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Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Page: 8759

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (14:52): My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. I refer to the Turnbull government's decision to shut down the Senate inquiry into watering down the EPBC Act without a single public hearing. How is this consistent with the Prime Minister's promise to be truly consultative with colleagues, members of parliament, senators and the wider public?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:52): Senator Sterle, as you know, the reform of the EPBC Act is a matter that is on the government's agenda and the government has made very clear its intentions in that respect. Senator Sterle, the government respects the parliament, it respects its processes and it respects, in particular, processes of Senate committees. The issues in relation to the reform of the EPBC Act, in particular section 487, are very clear. This is a provision, almost unique in Australian law, which allows for people with no legal standing under ordinary common law principles to take proceedings in which they have no interest other than a philosophical or ideological interest and which may be used as a vehicle for abuse.

You have heard me quote before in the Senate, and I will not be tedious and quote it again, the clear declaration of intent by certain environmental groups to engage in what I have called 'vigilante' litigation, what others have called 'lawfare', in order to misuse the courts, not to achieve justice between parties, which is the reason the courts exist, but rather to use the courts as a weapon to impede, to stop and to interfere with legitimate commercial enterprises and legitimate economic development. We do not think that that is a legitimate use of the courts. We think that standing provisions which create an exception to the existing and very good common law rules are undesirable and we intend to do away with them.


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (14:54): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to one of the nation's largest and most prolific environmental groups, the National Farmers' Federation, and their refusal to support the Turnbull government's amendments to the EPBC Act because its risks 'denying farming groups and individual farmers the right to appeal against government decisions that they believe are going to adversely affect farming communities or individuals operations.' Attorney-General, is the National Farmers' Federation correct?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:55): Once again, Senator Sterle, I have been asked a question about the statement of the National Farmers' Federation. I am familiar with what the President of the National Farmers' Federation, Mr Brett Finlay, has said in this regard. I actually know Mr Brett Finlay quite well and I have a very high regard for Mr Brett Finlay. But on this particular occasion the statement that he has made is wrong. Any farmer whose interests are affected by any environmental development by any decision of the Minister for the Environment, for which there is an avenue of review under the EPBC Act, will have their rights unaffected by repeal of section 487. If you have a cognisable legal interest in a decision, your right to challenge it is unaffected.


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (14:56): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Attorney-General, do the Turnbull government's proposed changes to the EPBC Act have the support of all members of the government or would you agree with us that the National Party has, once again, sold its constituency down the road?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:56): Senator Sterle, I have told you what the position of the government is and that is a decision that has been made by the cabinet. It is a decision to which all members of the cabinet adhere. I believe it is a decision supported by backbench members of the government as well. It may be that there are some who have a different view. If there are, I am not aware of it. Nevertheless that is the position of the government to repeal section 487 of the EPBC Act for the very good reasons that I have just explained to you.