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Premier - Environment and Climate Sustainability

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Monday, 6 September 2021

Tags: Environment, Climate Change, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Premier, I want to take you to your Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council final report, which was released in March this year, and note your previous statements that you would implement every recommendation that had been made by PESRAC. For the record, I am in chapter 6, Environment and Sustainability. The report says that 'throughout our consultation we heard that the environment is a major element of Tasmania's brand', and that it creates significant value for Tasmanian products, et cetera:

Tasmanians told us of their concern that Tasmania's environmental credentials don't truly stack up when a close look is taken.

We have accelerated native forest logging in Tasmania under minister Barnett. A fish farm industry that wants to double in size under Government policy. We have scientists ringing the alarm on river health across Tasmania. We have increases in exploration and mining activity in sensitive areas, including the Tarkine.

You have said that you will implement every one of PESRAC's recommendations. They have recommended that you work on a sustainability vision for Tasmania and strategy. How is that travelling, given the threats to the environment under your Government today?

Mr GUTWEIN - First, let me just correct what you said. In terms of the doubling of the salmon industry, that is by value, not by volume. That needs to be clearly expressed.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am glad to hear you say that, but it is still at an unsustainable level now in terms of the marine environment

Mr GUTWEIN - That is a very clear distinction that needs to be made.

DPAC is currently scoping out the project for the sustainability program. The PESRAC report, as you have said, was quite clear on that. We have accepted those recommendations and DPAC are currently undertaking the project plan, with regard to looking at that particular review.

I wish you could be prouder of where we are.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am so proud of our climate profile because of the work of conservationists, over decades, to protect the forests, and our early investment in hydro. Absolutely.

Mr GUTWEIN - With the community shift that occurred, you know full well that many Tasmanians paid a significant price with regard to the step change back in the 2010 period. That impacted on families, on jobs and on people's mental health. A significant price was paid there, so it is not only the conservationists that need to be acknowledged. There are many in our community who went through that period under very difficult circumstances.

Ms O'CONNOR - I agree, which is why it was a difficult vote on the Tasmanian forest agreement.

Mr GUTWEIN - I was surprised, with regard to the environment report that was handed down by the Deputy Premier, who tabled it in my absence last week, the climate change review and the recommendations -

Ms O'CONNOR - Which found we have a lot more work to do.

Mr GUTWEIN - That review, while noting there were things we do need to do, also noted very clearly that our emissions profile is world leading.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right, but the report says it is 'at risk'.

Mr GUTWEIN - When you look in detail, that needs to be managed carefully with regard to the carbon sink, but there is an opportunity for us to be much more ambitious with our aims.

One of the things I intend to do today - I might wait until John raises that with me - but I committed to the parliament -

Ms O'CONNOR - You don't have to wait for the Dorothy Dixer.

Mr GUTWEIN - to have economic modelling as well as environmental work done with regard to what our future profile could possibly be. Treasury played a part in that, and we also received some work from the University of Melbourne. Today I will table that.

The Government has not yet made a decision on what our emissions target will be, but I think we can be more ambitious, and I hope that it will inform the public debate as we work through the processes and further consultation.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Premier. I wish you would take the opportunity to provide that answer, not only in response to a Dorothy Dixer.

Chair, a quick supplementary question on the PESRAC report. PESRAC also makes recommendations on water quality and security for the next quarter of a century. It says -

To meet future demands for water and ensure water quality is sufficient for our agricultural and environmental needs, we need a broader water resource policy approach that addresses resource allocation, water security and water quality, setting specific targets and binding the state government to monitoring and reporting, as well as more transparency. This should be an immediate priority.

Has your Government treated water security and quality as an immediate priority? The recommendation is in chapter 6 on page 69, under, Sustainability vision: prioritising looking at water resource allocation, security and quality. This is in the context of the scientific report which found that most of Tasmania's major river systems are in decline.

Mr GUTWEIN - I think that matter will be looked at in the sustainability report that DPAC is currently scoping.

Ms O'CONNOR - You agree it is an issue?

Mr GUTWEIN - It is certainly something. The PESRAC report was a very good report, informed by a group of very sensible people from a range of diverse backgrounds. I said at the time that it was my intention to accept their recommendations and to work on all of those recommendations, which we are.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is water quality and security a priority for your Government?

Mr GUTWEIN - I always feel like you're trying to trap me.

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm not. I’m generally trying to get information.

Mr GUTWEIN - It feels that way. Of course water quality is important for my Government.

Ms O'CONNOR - And security.

Ms O'CONNOR - Premier, you said earlier that DPAC is scoping for a consultant to do some work on a sustainability vision and strategy for Tasmania. Are you able to provide time frames for when the scoping study will be over, someone will be commissioned and when we're likely to see a sustainability strategy for Tasmania?

Ms GALE - We are currently working with our other agency counterparts to scope what the work will be. We're hoping that we'll have that work concluded before the end of this year, with a preparation to start the work in early 2022. We are still working with our other agency colleagues in relation to that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Ms Gale. Premier, as you're aware there's a whole range of pressures on the natural environment in Tasmania. It has ever been thus since the arrival of the Europeans. Can you see that there will need to be, as PESRAC makes clear, some changes to the way we do business in Tasmania where we're not always going after the economic quick hit - I think that's PESRAC's wording - and we'll need to use our natural resources and grow as a state in a way that is different from the way we've done things in the past?

Mr GUTWEIN - If you look at agriculture, for example, where there has been exponential growth in output since 1990, as I outlined to parliament the other week our emissions profile is, I think, negative 8 per cent based on that 1990 baseline.

Ms O'CONNOR - Emissions from agriculture are growing.

Mr GUTWEIN - But they're still below the 1990 baseline, which is extraordinary. That comes back to more targeted agriculture, better stock management and the way the farmers deal with the trees that they manage and grow on their properties.

A lot of good things are occurring in the way we deal with waste and the investment we're making in this Budget in the circular economy. These will to lead to some good outcomes.

I'm very pleased, though it staggers me that more hasn't been said in the media about it, that we're going to crumb rubber and put it into our roads. It's something that has sat there for such a long time and we decided we're just going to get it done.

Ms WHITE - It's been part of the Brighton Councils procurement policy. They've been doing it for a while.

Mr GUTWEIN - What they're having to do is bring it in from the mainland, as I understand it, because we don't have the facilities here. That's what we're going to invest in.

With the broader forestry industry, as we discussed after a lot of pain and advocacy for a long period of time, whether the advocacy was welcomed or not, we are now in a position where our forestry sector is sustainable.

The transition to plantation, the opportunities we have in the north west where work is ongoing at Hermal cross-laminated timbers. A lot of these things will be discussed and considered within the sustainability vision.

Ms O'CONNOR - I don't know if you are aware of the report, but Dr Christine Coughanowr, who used to run the Derwent Estuary Program and is now a member of the Independent Science Council, three weeks ago released a report which was based on data produced by the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, on river health. It found that across nearly all the major river systems in Tasmania, but particularly ones in locations of high agricultural intensity and growing agricultural intensity, are in decline. The decline has been most marked since 2014 15.

Your Government has a goal to increase farmgate value to $10 billion by 2050. Do you think our rivers, under the current management approach, can sustain that? We have a view which is that they can't, based on the evidence, but I am interested in your thoughts, given that we need to have a sustainable future.

Mr GUTWEIN - I have not seen Dr Coughanowr's report.

Ms O'CONNOR - I will get you a copy.

Mr GUTWEIN - Thank you. I have made a note that if we have had some involvement, I am sure that can be provided.

With regard to the steps we are taking, I refer you to some of the conversations I have been involved in regarding a Tamar River catchment management authority. I said a number of months ago that I wanted to see mountains to the sea catchment management authority implemented. That is sensible. The work that has already been undertaken by the federal and state governments on the upstream management of some of those catchments ensures that the Tamar and its basin has already improved its health.

We are working through that process at the moment and engaged with the Tamar Estuary Management Taskforce on what the new body might look like. I am excited by that because there are benefits that will flow.

Ms O'CONNOR - Absolutely, pardon the pun. The question was more about the statewide river health and whether there is risk involved in your Government's plan to increase farmgate value to $10 billion by 2050, given the current state of decline of our major river systems, from the South Esk to the Leven to the Derwent.

Mr GUTWEIN - I have not seen that report. I will have a look at it. You might be aware that the Minister for Primary Industries and Water recently released the Rural Water Use Strategy. I am not sure if you have looked at that?

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, I have read that and it is very problematic because it doesn't look at urban water users, it is all about increasing farmgate value rather than river health.

Mr GUTWEIN - It does have a lean to river health.

Ms O'CONNOR - Not really.

Mr GUTWEIN - Our farmers are probably some of the best managers of the environment.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right, but it is Government policy that is the issue.

Mr GUTWEIN - These matters can be considered under the broader sustainability report we have agreed to with PESRAC.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Premier, for that previous answer and for the documents you'll be tabling about our path forward. I take you to some of the statements from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate change and land use. One of the statements is:

Examples of response options with immediate impacts include the conservation of high carbon ecosystems, such as peatlands, wetlands, rangelands, mangroves and forests. Examples that provide multiple ecosystem services and function but take more time to deliver include afforestation, which is planting a forest where there wasn't one before, and reforestation, as well as the restoration of high carbon ecosystems.

The IPCC is making a very strong point that you have to protect your carbon sinks but also draw down more carbon from the atmosphere. Do the documents you have just tabled accept that science from the IPCC?

Mr GUTWEIN - A couple of key points to make. In terms of the modelling, the current forestry industry activity is modelled as being maintained across the period to 2050 but the emissions pathway reduction initiatives include reforestation and additional forestation, and opportunities for farmers, especially, to engage in more plantation activity -

Ms O'CONNOR - Or mixed forest activity?

Mr GUTWEIN - Or mixed forest, as many are doing at the moment.

In fact, as part of the work we do in the state - and it won't occur in this next six month period, but it's part of the sustainability vision recommended by the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council, getting a good understanding of the carbon accounting and the values that currently exist in our farms is going to be really important.

I firmly believe that our farmers want the best out of their properties. They also understand the benefit that net zero emissions provides for them as a marketing opportunity. Many of them are the best conservationists we've got. As part of the work we do next year, having a good understanding, from a carbon accounting point of view, of what our agricultural footprint is, I think we'd be surprised, to be honest.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I refer you to the work undertaken by the Labor-Greens Government and a Greens minister for climate change on the Forest Carbon Study, which was peer-reviewed and highly credible, which looked at carbon stored across the forest [inaudible] tenure blind on public and private lands. It does have data in there on forests on private lands and the role they can play -

CHAIR - I'm sure it was wonderful work, Ms O'Connor, but you need to ask a question.

Ms O'CONNOR - Just ask the department because it was a DPAC-commissioned report, and it tells you about the role of forests on private land.