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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6211

Mr JENKINS (Scullin) (16:52): It is my pleasure to rise in support of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts report Managing Australia's biodiversity in a changing climate: the way forward Vol. 3. The importance of this report is that it outlines what the future might bring for Australia's biodiversity from continuing climate change. It attempts to put forward to government suggestions of the vital base metrics that we need to ensure that we have. It looks at ways in which we can cooperate with the states and many of the boards and mechanisms that they have. And, like a lot of reports across the parliament, it suggests that we should make sure that this level of government, the Australian government, takes responsibility for the coordination of these things.

I am going to be slightly indulgent in talking about this report because for me it is the end of 20-plus years on a committee of the ilk of the climate change, environment and the arts committee. I was lucky enough to be made a member of the then House of Representatives Environment Committee after the 1987 election. This report I have in my hand—on the use of ionising radiation—was from one of the first inquiries I was involved in. The committee looked at the uses of irradiation, which, in the main, continue to be medical uses such as sterilisation. But back in 1988 it was suggested that it ought to be used on foodstuffs to increase their shelf life. Of course, this was very controversial at the time because of the way in which we viewed the use of anything nuclear. This was a very interesting report because it very much epitomised the work of the committee by bringing parliament to the people and also bringing people closer to the parliament so that they could have interaction. From 1988 up until the 2007 election, I was a member of the committee in all its guises.

The importance of the environment committee is that it is probably the longest running portfolio committee of the House of Representatives. Under different titles, there has always been, from the early seventies, a standing committee on the environment and conservation. This is not totally relevant, but I am happy to say I did not avoid making history, following in my father's footsteps and in the footsteps of my predecessor as the member for Scullin. This was one of his passions. He was very lucky to be on the House environment committee back in those years, and it was something that he thoroughly enjoyed.

When we revised the committee system in the late eighties to create about eight portfolio committees—and everybody got the opportunity to be involved in portfolio committees that were their great interest—I was lucky enough to continue on the environment committee. There have been many, many inquiries, like the current one on the effect on biodiversity of climate change that we are just concluding here, that I think have made a great impact. An early enquiry was into land degradation. Being from Victoria, where Landcare committees were up and running even at that time, it was great to be able to harness the knowledge that we got from observing what had happened with community based Landcare committees in Victoria, and expanding the Landcare movement right throughout Australia.

I think, Deputy Speaker, you would understand the importance and the great work that the many, many community Landcare committees have done, and the way in which that has blossomed into catchment management committees and other guises, which have involved local communities in delivering things that a national government see as important. I am one that is always urging that we have a national outlook, a national policy. But I also understand that that cannot be delivered nationally—that it has to be that we know the mechanisms that are on the ground that will achieve it.

We went from looking at land degradation to looking at coastal management—much the same. It was to be able to sit down with local communities to look at what they thought was the best way to tackle the types of coastal systems that they were dealing with. Again, I think we learnt a lot from our Landcare movement and looking at coastal care organisations. Along the way, we took a holistic approach to the work of the environment committee. I remember, in the coastal management committee, looking at ways in which we could get training and employment opportunities because of the work of the local communities. The local communities are dependent upon their volunteer input but are also a good source for very good experience—especially for young Australians, to learn skills that they can then take into future employment. It is very good to see the member for Hasluck here.

On land degradation and coastal management, one of the things that was absolutely clear was that we had an untapped resource in Indigenous Australians and their approach to these issues, in being able to understand the environment and to use that knowledge of the environment to put in place management systems. That might be one aspect of the work that we highlighted that has been slower in the uptake. But I am really, really pleased that on a lot of issues—for instance, those that surround our approach to tackling climate change, especially in remote communities—we are using the local communities, which in those areas are Indigenous. We have got really great value from those communities because they actually understand what it is to be at one with the environment and to steward that in a very positive way. They understand the differences that are created. If you look through the three volumes of work of the biodiversity inquiry and climate change, that is something that has come through in our investigations throughout that.

To give a hint to the member for Kooyong, I will finally mention one more report. In my time on the environment committee, this was the inquiry that had the most direct impact on the electorate of Scullin, which I have been fortunate enough to represent in this place for such a long time. The Sustainable cities inquiry report was tabled back in August 2005. That was when the committee had returned to being just the Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage—it had previously been the Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts—so we had returned to our core business. I emphasise the narrowcast nature of the name of the committee, environment and heritage; we did not have the arts or anything else involved. This inquiry really adopted a holistic approach to the way in which we should develop our cities sustainably. It could have been that a committee on the environment and heritage would simply look at the ecological footprint of cities, but we decided that it should operate in a more holistic manner. That was made easier because, as I said earlier in this contribution, through the parliamentary committee system we were taking the parliament to the people and the people had an easier avenue to approach us. The very first witnesses we heard from on this inquiry were from the Western Sydney Area Health Service. They talked about the health aspects of the way we are developing our cities and the dangers of not tackling social isolation, especially on the urban fringes of our major cities. It was about more than just the problems of the environment and ecology and the danger of not sustainably using resources.

So this was very much a report in which we took into account the environmental and ecological aspects, the economic consequences and the social consequences. We had these three pillars underpinning our examination of the problem—but, by the end of the inquiry, there was a fourth pillar: governance. It was about how we can engage local communities that find themselves within the major cities of Australia in the discussion about what they need to reach their aspirations.

So, whilst all these reports in front of me represent the 20 years of work on the environment committee, I am only illustrating the Sustainable cities inquiry because it had the most direct reference to Scullin, traditionally an outer northern suburbs electorate of Melbourne, sharing the urban fringe with that great electorate of McEwan—oh, the member for McEwan has left the chamber. But we have the great 'Zap', the member for Makin, as the chair of this committee. I have enjoyed his chairmanship. He rates among the many fine chairs that we have had of the environment committee. He is very fortunate that we have as the deputy chair Dr Mal, the member for Moore, who will leave this place at the end of this parliament. He has been a really terrific champion of the environment committee. I think the member for Makin would say that his relationship with the deputy chair is very solid, as I think Dr Washer would say of his relationship with the former member for Throsby. This has been the tradition of our committee.

There is one exception—and I have probably buried the report of that one exception. I see the member for Bennelong here. He is a great Australian sportsman—still, I believe, but he may have been greater early on. At one stage the House environment committee had the environment, recreation, the arts and sport under its auspices. Wasn't that committee lucky that the Auditor-General did a report on a famous sports grants program! I have to say that there is a lesson for all oppositions in what happened when that Auditor-General's report came out. Luckily for the success of the committee system that we created—and I apologise to the member for Kooyong; I have gone longer than I thought I would—we had the opportunity to have Auditor-General's reports referred to the portfolio committees.

I wish that we had never had this one referred to the environment committee, because it become a very interesting report. The opposition thought that they were on a good thing. It had been referred to the House environment committee and we had numerous public hearings where we dragged the auditor in and the officers of whatever department sports was under. Finally, we dragged the minister in, because she was a member of the House. We got to Christmas and everything seemed tranquil and quiet. But politics is all about timing.

We returned in February of the next year and the government had been too good—they had been on good behaviour. There were no other issues around and so the opposition went back to the sports program. This time, they put in FOI requests. They embarrassed the government to allow them to go over to the department and go through the files. There was a very forensic opposition membership of our committee who went through the files.

Then we had the final famous night when we had the minister before us and suddenly she made the fateful statement. The question was, 'How did you assess these in your office?' She replied: 'Oh, well, we've got a whiteboard out the back in the backroom. We did all the work on that.' There was a shadow minister on this committee who is now a senator from Victoria—I will not mention his name. But the point he made, after he had done some quick back-of-the-postage-stamp calculation, was this: 'If all the applications were on this whiteboard, they would be about one square centimetre.' At this stage, we thought, 'That's the end of this.' There was a negative report and a scalp for an opposition that arose out of just bad luck in the management of a program and from the fact that it became something that a committee of this place used the accountability mechanisms open to it to examine.

In conclusion, I proudly endorse the work of the present House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts and endorse this, the third volume report on climate change and biodiversity. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.