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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 310

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (16:49): I rise to contribute to this debate on this urgency motion. We in the Labor Party care very much and are very concerned about the impacts of development on the environment. We have had a longstanding history of concern and care, as custodians of the environment, for the environment. So of course we do take the issue of the impact of development on our environment very seriously. We also share the concerns of others in this chamber in relation to mining operations. Mining operations should always minimise their impact on our environment and our communities and also on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. That is why, when we were in government, the then Labor environment minister put in place very strict conditions on this particular proposal—very strict conditions. I acknowledge at the outset that Senator Waters has raised concerns with the way in which some of those conditions, at least by the company, have been acted upon—the misleading aspects as to offset by the company and the process, raised by Senator Waters, in the department for dealing with that—but those strict conditions were put in place for that very reason.

The fact is that this urgency motion actually asks Minister Greg Hunt to do something. Therein lies the problem with this urgency motion, because Minister Greg Hunt is, in name and title, the environment minister, but, for all intents and purposes, he does not act like an environment minister. He actually acts like an anti-environment minister—he acts against the environment.

On top of that, this government cannot be trusted. So not only are you asking a minister of the Crown who is not carrying out his portfolio duties in a way that an environment minister would, one would think; on top of that, you are dealing with a government that simply cannot be trusted at all.

We have seen that in the last day, with the heralding in by Prime Minister Abbott of a new good government, starting from today—basically admitting that for the last 16 months we have had, therefore, a bad government. That is correct; it has been a bad government—but I know that that bad government is still here. It is very much evident when we look at the environment portfolio. Senator O'Neill went through the record of failures by Minister Hunt in the environment portfolio area recently. That list clearly shows why this government cannot be trusted when it comes to the maintenance and care of and concern for our environment.

One of the most alarming components of this urgency motion concerns the one-stop shop legislation that Mr Hunt wants to introduce. That is a piece of legislation that basically allows him to give up his powers under the EPBC Act and give them to Premier Baird and to Premier Hodgman in Tasmania when it comes to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. When a minister himself wants to give up his approval powers, you cannot have faith in that minister. Minister Hunt was in my home state last month, sharing with the Tasmanian community how much he cared about the wilderness and heritage values of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and how under the current draft management plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area he would ensure that the environmental, cultural and heritage values of the area would be protected because he had the final say. It is that exact final say that he is trying to give up; it is that final say that he is trying to give to Premier Will Hodgman because that is what his one-stop shop legislation is all about. It is all about this government giving up a role of federal government because it simply does not care about the environment, and Senator O'Neill went through the huge list of points demonstrating why that is the case. Those points included going to Qatar last year and, embarrassingly, seeking to delist some 74,000 hectares of the pristine Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. That request to UNESCO's World Heritage Committee was laughed out in less than 10 minutes—it was rejected in less than 10 minutes as a ludicrous proposal and Australia returned home with its head hanging very low, having wasted not only taxpayers' money but also its own time with such a stupid proposal from Minister Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Senator O'Neill raised the cutting of the Landcare program—a fantastic program that brings together so many community members who care for their local area, who care for their local environment. There is the slashing of funds for Environmental Defender offices—again, taking away another level of our democracy, another level of freedom and rights and justice in our democratic system. On top of that, we know that there is a complete backward flow when it comes to any action by this government on climate change. It does not matter if it is Tony Abbott, it does not matter if it is Malcolm Turnbull, it does not matter if it is Julie Bishop—they are all the same. They all want to take Australia backwards on climate change. We had that last year with the abolition of carbon pricing, we had it with $2 billion of taxpayers' money going into a dud scheme called Direct Action, which will not reach our emissions reduction target, and we had it with their efforts on the international stage recently in Lima, where minister Julie Bishop had to take the trade minister to hold her hand just in case she went a little beyond the conservatives' position on climate change—a very backward position.

Their record on the environment is certainly something to be very embarrassed about and ashamed about. It shows that they simply cannot be trusted. That is why what the Greens are asking of Minister Hunt in this urgency motion is something that will not ever be achieved, because Minister Hunt fails to be able to do his job effectively. It is only a matter of time before he tries once again to bring that legislation forward, to give up his own responsibilities and pass them to the states. At least we know now that he cannot pass to Campbell Newman the responsibilities for environmental approvals and care for the Great Barrier Reef that the federal government currently holds, because, fortunately, there is no longer a Premier Campbell Newman. Premier Campbell Newman is now Mr Campbell Newman thanks to the good people of Queensland who saw fit to vote him out of office—completely out of office—because of his appalling record on the environment and in relation to Abbot Point, a record achieved with the support of this federal government and Minister Greg Hunt. Of course Labor is concerned about the impacts of development on the environment; of course Labor is concerned about mining operations, understanding that they must always minimise their impact on the environment. That is why when we were in government we put in place very strict conditions. Those conditions must be met but we certainly do not support efforts by this government such as putting in Mr Bob Baldwin as a parliamentary secretary—someone, again, who is a veteran climate change sceptic—and having Greg Hunt as a minister, who simply is an anti-environment minister who has given up completely.