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Tuesday, 14 May 2013
Page: 2420


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:38): In commencing my contribution to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill, I remind senators of the very proud record the Liberal and National parties have when it comes to the environment in Australia. If you look back, every single piece of practical environmental legislation that actually benefits Australia and benefits our biodiversity is an action of Liberal-National party governments. Can I mention a few of those before I get onto the EPBC Act, which is, again, a creation of the Liberal-National party coalition.

Liberal governments prohibited sand mining on Fraser Island. Liberal governments banned whaling in Australian waters. Liberal governments declared the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The same governments proclaimed the Kakadu, Uluru, Christmas Island and Coral Sea national and maritime parks. Five properties were placed on the World Heritage List under the Fraser government. They included the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu, Willandra Lakes, Lord Howe Island and South West Tasmania. Liberal-National party governments also passed the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act and the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Conservation Act.

Our governments regulated the uranium industry in the Northern Territory and enacted major pieces of legislation to control pollution, especially for the protection of the high seas. Coalition governments legislated for the introduction of things which are now taken for granted such as unleaded petrol as a pollution-control measure. Right throughout the history of coalition governments, programs have been introduced for water protection, soil protection and tree promotion around our country. It was a Liberal government that had Australia's first ever environment minister.

We have a very proud record of practical and sensible work for Australia's environment and biodiversity. It is something that you will never, ever hear uttered from the lips of the Greens political party because they loath with a passion anyone from this side of the chamber—particularly in an environmental sense. If you look back through history, you will see that all of the sensible and practical actions taken in Australia for our environment have been the work of coalition governments. Indeed, it was my friend the then Senator Robert Hill, as Minister for the Environment, who introduced the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Nowhere did we hear the Greens or the Labor Party calling for this sort of legislation, but it is something that came through—like the green zones on the Great Barrier Reef. These are major, practical enhancements to Australia's environmental protection and management.

We are proud of what we have done, but we have done it in a sensible way and in a way that did not impinge on Australia's economy, increase our costs of living or decrease our attractiveness for investment—the sort of investment that has kept Australia to the forefront of the world. The difficulty with the legislation that has been introduced by coalition governments is that sometimes other governments get to be in charge of them. Once they are in charge, they can make very stupid decisions that really take us no further but make political points and attract preferences from the Greens political party, keeping the current Labor government—and many other Labor governments—in power.

I heard the previous speaker praising Mr Windsor, as well the Labor Party should because, if it were not for Mr Windsor, Australia would have had a decent government, a proactive government and a sound financially managing government three years ago. But Mr Windsor—through his, I might say, crassness—kept Ms Gillard and this dysfunctional Labor government in power long after they should have been thrown onto the scrap heap of political history—as they will no doubt be later this year.

The bill before us is another example of overkill by the Australian Labor Party at the urgings of Mr Windsor, for his own purposes, and the Greens political party. The coalition will not be opposing it, but we do make the point—yet again—that this legislation simply duplicates the powers that the states already have. The Labor government has spoken a lot about this one-stop shop process of environmental regulating, but again—as with everything the Labor government does—it is all just words. I, like 95 per cent of other Australians, have simply stopped listening to anything this government says.

Today, on what I call 'fantasy Tuesday', when we are preparing for what is very loosely called a budget, again we see that nobody really cares what is going to be said tonight. Nobody cares at all what is said because everybody knows from past performance that, no matter what the Treasurer says tonight, it will not happen. Remember in the last two or three budgets when he promised those surpluses? Do you remember that, Madam Acting Deputy President? His speech last budget night was so exact, so precise, so forceful about the need for a surplus. And not only on budget night, but 500 times since, have the Treasurer and the Prime Minister assured every Australian it was essential for the peace, order and good government of Australia, and for our children and grandchildren, that we must have a surplus. And yet a few weeks ago we eventually heard from the government's own lips what every sane commentator has been saying for 12 months: that there was not going to be a surplus. Of course, the only mystery about tonight's so-called budget is how big the deficit will be. Senator Carr is sitting here. He knows. He has robbed his foreign aid budget to try and reduce the deficit. How could any foreign minister do that! I have not heard the Greens comment too much about that just yet.

Senator Bob Carr: The aid budget has been increased by 9.6 per cent!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Oh, I see! So you are just taking it away to spend it onshore in trying to deal with a problem you created, Minister—not you personally but your party—with all those illegal arrivals into Australia. So you shift the foreign aid budget from offshore and bring it onshore and spend it in Australia. And what did I hear this morning? I heard that Australia is the third biggest recipient in the world of its own foreign aid budget. Only a Labor Party could do that! And have we heard a murmur from the Greens about this? We hear about how the Greens all want to increase foreign aid. But when they are mates of the Labor Party, which diverts foreign aid from overseas onto Australian shores to look after that hideous problem that Ms Gillard and her crew have brought upon Australia, do we hear anything but a murmur from the Greens political party?

I expect that tonight in the budget there will be no money allocated for the Great Artesian Basin. Senator Waters has gone on for 20 minutes, just before me, telling us how important the underground aquifers are—in particular, the Great Artesian Basin. When I was conservation minister the Howard government spent some $40 million capping and piping and protecting the Great Artesian Basin. I suspect that tonight, because the Labor Party has run out of money—and run out of lenders, I suspect—that program will not be renewed again. I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it. Like Senator Carr's foreign aid budget, that will be attacked to try to reduce the extent of the deficit we are facing. And do we hear the Greens political party talk about the Great Artesian Basin? No. But they are pretty big on coal seam gas because they see it as an issue of the day, an issue where they can try to resurrect their dwindling political fortunes. We have all seen how the Greens political party has nosedived in recent elections everywhere. So they look around desperately and say: 'Who can we fool to come onside and support us? Ah, the farmers! Let's pretend we are the farmers' friends.' Well, Senator Waters, if you are the farmers' friends, what are you doing for all those farmers and landholders up in my neck of the woods in Northern Australia who are in desperate straits because of the live cattle ban that you and your Labor Party mates inflicted on them? That action of the Labor government and the Greens, supported by Mr Windsor, has been the single most destructive action of any government in recent times towards our farming community.

And it is not only the northern beef cattle herd that is suffering, it is not only all of those people up there who are losing their homes, their livelihoods, their kids' schooling and, in many cases, their lives because of this stupid decision; it is now descending further down into our country and impacting on the southern beef cattle industry as well. The drought is exacerbating things but it all started with the Labor government's stupid decision on live cattle exports—that time when we insulted our closest neighbour, the Indonesian people, 240 million of them, by cutting off a substantial amount of their food supply without so much as a phone call; they read about it the next morning, as did the rest of us in Australia. Thank you, Senator Carr; what a magnificent action as a foreign minister trying to protect or build our relationship with our closest neighbour!

Senator Bob Carr: I was not even in the parliament then!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You were not even in the parliament. Thank you, Senator Carr; by saying so, you indicate that, if you had been in the parliament, perhaps you would not have done anything quite as stupid as that. And that is the point I wanted you to make, because it was perhaps the silliest, the most ridiculous, the most stupid decision that this government has ever made—and supported by the Greens political party. But hang on, it is the Greens political party who are now the farmers' friends!

This bill adds to the legislation a ninth matter of national environmental significance. Under the original legislation, introduced by former Senator Hill, the matters of national environmental significance were world heritage sites; national heritage sites; wetlands of international importance—that is, Ramsar wetlands; nationally threatened species and ecological communities; migratory species; Commonwealth marine areas; and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. We are adding to that, now, another matter of national environmental significance: the impacts of coal-seam gas development and large coalmining developments on a water source. Nobody really objects to that—except for the fact that the state parliaments already have that power and have been actively using that power.

What this Labor government initiative does is what Labor governments always do: make more regulation, more red tape and more taxes; increase the cost of living and just make Australia an investment destination that is rapidly dwindling in favour. Whilst the Greens and the Labor Party all like the standard of living that we have in Australia, even they should be able to see that investment in Australia is going elsewhere. It is a bit awful when I have foreign investors telling me that they find Mali a better sovereign risk than the Commonwealth of Australia.

Senator Bob Carr: That is absurd.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Well, it is absurd, Minister, but that is what people are saying. And, Minister, you, more than others, go up to Korea and Japan; I know you are always floating around Korea and Japan. But you have been told by the Japanese, the Koreans and the Chinese exactly what I have been told.

Senator Bob Carr: Not once.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You have never been told that once, Minister?

Senator Bob Carr: Not once.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Not once! You have never been told that they are putting their investments into Africa and South America rather than into Australia? Here is our Foreign Minister—he claims that that has never been told to him once! Well, gee, Minister, you must live and work in a cocoon, because I am a mere backbencher and, when I go to those places, people—and I do not ask them—come up and tell me; they plead with me. But then I suspect that most in Korea, Japan and China can read the opinion polls, as we can here, and I suspect that, Minister, if you are being truthful in saying that no-one has told you that, they clearly have not told you that because they see you as a complete irrelevance for the next three or four months of your term as Foreign Minister.

The idea of regulating the impacts of coal-seam gas developments and large coalmining development on a water source, as I say, is not a bad one, but it is not a new one. I know that, in my state of Queensland—even, I have to concede, under the former Bligh Labor government this issue was being addressed, however poorly. But, since the Campbell Newman government has come into operation, they have been addressing this issue very precisely and exactly, with all of the science behind it and with care and the sort of management that is needed.

Again, we see the hypocrisy of the Greens political party and the Labor Party. You have only to read what Ms Gillard said when this idea was floated a little while ago. She indicated it was completely unnecessary. She goes back, I might say, to repeat—and I never thought I would say this but, by comparison you have got to—what those great Labor governments of Hawke and Keating did when these issues were addressed. They said, 'Let the states do it. Let's not duplicate the regulation. Let's not make Australia the sort of country where everything is regulated twice and even thrice by different governments.'

So the bill, as I say, addresses a sensible issue, but it is an issue that was already very clearly, precisely and exactly addressed by the various state governments around. And now that you have decent state governments across almost the length and breadth of that part of Australia that counts, you will find that this management and protection of our water resources is very well looked after by the states.

I will be voting for this bill—not that I have any reason for thinking that it is necessary. But it is simply another Labor initiative that duplicates and triplicates regulation in this country.