill is not only absurd; it is wrong. I have consulted widely on the detail and on the philosophy of this bill, not only with conservation groups but also with industry. I have also used the benefit of the advice of the department, who have been operating with this legislation for the last few years.
The legislation has achieved phenomenal benefits for the environment. It has achieved a whole range of outcomes in terms of changes to development proposals and systematic consideration of development proposals. At its heart, this legislation seeks to implement one of the visions I have for environmental protection in Australia, and that is for it to have a long-term and sustainable focus. Historically, environmental protection legislation and legislation that seeks to assess proposals that may affect the environment has been done on a project by project basis. That is the environmental legacy we have from state and federal Labor governments, whereby marina proposals, mine proposals, any proposals that have an impact on the environment, are assessed one at a time and rarely, if ever, are the cumulative impacts of developments assessed in the process.
I made a statement last year which elicited an interesting response from the Labor Party. I said that our coast was being salami sliced, that the development of the Australian coast worked on the assumption that it was an endless resource. I made the point that around 80 per cent of the Australian population live within a few kilometres of our coast and that the pressure on this incredibly valuable part of the Australian environment and indeed our heritage was at great risk if the sort of population growth and pressure that occurred over the past 30 years, and the development that occurred over the past 30 years, was allowed to go unchecked.
Mr Acting Deputy President Brandis, in your own part of the world you can look at the coast from, say, the Tweed River system up north to Noosa. Fast-forward from what that looked like back in the 1970s, when you and I went to school in Brisbane, to what that bit of coast looks like now. It has been transformed. The development has virtually taken away much of the vegetation and has had massive impacts on the ecosystems up along that magnificent piece of coast. Anyone trying to imagine what that could have looked like 30 years ago would be horrified. That is not to say that all the development is bad. In fact, a lot of it is very good and a lot of it has been done environmentally sensitively. But there has been that sort of population pressure on a pristine part of the coast, an important part of the coast where there are phenomenally important wetlands and marine ecosystems, in Moreton Bay, up through Pumicestone Passage, up north to the Noosa coast and then down south through Stradbroke and down to the Tweed.
That sort of population pressure is occurring in many other parts of Australia. In Western Australia, Senator Webber will know, there is a similar story. Look at the coastline from, say, Yanchep in the north of Perth down to Bunbury in the south. Compare what that looked like in the 1970s, when Senator Webber and I were going to school, and what it looks like now. Again there has been a phenomenal amount of development. Much of it has been done very sensibly and very sensitively, and I think that coastline is still an incredibly attractive place, but the point I make is that the assessment process has been done development by development and there has not been a strategic framework within which to look at it.
This legislation now achieves what I want to put in place. One of the lasting legacies for the Australian environment of the Howard government will be the possibility to plan 20, 30, 40 years into the future, working with the states and with local government to put in place a strategic overlay for development on a landscape and regional scale for the first time in Australian history—instead of a developer putting a proposal forward, going through the gamut of local and state planning processes and then discovering that there is a threatened species or some other nationally environmentally significant issue that triggers the federal law so that they have to go through another process. The wonderful thing about Robert Hill’s EPBC Act, the Commonwealth EBPC Act, is that it has put in place a mechanism to ensure that the state and federal processes can work side by side and there does not have to be a duplicated process. That is a big achievement. This legislation and the agreement of COAG to get all of the states to sign bilateral agreements so that that process can occur right across Australia is phenomenal.
What we are doing in this bill—and this is the centrepiece of it, apart from changing some processes which we think have hindered environmental protection within the existing legislation—is to allow that long-term overlay strategic development assessment process. This is what we are hoping to achieve, under the legislation, up at the Burrup Peninsula. We want to put in place a long-term management plan there to protect the rock art and the environment but allow the very important LNG industry to continue its expansion. We know in this government that LNG exported to China, to Japan and, let us hope, to North America, where it will replace coal and oil burning, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 30 and 70 per cent.
There will be transformational reductions in greenhouse gas emissions if we can export that LNG, and yet we have the Greens saying that they want to see that development stopped. The Greens say they care about climate change, yet they say that they do not want to export LNG from the North West Shelf. They do not want to expand that operation. They want to stop Woodside’s export of LNG to the world market, which would actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50, 60, 70 per cent. They are saying, ‘We cannot do nuclear.’ I do not know why they say that. It is just a 1960s hang-up or hangover, I guess. They are also saying, ‘We cannot do carbon capture and storage, because we cannot do it quickly enough.’
I remind you, Mr Acting Deputy President, of the seven core technologies to address climate change. There is carbon capture and storage, there is a significant enhancement of the world’s nuclear capacity and there is fuel-switching to natural gas. I think that Professor Socolow at Princeton University said that to achieve a billion tonnes of abatement per annum, you will need 1,400 power stations to switch to natural gas. There are energy efficiency measures, which this government has addressed through world-leading legislation to require the 250 largest energy users in Australia to mandatorily audit their energy efficiency and energy use and mandatorily publish energy reduction plans.
For energy efficiency in the household sector, we have brought in world-leading legislation to put energy efficiency labels on every single appliance. That is for the people of Australia who care so deeply about their environment and who actually take practical action, as opposed to the Labor Party and the Greens, who think that you can just sign a protocol or legislate away greenhouse gas emissions by putting a law through the parliament. They say: ‘Let us stop some coalmines. Let us stop the coal industry, and we will save the world. Just legislate. We will put a line in the legislation, whack it through the Senate and, hand on heart, look the people of Australia in the eye and tell them we have fixed that problem and are on to the next thing.’ It is very lazy and ineffective.
There has been great action on energy efficiency by the Australian government, working in partnership with industry and, of course, working in partnership with the mums and dads of Australia. Every time they go down to Retravision or Harvey Norman to buy a clothes dryer, a dishwasher or a washing machine, they can look at the label and make a decision that is good for Australia, good for the world and is saving greenhouse gases. That is very good. We know that we have to get a 50 per cent improvement in the world’s energy efficiency of its transportation fleet. That is another really important part of the plans that we have in place to abate carbon across the globe. We need to achieve that to get another billion tonnes.
We need to transform the way we use our land. We need to stop deforestation right across the world, and we need to massively increase the planned planting of new forests, so we need to move to zero tillage. As the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, who happens to be in the chamber at the moment, knows, in Australia we are doing very well in that. Under this government, in the past 10 years, we have gone from being a net deforestation nation to one that is moving in the direction of planting more trees than we are cutting down.
Senator Milne, instead of coming in here and whining and carping and instead of going across to Nairobi and talking Australia down, should actually be going across there and saying, ‘Let’s look at some of the good things Australia is doing.’ Under Labor, they were cutting down hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests a year. We have stopped all of that, and now we are planting more. In fact, we are on track to plant the billion trees that former Senator Richardson and former Prime Minister Hawke went down and stood on the banks of the Murray and said they were going to plant. They never did it. In fact, trees were being chopped down on the very day that the photo of them making that announcement was taken. They were chopping down more trees than they were planting. That is another one of the technologies we need. We have to change land use practices across the globe.
So there are seven technologies you absolutely must have, and the Greens have said no to carbon capture and storage. They do not want to capture the carbon, stop it going into the atmosphere and bury it under the ground. This legislation and the government’s action allow us to do that. The Greens say no to nuclear, yet they have the rank hypocrisy to side with the French when it comes to lecturing Australia. They are cheering on the Europeans, including the French Prime Minister, who 10 days ago said that he is going to start taxing Aussie wine. They hate Aussie wine over there in France, because we make better wine than they do. They hate Aussie champagne over there, because we make it better than they do, so of course they want to tax it.
Senator Milne—the hypocrisy knows no bounds—comes in here and talks about coral reef protection, when Australia leads the world with the Great Barrier Reef. We get international awards. WWF gave me a Gift to the Earth award last year because we have protected the Barrier Reef and put in place 34 per cent protection, which the Labor Party are going to tear up. Senator Milne cheers on the French, saying, ‘Vive la France!’ What do they do to coral reefs? We know what they do to coral reefs in the Pacific. She is defending the French. They get 80 per cent of their power from nuclear energy, and Senator Milne says, ‘Oh, we’ll turn a blind eye to them.’ Europe is run on nuclear energy, but she says: ‘They are good fellows. They have signed the protocol.’
As to her own country, which she should be cheering for, she wanders around the halls in Nairobi saying, ‘Australia is so dreadful.’ She hates Australia and she cheers on the French. What do they do to coral reefs? Eighty per cent of their power comes from nuclear energy and they are not happy with that. Their greenhouse gas emissions are going to go nine per cent over their Kyoto target. You do not hear Senator Milne getting up at Nairobi and saying: ‘Look, Australia is trying really hard. I do not actually agree with the Howard government. I think they should do more.’
She could easily say that the Howard government is not trying hard enough, but she cheers on the Europeans and says, ‘Let’s go and belt up Australia,’ and, ‘Three cheers, France, for belting up Australia and blowing up atolls in the Pacific,’—that is how the French look after coral reefs—and she gets three cheers from the Greens. It is appalling.
What she should be asking some of those European countries that she seems to just love is: ‘Why are Ireland 30 per cent over their target? Why are France over their target?’ They have 80 per cent nuclear energy and they are nine per cent over their target. Spain are over their target. Portugal are over their target. Norway are over their target. They are all over their targets, but it is okay; they have signed the Kyoto protocol, so they have salved their consciences! That is the difference between the coalition approach to the environment and that of Beazley Labor and the Greens. This vote shows the quintessential difference. All of their focus is on saying: ‘Oh, look. We are not going to have a five-year review of threatened species plans.’
They would rather spend millions of dollars creating thousands of pages of reviews of threatened species plans, paperwork, legislation, bureaucracy, more jobs for bureaucrats. You would have to keep buying bigger and bigger buildings for my department if these guys were in power. What do we want to spend the money on? We want to spend it on something unique: it is called the Australian environment; it is about protecting our wildlife. We would rather spend the millions of dollars on actually rebuilding habitat.
What is on the record? The record shows that under Mr Keating, under Labor, the last time Mr Beazley was finance minister—he has found green credentials now, he has all of a sudden become a greenie and even started talking about climate change lately; 10 years down the track, Mr Beazley has discovered climate change; it is a bit late but better late than never—Labor spent $390 million a year on the environment. What does the coalition spend? It spent $3.9 billion this year. That is a 10-fold increase on investment.
That is a very fair question. Let us look at what we have got. In a video clip which I saw at his memorial service, Steve Irwin said: ‘What would be a great way to protect the Australian environment? The best way would be if I could just buy it all. If I had enough money, I’d buy the whole of Australia.’ Do you know how much the government have bought? In a phenomenal achievement, through the National Reserve System, under this government we have accomplished the ownership and reserve of 10 per cent of Australia.
She should be quiet; she should be embarrassed by her criticism. Labor spent $5 million on building that reserve system and increased it by one per cent in their time in office. We have spent $87 million and increased it by 25 per cent. There are 21 million hectares of Australia under the reserve system. That is the most phenomenal habitat protection and ecosystem restoration project anywhere on the planet, and Senator Milne cheers the Europeans.
This legislation gives our money, our effort and our partnership a renewed focus. It gets away from saying, ‘Let’s have legislation, let’s have bureaucracy and let’s have more paperwork.’ Let us, in fact, have more action to protect Australian wildlife, protect habitat and actually protect our environment. I commend this bill to the Senate.
That the amendment (Senator Carr’s) be agreed to.
That consideration of this bill in Committee of the Whole be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
With pleasure; we are having trouble with the audio. I think a later hour of the day is a better idea, because it gives us more flexibility. So I will amend the motion that I previously moved and make it ‘a later hour’. I move:
That consideration of this bill in Committee of the Whole be made an order of the day for a later hour.
I want to record opposition to that motion. We have just had the second reading debate and we should, logically, be moving into the committee stages of this bill. This is just a manipulation by the government to have debate on this bill put off until a later hour. We do not support this motion.
As reflected by our vote on the second reading—and as was reflected, I might say, by evidence given to the Senate committee by, amongst others, the Australia Institute—there are positive components in this legislation, and we would like to ensure that they are not lost. I suppose more time for government members to be made aware that there are also negative components in the legislation and to be convinced to support amendments to take them out of the bill would be welcome. Of course, more time for the government to consider the amendments that are put forward, whether by the Democrats, the Greens or the Labor Party, is also fine with us.
I hope that the Minister for the Environment and Heritage takes the opportunity of the extra time that he now has to examine the meritorious arguments behind some of the amendments that are being put forward and considers changing his view so that there is actually a net positive in the amendment legislation. There are a range of amendments to this legislation, and the minister’s suggestion that the bill should come on for a later hour today or tomorrow is fine either way with the Democrats. If it is not going to be amended then he can put it off until next year—and the longer he leaves it, the better.
Ordered that consideration of this bill in Committee of the Whole be made an order of the day for a later hour.