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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 1909

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (13:02): The former speaker started strongly for two or three minutes, where he quoted himself, but as soon as he got into other territory he really started to flounder. The Environment Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 on one level is about protecting turtles and dugongs, which everyone supports. But on another level it is a stalking horse. It is about protecting the ability of the Minister for the Environment to effectively ignore recommendations about developments. It removes the legal requirement for the minister to consider threatened and endangered species, but it does increase penalties for illegal hunting of turtles and dugongs.

As a Queenslander—I married someone from Cairns and all of my in-laws are up in North Queensland—I understand the importance of the Great Barrier Reef and of turtles and dugongs, which come all the way down to Brisbane. All six species of marine turtles are listed under the EPBC Act as threatened: the loggerhead, the leatherback and the olive ridleys are actually endangered, and the green, hawksbill and flatback are vulnerable. So, obviously, we should do all we can to make sure they are protected. The same applies to dugongs, for which there are all sorts of problems, because they are migratory. Also, there are lots of threats to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, where dugongs do a lot of their breeding. Some of the populations have not recovered from Cyclone Yasi—in terms of the flow-off—and there are all sorts of challenges. I commend the Minister for the Environment for that part of the legislation.

But, as I said, this is not about turtles and dugongs. This is actually about a stalking horse. Why would an environment minister still continue to draw pay if they propose that the decision maker will not have regard to approved conservation advices when they make a decision? Why would an environment minister abrogate their right to run their ruler over the environmental advice provided to them? Unless the Minister for the Environment comes in here and says, 'I should have my pay cut in half,' then he has no credibility at all when it comes to this.

Let us be realistic. The mining industry of 2013 is a completely different industry to the mining industry of 100 years ago that created moonscapes in parts of Tasmania. Those days are long gone. Mining industries now get big ticks for making sure they protect the environment. The rehabilitation they carry out is world class. We are world leaders when it comes to rehabilitation. I say this after having worked as an adviser to the Queensland Resources Council. I know the peak body in Queensland quite well and I know the great work that has been done when it comes to rehabilitation. I do not know mines in Tasmania, but I do know mines in Queensland. I know Queensland has a lot of things going for it that are not dissimilar to Tasmania in that we have a brand that says we are clean, green and a great tourism destination. We also have some of the best resources in the world.

How do we balance those? I can tell you, Member for Braddon, what we do not do. We do not throw out the rule book when it comes to the environment, because that effectively is what we are doing here. This stalking horse that those opposite are carping about is all about saying that the environment minister does not have to have regard to the conservation advice provided to them.

Mr Whiteley: It is not a stalking horse.

Mr PERRETT: That is exactly what this legislation is about. If those opposite had the foresight to look through this legislation they would see that that is what they are advocating. The Labor Party is the party of jobs, jobs for everybody and jobs that are sustainable, not short-term jobs. Let us be realistic about this. We have seen a few things take place. For a start, the environment minister has said to every state: 'You make decisions about the environment. We trust you.' That will lead to a potted patchwork approach to decision making.

Mr Whiteley: That is not what he said.

Mr PERRETT: The legislation has already been agreed at COAG. The environment ministers in the states will now make decisions about projects. And we have seen it in Queensland and I am particularly worried about the Queensland government. Before the election—back in March last year—they hardly said anything about the environment; in fact, they even put out a letter to the environment groups saying: 'You can trust us. We will do the right thing by you.' Then after the election—and I mean the morning after the election—the first statement made by the Deputy Premier elect, Jeff Seeney, was not a visionary statement about what Queensland will look like in 30 years time. No, the first thing that he said was, 'The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is too big.' That is what a Queensland Deputy Premier said the morning after the election. There was no mention of that before the election, but that was the first thing that he said afterwards. I am a big believer in people carrying out after the election what they promise before an election.

The reality is that the Premier of Queensland, in an environment in which income is constrained, is likely to be blind when it comes to mining approvals. If they are going to effectively be told, 'You don't have to pay attention to the approved conservation advice,' that is going to completely tip the balance between sustainable mining and a sustainable environment. That is going to tilt it too far in favour of mining companies.

As I said, the Labor Party has a strong presence in the mining industries. We take notice of the jobs in the mining industry. But it must be a balanced and sustainable industry. We need to remember—and anyone from Tasmania would know this—what happens when you have unchecked mining and when mining companies do not have an obligation to consider the environment before they put a shovel in the ground. That can be a recipe for disaster.

These amendments are important. They need to be seen in the context of the planet overall, because that is fundamentally what those opposite do not get. Obviously, the prism through which we should consider things is our approaches to putting a price on carbon. We understand that it is a cost to people and that it means that they have to readjust. We understand that it involves them putting their hand in their wallets or changing their lifestyles. Why do we ask them to do this, something that is tough to retail to people at the polling booth? The reason that we do it is because we care about the future. Unless we have the capacity to look our children in the eye and say, 'I am more important than you'—and that is something that I cannot do to my four-year old and my eight-year old—we need to get this right. The people sitting on green seats now need to get it right; the people sitting on red seats over in that other place need to get it right. History will judge us harshly for how we approach the future of the globe.

Australians put their trust in the Abbott government to do what is best for our nation. Obviously, I did not agree with their policies. But they continue to make misleading and destructive statements and now some of those opposite have gotten into groupthink so much that they have started to convince themselves that it is the actual truth. The carbon price legislation is a classic example.

In my home state of Queensland, environmental protection and the conservation of biodiversity is exceptionally important. We are a very diverse state. We have deserts, rainforests and mulga; we even have Antarctic beach. We have the biggest sand island in the world, Fraser Island. Ironically, that became protected through the actions of Campbell Newman's dad when he was environment minister under Malcolm Fraser. Queensland is incredibly diverse, but we also have these incredible resources that can create the jobs and the exports that will keep people employed for the next 30, 50, 100 or 200 years. We want to see our economy grow and prosper but we cannot do so by sacrificing our environment. That way madness lies. If you look at China, you can see what happens if you have unchecked development with people not considering the environment. That can create riots and health problems and the like.

Queensland had a tourism campaign with the slogan, 'Beautiful one day, perfect the next.' That is something that we need to consider. Yet in the last couple of weeks I have seen the Queensland government talk about mining and exporting uranium. I even heard the processing of uranium floated the other day. There was no mention of it during the election. In fact, when I raised this during my election campaign in September there was a strong response from my opponent saying, 'No, that's a fear campaign; there is nothing like that being considered.'

The reality is that we need to look at uranium and nuclear power stations not just through the prism of Fukushima and how things can go wrong or Kakadu, where we saw some problems over the weekend. We need to consider what it would mean to that brand of, 'Beautiful one day, perfect the next,' if you have barrels of yellowcake going through the Great Barrier Reef or, if they decide not to go through the Great Barrier Reef, up through the Northern Territory to the accredited port or down to South Australia. If they go through South Australia, that would mean that they would be trucking it through my home town of St George. I know the current member for New England has deserted St George, but I would love to have that conversation in the pubs in St George: 'We've got some yellowcake coming through here and going down those country roads.' I believe you have to get the balance right. Surely listening to the conservation advice provided to a mining company is a logical pre-step to any big mining operation.

I campaigned about marine parks at the end of the 43rd parliament, when we had votes on the marine parks that Labor had created—a system of marine parks that are the envy of the world; a system of marine parks such that we see people come to Australia to learn what we have done. But, sadly, those opposite in the 43rd parliament voted against that—we only won the continuation by one vote. I am sure the member for Melbourne would remember that one vote with which we won. In fact, we even saw the member for Wentworth vote against the park that he had created when he was the environment minister! That was the political power play that we saw in the 43rd parliament.

The reality is this bill is nobbling an environment minister's ability to make decisions about mining projects. As I said, all power to his arm when it comes to protecting turtles and dugongs—although I think there could have been greater consultation with Indigenous groups around Queensland, and that that clearly illustrates why this is a stalking horse rather than a fair dinkum approach to looking after those species.

UNESCO's World Heritage committee has had a look at our reef and assessed it as being in danger—already under threat. We have mining projects set to come online in Queensland over the next few years. There are pressures coming from the miners in terms of the suggestion that they put sludge out into the reef. I have been going to North Queensland for about 25 years. When you see the changes you can see that there are challenges for the reef, challenges for the tourism industry and the nearly 60,000 jobs that hang off the biggest living organism in the world. We need to get the balance right. Those opposite are not doing that.

There was a time, when it came to the environment, when Australia was a world leader. We saw that with our marine park proposal under former Minister Burke in the Labor government. We have a history of punching above our weight as a middle power. This step is a retrograde step. This step takes us back to the bad old days that I remember, with Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland, where the white shoes were out from under the desk wandering around dictating how things were done.

Ironically, mining companies have moved on. They have world's best practice and they should be recognised for such. If the project is so dodgy that it cannot even get an approved conservation advice then perhaps we should not be doing it. We need to be sensible when it comes to the environment and jobs. (Time expired)