Senate debates

Tuesday, 6 October 2020


Defence Legislation Amendment (Enhancement of Defence Force Response to Emergencies) Bill 2020, Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) Bill 2020; Second Reading

8:40 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—


I am pleased to introduce the Defence Legislation Amendment (Enhancement of Defence Force Response to Emergencies) Bill 2020.

We have seen through last summer's bushfire emergency and through the COVID-19 pandemic that Defence is a critical element of the national response to crises.

This Bill will enhance Defence's ability to respond to natural disasters and other civil emergencies.

The amendments in this Bill will streamline the process to call out the Reserves enabling a more timely Defence contribution to national efforts.

The changes will also provide Defence personnel with immunities, similar to their state and territory emergency services counterparts, when performing duties in good faith to support disaster preparedness, recovery and response.

And the amendments will ensure that Reserve members who serve under a call out order will receive commensurate superannuation to those Reservists who provide the same service on a voluntary basis.

The changes will enable more flexible service options for Reservists and will improve the consistency in the treatment of Reserve members, regardless of whether they have volunteered their service or have been called out to serve.

Schedule 1 amends the Defence Act 1903 to streamline the process by which advice is provided to the Governor-General regarding a call out of the Reserves, including for the purposes of responding to natural disasters or emergencies.

The Bill will allow the Governor-General to act on the advice of the Minister for Defence, after consultation with the Prime Minister, in all circumstances – not just for reasons of urgency.

This will streamline the process for calling out the Reserves enabling a more timely and effective Defence response to national disasters.

Preserving the power of the Governor-General to call out the ADF Reserves will ensure decisions of this magnitude will only be taken when absolutely warranted by the circumstances.

Additionally, the changes provide the Chief of the Defence Force the delegation to determine the nature and period of Reserve service provided under a call out order.

This will give the Chief of the Defence Force the flexibility needed to integrate the Reservists into the overall Defence response.

Minor consequential amendments to the Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001 will ensure that Reserve members will continue to receive the existing protections when called to duty by a call out order.

Schedule 2 will amend the Defence Act 1903 to provide immunities to those Defence personnel supporting disaster preparedness, recovery and response efforts.

The immunity provision covers assistance directed by the Minister for Defence where the Minister is satisfied that:

a. the nature or scale of the natural disaster or other emergency makes it necessary – for the benefit of the nation – for the Commonwealth, through use of the ADF's or Department's special capabilities or available resources, to provide the assistance; and/or

b. the assistance is necessary for the protection of Commonwealth agencies, Commonwealth personnel or Commonwealth property.

This will see our Defence personnel being provided with immunity from civil and criminal liability when they are performing their required emergency response duties in good faith, similar to the immunities provided to state and territory emergency services personnel.

Schedule 3 will make amendments to the Military Superannuation and Benefits Act 1991, the Australian Defence Force Superannuation Act 2015, and the Australian Defence Force Cover Act 2015.

These amendments will ensure Reserve members who provide continuous full time service under a call out order will receive commensurate superannuation and related benefits to those Reservists who provide the same service on a voluntary basis.

These amendments provide greater flexibility in a call out of the Reserves; enable greater consistency in the treatment of our Reserves; and ensure that our Defence personnel have appropriate legal protections when serving our nation in good faith.

I commend the Bill.


The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is Australia's central piece of environmental law, governing environmental approvals, threatened species conservation, wildlife trade, world and national heritage protection.

The Morrison Government is committed to modernising Australia's environmental law so that it is fit to address future environmental and economic challenges. The EPBC Act is now 20 years old and it has never been more important to ensure it provides the right protection for our environment while also supporting our economy and the livelihoods of everyday Australians.

This Bill is the first tranche of EPBC Act reforms linked to the independent statutory review of the Act, which is only the second 10-yearly review since the Act commenced in 1999.

This Bill, the EPBC Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) Bill 2020, demonstrates the Government's commitment to lead in terms of jobs, investment, growth and certainty and transparency when it comes to environmental assessments and approvals.

The Bill streamlines environmental approvals under the EPBC Act by removing duplication with state and territory processes. It does this by ensuring the legally robust devolution of environmental approvals to the states and territories.

These reforms are the first step towards implementing the National Cabinet decision of 24 July 2020, where all states and territories agreed in principle to adopt reforms to move towards a single-touch approach.

Bilateral agreements will be underpinned by strong Commonwealth-led national environmental standards.

The interaction between Commonwealth and state and territory environmental laws leads to duplication in approval processes. It adds unnecessary regulatory burden for businesses which delays job-creating projects and impedes economic activity, and creates uncertainty around environmental protections.

The original design of the EPBC Act envisaged the use of approval bilateral agreements to foster greater cooperation in environmental approvals between the Commonwealth, states and territories.

The Minister for the Environment has issued notices of intent under the EPBC Act and the Government is currently working with all states and territories to enter into approval bilateral agreements to deliver a single-touch approval system. Once in effect, states and territories will be able to make approval decisions that account for both state matters and matters of national environmental significance at the Commonwealth level.

The reforms put forward today provide for the efficient and enduring operation of approval bilateral agreements.

The amendments set out in the Bill will ensure there is no unnecessary duplication, by putting beyond doubt that an action that is covered by an approval bilateral agreement is not required to be referred under the EPBC Act.

Approval bilateral agreements will enable the Commonwealth to 'call-in' an action for approval in appropriate circumstances, including where adequate environmental protection is not being achieved. If this occurs, or if a bilateral agreement is suspended or cancelled, the amendments ensure that projects can be picked up from where they left off. This provides a clear pathway for approval processes and means projects do not have to be sent back to the starting line.

Other amendments in the Bill provide greater flexibility in the type of state and territory environmental approval processes that can be accredited. This recognises states and territories have set up their systems to best reflect their individual circumstances.

In addition, the amendments will facilitate the continuous improvement of state and territory processes, ensuring that those processes can be updated to reflect the latest science and best practice approaches to environmental management.

Today we are taking a major step forward. This is the first tranche of EPBC reform but there is more important work to be done.

Professor Graeme Samuel is consulting on his interim report and will deliver his final recommendations to Government in October on how we can improve the effectiveness of the Act across the wide range of areas it regulates.

The result for the community from this Bill will be a more streamlined and clear process than what currently exists, providing greater certainty around environmental protections.

People want to know we have clear safeguards for protecting the environment. Business wants to know the parameters in which it can responsibly operate. And Government needs to be reassured it is managing an efficient process of environmental checks and balances for future generations.

These reforms will unlock job-creating projects that will strengthen the economy and aid our COVID-19 economic recovery, without compromising Australia's unique environment.

Debate adjourned.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.