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Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Retaining Federal Approval Powers) Bill 2012
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Macdonald, Sen Ian
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Retaining Federal Approval Powers) Bill 2012
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Thursday, 14 March 2013
Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:11): Liberal and National party governments in Australia have a very proud history of environmental protection. Our contribution is one of the reasons why today our nation is amongst the world's great environmental achievers. The history of the coalition's contribution to Australia's environment goes way back to the Menzies years, and for the Greens to come in here today and say that they are the only party interested in the environment shows what a loony left-wing ratbag mob of people constitute the Greens political party.
As always, and history will show this, the environmental advancements that have been made in our country have been done by Liberal and Liberal-National Party coalition governments. We do not just talk about it, we do not take the sexy, popular, top of the mind issues—we do the serious environmental work. I will go through some history to demonstrate that. But do you ever hear the Greens talk about the weed menace in Australia? You hear them talk about the Barrier Reef because that is popular and they can get a couple of votes out of that. But one of the greatest environmental problems for Australia is weeds. It costs Australia something like $4 billion a year. Do you hear the Greens or the Labor Party ever talk about weeds? No, because that is a rural thing; it is not sexy, it is not front of mind, so they do not care. But the Australian government, I am proud to say, in the time when I was conservation minister, put $40 million over a three-year program to try and make a dint, and it could only be a dint, a start on trying to address Australia's real weed practices.
Like Senator Birmingham, I am a little shocked to be agreeing with Senator Cameron on anything at all, but I do have to say that right up until the last part of the speech I thought it was very good and that Senator Cameron, after three or four years now being the Greens' closest ally in this parliament, has suddenly turned on them with a vengeance, and in that turning Senator Cameron has found truth at last when he talks about the record and the stupidity and the dishonesty of the Labor Party's former very close allies in this parliament. Well, they are still close allies. The Greens will never vote against anything Labor does, but clearly the marriage has soured a little bit in recent times—and Senator Cameron's honesty exemplifies that.
But I go back to the Liberal government of Robert Menzies. The Menzies government was the first to sign the Antarctic Treaty and enacted and presided over the foundation of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the CSIRO. That in itself in those early days was the foundation upon which environmental policies past and present have been built and continue to be built. The work of the Menzies government continued right through to the Howard government, and I just want to mention some of those achievements of Liberal and National party governments.
Funding for the CSIRO from 1949 to 1966 increased by almost 1,000 per cent—from $4 million to almost $41 million. It was the Menzies government that addressed the rabbit plague. You do not hear about that from the Greens these days, but that was a serious environmental problem for Australia. That was addressed by the Menzies government with, amongst other things, the myxomatosis virus that was introduced. During the time of the Menzies government, Australia was one of the 12 original parties to the Antarctic treaty, which has done so much to protect that southern continent.
Australia's first office of the environment was created under John Gorton's Liberal government. Indeed, the first federal environment minister, Peter Howsen, was an appointment of the McMahon Liberal government. Work on establishing a program to protect the Great Barrier Reef and other national parks commenced in 1972—again in the time of the McMahon Liberal government. You might remember—though it is not talked about much these days—that the Australian and Japanese governments back in those days signed treaties to protect endangered migratory birds. These are just some examples of the work that Liberal and National party governments have carried out since time immemorial in Australia.
It was a Liberal government that attended the Stockholm conference where there was overwhelming approval given for a moratorium on the commercial killing of whales. Indeed, it was the same Australian government that was very much to the fore in the regulation of ocean dumping and the establishment of the World Heritage Trust to preserve wilderness areas. Those of my era at least can remember the trauma over the preservation of Fraser Island, off the Queensland coast. Was that dealt with by a Labor government? No. It was dealt with by a Liberal-National party government, and Fraser Island has been protected. The National Estate was formed by a Liberal government. Uluru National Park was proclaimed under a Liberal and National party government.
Time will not permit me to go through the whole list, but it was Liberal-National party governments that established the first nuclear codes to make sure that radioactive waste was dealt with appropriately. It was Liberal-National party governments that developed stage 1 of the Kakadu National Park. The Wild Protection Act was another initiative of Liberal-National party governments.
The Fraser government nominated three sites in Australia for inclusion on the World Heritage List—the Great Barrier Reef region, Kakadu National Park and Wilandra Lakes. Do you ever hear any acknowledgement from the Greens about the work that Liberal-National party governments have done on the Great Barrier Reef? Indeed, it was Liberal-National party governments that inaugurated the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act in 1981. In the same year, the Fraser government declared the Cairns section of the Great Barrier Reef as a marine park. It was the Howard government that established the $1 billion trust fund for the protection and rehabilitation of Australia's national environment. Since then, that fund has contributed some $5.1 billion to the protection of Australia's natural assets.
To suggest that the Greens are the only ones in this chamber that care about the environment just shows how illusionary and delusionary are those people who support the Greens. It was the Howard government—and again I am very proud because I had a small part in this—that established the regional forest agreements in Tasmania that led to nearly half of Tasmania's land mass being preserved for forests. The first Australian Greenhouse Office—the first greenhouse office established anywhere in the world—was established by the Howard government. The first National Oceans Office was established by a Howard government. We also launched the first coordinated strategy to protect native species. Salinity and water quality is another one. Remember that? Just a few years ago under the Howard government there was a massive investment in that.
These are genuine, real environmental protections for our country—the sorts of things that have never been replicated by the Labor Party in the years they have been in government and will certainly never be addressed or implemented by the Greens political party. As others have said in this debate, the strongest-ever piece of federal environmental legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, was an initiative of the Liberal-National party government. We designated six wetlands for inclusion on the Ramsar site. One area included in the Ramsar wetlands register is around the Ord River, a man-made lake which has been so successful that it has built one of the great natural reserves for wildlife at the present time.
I could go on, but my time will run out. Suffice it to say that the green zones in the Great Barrier Reef caused us a lot of political difficulty. They caused the taxpayers to fork out something like $200 million in compensation, and it is still going, yet that was done. Not only do we make the right environmental protection but we also make sure that people do not suffer. That is why that adjustment package has helped those who used to rely on those areas to get through that difficult period. But you did not see that with the Labor Party's current proposals for bioregional planning. They just want to lock things up—things that in many instances do not need locking up. They want to destroy businesses and communities and they want to talk about compensation, but mark my words: no Labor government will ever provide compensation for the hurt it has caused in some of the things that have been done. We also committed almost $400 million to protect Australia's fisheries from illegal foreign fishing. It is not sexy anymore—do you ever hear the Greens or the Labor Party talk about that? In fact, the Labor Party have taken away the specific vessel that the Howard government acquired to look after our fisheries protection—it now runs a taxi service off Christmas Island. We have a very proud record.
I turn to the bill before the chamber that the Greens are proposing. The Greens are concerned with preventing the states and the Commonwealth working together in enforcing, planning and implementing all of the environmental regulations and, sometimes, good works that are done by federal and state governments. What the Greens want to do, for some reason that I can never quite understand, is to make it so difficult to get through the green tape and the red tape that people will not bother developing Australia. You will never look after Australia's environment if the country is broke. All the way through, the Liberal-National Party governments have been able to make a real contribution to Australia's environment because we had strong economies. Now we have an economy that is so weak that from an $80 billion surplus under the Howard government we now have a $200 billion deficit that is spiralling downwards. You cannot run a strong country and you cannot look after the environment if you have a poor economy. Thanks to the Greens siding with their mates in the Labor Party the Australian economy continues to fall. The Greens succeed by making things so tough that nobody wants to invest in Australia. Nobody wants to create jobs in Australia any more.
On this particular issue before us of state and Commonwealth approvals for various things, there was an aquaculture prawn farm. One would have thought that even the Greens would have thought that prawn farming was a good idea, but no. I do not want to mention names because it is pretty clear these days that if you cross Labor ministers, particularly Mr Burke, you will be in it in the future. They deliver retribution if you should so much as criticise, so I will not mention names here. A group was wanting to put in a prawn farm near where I come from. They spent literally millions of dollars getting state approval, the most exhaustive process they went through. Having achieved state approval—and this was under a state Labor government—they then had to do the whole process again to satisfy a federal Labor government that the state approvals were in order. Upwards of $15 million was spent on approvals for a prawn farm which under any definition would have been good for the environment, good for the economy, good for Australian jobs and good for trying to give Australians the opportunity of buying Australian produced seafood rather than the 72 per cent of imported seafood that Australia currently has.
The Liberal and National parties, both at state and federal levels, want to reduce the red and green tape compliance burden. That does not mean to say we want to lessen the requirements for proper development or environmentally sustainable development; the rules stay, both state and federal. But let us at least have one group of officials and bureaucrats who can assess all of those things and give a final tick-off or a final rejection to development plans.
My state of Queensland is littered with projects that struggle to get state approval. I must say, with Campbell Newman's government there are at least more resources and some urgency put into dealing with them—not necessarily approving them, but dealing with them and giving people an answer. But then people have to turn around and do the whole process again. There are any number of projects in my state of Queensland that are held up because they simply cannot get a decision from the Commonwealth environment minister. The Commonwealth environment minister, Mr Burke, is that great intellect who as fisheries minister encouraged people to invest in a supertrawler, then became environment minister and, after these people had taken his word and invested their money in this supertrawler to sustainably fish a fishery, axed it. One wonders why Australians and foreign investors are starting to think very seriously about any investment in jobs and development in Australia. If we do not have jobs, if we do not have an increasing gross domestic product, we will never have the money that is needed to address some of the real environmental problems Australia has.
What do the Greens want to do? They want to make it difficult. They want to add to the red tape add to the green tape; they just want to make it so difficult that people will not want to invest in Australia. When that happens Australia loses economically and we are less able to address, with money, the things that only money can address in the environmental world.
I conclude by saying how proud I am to be a member of a party that has done so much for the protection of our environment and heritage in this country, a party that believes that a good economy and a good environment are not mutually exclusive. Most Australians now understand you can get the best of both worlds. You can get a good economy, you can get good jobs and you can look after the environment at the same time, as our history has proved we have done. Therefore, I join my colleagues in rejecting yet another attempt by the Greens political party to make development in our country impossible and therefore robbing Australia of the money that it needs to address the environmental problems that we face.