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representatives vote 2015-09-10#1

Edited by mackay

on 2015-11-26 14:27:09

Title

  • Bills — Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Bill 2015; Second Reading
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Bill 2015 - Second Reading - Agree with the bill's main idea

Description

  • <p class="speaker">Keith Pitt</p>
  • <p>As I was saying, if you are one of the thousands of Australians who are up at three in the morning providing catering services to those men and women who start early and finish late, whether on site or in transit, making takeaway breakfasts and lunch packs, cleaning on-site accommodation or cleaning hotels, this change is for you. If you are the teachers, the nurses and the doctors working in regional Australia, helping the people working in regional Australia, this change is for you.</p>
  • <p>If you are the union members of any stripe, I say to you this: the Labor Party are interested in your membership fees; they are not interested in your long-term employment. If they were, they would be supporting this change, because the Greens have publicly stated:</p>
  • The majority voted in favour of the main idea of the [bill](http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id:legislation/billhome/r5522). In parliamentary jargon, they agreed to give the bill a [second reading](http://www.peo.gov.au/learning/fact-sheets/making-a-law.html).
  • ### What is the main idea of the bill?
  • The purpose of this bill is to make it so that only "aggrieved persons" can seek [judicial review](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_administrative_law#Judicial_review) of decisions made under the [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environment_Protection_and_Biodiversity_Conservation_Act_1999) (**EPBC Act**).
  • According to the [bills digest](http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/bd/bd1516a/16bd037), "[t]he Bill is a response to a [successful challenge](http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-05/federal-court-overturns-approval-of-adani's-carmichael-coal-mine/6673734) by the [Mackay Conservation Group](http://www.mackayconservationgroup.org.au/carmichael_win) against the Minister for the Environment’s decision to grant approval under the EPBC Act for the [Carmichael coal mine](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmichael_coal_mine) in Queensland (proposed by Adani Mining Pty Ltd)".
  • ### What is judicial review?
  • When a person seeks judicial review, they are asking the courts to decide whether the government has made a particular decision properly according to the law. The courts do not decide whether the decision was good or not; they only decide whether it was lawful.
  • In order to seek judicial review, you must have [standing](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing_%28law%29) - meaning, the *right* to seek judicial review.
  • Currently, under the EPBC Act, Australian people and organisations involved with environmental protection, conservation or research can have standing to seek judicial review. That was how the Mackay Conservation Group were able to bring their action against the Carmichael coal mine.
  • ### Who is an "aggrieved person"?
  • An "aggrieved person" is a person whose interests would be ‘adversely affected’ by the decision made under the EPBC Act. Generally, those interests need to be directly affected and the person needs to be able to show a 'special interest' beyond just being a member of the public.
  • ### What does this mean?
  • The [bills digest](http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/bd/bd1516a/16bd037) says that the bill "raises questions about accountable and responsible government" and it is also "unclear whether the Bill will achieve its intended purpose", which is to prevent disruptions and delays to projects approved under the EPBC Act.
  • <p class="italic">Our strategy is to disrupt and delay key projects and infrastructure while gradually eroding public and political support for industry &#8230;</p>
  • <p>So, every time you see a political ad from the Greens, it is not about the environment. If it were, they would be talking about matters which are doing enormous damage to our flora and fauna: the feral cats that are wiping out entire species; the feral dogs that are destroying livestock for fun, not for food; the feral pigs that are eating to extinction our sea turtle eggs and hatchlings and, in my region, the loggerhead turtles. They are turtles which nest in only two locations in the world, one of them Mon Repos beach, right in the middle of my electorate.</p>
  • <p>We on this side of the House are the ones improving the environment. It is this government that is allocating money to control feral pigs, to control feral cats and to control wild dogs. When the Greens speak about the Great Barrier Reef or Queensland ports, know that they speak with a forked tongue, because the Greens' aim&#8212;the Greens' only aim&#8212;is to ensure that Australians do not have a job. That is because the Greens' goal is to destroy industry. The Greens' goal is to close Queensland ports. And they will do anything, say anything and spend anything to ensure that investment in this great nation stops.</p>
  • <p>We must end the economic vandalism of the Greens, and we must end it now. I commend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Bill 2015 to the House.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Gary Gray</p>
  • <p>I rise to speak on this amendment bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Bill 2015, because, as a former resource industry executive and as a former resources minister, I believe that how we regulate, how we manage and how at law we provide rights to developers, to conservationists and to communities are extremely important, and the EPBC Act is legislation that has stood the test of time. Good, objective based environmental legislation is an enabler, not a disabler, of investment decisions.</p>
  • <p>Under this act, in the course of the previous government, we saw in excess of $280 billion worth of investment in our resources sector alone. There was investment on Curtis Island that saw the development of LNG export facilities in the previous speaker's own area. We saw the development of coalmines through Queensland and of gasification, of gas from coal seams, and we have seen the development of massive new export LNG facilities through northern Australia and Western Australia. Iron ore production alone will have gone from 100 million tonnes in the year 2000 to in excess of 800 million tonnes per year from next year. That was all done with the EPBC Act in place.</p>
  • <p>Why were we able to do that? We were able to do that for seven simple reasons, and these reasons were known to the framers and the creators of that legislation. The framers and creators of that legislation were of course the Howard government.</p>
  • <p>The EPBC Act creates certainty. It creates certainty for consumers. It creates certainty for investors. It creates certainty for communities. And it creates certainty for environmentalists. It creates certainty because, within the operation of the EPBC Act, there is a process which allows for proper, rigorous testing of arguments and propositions.</p>
  • <p>It is an open act. People can see how this act is being implemented by Commonwealth departments and by those agencies in states that operate under the delegated authorities from the EPBC Act.</p>
  • <p>It is transparent. Transparency is a critical element in environmental approvals, and the transparency that is available to communities to see where an approval is and why an approval is is extremely important.</p>
  • <p>It is practical. It allows for proponents of projects and opponents of projects to argue their case. It allows science to be brought into judgement, and it allows arguments about the economic value of propositions to be taken into account, in the knowledge of environmental costs.</p>
  • <p>It is flexible, because it operates in every Australian jurisdiction, onshore and offshore, whether it be a coalmine, an iron ore mine or an oil or gas field.</p>
  • <p>It is efficient. We have seen thousands of decisions made in the short 15 years of the action of this act that have seen the approval of some of the biggest resource projects not simply in the history of our nation but in the world. The close to $80 billion currently being invested on Barrow Island, in Western Australia, by Chevron as the operator of the Gorgon Project is seeing the world's largest single-point resource investment made on decisions that were structured and carefully tuned under the EPBC Act: decisions that protect the turtles, decisions that protect the seagrass, decisions that protect an A-class nature reserve. They are decisions of which we can all be proud. Most importantly, they are decisions which have allowed the world's first and the world's largest commercial carbon dioxide geosequestration project as part of the Barrow Island Gorgon Project. That is something of which both sides in this parliament should be deeply proud. This is a project whose approval began through this system under the Howard government and was concluded under the Rudd and Gillard governments, and the first exports of LNG from that project will occur under the Abbott government.</p>
  • <p>My word, we should be simply proud of how this act works. We should be seeing these successes as demonstrations that good environmental legislation allows us to create approvals in which communities can have confidence and in which investors can have great confidence.</p>
  • <p>The EPBC Act has a seventh component which I regard as being extremely important in environmental legislation, and that is completeness. When you have an EPBC Act approval, you know it has been through a rigorous testing process. That is why we have seen over $280 billion of resource investment across our country in every jurisdiction and in every mineral category supporting our exports, supporting our jobs and supporting the best possible environmental decisions. At this time, we see a lot of public contestability around the efficacy of coal exports. I have no compunction in standing in this place and in any community in our country to support our coal mining industry, coal exports, the development of coal mines, the use of coal for energy generation and coal chemistry, so that we can extract the value of coal for the value of current and future generations.</p>
  • <p>The Adani mine&#8212;the Carmichael mine&#8212;became contentious as a consequence of a set of administrative procedures that had taken place through the Minister for the Environment's portfolio and of management that placed a conclusive decision in the context of Adani at risk. Quite properly, the minister and Adani&#8212;the government and Adani&#8212;reached an agreement as to what to do next. That agreement was really simple: let's restart the process, let's spend a few weeks just stopping the clock and restarting the process. I do not join with those journalists who have been, I think, caustically unfair about the judgement that descends on the environment minister, Minister Hunt, as a consequence of that. Indeed, I read one opinion in a weekend paper that said:</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#8230; the recent Carmichael decision in the courts, delaying the project, highlights &#8230; gross incompetence by a ministerial office&#8230;</p>
  • <p>I do not believe the administrative law shortcoming in this process demonstrates incompetence in the ministerial office at all. This is a complex act; it is hard to administer. People&#8212;individuals and environmental groups&#8212;have rights and they exercise those rights. In so doing, an administrative flaw was detected that is not fatal and does not damage the integrity of the Carmichael mine. So, with consent, the project proponents and the government stopped the clock and restarted the process. I would expect to see that process restarted within weeks and I hope that it is able to approve that mine. But, of course, that decision is in the hands of the minister, as it should be under this act. It is in the hands of the government and, effectively, it is a decision that will be made on the basis of the best scientific evidence, the best possible advice and in consideration of all the documentation available to the government.</p>
  • <p>It is a complex act. I can recall when, in the previous government, a decision was made on a small magnetite mine in Tasmania. When I say small, in the context of our overall iron ore exports this was a very, very tiny mine. But a small administrative flaw placed the Shree approval at risk. As a consequence, the Shree mine had to be reconsidered, documents needed to be cited and an approval could not be properly given until the clock, on that occasion, had been appropriately stopped and then restarted. These things happen; they are not fatal.</p>
  • <p>I stress again, in the course of the last seven or eight years we have seen almost $300 billion, in resource investments alone, approved under the EPBC Act. Let us not weaken this act through this amendment, which removes third party appeal rights. We do not need to weaken it, because the best environmental regulation is strong environmental regulation. It is regulation which allows third parties to offer their view, which allows good science to be brought to bear and which is transparent and ultimately complete in its capacity to make decisions and recommendations.</p>
  • <p>I am reminded that the threat of third-party appeals does, of course, create a stronger incentive for proponents and governments to adhere to the black letter law of approvals. That is a good thing. It is a good thing because it improves the quality of environmental assessments of major projects. It is not the actual exercise of the power to enforce public rights that matters most, but actually the threat that they will be exercised that brings improved accountability to an approval system that can be plagued by vested interests. I am not naive. I know that environmental activists target the weaknesses and the complexities in this legislation in order to slow down and, where they can, prevent projects. But only a fool would suggest that removing those rights makes this legislation better; it does not. We need to accept that, in our contested world, there are heartfelt views and, on occasions, good science that needs to be brought to the attention of regulators and decision makers.</p>
  • <p>We should also be minded that, since the EPBC Act commenced in July 2000, nearly 6,000 projects have been processed through the EPBC Act. It says 5,500 on the statistics available to me here. Of these, there have been 33 Federal Court challenges by third parties against only 22 projects. When we look at how those challenges occur, it is worth having in mind that just recently, in the last couple of days, we have seen a decision in the context of another very significant coal mine, a very significant coal mine indeed. That is, the Alpha coal mine in Queensland. As we read in our weekend papers, the Indian company, GDK's, proposed $6 billion Alpha coal mine has survived a legal challenge by environmentalists, clearing another hurdle for the development of the minerals-rich Galilee Basin. That was the headline in <i>The</i><i>Weekend Australian</i> newspaper.</p>
  • <p>Let us look at this in its context. Conservationists challenge an approvals process. A judgement is made that clearly determines that that challenge was both vexatious and without foundation. As a consequence, costs are awarded against the conservationists. Good, because this is the moral hazard that the conservationists and activists run when they take actions which are purely vexatious.</p>
  • <p>When we have good science and good environmental regulation, we know that we can approve a good thermal coal mine that will generate jobs, most importantly generate coal that will fire power stations that will drive electricity generation that will allow communities in China, in India, in North Asia to thrive. It will allow lights to be lit, food to be cooked, food to be kept cold and communities to operate around our North Asian region as a consequence of our very good, well approved coal mines, coal mines that have a life of 20, 30 even 40 years, coal mines that will be in existence, generating a project and product onto the global marketplace, which will increase living standards not just in Australia but in our region.</p>
  • <p>I agree with the sentiment of this House that coal mining is not just a good activity and an essential activity to put good clean coal onto the world market to support both our exports but most importantly to support the living standards of people in our North Asian region. To allow us to do that, we need the best environmental approvals process that we can design. As a generation of legislators and parliamentarians, we are blessed in that the design of this act has been done for us. It was done by Robert Hill, it was done by Prime Minister Howard, it was done in a previous parliament and we should not compromise it for the sake of short-term political gain. I think this is a bad amendment and I cannot support it.</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>