COMMITTEE UPON THE NATURAL RESOURCES MANAGEMENT COUNCIL BILL AND COGNATE BILLS
(Coffs Harbour) [1.9]: I support this report and in doing so I congratulate the staff who attended that committee, especially Amanda Olsson, Kendy McLean and Greg Kelly.
I note the interjection from the honourable member for Manly, because during the time the committee sat the honourable member for Manly was notable by his absence for most of the sittings. The committee received 161 submissions to a cognate package of bills of vast importance to the people of New South Wales. The package of bills was particularly important to the timber industry and the mining industry, which are looking for resource security in New South Wales. The endangered species bill introduced last year by the honourable member for Blacktown has been recognised as a bad piece of legislation. The package of legislation that was dealt with by the committee would have increased conflict. I am pleased that the committee as a whole recommended that the package be sent back to the Government for further consideration. However, I am
concerned that the breach of confidence by the honourable member for Blacktown, supported by the honourable member for Manly and the honourable member for Port Stephens, has been noted in the report. On that basis legislation committees are nothing but a farce. The honourable member for Blacktown did this for pure political expediency. She wanted to grab a headline. The committee received correspondence and information -
Talk about the report.
I will talk about the report. The attitude of the honourable member for Manly is farcical. The Independents wanted these legislation committees, but 99 per cent of the time they did not bother to attend. You did not turn up and you did not worry about it. You were going to -
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Chappell):
Order! The honourable member for Coffs Harbour will address his remarks through the Chair.
The attitude of the Independents to these legislation committees is farcical. They are not worried about these committees; they are worried only in playing politics. These committees, which are an important part of the operations of this House, are covered by the standing orders. Any breach of confidentiality is subject to censure. I believe the honourable member for Blacktown, the honourable member for Manly and the honourable member for Port Stephens should be censured by this House because they breached the confidence of that committee. They played politics. Earlier the honourable member for Manly interjected and said, "These matters are important to the public". These matters are important to this House. Are we to give regard to the standing orders of this House, or are we to forget them? If we forget the standing orders this place will become a shambles.
These legislation committees were part and parcel of the Independents charter of reform, yet they are not prepared to attend them on a regular basis. They make up their minds about what they are going to do and they breach the confidentiality of the committee before the committee report is brought down. The Independents are using legislation committees as nothing other than a political ploy. The legislation committees should be thrown out. It is a disgrace that the three honourable members, to whom I referred earlier, have not respected the confidentiality of these committees. Evidence that is heard by those committees is confidential until committee reports are brought down. It is a slur on this Parliament that confidentiality has been breached. Part of the Independents charter of reform is honesty and integrity in Government. It is unacceptable to me and to all honourable members for them to have breached that confidentiality. I believe that breach of confidentiality should be a matter of censure at some future time. That sort of behaviour is not acceptable to this Parliament, to me or to members of the committee.
(Manly) [1.14]: I have not heard for a while so much drivel in five minutes.
Don't you like it?
I do not take these things personally.
You ought to.
Maybe I ought to, but I do not; I guess that is a survival tactic. If anyone is playing politics it is the honourable member for Coffs Harbour. In the brief time available I will address the question of the natural resources package of legislation which is to be withdrawn. It is not as though there will be an opportunity to debate the last report concerning this legislation, but it is important to focus on some of the elements within that package. Legislation committees do not frequently reject a package such as this. The recommendations in that report are quite historic. There was broad representation on and interest in the committee but committee members agreed, for whatever reasons, that this package of legislation would be totally unworkable. This legislative package was a failed attempt at stifling free speech and public participation. It would have overridden a number of good, existing provisions in existing laws and the whole legal fabric of conservation most likely would have been eroded. Regional environmental plans within the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act would have been subverted. In fact, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act would have been usurped. We would have seen forests classified and logged without any environmental impact statements or any effective input. If ever there was a recipe for disaster, it would be that.
The Endangered and Other Threatened Species Conservation Bill would have been more likely to lead to extinction rather than conservation. The whole object of the endangered and other threatened species bill is to prevent extinction and to promote the recovery of endangered and other threatened species of plants and animals. One of the submissions received by the committee stated that one could be forgiven for thinking that the draftsperson had transposed the words "prevent" and "promote". In other words, the legislation should read, "To promote the extinction of endangered species and prevent their recovery". That is exactly what that legislation is seeking to do. It introduced a lot of concepts concerning the scheduling of species based on a national, rather than a State, basis. It was flawed and it would have led to enormous problems.
Another element of the package which gave rise to great concern was the Forest Resource Security Bill. We have seen the angst, anger and frustration in the community. Unfortunately, groups have taken possession of buildings, as they did at Pennant Hills. Various reports have been received about the extent of the damage. I do not condone that sort of activity, but I understand that, when people are dealing with a package like this which seeks to override perfectly good existing laws and to lock them out of the consultation process, they become frustrated. If we are to move in a proper direction, it has to be through conflict resolution rather than conflict promotion. Resource security is important. It is being looked at at a national level; but it needs to be looked at at a State level. The extractive industry would argue that there needs to be some assurance about where resources are to come from. I do not deny that. But this effort, particularly in the Forest Resource Security Bill, is a recipe for disaster. We need to look seriously at our depleting resources. We need to look seriously at appointing a forest board to look after the Forestry Commission. We need to look seriously at the transition to a sustainable form of logging, which would come from plantations. I would like to have seen those sorts of elements in this legislation; not elements which sought arbitrarily to classify areas without input and almost certainly promote further conflict. I join the honourable member for Coffs Harbour in thanking those members of staff who served on this committee. They had a difficult task. I register my delight at the fact that this package is to be withdrawn.
(Davidson) [1.19]: I, too, support this committee report and acknowledge the contribution made by committee staff. I thank also the 161 individuals and groups who made some form of representation or submission to the
committee. I would like to focus on the objectives of this package of legislation as I believe there was unanimous support for those objectives. Though this package of legislation has been withdrawn, the objectives are sound. Primarily the objectives were to reduce conflict in this area dealing with natural resources; to increase understanding; to reduce some of the emotion that is often witnessed; and to improve awareness and the reliance on facts when dealing with such issues. The objective of the Natural Resources Management Council Bill was to establish an authority which would improve the decision-making process regarding the use of public land to specifically enable the Government to make sound decisions about the balance between the conservation and other natural resource use and to allow allocation of the use of natural resources to industry to be more secure. They are sound objectives. The package as presented was not going to satisfactorily achieve that, so there are good grounds for its withdrawal. I believe we should work to that end. There are a number of concerns about the membership of the council. A number of concerns refer to the creation of a bureaucracy. I do not fully support the concerns about it being seen as bureaucratic, but I acknowledge that the composition of the council - should it proceed in some form - needs to be looked at very closely. There is a need for a balance and a need for the chairperson to be seen to be independent.
The objectives of the Endangered and Other Threatened Species Conservation Bill were to prevent the extinction of and promote the recovery of endangered and other threatened species of animal and plants. These are worthwhile objectives. A concern that needs to be looked at closely is whether the eligibility should be on an Australia-wide or a State basis, or perhaps some other basis. That matter needs to be addressed before the bill is returned to the House. A very good principle in the Environmental Planning and Assessment (Amendment) Bill was to seek to amend the position whereby a government agency is both the proponent and the determining authority for activities. I hope that change will occur at some future time and will have credibility with the Minister for Planning. I hope it will not be the agent, as the proponent, who will make the final decision. To support the concept of resource security, industries in this area need greater certainty. They need the ability to make long-term decisions about investment. Without that, the industry in many respects would be hamstrung. A number of changes are proposed to the Heritage (Amendment) Bill which would assist in rationalisation. Some of those changes are well founded. Some of the concerns raised had little foundation or arose through some misunderstanding. The objectives were sound. I hope the package, if it comes back in some form in the future, will also be addressed. In summary, I support the direction, the principles, and the objectives that the package seeks to promote. I hope the suggestions made by individuals and groups will be taken into account. The process of consultation is an important one. I look forward to it being reintroduced in the autumn session next year.
(Port Stephens) [1.23]: The Opposition has put its case very clearly. I would like to thank those members of the committee who showed good will during the hearings. It was very sad that the honourable member for Vaucluse, who was appointed to the chair, did not consider it necessary to sit on the committee until very late in its deliberations. This concertinaed the time frame. I thank the honourable member for Bega, who took over the position, for chairing the committee. The purpose of this legislation was a brainwave of the former Premier, who thought, very quickly and very simply, that five pieces of legislation could be bundled together to stop the conflict; give a lot of wood to people who were screaming out for wood; and, in effect, get the State out of many of the problems that were occurring with regard to environmental movements and the timber industry. There were other aspects associated with the mining industry. It is obvious that the persons who thought up this legislation did so in much haste. It was
not well prepared and it became obvious very early in the piece to all members of the committee that there was going to be great conflict. When all parties were questioned in depth by members of the committee, it emerged that there were major problems. It seemed that this legislation would not be likely to have a smooth passage when it came before the Parliament.
In the setting up of the council it became obvious that there was going to be considerable conflict. The threatened species legislation was to be a rerun of something that was poorly understood by a bureaucracy. The legislation had originated from the Opposition. There are salutary lessons to be learned in introducing unpopular legislation without having the means to make sure that legislation works. The evidence from local government representatives and others indicated that things had settled down and the respective organisations, particularly the soil conservation component of conservation and land management, are making things work a lot better. The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act was in place. Everyone was horrified at the removal of anything other than man-made buildings from the Heritage Act. I saw a need in the legislation for guaranteed supply or guaranteed access to timber resources. The Opposition accepts that and is working positively for a change of government whereby those people legitimately involved in the timber industry will have security and work in harmony with the moderate environmentalists.
I want to place on record that the Opposition was horrified by yesterday's events at the Forestry Commission office. When the shadow minister for the environment told me what had happened, we jointly decided to take a very firm stand and not put up with that sort of nonsense. I am sure all members of the committee were horrified that they were not being provided with evidence from various government departments. This legislation was conceived in great haste and has been aborted. It is obvious that if the Government wants to guarantee supply of timber, it must think things through and cut out the conflict. It must get on with the job of improving the New South Wales economy. I thank all those who served on the committee and who gave evidence to the committee. I am sure we will all be happy that the legislation is now dead and buried.
(Moorebank) [1.28]: Though not a member of the committee, I took particular interest in the passage of this package of bills. I am specifically interested in the notion that the proposed amendments to part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act would require the separation of the proponent of an activity from the consent authority. As far back as March, when the Minister for Conservation and Land Management indicated during debate on the timber industry protection legislation that the natural resources package would be introduced, it seemed that there would be a genuine attempt to separate the consent authority from the proponent of a particular activity. This matter goes to the fundamentals of the arguments between the environmental movement and the timber industry generally, but also equally applies to Crown authorities such as the Roads and Traffic Authority and Elcom in particular.
The proposition as contained in the proposed package simply required the proponent of the activity to make a determination without reference to anyone, whether or not the proposed activity would have a significant effect on the environment. They are important words because they are contained within part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. If an activity has a significant impact, an environmental impact statement must be conducted. The package of bills provides that if the proponent of an activity - the Forestry Commission or somebody else - wishes to deem that the activities will have a significant effect on the environment, that activity will be determined by an independent third party, the Minister for Planning. However, the
package of bills is silent on what will happen if the proponent of the activity does not make that sort of determination but simply says, "No, we do not think this activity we are about to conduct will have a significant impact". In that situation the status quo will apply. While most people seem to think the legislation is a good move, I do not believe it goes far enough.
In debating this matter in relation to bills previously before the House I have made it clear that the Labor Party does not support the notion of combining the proponent of an activity with the consent authority. The amendment proposal in the natural resources package simply does not go far enough. In putting my views on the record today I hope that in the next attempt to get this issue right the Minister for Conservation and Land Management and Minister for Energy will go back to read the comments he has made in previous debates on this matter. I have pages of Hansard
containing assurances from the Minister that there would be a genuine separation. I raise this matter in a bipartisan way so that the House will recognise that that is simply not achieved by the package. I put it to whoever will deal with the package when it is reworked that the intent expressed by the Minister in his earlier remarks should be considered.
The second point I make concerns the extension of the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act as a consequence of the determination by the committee not to proceed with the natural resources package. We are all aware that the package was supposed to replace the Labor Party's interim legislation. It is therefore interesting that yesterday the Minister for the Environment introduced a bill to extend the Labor Party's bill to the end of October 1993. National Party members in particular have delivered a barrage of false assertions that introduction of that legislation resulted in enormous job losses. However, in view of the four reports by the Minister for the Environment to the Parliament, the extension of Labor's legislation to next year, and the Director of the Department of Planning stating at estimates committee meetings that there had been no impact on jobs as a result of this legislation, nobody in the community will believe the rhetoric of the Minister, the National Party and the Government that the endangered fauna protection legislation is causing job losses. In the Minister's further reports to Parliament over the next 12 months, particularly the quarterly reports, he must detail the precise job losses in the industry. [Time expired
(Blacktown) [1.33]: In accordance with the recommendations of the Legislation Committee upon the Natural Resources Management Council Bill and Cognate Bills the Government has withdrawn the natural resources package, that ill-fated attempt to evade the State's hard-won environmental laws. The package should never have seen the light of day. It was conceived in anger at the community and court victories of the environment movement - the case of the endangered species of the Chaelundi forest; the defeat of the Minister for Planning when the Land and Environment Court upheld complaints that he was subverting the Heritage Act; and of course the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act. My colleague the honourable member for Moorebank has just spoken on that. Those issues were won on their scientific and legal merits. The Government attempted in its package to entrench the very bodies and processes that cause conflict over the uses of natural resources. There are limits to where even the National Party can go and the Government went beyond those limits in the natural resources package.
The package attacked the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, subverting its world renowned environmental planning and public involvement procedures through a developer dominated, faceless natural resources management council. The package repealed the Endangered Fauna Act, virtually legislating species out of existence
through scientifically fraudulent definitions and laughable recovery plan provisions. I note that despite the excellent recommendations of the committee there are still members who believe that it is not necessary to protect endangered or threatened species in this State if an example of those species can be found in other parts of Australia. There is no logical end to that argument. We may as well start talking about failing to protect Australian species nationwide if other examples of those species can be found in other parts of the southern hemisphere.
The Government attacks the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act on the basis of its leading to a waste of resources. But what could be more wasteful than going through the extensive recovery plan processes only to find at the end of the day that they cannot bind government agencies that are causing the threats? The Forest (Resource Security) Bill locked in all that is wrong with the native forest timber industry. The result would have been more subsidies, more job losses, and virtual war in the forests. The Australian Labor Party will not support forestry measures that on the one hand commercialise returns from our native forests and on the other hand remove the external environmental and auditing procedures. The Government was privatising the native forests for the profit of a few big timber companies, not the small timber companies that are rapidly being decimated in regional New South Wales by the very big movers in the timber industry - the friends of the New South Wales National Party.
The Australian Labor Party is committed to reforming the Forestry Commission to achieve openness in its decision making, freedom of information, protection of high conservation value forests and real balance. The bid to amend the Heritage Act was simply a joke and an insult to the Land and Environment Court and the Aboriginal community. Amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act to stop proponent departments from adjudicating their own environmental impact statements were right in concept but the bill was full of loopholes that put independent environmental assessment at a severe disadvantage. The most urgent task for Parliament is to create a full threatened species conservation Act. The licensing provisions in the endangered fauna Act are working. No jobs are being lost and the development community and government agencies are starting to co-operate and give endangered species a higher profile in their decisions. Any new Act must retain these processes. I urge all members of the House to examine the real issues in natural resource decision-making and not to get sidetracked by the "let's get the greenies" crusade of a few. We as a generation have the task of preserving this planet. This and future generations must not allow it to slip into a grossly polluted, degraded future. The fight to defeat the natural resources package would not have been necessary if the Government had taken this task seriously.