Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014 - 22/09/2014 In Committee

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:53):  I also want to question the minister in relation to this same aspect. Before I do that, can I just congratulate the government on the bill before us that reduces again red tape in accordance with the commitment that the coalition made prior to the election. Already there has been one series of abolition of red and green tape, which has been particularly beneficial to Australia and will save industry a lot of money. Of course it is not just saving industry; it actually creates wealth and jobs for Australians.

One of the crises that is fast confronting the nation is the unemployment issue and we have to, as a parliament, do everything possible to encourage investment because that encourages new jobs into Australia. If you took any notice of the Greens political party—and, fortuitously, not many people do—we would have very, very high unemployment in this country, because the Greens are intent on stopping any productive activity in Australia. We have seen that in the forests. We have seen it in the fishing industry. We have seen it in many other industries, and the Greens bear a big responsibility for the high unemployment that we have in Australia and which has, regrettably, continued.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is a very, very strong piece of legislation. It gives the government power to look at and control anything that impacts on the environment. Senator Waters has been mentioning—I know she said the Barrier Reef but she is certainly talking about the Murray-Darling Basin system. The EPBC Act gives the government very, very strong powers to do most of the things that need to be done to protect our environment. As Senator Abetz has previously indicated, the EPBC Act provides adequate protection to those provisions of the Water Act that are being repealed by this omnibus bill.

I might say the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is perhaps the strongest piece of environment legislation ever introduced into this parliament and was again introduced by a Liberal minister for the environment. I have often said in this chamber: every significant piece of environmental legislation that has actually done something to protect the very special and unique natural assets that we have in this country, has been introduced by Liberal governments over the years.

You will never, ever get the Greens political party acknowledging that, because they have an undying, philosophical hatred against anyone in this chamber who is not from the Labor Party or the Greens. I would love to hear the Greens get up and say, 'What a great job Senator Robert Hill did in introducing that legislation. What a great job Harold Holt did when he introduced the first environment minister into the federal parliament. What a great job Malcolm Fraser did when he moved to protect the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island'. But you will never hear the Greens acknowledging any of that, because it just does not suit their political rhetoric.

Again, every time the Greens speak, unfortunately, there is a denigration of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia's greatest natural asset—a natural asset that has been well managed and well protected by successive governments over a long period of time and an asset that significantly contributes to employment in this country in the tourism industry and otherwise.

The Great Barrier Reef—the lagoon, not the reef—is a ship's transport and it brings bauxite from Weipa around to Gladstone where thousands of our fellow Australians are employed in an industry, which, if the Greens had their way, would be in China, creating jobs for the Chinese rather than for Australians.

I want to use those preliminary remarks to, again ask: is there anything these provisions could possibly do that the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act would not be able to do under one of the various provisions of that very stringent and strong piece of environmental legislation introduced by a former Liberal government?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (12:59):  I think Senator Macdonald has hit the nub of it. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act ensures that there are those protections. That is why the EPBC Act has overwhelmingly been seen as the general and right approach. As a result, it has superseded a lot of the other specific provisions in particular pieces of legislation that were either done at the time for a particular reason or simply for political reasons later on when there was no actual need for it. Will standards be maintained? Absolutely. Will costs be reduced? Absolutely. Will that enhance job creation in Australia? Absolutely. That is our motivation: job creation without prejudicing environmental standards.

In relation to the matter that Senator Waters raised, can I indicate—I forget the language she used—'passing responsibility for certain matters to state governments' is something that should occur in a cooperative federalist country like Australia. We are a federal system, and what we have had regrettably—and I think both sides of politics have been responsible for this—is one or the other trying to legislate and then gazumping each other. As a result, ever developer—every development—has to go through a two-stage process, where you get state approvals and federal approvals.

We said at the last election—and we went to the election on this—that we believe one-stop shops are the way to go. This would mean there was not confusion; there was not overlap; state bureaucrats would not be tripping over federal bureaucrats with potentially conflicting or different regulations; that they would be clarifying and making transparent the approval processes.

Are we passing to the state governments? Yes, we are; but what is our motivation in doing so? We want the Australian economy to grow at a greater rate than she is at the moment, at a rate that will ensure there will be genuine jobs growth. We want the economy to grow so that school leavers at the end of this year will be able to look forward to a future of gaining a job, becoming self-sufficient and self-reliant—that is our motivation—whilst ensuring that environmental standards are protected.

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