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Environment and Parks – EPA

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tags: Environment Protection Authority, Environment, Fish Farms, Economy

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, I'm going to ask you questions about the environment. I want to put on the record that there is a cruel attack on public scrutiny from your Government by only allowing an effective one hour during this year's Estimates for scrutiny of the Environment portfolio. Last year we had two and a half -

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, can I interrupt you there, please. You are reflecting on debate that happened in the House of Assembly. This is a resolution of the House that was agreed to by a vote of the House. That is not relevant to this committee because that was decided on by a vote in the House. It's been decided. It's a resolution of the House, so it can't be reflected on here. Please go on to a question.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, we obviously have different views on a range of environmental issues and the way that the Government should operate in relation to the environment.

Mr JAENSCH - I'm sure we share a lot as well.

Dr WOODRUFF - Those specific issues aside, it's fair to say, in a general sense, that your Government views the environment as a lower priority than the economy. I want to move to the statement of expectations that is written and contractually signed onto by you as minister for the Environment Protection Authority. I'm reading from the one signed by Ms Archer in March 2019. Can you please let me know if there is a change?

The EPA was required to task the balancing of sometimes competing objectives which require the facilitation of economic development on the one hand, and the attainment of quite specific environmental objectives on the other. I expect the board to take account of the need to create a more prosperous and equitable society and this relies in large part upon providing employment opportunities. The Government's policy position is that a productive community is better able to manage society's long-term environmental challenges, and I expect the board to facilitate that outcome whenever it can.

In other words, minister, you are directing the EPA to wait to protect the environment until we have a productive community.

My question is, has the new statement changed, and if it has not, have we got there yet? Have we got a productive community and can we start protecting the environment now?

Mr JAENSCH - Thank you, Dr Woodruff, for that question. I don't thank you for the little character assessment that came at the precursor to the question.

With regard to the statement of expectations, I want to quote to you from the statement of expectations that I have in my folder which says -

I expect the board to take account of the need to create a more prosperous and equitable society through employment opportunities. The Government is particularly keen to see the development of dairy, aquaculture, wine and mining industries to create those opportunities.

It goes on in very similar vein to the one you've just read from, except that this statement of expectations was the one issued in 2012 by the then Labor environment minister who was part of a cabinet that the Greens were also part of.

Dr WOODRUFF - You will not be an apologist for the Labor Party's views on the environment.

Mr JAENSCH - What it points to is that the role of the EPA is part of ensuring the sustainable development and use of our resources and protection of our air, water, soil and other assets as part of a balanced overall sustainable use and occupation of our state and our island. These statements will always make reference to protection of the environment and sustainable use of the environment, which does not imply a zero footprint, but implies a footprint which is monitored, managed and controlled and sustainable and conscious of what it is doing in our natural environment.

That is how the EPA should be operating. I, as yet, have not issued my own statement of expectations. I am aware that I am overdue to do so. There have been a few reasons for why that has not happened this year.

I am a new minister, we have had COVID-19, we have a range of issues to deal with, but also there are some changes coming up over the coming months to the make-up and leadership of the EPA board. That will be an opportune time for me to take my turn in crafting a statement of expectations. It will, as have those from previous environment ministers, express the need for a sustainable management of the environment mission as well as protection of the environment.

Dr WOODRUFF - Your term so far as minister for the Environment has been characterised by buck-passing at every available opportunity.

Mr JAENSCH - I have been characterised by experts already today, Dr Woodruff.

Dr WOODRUFF - You passed the responsibility for responding to the culling of native wildlife for crop protection permits to DPIPWE. You take no responsibility for the mass shooting of wild ducks. You take no responsibility for the devastation in the marine environment. You take no responsibility for Rosny Hill and threatened species there. The minister who does not take responsibility for the environment.

I have a Right to Information document here between the CEO of Tassal and Mr Wes Ford, the director of EPA, that documents serial situations where the EPA has facilitated the continued salmon farming in areas around Tasmania by Tassal by administrative changes to make sure that it does not contravene the weak laws and that no enforcements are taken.

Do you accept that your failure to put the environment first in your statement of expectations to the EPA means that there is no way that any breaches or any enforcement is ever effectively taken against the massive amount of fish farming which occurs around Tasmania and the impact it is having on marine waters?

Mr JAENSCH - That is a ridiculous and inflammatory statement to make.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is the truth.

Mr JAENSCH - I do not know that it warrants a serious answer. It is you slagging off at the EPA and the director.

Dr WOODRUFF - Hold on, we have so many places around the Tasman Peninsula, we have them up the East Coast - constant complaints and no action.

CHAIR - Order, Dr Woodruff, allow the minister to respond, please.

Mr JAENSCH - You should withdraw that, or reframe your question, and ask me a proper question.

Dr WOODRUFF - I will reframe the question. How do you respond to what is happening in the Huon River, the D'Entrecasteaux and around Bruny Island and Tasman Peninsula? You would have to be deaf and blind if you had not seen the community uproar at the changes that are happening in our marine waters. Why aren't you, as the minister for Environment, concerned about the threatened and endangered species in those waters? Why aren't you registering a flicker of interest in what is happening in our marine waters?

Mr JAENSCH - When you say what is happening, what are you referring to?

Dr WOODRUFF - Slime, all around the beaches of the Tasman Peninsula. Dead zones across the D'Entrecasteaux Channel. Effectively no native fish like there used to be in all our inland waterways. We still have enormous numbers of birds being killed. I have had photographs this week of dead birds, minister, huge numbers of dead birds on fish farm pens that are not being reported.


CHAIR -Dr Woodruff, you have one minute to ask a question. It is not time for a speech. What is your question, please?

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you very much, Chair. My question is, why is the minister refusing to read the newspapers and see the evidence of the marine devastation that is going on, listen to the science and act instead of passing the buck to the EPA and telling them to put productivity first?

Mr JAENSCH - It is hard to know where to start. On a range of matters such as loss of wildlife, algae blooms, deterioration or fluctuations in the conditions of habitat, of course I am concerned and interested, as is our department and our environmental regulator as well. You have just listed a dozen unrelated things and made an assertion that no-one cared. I can't give you a technical or specific answer to your general complaints that no-one cares.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is not about caring, it is about acting.

CHAIR - Minister, I ask you to wrap up because Mr Ellis has the call.

Mr JAENSCH - I sympathise but I don't think I can answer you.