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Monday, 31 August 2020
Page: 5931


Dr LEIGH (Fenner) (11:31): Edward O Wilson the biologist once talked about the idea of biophilia: the notion that humans have an innate desire to connect with nature and other forms of life. Biophilia is being understood now in terms of the importance of mental health and spending time in the environment. I started today in the Canberra bush doing hill sprints on one of the hills near my house. Part of the joy of that is not just the physical exercise; it's the connection with the country around you—spending time with the kangaroos, the kookaburras and the galahs amidst the eucalyptus. So many Australians see the natural environment as being critical to who we are, and so many international visitors come to Australia to see our natural environment. They want to see Uluru. They want to the Great Barrier Reef. The environment is fundamental to who we are and who we stand for in the world. Yet, under the coalition, we have seen the greatest travesty in their inability to deal with unchecked climate change.

This coalition's approach to climate change has been that of the ostrich with its head in the sand: unable to recognise the looming environmental crisis that is being caused, unable to bring down Australia's emissions in line with what our international obligations demand and unable to recognise that dealing with climate change in a smooth transition is ultimately not only more effective but also the cheaper solution. Unchecked climate change challenges almost every aspect of Australian life. There is no continent worse affected by unchecked climate change than Australia. The impact on bushfires has already been felt. We've seen over a billion animals killed during the recent bushfires and more than 12 million hectares of land burnt. There are devastating impacts of sea level rise on coastal communities, and other significant impacts throughout the nation of unchecked climate change.

But we also have a coalition that is failing to do the right job when it comes to national environmental standards. The Samuel report, engaging with groups across the political spectrum, has recommended new, legally enforceable national environmental standards. It's recommended Australia's Indigenous cultural heritage laws be reviewed and better engagement with Indigenous Australians. As Bruce Pascoe has outlined in his book Dark Emu, Indigenous Australians have a great deal to teach non-Indigenous Australians about effective land management. It calls for better information, restoration of the environment, and the creation of an independent compliance and enforcement regulator—a so-called federal EPA.

The anti-science approach of the coalition can be seen, as the member for Griffith has so ably highlighted in this excellent motion, through the mismanagement of federal environmental decisions. Since 2014-15, we have seen a huge blowout in approval times, from 19 days to 116 days. Shockingly, 95 per cent of Morrison government decisions on major projects were late in 2018-19, and 79 per cent of approval decisions contained errors or didn't comply with the law. In what class would you think that it was alright to hand in your homework late 95 per cent of the time and wrong 79 per cent of the time? This government gets a failing grade when it comes to managing the environment. Another illustration of that is the lack of coalition speakers on this motion—not a single coalition speaker stepping up to defend the government. The member for Kennedy is prattling on from the backbenches, but not even he is going to stand up and defend the government on this.

Labor has a strong environmental legacy, through defending Kakadu and the Franklin River and through creating the world's largest network of marine parks. I've been proud to work with the Labor Environment Action Network—Louise Crawford, Felicity Wade, Rod Holesgrove, Ben Stern, Janaline Oh and others—because they recognise the great benefit to Australia of a Labor Party that is engaged and focused on issues of environmental conservation.

This isn't a choice between the environment and the economy. Indeed, in the case of tourism, the two go together beautifully. We need a government which is willing to do more on environmental approvals. We need a government that will finally take climate change seriously.