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Thursday, 13 October 2011
Page: 7336


Senator WATERS (Queensland) (12:48): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

Senator WATERS: I table an explanatory memorandum. I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Emergency Listings) Bill 2011 allows the emergency listing of threatened species and ecological communities where they are at risk from a significant and imminent threat.

This bill will fast track one of the few pro-environment outcomes promised in the Government's upcoming reforms of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act), our national environmental law.

In its response to the independent review of the EPBC Act undertaken by Dr Allan Hawke, the Government agreed in principle to Dr Hawke's Recommendation 16 to insert provisions for emergency listing of threatened species and ecological communities into the EPBC Act. This recognises the fact that the listings process is often slow and species and ecological communities are not protected by the Act until listed, even where their very existence is threatened. The Government's response commits to emergency listings of species and ecological communities where there is a significant and imminent threat.

The urgency to introduce these provisions, rather than to wait for the Government's legislative reform package due sometime next year, is the discovery of two new species (a crab and a shrimp) highly likely to be significantly impacted by Rio Tinto's proposed expansion of its bauxite mine in Weipa, on Queensland's Cape York. This mine is currently undergoing EPBC Act assessment, yet under the current provisions its impacts on these as yet unlisted species cannot be considered by the federal Environment Minister when assessing this proposal.

It would be a travesty to send new species to extinction before they have even been named, and had the chance to be listed as threatened. These species have been found nowhere else on Cape York, let alone the world - they exist only in a single area directly at risk from Rio Tinto's planned bauxite mining expansion and they currently have no federal protection whatsoever. This is simply not good enough in this era of rapid biodiversity decline.

The current example is sadly not occurring in isolation. There are significant environmental information gaps across Australia, particularly for many of our rare and vulnerable species. All too often new species are only discovered through the environmental impact assessment process. For this reason, establishing emergency listings which are able to be considered at all stages of the EPBC Act decision making process is critical to effective national environment protection laws. Precluding the consideration of emergency listed species and ecological communities after the controlled action decision is made, as section 158A prescribes, would make a mockery of the emergency listing provisions.

This bill will:

Insert provisions for emergency listing of threatened species and ecological communities, based on existing emergency heritage listing provisions, and in line with the Government's commitment to introduce this as part of its EPBC Act reform package expected in 2012.

Amend section 158A of the Act to make sure species and ecological communities that are emergency listed are afforded the protections of the EPBC Act, by ensuring such listings are considered by the federal Environment Minister in making assessment or approvals decisions under the Act.

Amend section 391 to ensure the precautionary principle is applied when deciding whether to make an emergency listing of a new species or ecological community, and whether to maintain that listing after the 12 month emergency listing expires.

In the interest of ensuring our most rare and vulnerable species and ecological communities are afforded protection under our national environment law, rather than being wiped out almost on discovery, I urge the Government and opposition to support this bill.

Senator WATERS: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.