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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5769


Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (11:21): Following on from Senator Whish-Wilson on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2017, I do look forward to joining him in North Queensland in the week after next. As a Queensland senator—and I identified this in my first speech—the Great Barrier Reef is something that I dedicate a lot of my time to, to ensure that the party has a very strong policy framework when it comes to dealing with the reef. I certainly would echo his criticisms of the LNP federally—this government—and also at the state level, where they have been responsible for degrading the reef on a regular basis.

I just wanted to pick up on something that Senator Rice mentioned in regard to the tree-clearing laws, where she implied some criticism of the state Labor government. I would point out that they did propose to take strong action on tree-clearing laws. Unfortunately, they are in a minority government and couldn't get the numbers to pass that. But I am very confident that they will take strong tree-clearing laws to the next election and, hopefully, they can win a majority government and implement those laws. If we look at the history, particularly with regard to tree clearing, it has been Labor governments at the state level that have taken action—first under Peter Beattie and then supported by Anna Bligh as Premier. When they implemented those laws, they basically drove the federal government's commitment to meet its Kyoto protocols. Nothing is more important in terms of our emissions than those tree-clearing laws that were passed in Queensland.

Then what happened? We lost in 2012. We all know that Campbell Newman won. What came back? They got rid of the tree-clearing laws, the bulldozers started up and the tree clearing has been happening at an alarming rate. I certainly think that in regard to the EPBC Act the federal government needs to take stronger action by using these laws to crack down on those people who are tree clearing. I think there have been something like only four prosecutions of those who are doing the wrong thing and that, obviously, there is a lot more that the federal department and the federal government could be doing to put pressure on those people, to stop those people from that unabated tree clearing that is going on and the associated damage that does to the reef.

I think the other things that are really important are the reef run-off and the ability to actually capture the damage that it is doing to the reef as well. I think that's something we will look at whilst we are in Cairns. Also, I think that we need to look at that throughout the coastline, because there are parts of the reef catchment which are heavily farmed districts and that do not have appropriate levels of checking what damage that is doing to the reef. Particularly, there is the importance of tourism in areas where we've seen the impact of Tropical Cyclone Debbie as well and the ability of those tourism operators to get back on their feet.

The other significant aspect of this bill—and Senator Singh touched on this as well—is the chaos and dysfunction that we saw in the House of Representatives when this was voted on yesterday. Whilst there has been significant chaos and dysfunction this week from the government, it really did bring itself to bear in the House of Representatives yesterday when they lost the vote for the second time. That is absolutely unique. What did they lose on this motion? This is something that is really important: the government failed to defend themselves. The amendment put forward by Labor went to the fact:

(1) the Government is failing to protect Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef by:

(a) failing to act on climate change;

(b) supporting the Liberal National Party in Queensland in blocking reef protections aimed at halting the broad scale clearing of trees and remnant vegetation; and

(c) winding back ocean protection, put in place by Labor, around Australia and specifically in the Coral Sea; and

(2) this Government cannot be trusted to protect the Great Barrier Reef and fight for Australia's unique environment.

This is what was passed yesterday in the House of Representatives. The government can't even muster the numbers to defend its own inaction on the Great Barrier Reef, which is such an important piece of Australia.

Is it any wonder, when you see outcomes like that in the House of Representatives, that when we turned up this morning we saw stunts like the attempted suspension of standing orders, which they failed to get the numbers for in this place. When you look at the dysfunction of this government and the impact that is having on the community, it is their failure to actually operate as a government on the important issues that this country is facing. Instead of seeing the government operating yesterday, what we actually saw was a Prime Minister claiming a foreign interference. We saw a Foreign Minister willing to debase her position and put an important, longstanding relationship with New Zealand at risk. We saw a government lose a vote in the House. We saw an incompetent Leader of the House in the other place—he claims to be an election-winning machine, but he was not much good at that in the House of Representatives yesterday. That explains why we see these failed stunts today that really do this government no justice. For those people crying out for a federal government that is operating in the interests of Australians, we have seen none of that from the government this week or, indeed, in recent months.

So let's actually look at what happened yesterday. This is a government that was willing to put our relationship with New Zealand at risk. This is a government that was willing to put the important trade relationship with New Zealand at risk. And they are so desperate, flailing around, that they are willing to come into this chamber and pull stunts like they did this morning—and fail at that as well. It shows you they are out of control. It shows you they are not operating in the interests of Australians. This government is a failure at every level, and Australians are increasingly waking up to the dysfunction and chaos of those opposite.

I would ask that, when it comes to the reef, they would take their obligations seriously, that they would look at their current EPBC Act and take action on important issues such as tree clearing, which is doing so much ongoing damage to the reef at the moment. They really do have such a poor record, and the fact that they failed to defend themselves in the House of Representatives yesterday speaks volumes to their inactions on the reef.