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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 3655

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (11:06): I continue my remarks on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011from Thursday, 16 June.I got to the stage where I was discussing the tabling of the bill. I outlined that the bill would require bioregional plans to be tabled in each house of parliament within six sitting days of commencement. If not laid before both houses within this time frame, the bioregional plan would cease to have effect. Once the bill was tabled, both houses of parliament would have 15 sitting days in which to give a notice of motion to disallow the bioregional plan. If the motion were agreed to or were not been withdrawn within a further 15 sitting days, the bioregional plan would be taken to have been disallowed and would cease to have effect from the date of the disallowance. Therefore, even once a bioregional plan had commenced, the disallowance process would mean that there would be a period of up to 36 sitting days in which it would be uncertain whether the bioregional plan would continue to operate. Based on the 2011 parliamentary sitting pattern, this could translate to nearly six months.

Senator Colbeck's bill would amend the EPBC Act to alter the process for estab­lishing Commonwealth marine reserves. So not only would we have to wait nearly six months before there was certainty about the bioregional plans but there would be other problems with the bill. Section 344 of the EPBC Act allows the Governor-General to make proclamations to establish Common­wealth reserves. Commonwealth reserves may apply to an area of land, an area of sea or an area of both land and sea. Reserves covering areas of the sea and areas of both land and sea are commonly known as 'Commonwealth marine reserves'. Common­wealth marine reserves applying to an area of sea can cover either a Commonwealth marine area—that is, an area within Com­monwealth waters—or an area outside Australia for which Australia has obligations regarding the area's biodiversity or heritage under an agreement with one or more countries.

The bioregional planning process may be used to identify areas in which to establish future Commonwealth marine reserves. Along with the state and territory govern­ments, the Australian government has committed to establishing the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas by 2012. The NRSMPA has been under development by the Commonwealth, state and Northern Territory governments since its creation was first agreed by these jurisdictions in 1998. The NRSMPA is a network of marine reserves across Common­wealth, state and territory waters, of which Commonwealth marine reserves form one part. As of 24 March 2011, there are 26 Commonwealth marine reserves.

The NRSMPA is intended to establish a marine protection strategy that is compre­hensive, adequate and representative. It is comprehensive in that it would include marine protected areas that sample the full range of Australia's ecosystems; it is adequate in that it would include marine protected areas of appropriate size and configuration to ensure the conservation of marine biodiversity and integrity of ecological processes; and it is representative on the basis that it would include marine protected areas that reflect the marine life and habitats of the area they are chosen to represent.

Commonwealth reserves and Commonwealth marine reserves are also part of the Australian government's implemen­tation of the Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories, developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Each reserve is assigned an IUCN category, which influ­ences the management policies applying to the reserve. The EPBC Act requires a number of steps, including a process of public consultation, to be undertaken before a proclamation to establish a Commonwealth reserve or Commonwealth marine reserve is made.

The minister is to have regard to a report prepared by the Director of National Parks regarding the proposed reserve. In preparing the report, the Director of National Parks is required to invite public comment and allow 60 days for comments to be received. The comments, and the director's view regarding the comments, are to be noted in the report. The minister is also required to be satisfied that the appropriate IUCN category will be applied to the proposed reserve.

I will go to some of the matters raised in relation to the bill during the committee inquiry that I chaired. Submissions received in support of the bill in the course of the committee inquiry typically argued that parliamentary disallowance is necessary to ensure a transparent, democratic process for establishing bioregional plans and Commonwealth marine reserves. It was apparent that underlying these views are concerns about the existing consultation processes for establishing bioregional plans and Commonwealth marine reserves. Public consultation is intended to create 'a shared understanding of the conservation objectives and priorities in a region' and promote decisions that are 'based on accurate information'.

Submissions also questioned the objectivity of current consultation processes and concerns were expressed about the extent to which the consultation process is effective in gathering relevant scientific analysis. However, these concerns were not supported by all who presented evidence to the committee. A number of submissions argued that the consultation processes are both effective and comprehensive. Mr Stephen Oxley, first assistant secretary with the department, explained to the committee the consultation processes while acknow­ledg­ing that 'perhaps' the department 'clearly could have been a little bit more proactive in terms of the active provision of information', Mr Oxley advised that there is 'a very good amount of information available publicly about the science underpinning what we do'. In additional to divergent views regarding the efficacy of the consultation processes, it was apparent that there was also a lack of consensus about whether parliamentary disallowance would lead to a more trans­parent and informed decision-making process.

Further, it was put to the committee that the parliamentary disallowance process may reduce, rather than increase, public input into the formation of bioregional plans and Commonwealth marine reserves. Several concerns were expressed with the proposal for bioregional plans and proclamations for Commonwealth marine reserves to be subject to parliamentary disallowance. Concerns included that the disallowance process may compromise Australia's com­pliance with its environmental management obligations. There were also queries about whether it was intended to make bioregional plans subject to parliamentary disallowance.

By providing for the disallowance of Commonwealth marine reserves, the proposed amendments to the EPIC Act may compromise Australia's fulfilment of its international commitments. The bill may delay or undermine our meeting of inter­national obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity, where we are expected to establish a network of marine reserves. I know the coalition do not have much regard for the environment. I know that they are under the control of the climate change sceptics and deniers, and we will hear from one in a few seconds, but I have to indicate that this is an extremely important initiative to make sure that we do not compromise the environment, and this bill should be rejected.