Threatened Species Conservation Amendment Bill
THREATENED SPECIES CONSERVATION AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 19 June.
The Hon. JOHN RYAN [5.38 p.m.]: The Threatened Species Conservation Amendment Bill presents the Opposition with some difficulty. Whilst we generally support the bill, we believe that changes should be made to some aspects of it. The Government has introduced this amending bill to create, most importantly, the additional category of "vulnerable species". Attached to that category will be a lessening of the provisions that normally apply to the Threatened Species Conservation Act and, in particular, the requirement for an eight-part test. I was a member of the select committee that examined the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. The evidence presented to the committee left us in no doubt that for certain categories of people affected by the Threatened Species Conservation Act, the provisions of the Act were a great deal more onerous than they needed to be in order to meet the objective of conserving threatened species. We were presented with substantial evidence about the application of the eight-part test and other extensive bureaucratic requirements that are significantly expensive, particularly for primary producers who may want to make some reasonably simple modifications to their properties to improve production.
The report of the Joint Select Committee on the Threatened Species Conservation Act made a series of recommendations that this bill acts upon to some extent. However, the Opposition is disappointed that the bill does not go as far as the report recommended. Additionally, the Opposition has engaged in its own consultation about this Act generally. As a consequence, we are now of the view-particularly with regard to the operations of the Scientific Committee-that between decisions made on a scientific basis and the implementation of those decisions there must be a process that enables consideration of social and economic issues before the bill's full provisions come into operation. The Opposition proposes to address those matters by way of amendment in Committee.
I note that some Opposition and crossbench members requested that the Government delay consideration of this bill in Committee until the House has a full complement of members. However, the Government is continuing to press on with the legislation notwithstanding the fact that the Coalition is one member short as a result of the unfortunate death of Doug Moppett and that Elaine Nile has retired due to illness. That leaves the House without two voting members and, as a consequence, the Government has a significant voting advantage. The Opposition did not oppose the idea of considering this bill later when the House has a full complement of members but the Government has decided to proceed to the Committee stage, so that is how we shall proceed.
The Hon. CARMEL TEBBUTT (Minister for Community Services, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, Minister for Juvenile Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth) [5.42 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their thoughtful contributions to this debate. A number of issues were raised during the second reading debate to which I shall respond in replying to it. I stress that the Threatened Species Conservation Amendment Bill represents the Government’s legislative response to the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on the Threatened Species Conservation Act. Suggestions that the Government has ignored many of those recommendations are incorrect. Of the 30 recommendations made by the committee, the Government has endorsed all but six. Many of the recommendations are addressed in the bill before the House and the others are being pursued through the administrative and policy processes of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Throughout the debate members opposite questioned the independence of the Scientific Committee and called for ministerial intervention in the listing process. In effect, the Opposition argued that the Government should be able to veto a proposed listing. I state for the record that the Government remains committed to the view that the threatened species listing process must be based strictly on scientific considerations. It is a matter of fact, based on scientific examination, as to whether a species is threatened with extinction. It should not, as those opposite would have it, be a political decision. The Opposition has failed to tell the House and the farmers that it moved the amendment that ensured the independence of the Scientific Committee. In moving the relevant amendment on 15 December 1995, the Hon. John Ryan said:
The Scientific Committee should be able to deliberate on its determination free from political interference.
The Government agrees with the Hon. John Ryan. In reference to the comment made by the Hon. Don Harwin that section 136 of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act provides for mandatory consideration by the Commonwealth Minister of social and economic factors in making determinations under that Act, I point out that the section in question actually refers to the approval of developments, not to Scientific Committee determinations. That said, the Government is aware of concerns expressed by the New South Wales Farmers Association that the social and economic impacts of listings are not considered fully in some circumstances. I assure the House that the Government is committed to ensuring that social and economic issues are considered properly at the point when a decision that might impact on a land-holder is made. In fact, the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 already provides comprehensively for the detailed consideration of economic and social issues in the identification and declaration of critical habitat, the preparation and approval of recovery and threat abatement plans and as part of the assessment of licence applications.
The Minister has advised that the operation of these provisions for considering social and economic issues would be enhanced by establishing a socioeconomic committee. This committee will not involve itself in issues that will remain the province of the Scientific Committee. The Minister has advised that the socioeconomic committee will be non-statutory and that its membership will be by ministerial appointment. It will include persons with expertise in environmental and/or social impact assessment, as well as other relevant key stakeholders such as representatives from the New South Wales Farmers Association and the Nature Conservation Council. This committee will be able to ensure more effective and timely decision making under the statutory provisions listed above. The Minister will consult key groups in the drafting of terms of reference for the committee before they are finalised.
Concerns have been expressed about the provision in the bill that gives the Scientific Committee the ability to withhold information in nominations when this is considered to be in the public interest. The Government acknowledges that a decision as to what is in the public interest could be seen as being beyond the scope of the committee's scientific role. Consequently, the Government would support an amendment that would require the Scientific Committee to advise the Minister when it considers that information should not be disclosed. The Minister would then decide whether a document that contains such information should be exempt under the Freedom of Information Act.
With respect to concerns raised about the listing of vulnerable ecological communities, I emphasise that the intent of listing is to draw attention to communities that are in decline and to serve as a precautionary function. Further, the establishment of the new category will enable the status of endangered ecological communities to be re-evaluated and, where appropriate, listed as vulnerable rather than endangered. As far as environmental planning instruments are concerned, I am advised that such instruments may already contain provisions regarding environmental protection for native animals and plants and their habitat. The amendments proposed in the bill enhance this situation.
I am advised that the National Parks and Wildlife Service intends to undertake extensive consultation on draft assessment guidelines. Therefore, the Government has no objection to proposed amendments making this an explicit requirement. As Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile pointed out in his contribution, the joint select committee recommended the establishment of a user-pays register of determinations. This was not considered necessary by the Government because anyone who is interested in accessing this information can do so, free of charge, from the National Parks and Wildlife Service web site. They can also obtain it from the committee. I have been advised that the joint select committee's recommendations about the establishment of rural advisory committees and the question of community education in general are being pursued by non-legislative means. In particular, the State's Biological Diversity Advisory Council will ensure that the particular concerns of rural communities are accorded high priority in the council's deliberations.
In response to concerns expressed by the Hon. Don Harwin and the Hon. Richard Jones, the Government recognises that there is an anomaly in the current Act regarding the accreditation of consultants who assess species impact statements. Therefore, we would support moves to amend the Act to require the institution of arrangements for the accreditation of suitably qualified and experienced persons who prepare species impact statements by an independent peer review body. Honourable members raised a number of other more specific issues, which I expect to be considered fully in Committee.
In conclusion, the Threatened Species Conservation Act aims to secure the recovery of plant and animal species that are in danger of becoming extinct. It integrates species impact assessment into the concurrence provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. The amendments contained in the bill will enhance the biodiversity conservation objectives of the Threatened Species Conservation Act and safeguard the independence of the Scientific Committee. The bill responds appropriately to the recommendations of the joint select committee and to the enactment of new Commonwealth threatened species laws. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Motion by the Hon. John Jobling agreed to:
That standing orders be suspended to allow the moving of a motion forthwith: That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole that it have power to consider an amendment relating to the appointment of a socioeconomic committee.
Motion by the Hon. John Jobling agreed to:
That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole that it have the power to consider an amendment relating to the appointment of a socioeconomic committee.
The CHAIRMAN: Order! I advise that the Committee has received an instruction from the House that it has the power to consider an amendment relating to the appointment of a socioeconomic committee.
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [5.54 p.m.]: Mr Chairman, I move:
The Hon. CARMEL TEBBUTT (Minister for Community Services, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, Minister for Juvenile Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth) [5.54 p.m.]: The Government does not support the motion moved by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile. The Government wishes the bill to proceed tonight and does not believe it should be adjourned, for a number of reasons. The bill has been in the public domain for a number of months and was introduced in the other place in May. It has been the subject of numerous consultations and discussions. Only this week the Minister met with representatives of the Farmers Association to discuss various issues, which has resulted in the Government's decision to establish a socioeconomic committee. In essence, the bill is a legislative response to the parliamentary committee inquiry, which conducted extensive public hearings and inspections. Hundreds of public submissions have been received and considered. The Government does not believe that adjourning consideration of this bill at this time is necessary. It would do nothing more than delay the passage of important legislation designed to help ensure the better protection of species threatened with extinction.
That you do now leave the chair, report progress and seek leave to sit again on 17 September to allow two new members to join the House.
The Hon. JOHN JOBLING [5.55 p.m.]: The Opposition supports the motion. The bill covers many matters. The fact that it was debated in the other place is irrelevant. This bill includes new amendments that were not considered in the other House and in many cases have not been in the public domain. These amendments were received by the Opposition today-they are very recent. Therefore, interested parties have not had time to consider them, nor has the Opposition had time to seek advice from various stakeholders. This is a poor camouflage of an ambush by the Government. Because of the importance of the bill and the need to consult relevant parties, the Minister should agree to the motion. If the Opposition is not given time to consider its position and to receive appropriate advice people will ask, "What has the Government got to hide?" This bill is too important to New South Wales. The Chamber must pass the motion and adjourn the debate.
The Hon. DON HARWIN [5.58 p.m.]: The contribution to the second reading debate by the Hon. Richard Jones foreshadowed 15 major changes the conservation movement seeks to make. These amendments became available this afternoon-a couple of hours ago. There are several pages of amendments from the Hon. Richard Jones and the Greens. The Opposition has been advised that the Government will support the amendments of the Hon. Richard Jones, yet the Opposition has had them for only a matter of hours. None of the affected interest groups-such as the Farmers Association, the Irrigators Council and others-has had a chance to consider the amendments. It is symbolic of the way in which the Government disregards the interests of regional New South Wales. If the Committee stage is not adjourned Country Labor members will feel the wrath of regional communities.
The Hon. IAN COHEN [6.00 p.m.]: It is disconcerting that the second reading debate on this threatened species legislation started last session and has gone on for a very long time. It has become extremely drawn out. Many people are concerned that the Opposition really is saying: Give us another couple of weeks to get the farmers' representatives out to beat up the issue in rural areas. We know exactly where the Opposition stands on this matter. It is quite clear that the Opposition is running a political agenda on this important legislation.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher: You see a window of opportunity, and you jump through the window and close it as quickly as you can.
The Hon. IAN COHEN: When we are dealing with a matter as important as threatened species, I have to say that I would not like to leave this legislation to the designs of the Opposition. I support the Government.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS [6.01 p.m.]: This is an absolutely heartland issue for the National Party. This legislation will seriously impede the people we represent in their aim of creating the wealth that they generate for all in New South Wales. The date on the amendments submitted by the Greens is 4 September, at 4.08 p.m. The amendments proposed by the Independent the Hon. Richard Jones are dated 4 September, at 4.01 p.m. The Coalition amendments are dated 27 August, at 12.38 p.m. All honourable members have had plenty of opportunity to consider the Coalition's amendments. All we are seeking is an opportunity to consider the amendments submitted to us today, less than two hours ago, so that we can debate them after proper consultation with and input from the people that we represent in this Chamber-the people that Country Labor purports to represent in this Chamber, but that Country Labor fails to represent in this regard.
I have discussed this issue with many people from a broad area of New South Wales. There is universal concern about the proposed amendments to the Threatened Species Conservation Act. All that Coalition members ask for is deferral of the debate on these amendments until two weeks time, after we have had a chance to have a look at the amendments and when we have a full representation of members sitting on the Opposition benches. The Hon. Ian Cohen said that the debate had been going on for many months and we need to finalise it. Sure, we need to finalise the debate, but what difference will another two weeks make to the process that has been going on since May?
The Hon. Michael Gallacher: Just two more sitting days.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: What difference will another two sitting days make in the overall implementation of these provisions? None at all.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher: In fact, it is only one day because Government members want the House to rise at 5 o'clock tomorrow and tomorrow is private members' day. That means we will have just one more sitting day.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: Just one more sitting day and two weeks in time. What possible difference could that make? I put to the Committee that it will make no difference to the overall implementation of these provisions. But it will allow parliamentary process to take its appropriate course, allowing proper consultation. The Minister has not consulted the stakeholders on this matter. The Minister has not consulted rural people. Those people have been talking to me, so I know they have not been talking to the Minister.
The Hon. RICHARD JONES [6.03 p.m.]: The Opposition well knows that the amendments to be moved by the Hon. Ian Cohen and me have been well canvassed in our speeches. If Opposition members had taken note of our speeches they would know what amendments we will move. The Opposition amendments were tabled only today. We had no forewarning of those amendments. We are happy to debate the Opposition amendments. Coalition members have had plenty of warning about the content of our amendments. They can be assured that the Government will not accept anything radical because it does not want to upset the rural community. The Government will indicate that it will either accept or not accept the amendments that we put forward. It will be for the Committee ultimately to decide what amendments it will accept or reject.
The Hon. DON HARWIN [6.04 p.m.]: I would like to respond to the latter comments made by the Hon. Richard Jones about Opposition amendments and clarify what the Hon. Rick Colless had to say. The Opposition's amendments on the Threatened Species Conservation Amendments Bill were tabled in this Chamber in June, and they have lain on the table of this Chamber since then. The Coalition has removed a series of amendments from one discrete area of the tabled document. The remaining amendments are exactly the same as those that were tabled in this Chamber in June. Yes, a new sheet of amendments was circulated this afternoon, but not one amendment on that sheet was not on the sheet of amendments tabled in the last week of June. If we could do that, why could not the Hon. Richard Jones and the Hon. Ian Cohen do the same with their amendments?
The Hon. RICHARD JONES [6.06 p.m.]: I accept the statement of the Hon. Don Harwin that the Coalition subtracted some amendments from its June document, so those amendments have been available to honourable members for some time. However, the import of the amendments to be moved by me and the Hon. Ian Cohen have been known for the same period. We also have refined our amendments, some of which the Government will accept and some of which the Government will not accept.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER [6.06 p.m.]: I remind the Committee that it was not the Opposition that withdrew this bill from the speakers list for weeks and weeks before the recess. It was the Government that was responsible for its disappearance from the speakers list. Coalition members were ready for this debate. However, as far as I am concerned, if the Government goes ahead and pulls on this debate it will dance on the grave of the Hon. Doug Moppett. That is what I will be saying to my country constituents. It is absolutely disgusting that that would happen. The Government should think very clearly about this matter. There are hundreds and hundreds of people turning up to rallies being held in all over New South Wales on native vegetation and water issues. Everywhere that the Hon. Rick Colless and I and others go we are being told that the threatened species issue is even bigger than those issues. If the Government wants to bring on this debate, terrific! But, as far as I am concerned, it will be a totally disreputable thing to do.
The Hon. JOHN JOBLING [6.07 p.m.]: As all honourable members know, what is said in this Chamber may or may not have a direct relationship to an amendment that is subsequently moved. It is important to Committee debate and deliberations that members have time to consider amendments. In this case we are really talking about allowing one extra parliamentary sitting day for Government business. That is what it comes down to, because tomorrow is private members' day. We are arguing about equity and fairness. As has been pointed out, the Coalition has removed amendments from the list tabled in this Chamber. We have not added to or varied those amendments. I would assume that the Government would want to check that what I have said is quite correct. However, the amendments given to honourable members today by the Hon. Ian Cohen and the Hon. Richard Jones include changes, additions and refinements.
I do not know whether any honourable members have had fair opportunity to satisfy themselves about the import of those amendments. It is the role of all members of this Chamber to satisfy themselves about the nature of the amendments and their import before voting upon them. Honourable members have not had that opportunity. I do not know why the Government would insist on proceeding now to consideration of the amendments. Yes, there has been protracted debate. Yes, this bill has been in the public arena for a long time. And, yes, many issues have been discussed. That is fair. If we assume a continuation of that fairness and equity, it is fair to say that one more parliamentary sitting day is really of no consequence to the timeframe for the implementation of these measures, but it is of national and statewide importance to ensure that all honourable members are satisfied, when they proceed to debating the amendments, that they know what the amendments they are considering are all about. We should then be comfortable debating these measures after consulting the parties that we would wish to consult on them. The Government may well wish to consult other parties on these issues. It may wish to talk about these issues with various farming groups.
This is an opportunity that I am sure they would want to take advantage of to satisfy themselves. We are simply asking that we be given the advantage of that day, that we have the chance to consult. I cannot stand here in fairness and say that I am sure that what is in these amendments is what is purported to be. Nor can I say with surety that I understand the implications and ramifications of what the amendments might mean. The Minister is placed in the same invidious position, unless an advance copy of the amendments was given to her and she had the chance to have them carefully examined-something that the Opposition has not been given.
The Hon. CARMEL TEBBUTT (Minister for Community Services, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, Minister for Juvenile Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth) [6.11 p.m.]: I did not intend to speak again-I think I have clearly put the Government's reasons for believing that the bill should proceed tonight-but the contribution of the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner has forced me to do so. The Government accepts that the bill engenders controversy and there is concern. The Government has attempted to address that through a fairly extensive public consultation process, which I referred to in my previous comments. The bill was a legislative response to a parliamentary inquiry that also involved extensive public hearings, inspections, discussion and debate, along with public submissions. To suggest that in some way having the debate tonight is an attempt by the Government to manipulate the perceived numbers in the Chamber is wrong and misleading. I have to put on record that the Government rejects that outright. It is most unfortunate that the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner made the comments she did in the way that she did. I, along with many other people, hold the deceased Hon. Doug Moppett in a great deal of respect and I am greatly discomforted at the way the comments of the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner were put forward.
I make clear that it was never the Government's intention to in some way manipulate the timing of the debate. The bill has been debated in this Chamber previously and has been on the agenda for some time now. The Hon. Ian Cohen and the Hon. Richard Jones referred to the amendments in their speeches during the second reading stage. Let us not pretend that this is the first time when amendments in this Chamber have not been available more than a couple of hours before the relevant debate. I am not saying it is a good thing but we know that it happens time and again-this can apply also with Coalition amendments-that amendments appear only as we are going into Committee. Self-righteous comments about the amendments just being received, making it inappropriate to proceed, are inconsistent with the situation often faced in this Chamber. I make clear that the Government in no way has manipulated the timing of the debate. The fact that two people are missing from the other side of the Chamber I believe will not change the outcome of the bill. The Government believes that the matter should proceed.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [6.13 p.m.]: When I moved on behalf of the Christian Democratic Party that progress be reported I was under the impression that it was a procedural motion and that I could not speak to it. Various members have now presented their views. The Government should remember two important points. One is that this Chamber is two members short. One, who has now been elected at the joint sitting, is a National Party member. The National Party has a deep and genuine concern about any legislation that affects country regions, particularly farmers. That is the reason National Party members are in this Chamber. On many occasions amendments, and even bills, have been passed by one vote. The second member yet to be sworn in is Reverend Dr Gordon Moyes. Our party, like the National Party, has always had a very deep concern about the welfare of the country and the farming community.
From memory, there has been a convention in this Chamber not to deal with controversial legislation when there are members to be sworn in. The records could be checked to establish that. This is not the first time members have been elected to fill casual vacancies. Usually the Government respects that situation and allows this Chamber to have a full complement of members before dealing with controversial legislation. This may not affect the final outcome-that is a matter for the Government to observe in the voting process-but I believe that has been the convention. The second convention that has been followed by the Government, which seems to have disappeared at present-all members of the crossbench will acknowledge this-is for the Government to consult with the crossbench on whether to proceed to the Committee stage of a bill. The Greens and the Australian Democrats often have many amendments. If some members do not want to proceed, the Government has been happy to wait until all crossbench members are ready to proceed.
Suddenly that second convention has been thrown out tonight. A number of crossbench members are concerned and want time to consider the amendments before being forced to vote on them. We have no idea of the ultimate impact of the amendments. The Minister correctly said that sometimes amendments are circulated at the last minute. But from my observation when that happens we are not dealing with life and death amendments as we are dealing with tonight-very serious amendments that could have a long-term effect on the State. Machinery or technical amendments may not have a major impact on the State but tonight we are in a different situation altogether. Passage of some of these amendments, even with the well-meaning intentions of the Greens and the Hon. Richard Jones and others, could have further ramifications than even those members understand. We need time to consider them. People who are experts in the area on the other side of the green equation, so to speak, may be able to point out that the amendments could have particular consequences.
Even the Hon. Tony Kelly and Country Labor would like to know the full impact of amendments before they are passed. It is difficult to understand the total impact of amendments when dealing with them in this Chamber, and they could be serious. For those two reasons the Government should accept the suggestion in good faith and let us proceed with the bill without any hesitation or question on 17 September when all members are present in the Chamber and have had time to consider the amendments and, importantly, discuss them with their constituents. That cannot be done tonight.
[The Chairman left the chair at 6.19 p.m. The Committee resumed at 8.00 p.m.]
The Hon. CARMEL TEBBUTT (Minister for Community Services, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, Minister for Juvenile Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth) [8.04 p.m.]: Earlier the Committee was debating with some vigour the motion by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile to adjourn consideration of this bill. As I said previously, the Government is confident that the Threatened Species Conservation Amendment Bill will receive the support of this Chamber. The bill has been the subject of extensive consultation and discussion. The Government recognises that, as is often the case with legislation that does not have uniform consensus about its progression, not everyone will be totally pleased with the outcomes. However, we believe that there is an understanding of the decisions the Government has taken and the bill is a balanced response to the parliamentary committee's recommendations.
Having said that, I advise that the Government will not allow the Opposition to ignore the widespread support for the bill and to claim that it was carried only because of the timing of the debate. I make it very clear that the Government rejects categorically the argument that the timing of this debate has been manipulated. If members search their own hearts, they will know that is not the case. We particularly reject any suggestion that we have taken advantage of the absence from the Chamber of the member who has been elected in the place of the Hon. Doug Moppett. To allow that to go unchallenged besmirches the great integrity and decency that the Hon. Doug Moppett always showed in this Chamber. For these reasons, the Government does not oppose the adjournment of the consideration that has been sought by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile. We will not let it be said that this bill passed on a manipulation of the numbers. We believe the bill has absolute merit and we are confident that it will stand up to consideration in this Chamber and pass with the support of this Chamber. We will not push ahead with the consideration in Committee tonight and allow it to be said that we in some way manipulated this process. For those reasons, the Government does not oppose the adjournment sought by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile.
Motion to report progress agreed to.
Progress reported and leave granted to sit again.