NEWS: Zali Steggall MP urges the Morrison Government to do more for the environment

27 October, 2020


I'm pleased to finally be able to debate the Morrison government's approach to the environment. Earlier this year, the government commissioned a review, led by the eminent Graeme Samuel, of the performance of the Commonwealth legislation protecting our natural environment and biodiversity. In June, Mr Samuel presented the interim report, with a final version due by the end of this month. But, on 3 September, pre-empting the outcomes of that report, the government put forward its proposed amendments to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, allegedly in response to the review commissioned.

The recommendations of the review were quite clear, and there were many; however, the government chose to pick only one—the devolution of responsibility for environmental management to the states. The review explicitly recommended against implementing this in isolation from clear national standards and an independent federal cop to police those standards. Of course, what did we do? Instead, the Morrison government presented and passed—rammed through this parliament—a rehash of a failed attempt at legislation from 2014, in the Tony Abbott PM era. In fact they were so embarrassed by this legislation, you can only assume, that there wasn't a single member, really, prepared to speak on behalf of that legislation. Instead, the government chose the actions of gagging debate and circumventing the consideration in detail stage, where amendments were pre-empted. The government should be ashamed of their behaviour that day. That is not how you manage the environment, not how you be a good custodian of the environment.

This is an issue Australians care deeply about. We are people blessed with abundant nature. We're famous for our unique wildlife, from iconically cute koalas to dangerous—I would say infamously dangerous—snakes, spiders, sharks and crocs. In my electorate of Warringah, a survey of constituents revealed that the protection of our natural environment, and the climate, is the No. 1 concern, and I would say it is not the only electorate where that is the case. It is echoed in many electorates across the country. It should be a primary consideration. We hear a lot of facts and figures that the government wants to claim credit for—accomplishments it wants to boast about. Let's talk about some of the real facts we have on the table when it comes to protecting the environment. Since enacting the EPBC Act, we've had 1,890 species listed as threatened. Four species per decade, on average, are going extinct. Native animals are being preyed upon by feral cats, which are in 99 per cent of Australia. We've got animals whose habitats are being wiped out by land clearing. We have a horrendous rate of land clearing in Australia. Approximately 44 per cent of Australian forests and woodlands have been cleared since European settlement. We have animals that have been decimated by the scorching blazes of the summer. Over three billion animals perished or were displaced. So protecting our environment is now more critical than ever.

I've been inundated with correspondence from people, in Warringah but also in many other electorates, who are worried about the environment. They want stronger environmental laws, not weaker ones. So it was really a horrendous day when the government chose to push through weak laws, and now those bills are sitting there unpassed because they haven't even been put through the Senate. There was really limited consideration of the Samuels report. The devolution model proposes a high degree of risk. That was completely ignored, of course, on promises that more legislation is coming. But, really, what faith can we have?

We saw recently the government's lack of commitment to addressing rapid biodiversity loss at the UN leaders pledge on biodiversity. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said earlier this month that his government would not sign up to this pledge. He said he was not signing the country up to the commitments to reverse biodiversity loss because the plan was inconsistent with existing policy. Sixty-four countries signed up to the pledge to protect 30 per cent of land and sea area by 2030 in an effort to reduce the rapid deterioration of biodiversity. But, no, Australia, the US, Brazil, China and Russia refused to sign. They're not facts to be proud of. We were lonely companions amongst environmentally recalcitrant nations. I think it's symbolic of the government's approach to environmental protection, and I urge the Morrison government to do more.