Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Matters of Urgency

Global Biodiversity Framework

5:50 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

The Senate will also consider the proposal from Senator McKim.

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today the Australian Greens propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

That in order to meet the targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework agreed to at COP15 in December 2022, including conserving 30 per cent of land and sea and halting extinction by 2030, the Government must put an immediate end to native forest logging and the destruction of habitat for new coal and gas projects".

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

5:51 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in favour of the motion we have before us. The Australian government has taken a big step to agree, alongside other nations, to halt extinction right around the world, to protect our environment and to look after our oceans. At the end of last year, at the Montreal biodiversity framework COP15 meeting, Australia participated, in goodwill, alongside all the other nations. Australia signed up to these agreements. We had diplomats there. People spent time debating proposals and clauses line after line after line. The meticulous detail and effort that was put into these agreements was extraordinary—and I'd like to say thank you to all those public servants who put in so much effort. But none of this will mean dot until we start actually protecting the environment we have back here in Australia.

You can't say one thing in Montreal and come home and do another thing here in Australia. If we really are genuinely serious about halting the crisis that faces biodiversity globally and here in Australia, we have to stop destroying our forests, we have to stop destroying our critical habitat and we have to start protecting those very precious places that make our country one of the most beautiful places on earth.

It is madness that we live in a country in 2023 that allows the destruction of our ancient native forests. It's not just madness; it's criminal that it is subsidised by the taxes of Australian taxpayers. It is heartbreaking to see these ancient forests destroyed simply because, year after year after year, election after election after election, no government has been willing to stand up and say: 'No. Our forests need to be protected. Our ancient forests need to be protected.' When we're facing this huge crisis of global warming and biodiversity, we actually need to protect the little that we have left.

The commitments that Australia signed up to at COP15, the world's largest global biodiversity pact to protect nature, were that we would protect 30 per cent of land and 30 per cent of ocean and that we would make sure there are no more extinctions past 2030. Frankly, I think we should be able to say there should be no more extinctions of species from today. We have already lost too many of our native animals. We've already lost too many of our native species here in Australia. We should be doing everything we can to protect them. It is just shameful that we are facing a situation where our iconic koala is about to become extinct because we continue to destroy their homes. The Tassie devil, the Leadbeater's possum and the Australian sea lion in my home state of South Australia—these animals need protection. You can only stop their extinction if you stop destroying their homes.

It costs money to destroy their homes. Australian taxpayers are forking out money to allow logging to continue in our native forests. It is shameful, it is economically reckless and it is environmentally criminal. It would save Australian taxpayers money if we banned native forest logging today—it would save them money. While the government talks about environmental reforms and changes to environmental laws down the track—'They're coming soon'—there is one key thing missing, and that is a ban on native forest logging in this country, and that is shameful.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Hanson-Young. Could you move the motion? It's not necessary to make the speech again.

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator McKim, I move:

That in order to meet the targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework agreed to at COP15 in December 2022, including conserving 30% of land and sea and halting extinction by 2030, the Government must put an immediate end to native forest logging and the destruction of habitat for new coal and gas projects.

And I look forward to other members in this place supporting the motion.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

I meant that good naturedly.

5:56 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm so pleased to be given this opportunity today to rise to speak to this urgency motion because if there is one thing that I'm incredibly passionate about it is the environment and biodiversity. I just don't talk the talk; I walk the walk. When I was a young lad I quit my job at 23, got on a plane and went overseas. I had six months in Africa. I went to see the gorillas in the mist, I climbed Kilimanjaro and I went to see the Serengeti. Likewise, I spent another seven years overseas where I climbed Mont Blanc and Annapurna. I went to those places and saw lots of wildlife across the world.

I am very passionate about protecting our biodiversity, especially here in Australia where we do have a lot of marginal country. I grew up on a property in western Queensland. Ironically I have actually seen the mulga wipe out the mitchell grass. I know what feral pests do to this country. I know that you can have too many wild cats and pigs, for example. I don't have a gun licence anymore, but when I was a young lad we used to go and shoot the pigs because they used to create wallows. Feral cats are a real problem in this country. I can assure you that it's very difficult to keep control of that if you let the mulga run wild in western Queensland.

There are photos of our property back in the early 1950s and 1960s, and it was all open grassland. Today, because we're not allowed to push, the mulga has taken off. One of these days they will drop a match in there and the place will just burn. If you're worried about protecting koalas and things like that, you don't want bushfires going on out there. It won't take off like the gum trees and the eucalyptus will, because it's acacia, but fires have happened out there in the past.

I'm glad Senator Hanson-Young raised the issue of koalas. To sit here and talk about the impact that coalmines and logging will have and not talk about the destruction of renewables is completely one-sided and hypocritical. Our koalas will be under threat from the construction of up to 28,000 kilometres of transmission lines that have to be built to connect the power from all of these isolated remote renewable energy projects. I should say that that property in western Queensland had solar panels in the late 1980s, so I'm not anti using solar panels or whatever at the end of the grid, but I can assure you that it will never work on an industrial scale.

Then we should talk about the sea lions. We have just seen seismic testing in the ocean off New Jersey and a lot of beached whales as a result of that seismic testing. Only the Greens and Labor could come up with some sort of mechanical energy instrument that will kill above the water bats and birds, especially bats, which are one of our key pollinators, and will be a threat to sea life in the water. And it's not just the actual wind turbines that are going to cause problems, these wind turbines are coated in bisphenol A. One litre of that will pollute up to 50 million litres of water. So we don't know what the impact of this stuff is going to be. They're going to have to make sure that there are proper regulations when they put these wind turbines out in the ocean, that this bisphenol doesn't melt or decay away and end up polluting our oceans. So in terms of renewables, they're a serious threat to our biodiversity.

Then of course we come back to the batteries. These are built from rare earth metals. Technically speaking, they're not that rare in the earth's crust but they are very, very fine in the sense that you've got to actually mine so many tonnes of ore just to get one tonne of metal. With lithium, for example, on average that grades between one to two per cent of ore. So you've got to mine 100 tonnes of ore just to get one or two tonnes of lithium. Then, on top of that, you've then got the stripping ratio, where you have to go around and around and around to get to the ore; you don't just drive those big trucks down at a very steep angle. So the footprint of solar panels and rare earth mining on our biodiversity is going to have a massive impact on potential animals going forward. That's not to mention the actual CO2 emissions that are going to come in actually getting this stuff out of the ground.

So I think that before we start turning off our coal-fired power stations—and, by the way, the CO2 that comes from those is actually plant food. What better way to recycle energy than through the natural process of photosynthesis? That's something that I would have thought most of you would have understood because it was taught in grade 8 science. So I say, let's back coal—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Rennick. Senator Grogan.

6:01 pm

Photo of Karen GroganKaren Grogan (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That was quite a fascinating contribution—I'm not sure where to start with it! I rise to address the urgency motion put forward by Senator McKim regarding the need to end native forest logging. I am proud to be part of a Labor government that is committed to strong action on the climate—to address some of the degradation that we've seen over the last decade and more, and to work towards Australia being the country that shows the rest of the world how to build a balanced energy system, to protect the environment and to actually plan for the future: a future that is a net zero future.

We had in December 2022, as was referenced by Senator Hanson-Young, an agreement to some targets at the biodiversity COP15. We also had a very significant agenda to protect the environment, known as the Nature Positive Plan, which will halt environmental decline and repair the damage that has already been done by the former government over the last long, painful 10 years. Do we remember the damning 2020 State of the environment report? It was hidden, probably on top of the firehose and underneath the pile of ministerial appointments. The way that the environment has been ignored and the way that the emissions challenge that we have in front of us has been just swept to the side is awful. But in eight short months, this Albanese Labor government has made significant inroads into trying to turn that around. We have seen so many changes that really are going to get us on the track to put ourselves in a position to be the renewable energy country of the future, which is what we want to be. We must protect our environment along the way and we must put it as a priority, which is what we believe that we have done here.

After that wasted decade, what we're doing in terms of the environment includes our plan for rewiring the nation so that renewable energy is able to be dispatched appropriately across the grid. We will have cheaper and cleaner power. We are looking at a nature-positive plan to rewrite our national environmental laws, which many of us are well aware have been broken for so long. We have a plan for zero new extinctions for this continent. We have a new nature repair market. We are: legislating to protect the ozone layer; doubling the number of Indigenous rangers; protecting Indigenous cultural heritage, in true partnership with First Nations groups; reducing waste; building a more circular economy; and campaigning on the world stage to protect our oceans, support biodiversity and fight for a plastic-free ocean.

We've already, in those eight months, passed legislation targeting 43 per cent emissions cuts by 2030, and we're committed to reaching 82 per cent renewables by 2030. We've had the Chubb review, which found that land clearing accounted for a significant share of our national emissions and recommended that no new project registrations be allocated under that avoided deforestation method. It also recommended that we look at developing new methods that actually incentivise the maintenance of native vegetation that has the potential to be a forest and maintain those existing forests. We've accepted this recommendation, and our safeguard mechanism will reduce the emissions of our largest emitters.

New projects will need to meet specific requirements, including rigorous environmental checks and adherence to the reforms to the safeguard mechanism that we're in the process of making. These reforms are important to limit Australia's carbon emissions. The reforms have received significant support from business, industry and environmental groups. This is going to make a fundamental difference.

6:06 pm

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

At COP15 last year, we saw on the global stage the urgent need to halt and reverse environmental decline. It was made clear at the conference, and it was agreed to. We saw the government reaffirm their commitment to halting extinction. What we need now is action. We don't need more plans to make plans. The thing that we have to get on with is stopping destroying the areas of the environment with the highest biological value.

Continuing to log native forests doesn't make any sense. It doesn't make environmental sense, and it certainly doesn't make economic sense. VicForests lost $54 million last year—that's on top of losses over many years—and has just taken out a loan from Victorian taxpayers for $80 million. The East Gippsland forest management area, the largest in Victoria, is uneconomic for logging and has been classified as noncommercial for more than a decade. But taxpayers are still subsidising logging in these areas, areas that contain these threatened and endangered species that we're supposedly trying to save.

So let's act. We've had scientists tell us for decades what we need to do. When you're in a hole, you stop digging. That's the first step. We have to stop native forest logging in this country. It's no longer good for our communities or for our future. Yes, the timber industry is needed to provide the materials we need for buildings, but that can and should come from plantation forestry. Frontier Economics analysis shows that in south-east New South Wales the plantation industry is worth 160 times the native forest sector and employs far more people. The economic benefit that was from native forests is now in other industries. We have to start moving on. We have to have more imagination for these communities that have been logging towns for many years. Going to the Central Highlands: the value of water and tourism to regional GDP is 25.5 times and 20 times the value of timber and woodchips.

The best way to meet and go beyond 43 per cent by 2030 and net zero by 2050 is to stop cutting down one of the best carbon storage technologies we have. We need to stop cutting down native forests. We can have better outcomes for jobs and income generation, and avoidance of lossmaking that's eventually paid by the taxpayer, by exiting native forest logging as soon as possible. We can invest in logging towns to set them up for the future. It's possible; it's been done elsewhere. The longer we go down this road, the worse it is for these towns, who could potentially be entering into the carbon market and tourism, and the worse it is for all these threatened species, like Leadbeater's possum and the greater gliders, that are threatened not just by loss of habitat but by a warming climate. Many of them are very heat sensitive, and we need to ensure that there are areas of land as big as possible for them to move to and be able to deal with the changing climate.

I implore the government. I thank them for their commitment, but it has to be backed up with investment. We know that this is going to cost money, but it's worth it. We're investing in nature. We're investing in our future. And we're part of nature. If nature goes down, we go down with it. There's no standing outside of it. So I really implore the government, with the upcoming budget, to invest in nature, make good on your promise, because Australians and future generations of Australians are relying on you. And, when it comes to native forest logging, have the courage and have the imagination to bring forward the exit from native forest logging. Bring forward the exit to a new economy, with good jobs in other industries for these towns in regional areas.

6:11 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for the contributions on this motion. I appreciate everyone comes to this debate with a love for our beautiful country and our beautiful environment, and I am certainly one of those people—not only because I live in one of the most beautiful parts of our country but because I am very privileged to be the Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef and I get to experience all of the really important work that is going on there, not just in the water but also in the catchments.

I want to touch on a few of the issues that have been raised, particularly around commitments that have been made to the international community and through COP15 in particular. I share the sentiments of many of the public who are incredibly proud of the work that our government and our ministers have been doing on the international stage to return this country to the negotiating table. We were in a position where, certainly, our reputation under the former government had been destroyed and our credibility on climate and on the environment was in complete tatters. What our ministers have been able to do in various conferences of the parties across the last few months is restore Australia's reputation, and we did that by making sure that Australia was leading from the front, campaigning for strong targets and clear measurements of progress. In doing so we have managed to ensure that, for the first time ever, we have a global agreement to protect 30 per cent of the world's land and 30 per cent of the world's oceans by 2030. That is an incredible achievement and something that our minister for the environment in particular should be incredibly proud of—to restore Australia, in such a short time, to that level of respect and ambition.

These targets are something for us to strive for, and we are doing the work to make sure that we have policies to achieve a nature-positive planet. We have ensured that our nature-positive plan to rewrite our national environmental laws is front and centre of our environmental policy in this early part of our government. I know that, after 10 years, people in this sector and people who care about the environment are really eager to get on with the job. I know, as many people in this chamber understand, that the Samuel review, under the former government, sat there gathering dust. So I know that there is an urgency felt by many people in this place, but can I assure you that this work is happening. It is happening and we are moving forward to make sure that we have national environment laws that protect our forests, protect our threatened species, protect our Great Barrier Reef and protect the jobs that rely on many of these places. We are delivering a plan for zero new extinctions on this continent. We are legislating to protect the ozone layer. We are delivering a commitment to protecting 30 per cent of Australia's land and oceans by 2030.

We're also backing this up with funding. There is $1.2 billion for the reef in the last budget alone. We are funding to save native species, to employ Landcare rangers, to expand Indigenous protected areas and to protect against invasive species. To say that we are not funding this important work couldn't be further from the truth.

This debate, obviously, gives me an opportunity to talk about where we've come from and what we're up against in this country. We know that there is a clear difference between this government and what we're doing on climate and the environment compared to those on the other side of the chamber. It is very important that people in this place understand that the Liberal-National government, when it came to energy and climate, destroyed and delayed 22 failed energy policies. They didn't land a single one. They vetoed renewable energy projects that would have created regional jobs, they hid energy prices until after the election, they joked about Pacific Island neighbours going underwater and they sat on the Samuel review.

They haven't changed now that they're in opposition. In opposition, our friends on the other side of the chamber, the LNP, have voted against emissions reductions targets, against the electric vehicle legislation and against cost-of-living relief for working families on energy, and they will vote against safeguard mechanisms. They continue to ignore the science. It is 2023 out there, but when it comes to the opposition it's still 2003.

6:17 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I really welcome Minister Plibersek's commitment at the Biodiversity COP 15 to zero extinctions by 2030, but the government now needs to act to make this commitment real. Critically, the government needs to act to end native forest logging immediately.

I only have five minutes, so I'm just going to focus on one species that we must protect from going extinct. That's the Leadbeater's possum, or wollert. Wollert live in the tall mountain ash forests in Victoria, just east of Melbourne. They are critically endangered, and the mountain ash ecosystem they live in is critically endangered. They are the most carbon dense forests in the world. The threats to wollert and mountain ash are logging, fires and increased fires due to climate change.

In this speech, I want to quote the experts—the scientists who know these Leadbeater's possums and have been studying them for 30 years. They are the scientists from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University. They did a review of Leadbeater's possum in 2017. It summarised that the retention and recruitment of hollow-bearing trees as the single most important issue for managing the Leadbeater's possum—and many other threatened species. They found that the key habitat resource for Leadbeater's possums, populations of hollow-bearing trees, are in rapid decline. With them, Leadbeater's possum is also declining.

The wollert had a recovery plan between 1998 and 2002 that laid out the actions that needed to happen to stop them going extinct. It hasn't had one since. Why? Because of pressure from the logging industry to keep logging the forests that they live in. At every estimates since I've been in the Senate, and that's now eight and a half years, I've been asking about when we are going to see a recovery plan for Leadbeater's possums. A draft recovery plan was released in 2017. It has yet to be finalised. At estimates last October, I asked again and got the same, lame response: 'The Leadbeater's possum remains a priority species. Minister Plibersek has asked the department to give it urgent focus, and we are looking to finalise the recovery plan as soon as possible.' Minister Plibersek, if you are listening: if you are serious about zero extinctions, there's one action that needs to be taken, which basically is what the recovery plan should summarise—that is, we need to end native forest logging. We need to end the logging of their habitat. We need to end that logging immediately.

The ANU review that was done six years ago noted that the current prescriptions are 'insufficient for the long-term conservation of the species', that the 'majority of hollow-bearing trees are not covered by these prescriptions' and that 'current logging and regeneration prescriptions do not provide adequate protection for existing hollow-bearing trees'. We don't have a recovery plan, because what's been happening has been guided by VicForests and the Victorian government. The review noted:

For the first time, the recovery of a threatened species was tied directly to the maintenance of an extractive industry. The recommendations advised pursuing a range of actions based on unproven recovery measures, while prescriptions likely to be effective in protecting hollow-bearing trees were ignored.

It also noted:

The majority of science conducted by State Government departments and on Leadbeater's Possum, and the resulting reports, generally lacks peer review.

Yet here we've got mountain ash forests. We've got so much to offer in terms of tourism, abundant clean water, carbon storage, recreational activities and biodiversity. But the logging is ongoing—except, however, over the last summer. Because of successful court action by community groups, showing that VicForests has been logging illegally, the logging has stopped. The logging which has been driven by the Maryvale pulp and paper mill for the production of paper pulp has stopped. In fact, it looks like it might stop forever. Media reports in the last days have said:

State government and union sources expect Nippon Paper Group to permanently discontinue production of office paper …

The time is now to be protecting our native forest, to be shifting our timber industry to a hundred per cent plantations, rather than the existing 90 per cent, and to be protecting our precious native forests for everyone.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question before the Chair is that the motion moved by Senator Hanson-Young be agreed to.