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Thursday, 4 February 2021
Page: 353

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (11:57): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I table an explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I rise today in favour of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Save the Koala) Bill 2021, the Australian Greens' Bill which will implement a moratorium on habitat clearing to save the koala from extinction.

Koalas are a national treasure but land clearing in Australia is becoming far too much for them to bear. Unless clearing of koala habitat stops, our beloved native species will soon be extinct.

That is why the Greens have introduced this bill.

Koalas are culturally significant to First Nations peoples. The word koala comes from 'gula' a Dharug word in the language of the Eora people meaning no water because they weren't seen to come down from trees to drink water often so it was believed that they could survive without drinking. Different clans and nations have the koala as a sacred totem, and some nations in Queensland and Victoria regard the koala as a wise animal and seek its advice.

Off the back of the worst bushfires in history in the summer of 2019/2020, which killed tens of thousands of koalas and millions of other native species, and destroyed millions of hectares of habitat across the country, no approvals for developments on koala land should be given.

The Environment Minister has one job and killing koalas isn't it. If the Morrison Government won't protect them then the Parliament must, because right now our environment laws are failing.

Under the 20-year-old EPBC Act, koalas have already lost one million hectares of critical habitat. Overall, at least 7.7million hectares of critical habitat has been destroyed for mining and development over the last two decades.

The once-in-ten-year review of the EPBC Act was conducted last year, with the independent reviewer Professor Samuel remarking in his interim report, the "community and industry do not trust the EPBC Act and the regulatory system that underpins its implementation". This is a damning indictment on our laws. It's no wonder the Morrison Government sat on the final report for 90 days and has still failed to respond.

At present, the government cannot guarantee and refuses to guarantee, that not one more hectare of critical koala habitat will be lost. Indeed they even put forward new laws last year that would fast-track more destruction. This is despite their own experts telling them that unless habitat clearing is stopped, koalas will soon be extinct.

The Threatened Species Commissioner told me at Senate Estimates in November last year that the biggest threat to koalas was "Habitat loss and degradation and fragmentation".

A New South Wales Inquiry into Koalas also reported in the middle of last year. The Committee found that the ongoing destruction of koala habitat through the clearing of land for agriculture, development, mining and forestry has severely impacted most koala populations in the state over many decades. The committee found that this fragmentation and loss of habitat poses the most serious threat to koala populations.

It went on to find that the future of koalas in the wild in New South Wales cannot be guaranteed unless the NSW Government takes stronger action to prevent further loss of koala habitat and that given the scale of loss to koala populations across New South Wales as a result of the 2019- 2020 bushfires and without urgent government intervention to protect habitat and address all other threats, the koala will become extinct in New South Wales before 2050.

Our national treasure, extinct in NSW in less than thirty years. What a disgrace.

It is no wonder that during a visit to Kangaroo Island in my home state of South Australia late last year a wildlife tourism operator told a senate committee that even before the summer bushfires, eastern-state visitors told him they had never seen a koala in the wild. Surely this is not the Australia we want.

The NSW Parliamentary Committee made a number of key recommendations that stronger action must be taken by government to protect and restore koala habitat on both public and private land. The government finally responded in January but failed to accept two thirds of the recommendations.

The committee also made findings regarding the impact that climate change is having on koala populations. It found the impact to be severe by affecting the quality of their food and habitat, and compounding the severity and impact of other threats, such as drought and bushfires.

The demise of koalas is emblematic of the demise of global biodiversity and the impact of climate change on the future of our species and the planet. Saving koalas and their habitat means saving other wildlife.

We all witnessed the threat of the climate crisis to our native species with the climate fires last summer.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, nearly 3 billion animals - mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs - were in the path of the devastating bushfires. About 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 181 million birds, and 51 million frogs occupied areas hit by the fires. An estimated 50 million native rats and mice; nearly 40 million possums and gliders; more than 36 million antechinuses, dunnarts, and other insectivorous marsupials; 5.5 million bettongs, bandicoots, quokkas, and potoroos; 5 million kangaroos and wallabies; 5 million bats; 1.1 million wombats; 114,000 echidnas; 19,000 quolls and Tasmanian devils; and 5,000 dingoes were in the path of the flames.

And the fires killed more than 61,000 koalas. They impacted more than 41,000 koalas on South Australia's Kangaroo Island, more than 11,000 in Victoria, nearly 8,000 in NSW, and nearly 900 in Queensland. Impacts included death, injury, trauma, smoke inhalation, heat stress, dehydration, loss of habitat, reduced food supply, increased predation risk, and conflict with other animals after fleeing to unburnt forest.

The images went around the world, shocking people in every corner of the globe. None more so than our helpless, burnt, dehydrated and devastated koalas as rescuers tried valiantly to save them. The world responded by sending millions and millions of dollars to charities and funds set up to save the koala and other precious native species showing just how important the koala is to us all.

So it defies logic that not only did the Morrison Government provide a measly amount of funding towards rescue and recovery efforts, not only has it failed to take proper action on the climate crisis and not only is it failing to save the koala, but we have an Environment Minister who is signing their death warrant.

In October the Environment Minister Ms Sussan Ley MP approved the Brandy Hill quarry expansion at Port Stephens which will clear 52 hectares of koala habitat. It defies logic that an Environment Minister would approve the destruction of critical habitat for the koala, a species facing extinction in NSW. The Minister signed a death warrant for the koalas that call this place home.

In late November the Minister announced the government had approved the controversial Narrabri gas project, which will see up to 850 gas wells being drilled in grazing land and forest in northern New South Wales. Not only is this a terrible outcome for climate change but 100 hectares of koala habitat and 300 hectares of potential breeding habitat for the Pilliga mouse will be destroyed. The Pilliga forest is the largest temperate woodland left in eastern Australia. But the Minister couldn't care less about its environmental value or the impact 850 gas wells will have on our warming climate.

Earlier in 2020, the Minister gave approval to the Olive Downs project in Queensland which will clear 5500 hectares of koala and glider habitat. The Queensland state Labor Government ticked it off as well. Memo to Queensland, tourists and residents already have to leave your state to see a koala in the wild!

Many more applications from mining companies and developers sit on the Environment Minister's desk. She cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

After copping an enormous amount of flak for these decisions, Minister Ley came out and announced a koala census. Counting koalas will not save them. It's a poor attempt to appease the public while still kowtowing to corporate influence. And all the while the Morrison Government persisted with their environment-wrecking reforms.

The Senate Inquiry into the Tony-Abbott era legislation heard that koalas and other threatened species will be treated differently across jurisdictions under the proposal. The Department also confirmed it hasn't even modelled the impact of the reforms on preservation of the environment or wildlife.

The threat the Government's EPBC Amendment Bill poses to Australia's wildlife is very real, leading the Humane Society International to urge the government to withdraw the bill and consider important and much needed reforms to the EPBC Act as a package—one that is appropriate to tackle Australia's extinction crisis and actually deliver protection to our most threatened species by protecting critical habitat and the places our wildlife need to survive.

The laws have failed to protect Australia's environment and wildlife for far too long. Things must change. We need stronger protection, not weaker laws. A moratorium on habitat clearing is vital if we are to save the koala from extinction. This is the type of reform the EPBC Act actually needs so our native wildlife is protected rather than increasingly facing extinction.

This shouldn't be a fight.

Australia is a world leader in extinction and without urgent action we will have killed off the koala too and that will be an international shame.

Australians don't want the only koalas we have left to be in zoos. That is why I commend this Bill to the Senate and urge the Parliament to support it.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.