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Wednesday, 30 May 2018
Page: 5080

Ms TEMPLEMAN (Macquarie) (18:09): It's interesting to hear you, Minister, talking about the portfolio and the combination of environment and energy. Clearly, it's a challenge to give appropriate weighting to the environment side of that portfolio. You talked recently about how Australia has one of the richest and most complex ecosystems in the world. That's very true. In my own electorate, which is World Heritage listed, we have unique flora and fauna—including koalas and platypuses—and we have a New South Wales government that wants to put a road through them. I think that really goes to the question of how much protection those areas get in this budget.

You've also acknowledged climate change as one of the threats to the 150,000 different species that we have, yet I note there was no new funding for climate change in the budget. There was nothing specific for it. You didn't have to blink and you'd miss it; it just wasn't there. I think that's disappointing.

I'd like the minister to explain the reports that there's a 25 per cent cut to the biodiversity and conservation division of the Department of Environment budget for the coming financial year. That's reported. I'd like to know if that report is accurate. I'd like to know what is the exact size of the cut? This cut's also reported to result in a loss of 60 full-time equivalent staff positions. I want to make the point that that's 60 out of a total base of approximately 200 full-time equivalent staff. So we're talking a cut of a third of staff. It does seem to me that you need people on the ground for the protection of the environment that you talk about, to protect these endangered species—in fact, to protect species not endangered so we can ensure that they remain healthy. So can the minister explain how the department will manage with a cut this size? I've heard these cuts described as 'kneecapping', as 'an absolute calamity for the Australian environment'—

Government members interjecting

Ms TEMPLEMAN: That's how it's been described. We already have one of the highest rates of extinction. It all comes at a time when we've had the largest step backwards in conservation history with the removal of the Coral Sea as a marine park. In fact, there has been more area taken from conservation areas than in any country ever. So that's why I'm interested in these cuts.

The first national review of threatened species monitoring has found that one-third of the 548 endangered species and 70 per cent of our threatened ecological communities were not being tracked at all. It has been reported that the poor performance has been driven by factors likely to be exacerbated by these job cuts. It worries me that that isn't a priority.

The same, of course, could be said for the heritage division of the department, because over the years they haven't been a priority. I note that, in your five minutes of speaking, you spent about 10 seconds talking about heritage. That seems to me indicative of the priority that it has. The minister knows my interest in Thompson Square in Windsor, and I note that the minister took the step of writing to the premier of New South Wales. Yet what worries me in his analysis of Thompson Square and the decision not to emergency-list it nationally is that no-one from the department of heritage went on that site. This site has the oldest brick-barrel drains in the country, convict-made brick-barrel drains. No-one from the heritage department has even been there. What does that say about the funding that has gone to the department in order to adequately protect not just colonial history but also Indigenous history? I think that does raise questions, and I'd like to hear the minister's view on the funding for the heritage department—not for the money that you're offering people, but for the resourcing that you have within that department to adequately assess things, by going on site, on the ground, and really looking at what constitutes national heritage.

I'd also be interested to know how the government plans to maintain the biodiversity that it so clearly values, and the welfare of Australia's vulnerable native wildlife when it's cutting staff and resources from the divisions responsible for tracking these threatened species. How many threatened species are awaiting the development of recovery plans? How does this number compare to the number of threatened species awaiting recovery plans five years ago? What is the department going to do to monitor the effectiveness of recovering threatened species, and how do they know when a species has recovered? I'd really appreciate answers to those questions.