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Thursday, 14 November 2013
Page: 288

Mr HUNT (FlindersMinister for the Environment) (11:40): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker, let me begin by congratulating you on your appointment. It is a great honour and a well-deserved one.

This bill makes amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (the EPBC Act) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (Cth) (the Marine Park Act).

The EPBC Act provides a legal framework to protect and manage nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places.

More specifically, the EPBC Act protects Australia's native species by providing for the identification and listing of species, the development and use of conservation advice and recovery plans for listed species; and criminal offences relating to certain activities, including the killing or injuring of listed species without a permit.

The Marine Park Act also provides for the conservation of protected species through zoning, issuing of permits and implementation of plans of management. The Marine Park Act includes aggravated civil and criminal offences for killing or injuring a protected species which includes listed threatened, marine or migratory species under the EPBC Act.

The EPBC Act and Marine Park Act are well acknowledged for achieving a high level of protection for the environment. Nevertheless, the need for improvements has arisen as a result of recent case law and, separately, concerns were raised with me by the member for Leichhardt, the Hon. Warren Entsch, and others about ongoing illegal poaching and trading of turtles and dugong.

This bill amends various sections of the EPBC Act and Marine Park Act including:

amendments to provide legal certainty for decisions that require the minister to have regard to approved conservation advice for relevant threatened species or ecological community; and

amendments to provide additional protection for turtles and dugong under the EPBC Act and the Marine Park Act.

These amendments will provide legal certainty to industry stakeholders and strengthen environmental protection for turtles and dugong.

Conservation advice amendments

Approved conservation advice contains information on key threats to a threatened species or ecological community and actions needed to aid the recovery of the species or ecological community.

The EPBC Act currently provides that the decision maker must have regard to approved conservation advices in making certain decisions under the EPBC Act, for example, when making a decision about whether to approve an action.

The need for the amendments has arisen as a result of a recent Federal Court decision (Tarkine National Coalition Incorporated v Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities [2013] FCA 694). In that decision, the Federal Court declared an approval for a project invalid because the court found that the decision maker did not have regard to a relevant approved conservation advice.

The bill makes amendments to the EPBC Act to provide that decisions would not be invalid on this basis.

Importantly, the requirement to have regard to a relevant approved conservation advice has not been affected in any other way.

The amendments apply retrospectively to ensure that past decisions are not put at risk of being invalid. This will provide certainty for industry stakeholders with existing decisions and the projects that rely on those decisions. The amendments will also apply to future decisions to avoid similar issues arising.

Turtle and dugong amendments

Turtles and dugong are highly regarded by Australians for their ecological value as well as their cultural and spiritual importance.

All six species of marine turtles found in Australian waters are listed as threatened under the EPBC Act, with loggerhead, leatherback and olive ridleys listed as endangered; while green, hawksbill and flatback turtles are listed as vulnerable. Dugongs and turtles are also listed as both migratory and marine species under the EPBC Act. Further, turtles and dugongs are protected species under the Marine Park Act.

The EPBC Act currently contains various criminal offences relating to the killing, injuring, taking, trading, keeping or moving of turtles and dugongs where they are a listed threatened, migratory or marine species. Likewise, the Marine Park Act currently contains criminal offences and civil penalty provisions which apply to the taking of, or injury to, turtles and dugongs where they are a protected species under that act.

Concerns have been raised with me that the current penalty provisions in the EPBC Act and Marine Park Act are not high enough to protect turtles and dugongs from the increasing threats of poaching, illegal hunting, and illegal transportation and trade.

Accordingly, on 15 August 2013 the government announced our 'Dugong and Turtle Protection Plan' which aims to protect the dugong and turtle population of Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands. I acknowledge the considerable work that has already been undertaken by Indigenous communities, and in particular by Indigenous rangers, to ensure the protection and sustainability of turtle and dugong populations. I especially want to thank Indigenous leaders, such as James Epong, Larissa Hale, and the dugong and turtle task force, and Melissa George, who is the chair of the government's Indigenous Advisory Committee and a board member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, for their work.

As part of the Dugong and Turtle Protection Plan, we made a commitment to '[w]ithin six months … introduce federal legislation tripling the penalties for poaching and illegal transportation of turtle and dugong meat.' We also committed to support a specialised Indigenous ranger program for marine conservation along the Far North Queensland coast and for strengthened enforcement and compliance. I particularly thank Colin Riddell, Kenton Campbell and Bob Irwin for their advocacy and leadership in pushing for a dugong and turtle protection plan.

The Dugong and Turtle Protection Plan forms part of this government's Reef 2050 Plan to ensure that we have long term and sustainable management of the Great Barrier Reef.

The bill implements this policy commitment by amending the EPBC Act and the Marine Park Act to increase criminal and civil penalties for:

killing, injuring, taking, trading, keeping or moving a turtle or a dugong in a Commonwealth marine area; and

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 acts, thereby providing additional protection for turtles and dugongs from the threats of poaching, illegal hunting and illegal transportation and trade.

Under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), native title holders have a right to exercise native title rights to harvest marine turtles and dugongs for the purpose of personal, domestic, or non-commercial communal needs. These native title rights will not be affected by the bill.

This bill demonstrates the Australian government's commitment to the conservation of turtles and dugong and, as part of the government's Reef 2050 Plan, strengthens our capacity to preserve the Great Barrier Reef as an important feature of national and world heritage for future generations.

I thank all of those involved, particularly within the department, as well as the Indigenous community and the North Queensland community, for their work, for their advice and for their advocacy. I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.