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Thursday, 16 June 2011
Page: 3057


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (11:41): For generations Australians have understood the need to preserve precious areas of land through the creation of national parks. Our oceans contain many iconic and increasingly fragile sites which now more than ever need protection. Our planet is under pressure from climate change, ocean warming, acidification and calcification. If you look at the recent CSIRO report, you will see how much pressure our oceans are under. That has also been clarified by the Climate Commission report, by sea level rises, by warming and by the calcification of some of our iconic areas. I chaired the inquiry into the bill by the Senate Environment and Communications Legis­lation Committee and I tabled its report yes­ter­day afternoon. That report recommended that this bill not be passed.

Australia has the third-largest marine area of any nation. Our marine region extends from the coral-rich tropical seas of the north to the subantarctic waters of the Southern Ocean. Our oceans, which cover an area of over 16 million square kilometres, are twice the size of our continental landmass. In the unique area off the coast of south-west Western Australia, water depths reach almost six kilometres. These waters contain extraordinary natural biological diversity and richness. Many of the species found in Australian waters are not found anywhere else in the world—and there is still much more to be discovered.

Australians rely on our oceans for resources, recreation and livelihoods, and with this reliance comes a responsibility to manage our oceans sustainably now and for the benefit of future generations. Marine bioregional planning is focused on the conservation and sustainable use of Australia's oceans. That is why the Australian government is working with stakeholders and communities to develop marine plans and marine reserves. The planning process is based on scientific analysis of Australia's marine environment as well as analysis of socioeconomic factors, and it includes community consultation and input.

The scientists of this country are under severe pressure from those who have antiscientific views, many of whom are sitting opposite.

Senator Boswell interjecting

Senator CAMERON: There we go—I just thought that Senator Boswell would come in right away. Senator Boswell is one of those who has no credibility in terms of scientific analysis. Senator Boswell is one who says that there are no CO2 emissions causing problems anywhere in the world. Senator Boswell is a climate change denier, and that is why he is on his feet.

Senator Boswell: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I do not mind a fair exchange across the chamber, but Senator Cameron is going over the top. If he can show where I have ever said that I do not believe—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Mark Bishop ): What is your point of order, Senator Boswell?

Senator Boswell: Mistruth, dishonesty and lying to the Senate. I want him to withdraw that remark. If he can find it, I will get up and apologise. He owes me an apology, but he will not be forthcoming.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: There is no point of order, Senator Boswell.

Senator CAMERON: As I have said before, Senator Boswell, I will not be apologising to climate change deniers. The planning process that the government has got is based on the scientific analysis of Australia's marine environment, the analysis of socioeconomic factors, and community consultation and input. Marine bioregional plans are being developed in Commonwealth waters in each of the five large marine regions around Australia. They are not being developed in state and Northern Territory waters close to shore. State waters start at the coast and usually extend three nautical miles out to sea. State waters also include a three-nautical-mile area around islands and include all enclosed waters. Commonwealth waters start at the outer limit of state waters and extend to the edge of Australia's exclusive economic zone, 200 nautical miles from shore. Commonwealth waters are protected as a matter of national environmental signi­ficance under national environmental law—the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This is why the marine bioregional plans are being made under national environmental law.

The planning process is also being used to identify regional networks of Common­wealth marine reserves that will become part of the national representative system of marine protected areas. The bill will amend the EPBC Act to alter the process by which bioregional plans are made. Bioregional plans form part of Australia's environment management system. The plans may include an overview of the region's key ecological features, an analysis of regional pressures and information to assist persons to determine whether to seek the minister's approval before conducting certain activities in the region.

While the majority of plans cover marine areas in Commonwealth waters, the plans may also be established for land based regions. The plans are non-binding, as they do not declare or alter a person's rights or obligations. Their purpose is to inform the administration of the EPBC Act. The minis­ter is required to have regard to bioregional plans in making certain decisions under the act. Such decisions include fisheries, export approvals, listing and recovery of species and ecological com­munities, and approvals for proposed activity in Commonwealth waters. More broadly, bioregional plans are intended to promote environment manage­ment and conservation values.

The information contained in the plans is intended to foster a cross-jurisdictional approach to ecosystem management by Commonwealth, state and territory agencies. The plans are also designed to enhance community understanding of environmental management and encourage decision making by private industry that is consistent with environmental management principles. While bioregional plans are not binding on persons, the decisions that may be informed by bioregional plans can impact on their rights and obligations. For example, without prior ministerial approval, it is an offence to act in a manner which damages or is likely to damage Commonwealth waters. The minister may grant approval and, therefore, an offence may be avoided where the proposed activity is consistent with a bioregional plan.

There are five steps to the development of bioregional plans. Firstly, there is the characterisation of the region, including its natural systems and conservation values. A bioregional profile for each region brings together the available scientific information about a region's biophysical and broad socioeconomic characteristics and conser­vation values. Secondly, there is the regional assessment of the conservation values. This step consolidates information about the conservation values, their status and the pressures on them. The assessment is used to categorise pressures on conservation values and identify regional priorities in relation to managing these pressures. Thirdly, there is the development and release of a draft marine bioregional plan. Consultation with stakeholders and community provides essential input in developing a marine bioregional plan. The EPBC Act requires the minister to consult publicly on a draft of the plan. Fourthly, there is the release of the marine bioregional plan. Following the minister's consideration of all input received on the draft plan, it is finalised and released. Fifthly, there is the update and review of the marine bioregional plan. Plans are reviewed periodically to accommodate new informa­tion and data about conservation values and the pressures acting upon them—regional priorities, government policy priorities and management and regulatory arrangements.

Bioregional plans are not legislative instruments but are made at the minister's discretion. Bioregional plans are also not subject to parliamentary disallowance. This bill will amend the EPBC Act to make bioregional plans disallowable instruments under section 46 of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901. While bioregional plans would continue to be non-legislative instruments, the amendment would authorise either house of parliament to disallow a bioregional plan. The amendment would not operate retro­spectively but would apply only to bio­regional plans made after the commen­cement of the provision in the bill. Classifying bioregional plans as disallowable non-legislative instruments would alter the process of preparing the plans. The bill would require bioregional plans to be published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazettewith copies available for purchase from the date of publication. The bill may also affect the date on which the bioregional plan commences. Unless otherwise specified in the bioregional plan, the plan will commence on the day after the notification in the Gazette. The bill would also 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 plan is tabled, both houses of parliament would have 15 sitting days in which to give a notice of motion to disallow the bioregional plan.

Debate interrupted.