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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 613

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (13:19): I thank all senators for their contribution to this debate on the Environment Legislation Amendment Bill 2013. My recollection is that when this was being debated late last year there were some quite long contributions made at this stage and that they were numerous. I am pleased to see that today we are making much swifter progress. Senator Xenophon touched on some issues that I know will be covered with amendments, as I know Senator Waters did during her contribution to the debate. I will address the amendments as the Senate considers them.

In general, the bill provides additional protection for turtles and dugongs under the EPBC Act and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 by increasing criminal and civil financial penalties for the killing, injuring, taking, trading, keeping or moving of a turtle or a dugong in a Commonwealth marine area and the taking or injuring of turtles and dugongs within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Our government is responding to the need for stronger protections for our threatened turtles and dugongs. Increasing concern, particularly in Far North Queensland, regarding illegal poaching and trading of turtles and dugongs requires this serious response. These turtle and dugong amendments implement our election commitment to triple the financial penalties for poaching and illegal transportation of turtle and dugong meat announced in our Dugong and Turtle Protection Plan during the election campaign.

Alongside the active Australian Crime Commission investigation, these penalties will serve as a greater deterrent to illegal activities threatening turtles and dugongs. The government's $2 million Indigenous specialised ranger program will also improve traditional management and compliance around turtles and dugongs in Queensland. Importantly, this bill does not impact on native title holders and their rights to exercise their native title right to harvest turtles and dugongs for cultural use. The Australian government's $700,000 Marine Debris Initiative will relieve turtles and dugongs as well as other species of the impacts of rubbish in the marine environment. An Australian government injection of $300,000 to the Cairns and Fitzroy turtle hospital will support continued care for injured turtles.

Overall, this bill is part of the government's comprehensive and strong commitment to protect endangered species, in particular, in this case, turtles and dugongs, which are so iconic to parts of Northern Australia. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.