Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2014 - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:53): I rise to contribute to the debate on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2014. On this side we have been asked to confine our remarks because we are keen to get these bills through, but it is important to enter the debate, particularly after hearing a Greens political party speaker speak. Some people do listen to these broadcasts, and if you listened to the previous speech you would be appalled at where it said Australia is going. The Greens political party and their friends—the Wilderness Society, the WWF, I regret to say, and the Marine Conservation Society—work on the basis that any lie, any misrepresentation, will justify the means. That is why the Greens and all those other groups are spending literally tens of millions of dollars on a glossy brochure campaign full of misrepresentations and inconsistencies to try and shut down the Australian coal industry that gives this country the standard of living it currently has and many of the jobs that are currently provided for fellow Australians.

I am conscious of time, but I cannot let the previous speech go without addressing some of outrageous claims the previous speaker made. For example, we are being told that the Commonwealth EPBC Act is being thrown out the door and that the laws will no longer apply because we are getting a one-stop shop for the states to administer. The same laws will apply. Nothing is happening with the EPBC Act except the process of the state governments assessing a project and then, when they have finished, having another group of Commonwealth bureaucrats going through the same process, doubling the time to obtain an environmental approval.

I have not had a chance to get the figures—if someone wants to correct me they can—but as I recall under Labor, when someone made an application for an EPBC Act approval, the average number of days to get an approval, subject to conditions, or a knock-back I think was over 700 days. Under the current government, as I recall, the same applications are averaging something like 87 days. Those figures may not be accurate, but they are in the ballpark. That is because the Labor Party has always relied on the Greens in order to retain government. The Labor Party knows that the Greens want to stop every development in Australia, so they have a deliberate go-slow policy federally and they do that on top of the state regimes, who have already assessed most applications.

What this range of bills will do is ensure that all of the applications can be dealt with by one set of bureaucrats, using two sets of laws, Commonwealth and state, but assessing almost the same things. If you listened to the previous speaker, you would think that the Commonwealth EPBC Act has been thrown away. I often say to my friend Robert Hill, who introduced that act—a Liberal minister—'Look, a lot of people are unhappy about the way that act delays everything.' He says to me, quite rightly, 'It is not the act that is the problem; it is the way it is administered.' Under Liberal governments it is administered properly, efficiently and quickly, and you either get a no or a yes, and away you go. Under Labor you have to wait something like years to get these approvals.

I relate an instance up my way in North Queensland: an aquaculture prawn farm—we like aquaculture as it saves the wild-caught fishing industry—spent something like $15 million over about five years trying to get approval for one prawn farm. They eventually got the state approval but they then had to turn around and start all over again for a federal approval. No wonder we cannot afford the price of prawns in Australia at the present time.

Senator Walters complained that we had stopped funding for certain purposes only for the Environmental Defenders Offices. She says that that means now the public cannot stop anything and cannot enter into any contest with the Commonwealth. Yes, they can, Senator Walters. If they feel so strongly about it, some of these groups that are spending millions on this glossy brochure campaign to stop the coal industry could actually put some of that funding into paying their own lawyers.

If you listen to Senator Walters, you would think we have taken away the ability to contest these things. What we have done is redirect funding for much-needed legal aid to those places where legal aid is desperately needed. The senator could not resist her ongoing campaign on global warming. I recommend that she read a very thoughtful and well-developed argument in the papers recently from Maurice Newman, who, unfortunately for the senator and her cohorts, points out that, under any evidence at all, there has been no global warming for more than 20 years. But I will not enter into that. She then said the Abbot Point decision was an assault on the environment and an assault on the Barrier Reef. Senator Walters is always very careful with the words she chooses, but the dredging at Abbot Point is nowhere near the Great Barrier Reef—nowhere near it; 40 or 50 kilometres away. She talked about the dredging and dumping on the Great Barrier Reef. As she knows, it is nowhere near the Great Barrier Reef; Abbot Point is in the lagoon a little way out from the mainland. It is near where I live and I enjoy that part of the Barrier Reef. I am not worried about it, and neither is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—the scientific, well-funded group that looks at these things. The Institute of Marine Science does not get directly involved but lends support to various elements.

Then we got on to the World Heritage Commission. What an outrageous decision it was last night on the Tasmanian forest! Why do we bother being directed by this foreign group? Have a look who is on that, Senator Walters, and have a look at the environmental significance of the countries they come from. And yet they are sitting in judgement of us. As Senator Colbeck has said many a time, this World Heritage forest they are talking about is a forest that has been logged for years. So how come it is a pristine heritage forest, when it has already been logged? For the World Heritage Commission to enter into that is an absolute disgrace; and I might say the same about their deliberations on the Great Barrier Reef. They have given it a temporary reprieve, but the Great Barrier Reef is there; it will continue to exist forever; it will continue to attract tourists from all over the world; and it will continue to do that no matter what the World Heritage Commission says. As an Australian and a Queenslander, I get disgusted when people like the Greens political party and this foreign body try to diminish or shut down Australia's tourism industry by making false accusations on the Great Barrier Reef. There is some recent science which shows, as I have always said, that nature is a wonderful thing, Senator Walters, and the reef will regenerate itself.

Senator Hanson-Young: On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. I would like to remind Senator Macdonald that the senator's name is Senator Waters, not Walters.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I apologise to Senator Waters if I have been mispronouncing her name. I do wish that you would also get your facts correct before you enter into these debates. Senator Waters also talked about the marine protected zones which the Abbott government has changed so that decisions are now made on the basis of—heaven forbid—science and scientific advice. That is rather different to relying on some American conservation agency that was set up, I might say, on the back of the profits of the oil industry decades ago. That group was embarrassed by what it had done to the American environment and now it pours millions of dollars into the Pugh Foundation, which then roams the world lecturing everyone else in the world about proper management of marine parks. Fortunately, under the Abbott government, marine parks will be managed according to science.

I am sorry that I have not even got onto my speech yet, but this is a debate and I cannot let the Greens continue to mislead the Australian public. Senator Waters laments the passing of the mining tax, but it was tax that did not make any money. It was a tax that cost more to implement than it ever recovered. Why wouldn't you get rid of it? Senator Waters also talked about the abolition of the Biodiversity Fund. She does not remember that it was the Howard government's Natural Heritage Trust that put all that money into the protection of biodiversity. Senator Waters also laments that a group of Canberra bureaucrats will lose their jobs because they will no longer have work to do in the Commonwealth Department of the Environment. That is because the work they were doing was duplicating work that another set of bureaucrats had done in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth. Why should you employ a group of people to do exactly the same work as another set of bureaucrats? Of course, we will reduce the numbers, because they are not needed. The Commonwealth laws will be addressed by the state bureaucrats when they are doing the state environmental assessments.

The final comment of Senator Waters that I recorded was that local councils would make decisions on the EPBC Act. I would like you to show me where that is provided for, Senator Waters. It sounds good. It will frighten some people who have Labor councils, I guess, in Sydney and elsewhere, to think that they would be left in charge of EPBC Act applications, but the state governments will be administering things, as they should.

I have extended my time to speak but I have not even got on to my speech. The second reading speech does clearly indicate what it is all about. I will not repeat that, except to say: the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2014 will amend the act to allow for cost recovery for environmental impact assessments and approvals. And who could argue with that? That is the way things are these days. Cost recovery will help to ensure that the Department of the Environment is adequately resourced to undertake efficient environmental assessments.

In a nutshell, that is what this bill is all about. I welcome the support of the Labor Party for the bill. It would be too much to expect that the Greens would support anything that the Howard or Abbott governments brought forward, and so I, to a degree, disregard their mismatch of reasons for not supporting this. But this is an appropriate step on the way through to bring some sense and good process to the protection of our environment, which this government is so keen to do and enhance.

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