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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 1900

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (12:24): It is a privilege to speak on the Environment Legislation Amendment Bill 2013. I note that it is really the English cricket team that has become an endangered species in this country, with the final fall of wicket in the second test heading our way. Congratulations to Harris on the last wicket—fantastic result!

On a more serious matter, it is more impressive to follow the member for Leichhardt on the first component of this bill, which I totally support, on turtles and dugongs, and to hear his stories about what is going on in his electorate and at the Great Barrier Reef. It is a great keeping of our election commitment that we are increasing the penalties. It is something we said we would do and is yet another tick for the coalition's environmental credentials on improving the situation in a way that will practically assist in an outcome on the illegal pouching of dugongs and turtles. It is done in a way that will not impact upon Indigenous rights to hunt in native-title areas but will increase criminal and civil penalties for the killing, injuring and taking, trading, keeping or moving of a turtle or dugong in a Commonwealth marine area or within the Great Barrier Reef marine park. It is something that is a worthwhile endeavour: keeping our election commitments.

We are moving an important amendment to the second component of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to ensure that if the Minister for the Environment does not have relevant approved advice it will not invalidate the decision under the act. This follows the court case that the member for Wills referred to, and I do want to take him up on one point that he argued: we are not making a case about a particular issue about a parrot or possum or other serious issues around the country; this is a legal issue about the separation of powers and about which jurisdiction will have the ability to make decisions that relate to serious approvals for major projects and could potentially affect past projects.

The member for Wills missed a very important point, and I was disappointed to see that he missed this. It is on raising the matter of the court case that led to the amendment being put into the House. It is in regard to the mining case of the Tarkine approved by the then environmental minister, Tony Burke, and re-approved by Labor. So, in terms of outcomes, the member for Wills really does not have cause for complaint. If he is trying to suggest this amendment would have altered the situation or is somehow a profoundly bad thing to do, the previous Labor government went ahead with the mine approval anyway. That may be completely appropriate; there may be nothing wrong with that. But the member for Wills, in avoiding that issue, is not necessarily representing the case in a fair way.

It was okay for the previous Labor government to continue to approve this mine in the Tarkine, although the Commonwealth was exposed to serious legal action on a fairly oblique point on this advice. Think about all of the green regulations at both a state and federal level; all of the regulations that cover approvals which you must qualify for in Australia to get an approval for a mine underway. We know that they are substantial, we know that they are comprehensive and we know that the advice received from a state and federal level is detailed. All of these considerations are taken into account. But to expose the Commonwealth and these projects to retrospective problems with their approvals does not assist anybody.

Hence the amendment we see before us today. The member for Wills skirts around saying that since 7 September there has been some dark pall cast over the environment in Australia and that concrete manufacturing is something that—as stock has gone up in Australia—we are using to concrete wilderness. 'Paved paradise' is his phrase from a famous song. I do not think that the climate has changed since 7 September or that things have got warmer or that possums and birds have more things to fear from with this government than they did from the previous government. Let us be serious and realistic about this. We do need to protect our environment and we do need to proceed with projects that are important to our economy and our society. Legally speaking, it is a better situation for the parliament to approve this bill and so to ensure that an act of the minister is not subject to that uncertainty for a major project or major approval once it has gone through all of the considerable regulatory hoops that you must go through in this country.

It is why we have a green-tape agenda to reduce green tape in Australia. That is an unnecessary duplication at state and federal level. We think green tape is probably one of the biggest impediments to getting business moving in this country and one of the main contributors to making our businesses less competitive on the international stage. By removing many of these many duplicate layers of green tape we can get things done and protect the environment. That is, of course, the best way for human beings to coexist with the natural world we live in.

It really is not a great idea for the members opposite to come in here and say that we are against this particular parrot, or that particular possum or that bird. That is not the case. We take seriously the conservation advice delivered to the government. But it is not a good legal case, when we have a separation of powers, to have the Commonwealth exposed—or to have the minister, via the Commonwealth—exposed to his decisions being second guessed every step of the way. We are literally at the very end of a very substantial process that anyone must go through to get a mine approved in this country.

I fully support this amendment and those technical amendments that address the risk make this legislation retrospective. That is, we will not now see a flurry of legal action taken in response to previous decisions. The member for Wills should look pretty carefully at that part of the bill which we are debating here today. We are making this retrospective—not the decisions of former Liberal Party or National Party environment ministers over the past six years but the decisions of the previous government that could be subject to legal exposure. That is appropriate and proper and an adult approach to government. The opposition comes and suggests that, somehow, we have a dark and evil agenda in relation to the environment when we are simply saying that the processes that we have gone through are rigorous, the green standards that have to be met are high in Australia by anybody's benchmark and the minister has had the appropriate advice and has had the chance to consider that advice. We believe that, once all of that has been gone through, it should not be subject to particular legal action specifically in relation to the nature of the advice received by the Minister for the Environment.

I do not believe that the member for Wills made a very compelling case. He may have had some good things to say about protecting various sections of flora and fauna in our country, but he did not make a compelling case. He conveniently overlooked that in the particulars of this legal matter the Tarkine mine was ultimately approved by the then environment minister anyway. So the outcome was the same, but the legal challenge that was gone through is an unnecessary impediment to doing business that we can remove by passing this piece of high-quality legislation and ensuring that we do not expose the Commonwealth unnecessarily to this risk.

I fully support this bill, and I hope that members opposite start to tone down their approach of accusing us of wanting to concrete every piece of environment in the country. It simply is not the case. It is overblown rhetoric. It is not really necessary. Frankly speaking, it is the case that too many of our projects, which are so important to our economy and to Australia's prosperity, are being wound-up in too much duplication and green tape, and it is something that this government will look at.