Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, it is interesting given the extensive number of acts that this bill seeks to amend that it was only tabled on Tuesday. It is making some substantial and some important changes in here but it was only tabled on Tuesday and debated today. It has not given us much time to fully investigate the extent of the changes that have been proposed.
In saying that, I thank the two staff who gave us a briefing yesterday. Nonetheless I notice that the minister made comments to the extensive consultation that had been undertaken for this bill and the extensive stakeholder engagement you said, minister. Well it did not extend to the conservation sector because I can confirm that the Tasmanian Conservation Trust was not consulted on this bill, at least that is the understanding of the CEO, Peter McGlone. I have not heard whether other conservation bodies were engaged.
This bill seeks to amend the Nature Conservation Act 2002. It is striking that the consultation seems to have started and perhaps has stopped with the Local Government Association of Tasmania but there are many other acts that it seeks to amend. We are concerned that the minister was not being entirely frank with the House about the extensive consultation that has been undertaken. We are a bit concerned given some pretty substantial changes in relation to some open-ended information about the impact of the amendment that is being proposed in the Nature Conservation Act. We are a bit concerned that this is such short notice and we have not had a chance to look through the implications of that as closely as we wanted to.
I will come to discuss the Nature Conservation Act and the changes here which appear to be small. I need to say that this bill has been described as a mechanism, as a second tranche, in the regulatory reform processes by this Government's own spin to reduce so-called red-tape. We say that protections that are established under the Nature Conservation Act to protect wildlife and fauna in Tasmania are not red tape, they are anything but red tape. They are absolutely required to make sure that we keep our beautiful native flora and fauna intact, that the impacts of developments on species should be zero. They should be as close to zero as possible. We know that we have to do everything we can to enhance biodiversity. We are falling off a cliff globally with species extinction.
We are really teetering with the most enormous levels of extinctions worldwide. Australia has a tiny proportion of our whole country that has intact ecosystems. A recent report released on Tuesday - which was International Disaster Day - by Swiss Re, the second-largest international reinsurance company in the world, has made it very clear that we are falling off a cliff with species extinctions around the world. The level of intact eco systems on the planet is dropping disastrously week on week.
In Australia, a massive continent, only 2 per cent of the total land area has ecosystems that are highly or very highly functioning. We have the seventh highest level of poorly functioning ecosystems on the planet. It is appalling. Australia is the second highest in the G20 countries and the seventh in all countries for the greatest level of degradation for our ecosystems.
Ms O'Connor - Shameful.
Dr WOODRUFF - It is shameful. In Tasmania, it looks from the Swiss Re maps, that we have a reasonable proportion of Australia's paltry 2 per cent of highly functioning ecosystems. It looks to be something like a third of Australia's functioning ecosystems on our island. We have a grave responsibility to do everything we can.
We are a bulwark within Australia of remnant species, mammals, the swift parrot and the migratory birds. These birds and other animals, particularly migratory birds, receive a terrible welcome in Tasmania. We ought to be doing everything we can, given the context of the enormous loss of habitat in eastern Australia from the bushfires last summer, to maintain intact habitat.
We have to do everything to maintain our nesting hollows in old blue gums so that when swift parrots fly here to breed and feed off blue gum nectars, those trees are there. We have to do everything we can to stop the annual duck shooting extravaganza of blood. It is a horrific display by people who are mass slaughtering birds which came here last summer seeking refuge from incredible drought in eastern Australia. Against the advice of DPIPWE staff, the minister authorised that duck shooting hunt to go ahead. This is exactly the wrong policy response, when we have a biodiversity crisis. We have to do whatever we can to protect the plants and animals that we have a responsibility to look after.
We are concerned when we hear the minister saying there is extensive consultation. We know that the great body in Tasmania, the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, which is responsible for the oversight and protection of plants and animals, was not consulted. We want to understand what is going on with this change to special permits under the Nature Conservation Act.
We do not understand the motivation for why it is in this bill. I asked staff at the briefing yesterday to provide me with some information. I do not know whether it dropped into my in box at lunch time. I was in a briefing at lunch time, so I do not know whether I have received it. I wanted to know what the context for this change was and what sorts of activities are being affected.
I understand that the special permits to take wildlife are currently provided for up to 12 months. Taking on specified lands of specified wildlife, specified products of specified wildlife or specified protected plants currently cease to operate after 12 months. The contention of the Government is that these need to be able to be extended beyond 12 months to 'assign a time frame to the permit relevant to the nature of the project and not be confined to an arbitrary 12 months cessation period'. They are the minister's words.
Madam Speaker, I am sure that when that 12-month limit was first put in the Nature Conservation Act, there was a reason for it. I have not had time to go back to the second reading speech, which I wanted to do, and understand why 12-months was put there in the first place. I reckon it had something to do with the fact that that is a pretty good length of time.
The information sheet provided was produced in 2003 and is on the DPIPWE website. It provides information about the permits, authorities and other licences required to take native flora. I would be pretty sure that because it enables for plants to be killed and provides for the damaging and collecting of any listed plants or plant product, such as seed, foliage, roots, bark, sap, et cetera, to be done within the Nature Conservation Act there was a reason for 12 months. Just for convenience, I am not satisfied that providing an unlimited extension to that 12-month period is by any measure appropriate for us to do here today.
We are not convinced that it is required. The argument made to me in the briefing was that it ought to be relevant to the nature of the project. It already can be relevant to the nature of the project. If the nature of the project is only two months, the Nature Conservation Act enables a permit to be given for only two months. The minister's first argument for why this change needs to be made is incorrect, there already is an ability to assign a time frame to the permit that is relevant to the nature of the project. If the project requires the taking of fauna for six months, a permit can be granted for six months. Section 29(5) says -
A permit granted under subsection (2)(a) is to specify the period (being a period not exceeding 12 months in length).
That says is it can be granted for under 12 months or up to 12 months, so it can already be assigned relevant to the time frame for the project. That is not correct to put that in there as a motivation, minister.
The second part of the rationale is that currently it is an arbitrary 12-month cap. I do not understand the reason for that. I would like the minister to explain it. I do not believe it is arbitrary. I believe that was put there in the first place as a reasonable length of time for an activity to be undertaken.
The other question I asked the staff is, how many special permits to take wildlife and fauna are granted under section 29 of the act? I do not know the answer to that. I would appreciate that, minister. How many permits require a permit to be reissued to that they can continue beyond 12 months, in other words, what is the quantum of situations we are talking about here?
Third, I would like to know what activities they are required for. Is it purely for scientific purposes? Is that what is happening here? If it is, I find that implausible, minister, given that you are introducing this bill. It is a Building and Construction bill so I find it implausible that we are talking about it predominantly being scientific purposes. If that is the case, what is it in this bill for, why is it here? Why, as the Minister for Building and Construction, are you making a change to the Nature Conservation Act? It would be appreciated if you could provide that information.
Ms O'Connor - The war on wildlife continues.
Dr WOODRUFF - That is right.
Mr Ferguson - We love wildlife.
Ms O'Connor - Sure. Every policy setting of your Government says you do not love them.
Mr Ferguson - It is a reasonable question, it's not a reasonable assertion.
Dr WOODRUFF - Madam Speaker, the other part of this bill I wanted to speak to was the changes to Part 2, the EPA's time frames. As I understand it, these ought to provide no less opportunity for the EPA to undertake compliance assessments for projects. It will have, as I have had described to me, the opportunity for a 42-day assessment period in total but a request for further information can be made by the director and the planning staff at any time in those 42 days, at which point the clock stops until the proponent has had time to provide and submit the information that has been requested and the EPA then has eight days to determine whether the information provided is adequate. Then they make a response to the proponent and then the clock starts again.
It could be that the request for information is iterative and once some information is supplied from the proponent it is clear that the EPA has more questions. It opens up more questions from the information that was supplied, so this cycle of requesting information, having the information provided, having eight days to assess it - that is long enough - and then asking more questions on the back of what is coming in, could go on for a long period of time, depending on the complexity of the project and the proponent's capacity, ability or willingness to provide the information that is asked for in the first place.
What it does is put an end point on the process and as long as there is time for the EPA to properly assess projects, that is the issue at hand. The real problem with this whole situation is it is pretending that the EPA has the capacity to fully assess the environmental impacts of a project. We know that because the EPA is not established as an independent statutory body. It is not operating under its own act, outside of the influence of ministers and the policy directives of government. The EPA is fundamentally constrained in the sort of assessment it will do and the level of attention it is able to bring to environmental impacts on a proposed development.
We need a truly independent EPA and the director of the EPA sits under the minister. The board of the EPA is responsible for working within the policy directives of the minister. This EPA works within the policy directives which require the assessments and the activities of the EPA to prioritise productivity of business. It is because the EPA is required to prioritise productivity of business. That is this Government's choice.
If the Greens were in government we would not have that as the fundamental policy directive to govern the operations of an EPA because, first of all, we would have an independent EPA. We would make the EPA independent. Second, when we would provide some context to that we would be looking for the Environment Protection Authority to put the environment first as its priority. Every other part of the work of this Government is focused on business productivity. No part of it is focused on environmental protection. That is a fundamental flaw.
This is nice, this is important, but this is essentially window-dressing as though there are some substantial benefits to environmental protections that is happening here. There is not because the EPA has both its hands and its feet hobbled. It is impossible for them to be able to manage the impacts on the marine system from now industrial-level fish farming. You only have to look at what has happened this week with residents of Bruny, after 15 years of trying to engage in very good faith. I have to say those Bruny Islanders really have done the hard yards. I have seen them over years try to go through all the so-called right channels and try to have formal conversations, written conversations, non-political conversations, without going to the media. They have tried very hard to speak with Huon Aquaculture and Tassal about the impact of their fish-farming activities on the marine environment surrounding Bruny Island.
They have finally had enough. They are sick of it and they are sick of the failure of the EPA to do anything about the extreme damage that has happened to the D'Entrecasteaux Channel. It is a wasted seabed and you cannot catch scallops or flathead there. Recreational fishing in the channel is dead. If the Government ministers do not believe it they should talk to anybody who used to fish there, even 10 years ago, but 20 years ago, 50 years ago. It was an incredible paradise of fish in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel. That is what the residents want to enable to return and create a marine reserve around the Tinderbox Marine Reserve, but to expand it to include across the channel. That is exactly what we have to do. That is what should happen in North West Bay. It is good that these changes have been proposed but it is not going to fix the fundamental problem.
The last thing I wanted to mention is not a legislative change but it is in the minister's speech. It is a conversation about Crown land leases and landholder consent. There is no amendment to the Crown Lands Act that is happening here. We are concerned that the minister talked about making some internal policy changes to acknowledge that applicants do not need to apply for a lease or licence in order to secure landholder consent before they lodge a development application with the council.
The problem in Tasmania is that there is no ability for the community to have a conversation with Crown Lands and there is no obligation on Crown Lands to have a conversation with the community about a proponent's proposal for works or leasing of Crown land. Look around at the things that have been most contentious on the eastern shore: if you look at the Kangaroo Bay Shandong Chambroad hotel that has not been built but is a dirt park sitting there, still unbuilt after three years; the recent proposal for a private jetty on Crown land at the beautiful marine area of Ralphs Bay along that rocky coastline; or the Rosny Hill - the Hunter development - which has been approved and has always been rejected by the local community because it is an affront to the values of the nature conservation recreation area at the top of Rosny Hill.
All those situations would have benefited, all the controversy, all the planning fights and all the community fundraising for appeals to go to the Resource Management Planning Appeals Tribunal could have been avoided were there a capacity for a formal consultation process from Crown Lands with local communities about a proposal for a development on crown land. We do not have any capacity to have the conversations so Crown land sits.
When Mr Sultan was making an application for a private jetty over Crown land which was correctly knocked back by Clarence council on Monday night, that proposal went to Crown Lands and Crown Lands gave initial approval. That should never have been made. Crown Lands should never have made that approval without a conversation with the people of Tasmania about a proposal to use public land. All of this happens in-house and some of these decisions about the use of Crown land, the sale or the leasing of Crown land, are clearly small and they are not political.
However, as soon as something becomes political, as soon as you have an applicant who is a donor to the Liberal Party, or is closely associated with the mayor, or he is mates with somebody else, and who has great ideas, 'Just give us a bit of this free land and then we can do this great thing and we will all be happy'. That conversation happened behind closed doors. That is what happened between the Office of the Coordinator-General and the state Liberal Party and the mayor, Mr Chipman. That was a private conversation. When the Bellerive foreshore was given away to a Chinese petrochemical company to build a hotel, that land was given away without a conversation with the local community.
It is more than the decision about the development itself. There must be a process for a decision about whether the Crown land can be handed over for the purpose. It is not good enough to have that decision made by government behind closed doors without any opportunity for community input.
The Greens support the changes to the other acts that are in here - the Local Government Act 1993, the Strata Title Act 1998, and the changes to the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993, and the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994. I can signal that we want to go into Committee to talk about the changes to the Nature Conservation Act 2002.