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State of the Environment Report

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Tags: Environment

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I move -

That the House: -

(1) Recognises the critical importance of regular State of the Environment reports to alert Tasmanians to the condition, trends and changes in our natural world.

(2) Notes the Morrison government sat on the 2021 Australian State of the Environment report for over three months to avoid publication before the 2022 federal election.

(3) Recognises the state Liberal Government has been even more negligent, and has missed the last two statutory deadlines - 2014 and 2019 - to produce a State of the Environment report.

(4) Understands in the 13 years since the last report there have been enormous impacts on our state’s natural systems and species from climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, and intensive industrial extraction.

(5) Understands the Government is currently undertaking a review of reporting requirements, the format of the report, and the most suitable authority for the work.

(6) Calls on the Government to -

(a) commit to ensuring - at a minimum - that the next State of the Environment report, due in 2024, is delivered on time;

(b) commit to fully resourcing the Tasmanian Planning Commission to undertake this independent scientific assessment;

(c) commit to not reducing the frequency or detail of current legislative reporting requirements; and

(d) ensure State of the Environment reports are produced independent of government, using robust and credible environmental data and scientific assessment.

The Greens know that the natural world holds the key to human wellbeing and survival. It is an absolute truth that without a healthy environment the Tasmania we know and love and the gifts that give us everything we need to sustain our lives are in a dire predicament.

The Australian State of the Environment report was released by the Labor government in July. The previous Liberal federal government received the report last year but Scott Morrison's government delayed the bad news until after the election. Playing politics with the environment is a very Liberal thing to do.

The national report paints a bleak picture of our ecosystems and biodiversity. The health of Australia's environment is poor and has deteriorated substantially over the past five years. The federal Liberals' inaction on climate change, reckless habitat destruction for development and resource extraction, a failure to properly act on invasive species and pollution, and woefully inadequate monitoring and environmental laws - these have all perpetuated a disastrous environmental decline across the Australian landscape including in the state of Tasmania.

The state Liberals are no better. The previous resources minister, Guy Barnett, tried to hide a report on the health of our waterways - a report on evasive species in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area appears to have gone missing. Our do-nothing Environment minister -

Mr BARNETT - Point of order, that allegation is untrue, and the member knows that.

Ms O'Connor - Do not withdraw it.

Dr WOODRUFF - I am not withdrawing it. It is a fact. The minister can stand up in adjournment and make a defence of that if he thinks so but that is a fact that we are putting on the record.

A report on invasive species in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area appears to have gone missing. Our do-nothing Environment minister has shown no appetite to fix our broken Crop Protection Permit system which enables the legal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of native animals every year. The minister, Mr Jaensch, also promised at the Estimates scrutiny table a year ago to legislate for an independent Environment Protection Authority (EPA) but he has never done that. The EPA continues to be hamstrung by being required to conform to Liberal policies and is under the direction and control of the minister and is required to facilitate productivity.

Maybe, worst of all, Tasmania has not released an official State of the Environment report since 2009. The last one was due eight years ago. The reports that should have been prepared by the Liberal Government - that are mandated by law - for 2014 and 2019 have not materialised. We have absolutely no idea how much damage Liberal policies are doing to our environment.

The Tasmanian Planning Commission failed to produce these crucial reports which by law it is supposed to undertake every five years. So, since 2009, no Government minister has intervened to kick-start the process - not the environment minister - we do not have evidence that we have an environment minister except in name; not the justice minister; not the planning minister; and not the Premier.

As it stands, there is still no plan on how this State of the Environment report will be produced, despite multiple reviews that have been conducted so far on whether some other body would be better placed to do that task. Worse still, there is no commitment to produce one at any particular time in the future, including by the next legislated five-year deadline of 2024.

State of the Environment reports give consolidated information on the condition and trends and changes in Tasmania's environment. Without them we have no information to tell us what we are overusing, abusing or losing altogether.

Since the last report in 2009 our environment has been pummelled with three high-impact bushfires, the salmon industry has doubled its industrial production in inshore and offshore waterways, our east coast waters have warmed more than four times faster than the global average. There have been massive changes, but we have no idea how far we have been pushing our natural systems. The Government is eight years overdue to produce a State of the Environment report. This is core business and it is critical advice to govern the budgets, the operations and the future planning of state and local governments, and also businesses and civil society.

That is why we are calling on the Liberal Government to uphold the law. Our motion calls on the Government to commit to ensuring at minimum that the next State of the Environment report is due in 2024 and is delivered on time. All we are asking for is the law. We also call for a commitment to fully resource the Tasmanian Planning Commission to undertake this independent scientific assessment and to commit to not reducing the frequency or detail of the current legislated reporting requirements and to make sure that the State of the Environment reports are produced independent of government using robust and credible environmental data and a scientific assessment protest.

The Deputy Premier said last week he intends to delay this legally required work to do yet another unnecessary review. This shows his arrogant and dismissive attitude to our most important natural asset. In a climate and biodiversity crisis, we need immediate action to produce the report and not more stalling and roadblocks.

Any review into what mechanism and body ought best be responsible for producing a Tasmanian State of the Environment report can be conducted if the Deputy Premier sees fit as parallel process. We have no time to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The Tasmanian Planning Commission did a perfectly satisfactory job in 2009 and it can do it again. It has overseen similar state-wide biodiversity assessments for our planning processes and is more than capable of appointing an appropriate and independent scientific panel to undertake the assessment. What it needs is to be fully funded by the Liberals to do that work. They have failed to do that since taking office in 2014.

You have to ask, why have the Liberals failed, despite the request from the Tasmanian Planning Commission, to provide the funding necessary for them to undertake their independent assessment? It is obvious that the Liberals in government, like their federal colleagues, have been purposely breaking the law so that they do not have to justify their anti-environment policies. They seem more than happy to continue to do that. It is actually the way the world is, Mr Barnett.

Mr Barnett - That's a terrible allegation.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is true. You have broken the law twice, minister. You have broken the law twice.

Let us recount for people listening some of the environment-destroying activities of this Government and their future fantasies. Old growth logging continues unabated. It is the habitat for critically endangered species, so many of them, the masked owl and the swift parrot are just two, that are very close to extinction.

The foreign-owned salmon industry has doubled over the past decade. The Liberal plan, supported thoroughly by Labor, is to double the salmon industry again. Algae blooms and seaweed growth is choking inland waterways. There is extensive land clearing from industries and developments because of a complete absence of effective environmental safeguards in our Tasmanian planning scheme, mineral exploration occurring in ancient Huon pine forests, and there's a plan for ancient rainforests to be sacrificed for a toxic tailings dam established by the CCP-owned MMG company. The autumn air is spoiled every year by incendiary forestry fires which emit hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and cause extreme health risks to people who have asthma and other respiratory conditions.

There are helicopter tourism and construction sites in pristine wilderness and a secretive EOI process which has more planned that the community does not know about. The Government is disrespecting Aboriginal heritage across land, sea and sky country. We have feral deer in plague proportions across the state. The waterways are polluted by salmon hatcheries and antiquated agricultural practices. The Government turns a blind eye to threatened and endangered species at best and at worst is developing policies or has policies which effectively oversees their pathway to extinction.

Marine debris is piling up on the west coast and salmon farm debris covers coastlines and waterway edges around all fish farm leases. Our rivers are being befouled by poor planning in the farming sector and there are invasive weed species lining thousands of kilometres of logging roads and elsewhere. These are all serious matters of fact that are well documented. There have been substantial changes in these areas since 2009 but we have no idea of the extent and the detail and the location of this damage because the Government refuses to produce a State of the Environment report. We are in the dark about the impacts that the Government is trying to hide.

We do not know what species are on the precipice of extinction. We do not know how our activities are affecting vulnerable species. There are many species that are not being documented that may well be at the point or beyond of being critically endangered. We do not know because their data are not being collected. We do not know what impact climate change is having on our unique mountain vegetation. Although it seems very probable, we do not know whether mass tourism is going to kill the golden egg.

It is a case of see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil and report no evil from the Rockliff Government. Our last State of the Environment report was 13 years ago. Since then there has been widespread environmental deregulation and key environmental bureaucracies have been politicised. The EPA's mandate to protect the environment has been eroded and replaced with top-down ministerial directors to facilitate business growth. Tasmania's iconic endangered species include the swift parrot, the masked owl, the maugean skate, the Tasmanian devil, the orange bellied parrot, wedge tailed eagles and red hand fish. These are all being threatened by ineffectual national and state environmental laws.

The threat to these species and their habitat is coming predominantly from industrial-scale native logging in Tasmania, inshore salmon farming, inappropriately placed wind farms, small- and large-scale developments that do not account for habitat impacts and property protection permits that allow wildlife to be legally killed. These are just some top line examples of failed laws in action. They sketch out the things a Tasmanian State of the Environment report would cover. There is so much more. A State of the Environment report like the federal State of the Environment report provides the state of the environment relative to all the parts of human societies that depend on it.

A proper State of the Environment report ought to tell us how we are tracking in food security, industry and resource use and the other aspects of life that are required from the environment that provide us with health and wellbeing; the quality of our air, the quality of the water that we drink. When the Liberal and Labor parties jointly support international corporations to raid our natural places, as they have done by our flag-waving JBS and Cooke Canada entering into Tasmania's waterways to farm salmon, they effectively allow them to monitor and report on their own impacts. Both those companies have been convicted and found to be criminally negligent on a range of environmental pollution offenses. Both have suffered massive fines for their pollution of the environment and their purposeful hiding of information so that the community and governments are not aware of the impacts that they are having.

The special carve-out we have for native forest industries, in which the regional forest agreement is exempt from EBPC assessment, has precipitated the broad-scale clearing of native habitat and it is a core reason for the rapid decline of threatened species in Tasmania. The failure to include climate impacts in any state or federal assessments for developments or for resource extraction means that there is no capacity at the moment to effectively account for carbon emissions. We are very hopeful that the Greens, in our important position in the federal Senate, will make this a strong condition for the Labor Party who, without that leverage, would likely be very disinclined to want to add a 'climate trigger' into the EBPC and other environmental laws. It is essential. We need to have the same sorts of climate impact assessments required as part of developments in Tasmania and that is something that we will continue to advocate for.

We have no state documentation through a state of the environment report to tell us how much we are eroding our natural capital, but we do know from the many Tasmanians, who are on the frontline witnessing and documenting that there is extensive damage and loss of species.

The palawa pakana, who are traditional and original custodians of lutruwita, have been caring for this island for tens of thousands of years. They never ceded that responsibility and we hear their pain and outrage at the destruction and exploitation of their heritage, which is ongoing. Also, scientists, especially climate scientists, biologists, psychologists, and people in environmental management research, as well as land care volunteers, conservationists, wilderness walkers and guides, and photographers, all struggle to come to terms with the massive changes that are occurring in our natural systems that, 30 years ago, they understood were stable.

For many people, what they have researched or spent their life conserving is changing or disappearing entirely, whether they work for UTAS, as government employees, privately, or as volunteers, they know, they see, and they document, and they grieve. For many, it is an intolerable emotional burden. The Greens thank them for the work they are doing in keeping of track of where we are. The least the Government can do is to recognise the reality of what is occurring and take the essential step of hastening an assessment of the condition and trends of our environment. We are in a climate and biodiversity crisis, but our current laws make it impossible to protect our life systems in Tasmania.

The multiple agency failures to deliver a report for 13 years are a deliberate tactic to hide the evidence of the impact of Liberal policies on the health of Tasmania's environment. With obvious government threats to climate and biodiversity, this is truly scandalous behaviour from multiple Liberal premiers. Past premiers Hodgman, Gutwein, and now Premier, Mr Rockliff, are all failing to deliver for the environment. Given Environment minister Roger Jaensch's reputation for doing nothing in this space, it is not surprising he has not demanded action.

Not only are the Liberals' policies a crime against nature, they are also breaking the law to cover it up. Let us not waste more time delaying a State of the Environment report. Our island's biodiversity needs are beyond urgent. This motion ensures that we expedite the State of the Environment report by 2024 at minimum. The Government has missed two already and we cannot delay any longer. The argument that we need to do another review when three have already been conducted is a purposeful red herring.

Ms O'Connor - Another delay tactic.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, it is stalling. What we need to do is do what past governments have done and resource the Planning Commission, which is an independent body. They have the planning expertise. They have the capacity, as they do regularly, with planning hearings to bring in experts. They would bring in experts with the appropriate scientific credentials. They would require the departments or the agencies to provide the data sets. The Government ought to fund the accumulation of information by those agencies, so that they can be assessed by the independent panel commissioned by the TPC.

Importantly, Mr Ferguson has mentioned another review and mentioned the reporting time frames within that. This motion calls on the Government to commit to not reducing the frequency or the detail of the current legislative reporting requirements. Five years is a very long time between drinks when there is a climate and biodiversity crisis. In our opinion, it is too long and we would propose to change that time period. At the very minimum, we cannot have longer than that. Three years is a much more realistic time frame. We are not calling on that at the moment. We are simply calling on the report to be conducted, by 2024.

We are also calling on the Government to commit that they will make sure that State of the Environment reports are produced independently of government. That means independently of the EPA, which is not a statutory body, as I said before. The legislation has not been provided. The EPA sits with a statement of expectations. It is required to facilitate the productivity of businesses and to make sure that the activities and the decisions of the EPA board and director fit within the Government's policies.

The Government's policies in the space of the salmon industry is to double the size of the salmon industry. What a surprise that we find time and time again that the EPA continues to find a workaround in the weak legislation to make sure that there is effectively no level of biomass or nitrogen that will be capped, even in inshore waters.

Even though, Mark Ryan, I think he still is the CEO of Tassal, before the name legally changes to Cooke Canada, made a commitment in 2017 that Tassal would move out of inshore waters, would move out of Park, would move out of Tinderbox. Instead, what we have seen is that they have gone back into Park, which at the time was empty of leases and they have expanded the biomass in Tinderbox. And, they have now moved into Long Bay and have been there for long enough to utterly change that marine landscape.

We have seagrass that has disappeared. It has been replaced with a snot algae and slimy green seaweed. Everything else, the beauty of those seagrass meadows, which supports a whole range of beautiful animals like hand fish, potentially of all sorts, is disappearing or gone.

We cannot leave it up to the corporates and we cannot leave it up to the Liberals to get away with making policies that have an impact on the environment. If you have nothing to hide, then do the report and show us the state of the environment. If you are so happy with what you are doing, then give us the information and we can make that assessment. The Liberals should provide a State of the Environment report before the next election, because you are obviously proud of what you are doing, you are fully committed. It needs to be here before the date of the next election, 2025.

If you have nothing to hide and you are proud of it, then provide a State of the Environment report, make sure it is independent, make sure it has a proper scientific-credentialled panel doing the work, and that the TPC is in charge of the job.