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Wednesday, 4 November 1992
Page: 2610

Mrs KELLY (Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment and Territories) (8.30 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Bill be now read a second time.

Over the past few years this Government has publicly shown a strong commitment to the protection of endangered species. A vital component of this position has been a public commitment to the consideration of the enactment of Commonwealth endangered species legislation. This Bill is the result of that commitment and will form the legislative component of the Government's ongoing action to protect endangered species. The Bill is also in response to the widespread view expressed by the Australian public that endangered species are a national problem that requires Commonwealth Government involvement.

  Extinction of species is, of course, a natural part of the evolutionary process. However, in the 200 years since European settlement the rate of extinction in Australia has accelerated dramatically. This increase is not, as some believe, an event associated only with the early days of settlement, when our scientific knowledge of the Australian environment and our impacts on it were far more limited than they are today. Extinctions and endangered species are very much a current problem. Half of all our animal extinctions have occurred this century.

  Scientists agree that Australia has right now 226 species and sub-species of plants and 73 of animals which are endangered; that is, they are in immediate danger of extinction. A further 661 species and sub-species of plants and 66 of animals are vulnerable; that is, they are likely to become endangered if present threats continue. On the international level also, the Bill will demonstrate that Australia is taking action to address endangered species conservation.

  We are not alone in our efforts to save endangered species. Many other countries, including Japan and the United States, have already taken legislative action to protect endangered species, with the need already reflected within the recently concluded Convention on Biological Diversity and agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Within Australia, a number of States and Territories have introduced, or are in the process of introducing endangered species legislation. All of this action only makes it more important for the Commonwealth Government to proceed with the enactment of its own endangered species legislation.

  As I have often said, endangered species do not recognise State boundaries. What is needed for their proper protection and management is a national perspective. We need nationally agreed lists of what species are endangered and vulnerable, and a national approach to plans for their recovery. Of course, it is essential that the lists are prepared on a scientific basis and that the scientists advising the Minister are free to make their decisions without the pressure of other influences on their decision making.

  The development of the legislation has been subject to extensive consultation over a long period. The legislation was first mooted by the Government in March 1990. The Endangered Species Advisory Committee provided me with an options paper on endangered species legislation in April 1991. A public consultation process was begun in early 1992 with the release of a paper, Commonwealth Endangered Species Legislation—the Proposal.

  Extensive consultation with all relevant interest groups including industry, conservation organisations and the States and Territories followed during the development of the Bill. The legislation was adjusted to take into account the legitimate concerns of industry and conservation groups, while still maintaining its integrity.

  The Bill addresses such fundamental issues as the scientific process for listing endangered and vulnerable species and the development of recovery and threat abatement plans for their protection. I believe that the major focus of the legislation is its positive and proactive approach to endangered species and their long term survival in Australia. Some critics, having focused on the regulatory aspects, which are in reality of limited extent, appear to have overlooked its predominantly positive approach.

  The legislation has the following key features: national lists of endangered and vulnerable species and endangered ecological communities. These lists will be determined on purely scientific grounds. Key threatening processes will also be listed. The initial lists are schedules to the Bill.

  Recovery and threat abatement plans which can be developed cooperatively between the States and Commonwealth for State areas to enable the recovery process to be coordinated on a national basis must be developed for listed species on Commonwealth lands and waters. Development of recovery and threat abatement plans will include public consultation and I will of course ensure that my ministerial colleagues are consulted where the plans concern matters for which they are responsible.

  An advisory committee will be established to provide the Environment Minister with advice on the administration of the legislation, including the times within which and priorities for the preparation of recovery and threat abatement plans.

  A scientific subcommittee will also be established in consultation with relevant Ministers to advise the Environment Minister on amendments to the lists established under the legislation, and to advise the Minister of the criteria that should be used in deciding whether a list should be amended.

  The Bill contains provisions for the establishment of voluntary conservation agreements between the Commonwealth and persons having interests in Commonwealth areas. These will assist in ensuring the implementation of the recovery and threat abatement plans and the objects of the Bill.

  I thank honourable members for their enthusiasm, particularly the Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Hand) for his great support and encouragement to me during the preparation of this Bill.

Mr Hand —And in the Cabinet, too.

Mrs KELLY —That is what I was referring to. The Bill also makes provision for the Environment Minister, in an emergency situation, to place interim conservation orders on activities threatening a listed species or community on Commonwealth lands and waters. In cases where an interim conservation order is to be applied to an act carried out primarily for a commercial purpose, the legislation provides for other relevant Ministers to take emergency action, where this is possible, using their own powers, rather than the Environment Minister having to act.

  Permanent conservation orders can also be applied on Commonwealth lands and waters. These will be made with the approval of Cabinet, as will the extension of any interim conservation order applying to activities carried out primarily for commercial purposes.

  There is also provision for impact assessment conservation orders which the Environment Minister can apply in order to ensure the protection of species where projects are undergoing environmental impact assessment. These orders will only apply for the duration of the impact assessment process.

  Enforcement and permit provisions are included to control the taking of listed species in Commonwealth areas, and also to ensure conservation orders are complied with.

  The legislation enables interested persons to apply to the Federal Court for an injunction in respect of conduct by the Minister for the Environment or the Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service that contravenes the Act, other than matters concerning the listing process and the making of permanent conservation orders.

  The Bill has been developed in the context of ecologically sustainable development and it accords with the basic principles of ESD. It is obvious that the extinction of species through human intervention is inconsistent with the principles of ESD. The principles of ESD have been mentioned specifically in provisions for the preparation and implementation of recovery and threat abatement plans and the making of conservation orders.

  We all must remember that once a species is lost, it is lost forever. But there is much we can do to prevent that. Recovery plans which are such a key element of this legislation have a vital role to play, but so too do the provisions for control of listed key threats, such as fox predation and the dieback fungus phytophthora. These matters need to be tackled on a national scale and this legislation will provide us with a framework that will help us to get on with the job.

  I believe that the Bill demonstrates that Australia can conserve endangered species and have development as well. Australians want their environment, and the economy too. This legislation does that. I commend the Bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

  Debate (on motion by Mr Jull) adjourned.