Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013
Second Reading
Database Senate Hansard
Date 17-06-2013
Source Senate
Parl No. 43
Page 2906
Party LP
Status Final
Speaker Boyce, Sen Sue
Stage Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013
Context BILLS
System Id chamber/hansards/a100ffa9-3adc-47c2-982a-7e995fa6e144/0014

BILLS - Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013 - Second Reading

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (10:39): I must acknowledge—and I am sure my colleague Senator Edwards would have acknowledged if he had realised—that we have Mr Windsor from the House of Representatives in the gallery, listening closely, I hope, to the comments being made by the coalition on ways that this piece of disrespectful legislation could be improved, if it must be put to the Senate at all. I would like to quote the Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, from April 2012:

Look, what we want to work towards here is a streamlined system, so that projects don’t go through two layers of assessment for no real gain.

And so the classic examples that are brought by business is where people have gone through sequential assessments, so it’s double the time, things that have been required for the first assessment are required in a slightly modified form for the second assessment, so they don’t even get the benefits of just uplifting the work and re-presenting it, it’s got to be re-done.

That is a quote from the Prime Minister in April 2012, making comments that the coalition very much agrees with and demonstrating, perhaps briefly, an understanding of the costs that are imposed on business when we replicate and duplicate requirements across the state and federal bodies, and that regulation continues to be the issue there.

I referred to this bill earlier as 'disrespectful', and I continue to hold that view. It is disrespectful of the Hawke review, which went on for 10 years, looking in an independent way at issues that can be cogently and coherently brought into the environment biodiversity conservation bill, without this favouritism that infects the bill currently before us. It is also disrespectful of the legislation it seeks to amend. The EPBC Act is the main centrepiece of the federal environmental legislative framework. It covers eight matters of national environmental significance and sets guiding principles to protect and manage significant environmental and heritage items at a national level. The eight matters in which the federal government has jurisdiction are World Heritage sites, National Heritage sites, wetlands of international importance, nationally threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species, Commonwealth marine areas, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and nuclear actions. Now what we have is this weird little add-on, it might have made a bit of sense for the federal government to look at the whole matter of water resources and the impact of all types of mining on water resources, But no, not that—it will just look at the impact of coalseam gas and coalmining on water resources. And, as Senator Edwards pointed out earlier, apparently there are currently moves to include shale oil in there.

There would be absolutely no reason water resources should not be included in the EPBC, except that the states already do it. And we had the Prime Minister just 12 months ago as well as the environment minister, Mr Burke—even more recently—agreeing that duplication was not the way to go, that it is ridiculous that we have examinations done by state governments and then by federal governments, who are looking at the same things but looking at them differently. It was interesting to note that Senator Birmingham, during Senate estimates recently, managed to winkle out of the government the extraordinary costs of the EPBC Act. It is currently costing taxpayers $32 million just to administer the legislation, and it takes 210 staff. Next year, with the little changes that are going on—the water changes—it is going to add another $38½ million, and an extra $10 million a year after that. And they will need an extra 43 staff in this coming year simply to satisfy the requirements of Mr Windsor. The disrespect in this legislation is for the parliament, for the Senate, for the environmental community and for the mining industry.

What changed between 2012 and now? The only thing that the coalition can understand has changed is that Mr Windsor has been to see the Prime Minister and told her that he wants this legislation passed because it will be good for his re-election chances. That is what we understand has happened here. Even the Australian Network of Environmental Defenders Offices, a group that is highly in favour of environmental protection, do not agree with what is being done under this piecemeal piece of legislation. They say—

Senator Waters interjecting

Senator BOYCE: Senator Waters is interrupting. I was about to read the comments. The piecemeal approach is what very much upsets people in the environmental movement as well as other areas. Ms Walmsley from the Australian Network of Environmental Defenders Offices said:

I think the clear example of an ideal process would be the Hawke review. That was a 10-year review of the act. It was independent. The panellists on the Hawke review interviewed hundreds of industry, farmer and environmental groups. They did a thorough, independent review. They put out 71 recommendations. The government put out a response. There were so many great things in that package that could strengthen the bill and address a lot of these issues that are being incrementally addressed by really specific small bills that deal with really small issues …

Ms Walmsley went on to say:

So, no, I do not think it is ideal that the EPBC Act is being amended by piecemeal bills. I think we should embrace the opportunity to follow the Hawke review and actually do a proper amendment of the act itself to strengthen the Commonwealth role.

That, of course, would be the way to respect the roles of the Commonwealth and the state, to respect this act as an important piece of legislation—the centrepiece of our environmental legislation—and to respect the roles of the many organisations that should, and could, have been asked about their view on this legislation. None of them, of course, were asked.

The Prime Minister even managed to exempt this bill, looking at coal seam gas and coal mining effects on water resources, from the regulatory impact statement process. Why? Once again, to please, one presumes, Mr Windsor—to get this through quickly enough for Mr Windsor to be able to wave it around, presumably, as part of his re-election campaign. I do not think it is going to be enough. I think people are going to remember the concerns that they have.

Of course, we already have assessment of water and the impact on water resources done by the state governments. Another aspect of the disrespect here is the clear implication from a lot of the government material and from a lot of the environmental material that the state government processes are somehow wanting, somehow non-scientific, somehow politically polluted. And we have this major political pollution sitting before us right now. Why would the federal government, the Greens and the Independents have the disrespectful view that the states are somehow not up to checking the environmental impact on our water resources?

The Queensland state government—and, Madam Acting Deputy President, you will be aware that I represent the state of Queensland—through its Department of Natural Resource and Mines Coal Seam Gas Engagement and Compliance Plan 2013, is developing an overall strategy for the responsible oversight and regulation of the coal seam gas industry. In my view some of the coal seam gas miners, in the early days of exploration and negotiations, behaved like complete cowboys. Most of them have now tidied up their act. They have realised that the way to go about business is in a community that supports what you are doing, not in a community that is full of ridiculous rumours because you have not bothered to explain what you are doing and how you are doing it and are using bully boy tactics on people. Certainly the coal seam gas mining industry in some respects can only blame itself for the poor image it has had.

The Queensland government, as I said, has come up with a gas engagement and compliance plan, as have other state governments where it is relevant. The Department of Natural Resources and Mines in Queensland is fully committed to the sustainable use of Queensland natural resources. Giving evidence to a Senate hearing on this piece of legislation, the Queensland government said they always demanded a high level of compliance and their compliance evaluations will increase and become stricter as a result of this compliance plan. The Queensland government said: 'The federal Labor government, through the measures in this bill, are making it difficult for the Queensland government to boost the state's economy and keep it strong. The federal government are overriding the state's sovereign rights for their own political agenda.'

We have many other comments from many organisations that cannot understand why this legislation has been rushed through in this piecemeal way, or why we are looking at a really small issue, as the Environmental Defenders Network said, or why there was not real consultation about it, or a regulatory impact statement was not required or why it is completely doubling up on work that is already being done by the states. Apropos of the amendments that Mr Windsor moved in the House of Representatives, there is no ability in the bill for the state evaluation to be accepted by the federal government; it has to happen twice and it only has to happen around these areas.

The coalition supported the establishment last year of the expert scientific panel to further research the impact of coal seam gas mining on water because there are genuine community fears about it. So what was the sensible thing to do? The sensible thing to do was to set up the expert scientific panel to look at the problem and separate the scare-mongering and fear campaigns developed by the Greens, who are simply anti-business at any cost, from the realities and the possibility of what may harm water tables. And, of course, that is a major issue for Australia. The coalition supported the establishment of the expert scientific panel because we believe it was necessary to intelligently and respectfully look at the changes that need to be made.

Of course, the ink is scarcely dry on the development of the expert scientific panel and we have the government, prompted by Mr Windsor, coming up with a ninth matter of national significance to stick into this bill. Irrespective of the outcome of the panel's findings in terms of coal seam gas, it will be in the bill as a matter of national environmental significance. It is not reasonable to do this. Witness after witness to the Senate committee inquiry into this bill made that point. The Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, said:

It flies in the face of what makes sense for jobs and the economy, while offering no tangible benefit to the environment.

If we could see that there was going to be a benefit for the environment in this then no-one would disagree with it happening. But it is a little job on the side, a little deal on the side, that has nothing to do with genuinely improving the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill. It has everything to do with politics and particularly the politics of New England. The Australian Industry Group, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, the Clean Energy Council and the Energy Supply Association of Australia, in a joint submission to the inquiry, said:

… non-evidence based policies which are restricting the development of new energy sources may have significant negative consequences for the broader Australian community.

Knee jerk policies continue to undermine the development of energy projects within this country. This comes at a real cost—and this cost is borne by the Australian community, in jobs, in economic growth and ultimately higher energy bills.

The Australian Coal Association referred to this bill as regressive policy making. They said:

At a time when we should be sharpening Australia's competitive edge by improving the efficiency of our regulatory system, the Government has offered a knee jerk reaction to campaigning by environment groups which adds another layer of green tape without delivering environmental benefit.

Some people might like to suggest that most of those organisations that I quoted are, in fact, organisations that would be pro mining and anti environment. I would want to contest that. The issue is that these groups will operate within the law and they, quite reasonably, like to have the law settled before they invest their billions of dollars.

We have the situation with this bill, apropos, again of a deal that has been done, presumably, between Mr Windsor and the government that any approval not already in existence will be subjected to this new requirement. It is not just for new approvals; it is for anything that is currently in the pipeline. As an organisation seeking approval for a mine you may very well have done what was required by the state government in regard to water resources. You may very well have done everything that the federal government requires you to do under the existing legislation and be waiting for a tick-off, but, no, you will not get your tick-off now, you have to go back and do the evaluation of the resources the way that the federal government wants it done for water, which is presumably not going to be terribly different from the way the state government wanted it done. It is going to involve another level of cost, another level of testing and another level of wasted resources, which is another example of the ridiculous green tape that this government has developed around everything, very much because of their inability to see the need for jobs, to see the need for growth and to understand how to go about doing something like that.

Mr Windsor, as I said, should hang his head in shame at this piece of legislation. It is disrespectful of the Senate and of the parliament and of the environmental and mining movements.