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Building and Construction (Regulatory Reform Amendments) Bill (No. 2) 2020

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 15 October 2020

Tags: Planning, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I rise to make a contribution that is specific to a couple of provisions in this bill and to acknowledge the excellent contribution of my colleague, Dr Woodruff.

The first proposed change that I have some questions around is the change to the Crown land leases and landholder consent. As members know, the reason I am in this parliament is because of a decision made by the then Lennon government in 2003 to give landowner consent to Walker Corporation to build a 500-home canal estate and marina inside the Ralphs Bay conservation area. That was a process of granting consent to a conservation area that made no reference to a local community, no reference to the fact that Ralphs Bay sandflats are an internationally significant migratory bird habitat.

The issue here is that the process of making it easier for developers will mean that there is no longer a requirement on the proponent to negotiate lease and licences before they submit a DA, and that makes it much easier for a developer. It raises the question about how much easier it will be for any of the proponents who are part of the Government's unpopular expressions of interest process for development inside Tasmania's public protected areas, including our national parks and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area?

We have here the leaked Parks briefing to the minister, which makes it really clear that all those expressions of interest proposals that have come to government and are now part of an open-ended process, have to go through a lease and licence negotiation.

Members may recall that in 2015, the then totally conflicted minister for State Growth and Parks, Matthew Groom, secretly approved the Lake Malbena proposal to lease and licence negotiations. Tasmanians only learned about that three years later. It was a completely secretive negotiation over an entire island in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, an island which has effectively been privatised by this Liberal Government, given to Daniel Hackett and his mystery backers, for about $80 per week. As people who have loved Halls Island, Lake Malbena and the Walls of Jerusalem National Park are discovering, they are no longer allowed on that island inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It is effectively prohibited for everyday Tasmanians who have enjoyed that area, to go to the island. That is privatisation of a public protected area. It is scandalous.

The Liberals underestimate the level of community antagonism towards, not only this proposal, but the EOI process as a whole. It has created a strong and growing constituency of people who span the entire political spectrum and the demographic spectrum, who are enraged at the idea that government would give away a whole island, a beautiful island, inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area to a private developer who they agreed to negotiate lease and licences with back in 2015.

If the Liberals think that constituency is going to go down quietly, they are sorely mistaken. The movement to defend the right of Tasmanians to enjoy their public protected areas and to be able to access Halls Island is only gathering momentum.

I encourage the minister, Mr Ferguson or any other Liberal, who wants to get a bead on how people are feeling, particularly about the Lake Malbena proposal, to talk to some bush walkers, if they can bring themselves to do it because many of them are green. Or talk to some fly fishermen or women - that is a constituency that sits with both the Liberal and Labor parties - talk to them about how they feel about being shut out of their own protected lands. The level of anger, the level of that sense of injustice that something that is the shared common wealth of all Tasmanians is palpable and it is growing. There is rage about the Lake Malbena proposal. It will only be intensified now that we have this leaked Parks briefing which makes it clear that at some level or another, somehow the story the state Government through Parks and Wildlife told the Commonwealth in the Reserve Activity Assessment is a lie. In this document the total capital cost of Daniel Hackett's proposal is $500 000, which is what Parks is telling the Commonwealth: a $500 000 capital investment. This minute makes it clear it is a $6.97 million investment. Something is smelly about the whole thing.

We have information which will be the first time many Tasmanians have heard this. Of all the expressions of interest that have gone in between 2010 and 2014 there were 72 licences and nine leases approved, an average of 18 licences a year and just over two leases a year. Between 2014 and now, there have been 158 licences and 23 leases approved. It is important to remember that every time the Greens, or any other concerned Tasmanians, sought to access details of those leases and licences, they met the great hand from the Office of the Coordinator General and State Growth and Parks, and they were told it was commercial-in-confidence.

How can it be commercial-in-confidence when we are talking about private developers accessing public land? This amendment will make that process much more slipstream easy for developers. At the moment, through the Office of the Coordinator General, these proponents are having to negotiate lease and licence. It is extremely concerning. I am very worried about the impact of this particular provision on the expressions of interest proponents and the capacity for it to accelerate the commercialisation, the privatisation, the building of lodges, luxury accommodation, in Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, our national parks, and other reserves. It is shameful that this is happening.

When we talk about the EOI statistics, the summary of projects, we have in the assessment panel process 10 proposals now; leases and licences have been signed for 12 proposals; 17 of them are negotiating lease and licences; four of the proposals were withdrawn, and five were not approved to progress.

We have proposals coming up, like the Mt Roland cable car, which is, in part, on Crown land, a protected area, the Mt Roland Regional Reserve and Conservation Area. Some of it is private land, but a substantial part of it is on public reserve.

Tas Walking Company is land banking in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area with its proposal for extra huts on the Overland Track. We have the proposal for the walk through to Federation Peak; the Cradle base camp, which is for an entire luxury lodge inside the Cradle park inside the World Heritage Area.

This is death by a thousand cuts of something which is our greatest natural treasure - the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It is the only world heritage property in the whole world which has the word 'wilderness' in its name. Let us not forget this Government tried to remove the term 'wilderness' and the wilderness zoning when it distorted the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan in 2016 to make it easier to get EOI proposals through. Not only did it do it in broad terms to make it easier, there were specific changes to the management plan that allowed for the development of Halls Island in Lake Malbena. It was carved out of the map so a development could go in there. The impact on wilderness values of that proposed development will be profound. That is why people are so angry about it. Wilderness is not wilderness when there are up to 200 helicopter flights going back and forth to that privatised island.

My question to the minister on this provision is, can he confirm that this change would speed up the expressions of interest process for developments inside national parks, regional reserves, and conservation areas in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area? At the moment the Office of the Coordinator General is massaging through these developments but there is a process where a lease and licence is negotiated before a development application is submitted.

The second issue that I want to raise is the one that Dr Woodruff spoke of and that is the proposed amendment to the Nature Conservation Act 2002 to remove the part of section 29.5 which says -

A permit granted under subsection 2A is to specify the period (being the period not exceeding 12 months in length) for which it remains in force and, at the end of that period, the permit ceases to be of further effect.

The Greens want to know what is the genesis of this proposed amendment? Where did it come from? There would be no finite period within the Nature Conservation Act should this legislation pass. It is up to the secretary to determine, when issuing the permit, how long an entity, an individual, a proponent may be allowed to take or kill native wildlife.

In the five years after the Liberals were elected, 16 000 permits were issued to shoot native wildlife. Not one was refused. The crop protection permits in this state are handed out like confetti. We have crop protection permits that allow the killing of forester kangaroos. The Government does not even know how many forester kangaroos are left. This island was once a wide range for forester kangaroos. It was a staple food source for the palawa pakana people. That species is now largely confined to north east Tasmania. Its range has been substantially restricted. It is a magnificent marsupial. The last estimate I saw of the forester kangaroo's population in an outdated population survey was that there is an estimated 24 000 forester kangaroos left in Tasmania. The last crop protection permits that were issued allowed for the shooting of 10 000 forester kangaroos.

The war on wildlife in this state is entrenched, it is obscene, and it continues to this day through this sort of amendment. The casual disregard for the lives of native animals brings shame on us all. Those crop protection permits allow for the shooting of wombats which are being afflicted by sarcoptic mange. Every Tasmanian native animal you can name, except for those that are critically endangered or endangered, are being slaughtered through crop protection permits. Even platypus are being killed. Where is the rationale for that? It is sick. This is 2020. Can we not do better? What happens with native animals is that the assault goes on and a lack of research into the population and a lack of recovery plans for threatened populations leads to a point where suddenly we are seeing whole species collapse. Who would have thought 10 or 15 years ago that we would regard the Tasmanian devil as a threatened species? It is now an endangered species. It was so common in the landscape there were bounties on it, because as a society we did not learn from what happened to the thylacine. We are not learning now.

We have the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment advising the minister for Primary Industries not to proceed with the duck-shooting season on public lands. Yet the duck-shooting season continues, despite the advice from the department that because of drought on the mainland, migratory duck populations are under enormous pressure and Tasmania is a haven for those species. The department gave the advice to Government, to the minister who pretends he never saw it, and that advice was ignored because the war on wildlife continues. This is a Government that panders more to hunters and developers than it does to nature.

There is a hostility to nature in this Government and it began in 2014. As soon as they were elected, one of the first decisions made by this Government was to lift the ban on 1080 so it would be easier to kill wildlife. Out in the community when people read stories about the tens of thousands of animals that are killed by crop protection permits, they feel sick and sad. They cannot believe a government would be so wanton about the protection of native animals here. We are driving more and more species to extinction. When we do that we impact on biodiversity and biodiversity is critical to life on earth. But this Government - no.

This is a government that was prepared to allow drilling at the Westbury Reserve knowing it is the breeding season for the wedge-tailed eagle, Aquila audax. Right up to the day when drilling was going to start they were ignoring that community's pleas to protect the nesting wedge-tailed eagles. You could almost telepathically hear the mindset of Government at the time - 'They're just a couple of eagles, what's the big deal?' Dr Woodruff and I have been to that site, that reserve, and it is the most beautiful little piece of bush, a fragment of habitat just north of Westbury. We heard so many birds. It is beautiful bush and no place for a prison. The more we mow down habitat the more we diminish biodiversity. Sarah Lloyd OA, who has been examining that Westbury site for many years, with an obviously aching heart said, 'I have noticed the birds are disappearing. The little bush birds are disappearing. It is quieter'.

It is quieter because habitat is disappearing and so a parcel of bush like that in Birralee Road is even more important because it is a fragmented habitat. The more we can retain habitat and provide safe places for wildlife, the better off the whole island is and the better off we are. Can you imagine an island where we did not have these extraordinary endemic animals? It would be a most barren place, but that is where we are heading. It is death by a thousand cuts, like this little clause where you take away even a 12-month limit on a permit to remove or take or kill wildlife.

Of course, this is a government that continues to clearfell and burn habitat, giant trees. Do not believe minister Barnett when he says that they are not knocking down giant trees. Only a month ago we were up the Denison Valley, where massive trees have been felled. One tree stump there, at one point of its diameter was about 4.8 metres and at another just over 5 metres. That is a giant tree, a nesting hollow for swift parrots and masked owls. The destruction of habitat under this Government is accelerating.

We have said it in here before. We get reports from people all over this island who say the log trucks are accelerating in their number. The size of the trees on the backs of those trucks is increasing. Native forest logging is intensifying under this Government. It is a crime against nature, it is destroying habitat, it is a crime against the climate, and it breaks people's hearts. It has to stop.

As we know, while minister Barnett and Dr Broad might try to deny it, when you log native forest, you increase bushfire risk and risk to communities. Four peer-reviewed papers in six years confirm this, yet this Government continues hell for leather knocking down native forests. It ignores the beekeepers when it smashes down leatherwood forests, prioritising ideology and industry over an important Tasmanian export product that adds to our brand.

Swift parrots? They do not care about them. The only reason there has been any move on a small part of the swift parrot habitat is because twice now Forestry Tasmania has not been able to secure Forest Stewardship Council certification, largely because it is smashing down swift parrot habitat. There are fewer than 1000 breeding pairs of this exquisite bird in the whole world. The war on wildlife continues under the Liberals.

We will not be supporting this amendment. There has been no rationale provided for it. In fact, it is so casually mentioned in the minister's second reading speech, you wonder why he even bothered. There has been no rationale to remove the limits on the taking of wildlife. We need to understand the reason for this. Where did it come from? Who lobbied for it? What are the consequences of it likely to be? The native wildlife is already under so much pressure.

As Dr Woodruff said, Australia has an appalling and depressing record on protecting nature. We are seeing biodiversity crashing in this country. In fact, the Australian Government is one of only five governments in the world that has not signed up to a recent United Nations commitment to protect biodiversity. We are there with luminaries such as the United States government, the Chinese government and Brazil. We are standing alongside planet-raping despots not to protect our biodiversity.

I know that young people want their parliaments to look after nature, they want them to look after habitat, and they want us to deliver good laws that do not diminish the Tasmania they are growing up into. They want to be able to walk through the forests and be able to see swift parrots fly across the sky like little jewels - they are so amazing. Yet this Government bungs up tree hollows to stop them from breeding in there. It is shameful and is accepted as the norm.

Do you know, Madam Speaker, if not for the Greens in this place, native animals would barely get a mention? I remember recently when we brought on a matter of public importance debate on threatened species we were ridiculed by a member who I will not bother to name right now for doing that. If we are not in here standing up for the wedge-tailed eagles, the forester kangaroos, the swift parrots, the masked owl and the Tasmanian devils, who will?

I know the answer to that and so does Dr Woodruff. Nobody will. So, we will not be supporting this amendment. It is unnecessary. There has been no rationale put forward for it and we are not going to stand by and allow the casual weakening of the protection of native wildlife in this state. We will always stand up for Tasmania's extraordinary native fauna because these beautiful animals are essential to who we are. We should not take them for granted and we should not allow laws to be weakened. We need to be strengthening laws. We need to be increasing resourcing to the Threatened Species Branch, which I think now is down to about 0.2 of a human being.

When I first started here in journalism 30 years ago, the Threatened Species Unit, the Nature Conservation Branch in Parks in the department of Primary Industries and the Environment was well-resourced. It was able to engage with the media; I was able to do any number of amazing stories because of the resourcing that was in Parks, because of the scientific integrity of a well-resourced Nature Conservation Branch and Threatened Species Branch. So Tasmanians had stories that were told of their extraordinary native animals and you just do not get that anymore.

We will not be supporting this amendment.