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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 13064


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (11:38): Recently the Hawke review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act tabled its final report. Comments relating to the review were generally very supportive of the EPBC Act. The review looked at the way the act could be reformed to make it operate better. It talked about many of the positive features of the act that should be retained, including clear specification of matters of national environmental significance, the environment minister's role as decision maker, public participation provisions, explicit consideration of social and economic issues, statutory advisory mechanisms and a strong compliance and enforcement regime. I am a little bit concerned that the legislation that may be introduced may weaken the way the EPBC Act operates. I have been contacted by a number of environmental organisations. Particularly in my role as a member of the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts, I have become concerned that there may be a watering down of the EPBC Act, and that could impact on the Commonwealth's role. In particular, the aspect I am really concerned about is handing over approval to the states. As a former local government representative and a former state member, I know the types of issues and the factors that influence local governments and state governments when they are considering planning and development proposals. I think the fact that we have a strong role for the Commonwealth set out in the EPBC Act is a safeguard. I would hate to see that safeguard watered down in any way.

In my own area, I know there have been particular issues that have been referred to the environment minister. He looked at the issues he could and that he had responsibility for and made a decision based on that. You could feel comfortable that it had been examined and looked at in that light. It is really important that the authority that is seeking approval is not going to be the authority that grants the approval. With the states having the ability to make approvals—without the Commonwealth having the role currently prescribed by the EPBC Act—that could happen in some cases.

I am very, very supportive of cutting red tape. To allow the smooth functioning of our economy, I think we should keep red tape to a minimum. But—and this is the important factor—if the cutting of the red tape creates problems then that red tape, those regulations or laws, should stay in place.

I will just give a couple of examples of where the EPBC Act stepped in. One occasion was in 2007. The federal government refused an application to release water from Lake Crescent in Tasmania for irrigation purposes. The release would have impacted on the Ramsar site and the globally endangered golden galaxias fish. The Tasmanian government was supportive of that. Great Keppel Island as well as Jervis Bay are areas where the EPBC Act has been used in the past. I implore the parliament not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is a role for the Commonwealth, and we need to have that role for monitoring requirements as part of the EPBC Act.