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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 1996

Mr HUNT (FlindersMinister for the Environment) (18:46): I want to thank all of the members for their contribution to the debate on the Environment Legislation Amendment Bill. The bill provides legal certainty for decisions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. It provides additional protection for turtles and dugongs under the EPBC Act and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. The need for these improvements to national environmental law has arisen as a result of recent case law, and, separately, concerns about the illegal poaching and trading of turtles and dugongs.

Let me deal first with the question of the conservation advice amendment. This is actually fixing up a mess caused by the previous government. We are helping them out. There is an existing set of appeals. There could potentially be more based on technicalities. These could cause endless delay without there being any substantive basis for the claims of improper decision making. We know that the other side is in agreement with this. What they are doing at the moment is in breach of what we understood to be the direction they would head. So in good faith we have entered into discussions so as not to delay this—to ensure that there is a sunset clause on this legislation with regard to decisions made by 31 December of this year. In other words, we are covering and protecting all of the decisions made by the previous government and are setting 31 December for the sake of clarity and precision. We are doing that in good faith, and I would hope that members opposite, and in particular the shadow minister opposite, would not act in contravention of the good faith shown, the discussions had and the actions taken.

We are repairing that which was broken under a previous administration and we are not even requiring that this protection apply to us. We are making the decisions properly on our watch. We are making the decisions carefully on our watch. And it is passing strange that the people who made the mess are now opposing others cleaning up their mess. I think that the relevant previous minister and the relevant current opposition shadow minister know that to be the case; they know that it would be utterly inappropriate for them to stand in the way of us cleaning up the mess. Nevertheless, in good faith, we will make sure that this has a sunset clause. I will move an amendment to that effect during the consideration in detail stage. That is a significant move. It places a higher burden on the government and in particular on me as the responsible minister. I am happy to accept that and happy also to make sure that there is no uncertainty in relation to past decisions made by the previous government. It would be a singular act of inappropriate behaviour were they not to honour the steps which were agreed and which were progressed in good faith. I will wait for the opposition to honour that which they had indicated they were going to pursue.

As I just indicated—as the shadow minister enters the chamber—we will, in good faith, put in place a sunset clause of 31 December—no tricks, no games. Therefore, all decisions made by the previous government will be closed and covered and protected against a technical deficiency. On our watch, in our time, on our responsibility we are not seeking that protection for all decisions after 31 December. I think that it is very important to understand that we are setting for ourselves a higher standard than that which we are now putting in place for decisions of the previous administration.

The second part of this bill is in relation to the turtles and dugongs amendments. These amendments implement our election commitment to triple the financial penalties for poaching and illegal transportation of turtle and dugong meat as announced in the dugong and turtle protection plan. The bill amends the EPBC Act and the Marine Park Act to increase criminal and civil financial penalties for killing, injuring, taking, trading, keeping or moving a turtle or a dugong in the Commonwealth marine area and for taking or injuring turtles and dugongs within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The increased penalties will deter people from committing offences or breaching civil penalty provisions under the act.

I would also note that we will not be accepting the second reading amendment proposed by the opposition for the very reasons I have set out. In good faith, we have offered through the consideration in detail process substantive amendments which will achieve their concerns whilst protecting their decisions. I believe that that is more than the government needed to have done but it is done so there is no delay in this process.

The Greens have indicated that they will be making amendments. We will not be accepting those amendments because that would effectively forestall and destroy the one-stop-shop process. We are in the process of lifting standards around the country. States are coming to us, not going in the other direction. So we are lifting standards. This would hurt standards in the states. It would create unnecessary delay. It would create duplication. And it would fail to help the environment in any way. So I respectfully say to the Leader of the Greens in this House that we will not be accepting those amendments.

Having said that, I commend the bill to the House. I commend it in its original form and I will let the House continue its work.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): The immediate question is that the amendment be agreed to. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133 the division is deferred until 8 pm.

Debate adjourned.