Tuesday, 28 November 2023
Questions without Notice
Environmental Defenders Office
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Water, Senator Wong. Late last year, Minister Plibersek justified granting nearly $10 million of taxpayers' money to the Environmental Defenders Office by saying it was to 'help poor little farmers and local groups saving threatened species'. Given the EDO is now actively threatening, jeopardising and stopping a series of projects of critical importance to Australia, will Minister Wong not only admit that Ms Plibersek's excuses for the grant were wrong but also quantify how many jobs and how much investment in Australia has been lost because of the activities of this Albanese government funded organisation?
First, I would first make the point—and I'm not sure which matters Senator Duniam is referring to—that, if decisions are made in relation to environmental legislation which have an effect on development, they are decisions made by a judicial authority. What he seems to be suggesting is that we should avoid having the law of the land apply, by making sure we don't fund people.
There are times, I'm sure, where I may not, others may not and members of this Senate do not agree with actions the EDO takes, but this is a body that provides legal advocacy. We do believe in the system of the rule of law. We do believe that individuals and entities have a right to be heard in our legal system, and this enables them to do that. I know those opposite want to shut down different voices. I know that's the approach you take. We all remember the gag clauses, don't we, that NGOs were funded with? I know that, despite your talk about freedom of speech, actually the institutions of a democracy, which include people taking legal action with which governments don't agree, are part of our system of democracy.
A point of order on relevance: my question was specifically, 'How many jobs are being lost and how much economic activity is being destroyed because of their funded activist organisation?'
That's an interesting interjection, because the point is: if there are decisions made in relation to development applications, they are made in accordance with the law. These are made in accordance with the law. So what are you saying, Senator? The point is that in our democracy we do have a system in which people can take action, pursuant to the law, even if we don't agree. (Time expired)
The taxpayer funded EDO is now running courses to teach activists how to become relevant persons under NOPSEMA's guidelines. Do you endorse the EDO engaging in claim farming and exploiting consultation loopholes to halt projects like the $16½ billion Scarborough project and the $5.8 billion Barossa development?
I don't take the same view, nor does the government take the same view, as the EDO in relation to the resources sector. But, unlike you, we don't feel the need to shut people down. Unlike you, we actually think that there is a legal system in place which ought protect the interests of all. If there are loopholes, as you assert, then they should be brought to the attention of the legislature and the executive.
Essentially, your position is: 'We want to make sure that people with whom we don't agree don't have the capacity to take action.' We simply don't have the same view as you do about our judicial system and our legal system. My recollection is that those opposite put gag clauses into various NGO funding arrangements. You don't want organisations saying that what the government is doing is wrong. I mean, that's not democracy! (Time expired)
Given the havoc that the EDO—your taxpayer funded EDO—is wreaking on Australia's economy through green lawfare, will the government now do the right thing and withdraw the nearly $10 million of taxpayer money that it is providing to it?
I would make the point in relation to EDO legal actions that, in fact, despite the fact that you didn't want them funded, they launched countless actions against you. The now Deputy Leader of the Opposition, when minister, was challenged by the EDO in relation to a coalmine in north-west New South Wales, a coal project in the Galilee Basin, the Narrabri gas project, land clearing near the Great Barrier Reef.
Senator Birmingham, what is the position that we have to make sure that we silence all voices with which we don't agree? That is the position you take. We on this side have a regard for our democracy.
Yes, we do! We don't feel a need to silence those voices with which we don't agree. I don't agree with some of the actions the EDO has taken; as a cabinet minister and as member of the Labor Party, I don't. (Time expired)