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FOR – Business — Consideration of Legislation

Jenny McAllister

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in the name of the Assistant Minister for Education, Senator Chisholm, I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent a minister moving, in committee of the whole, amendments to the bill which amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation__Act 1999 to expand the circumstances in which certain petroleum mining developments must be assessed and approved by the minister administering that Act.

Colleagues, for the avoidance of doubt, since the government has circulated amendments to the EPBC Act and since the EPBC Act is not otherwise amended by the Nature Repair Market (Consequential Amendments) Bill, the government is taking this step to enable the amendments to the Nature Repair Market Bill to be moved. It's a necessary procedural step. It enables the Senate to deliver important and commonsense environmental reform.

This is an important reform. Our government is seeking to establish the world's first national nature repair market, and this market will make it easier for businesses, philanthropists and others to invest in projects that restore and repair nature across Australia without greenwashing. Investment in the nature repair market means landholders, including farmers and First Nations groups, will get paid to improve the environment on their properties. For example, this may involve repairing damaged riverbeds, replanting critical habitat of threatened species or removing invasive species, such as feral cats and weeds. Tonight our government is also seeking to update the water trigger so that all new unconventional gas projects will be assessed for their impact on water resources. Before the election, Labor promised to do this, and we are delivering. We set this out in the Nature Positive Plan, which was released at the end of last year, after consulting with APPEA and the gas industry.

These are reforms which have been proposed by at least three reports: the Northern Territory government's Pepper scientific inquiry, the 2018 Senate inquiry into water use by the extractive industries and the 2021 interim report of the Senate inquiry into oil and gas exploration and production in the Beetaloo basin. All of these inquiries recommended that the EPBC water trigger be expanded to cover all forms of unconventional gas. It's a commonsense change, colleagues, providing business with certainty and the community with confidence that water resources and our environment are properly regulated and protected. The update will expand the water trigger which already applies to coal seam gas to include other types of unconventional gas developments, such as shale gas. Most new gas projects will be unaffected by the change, as coal seam gas production is already covered by the existing water trigger and the changes do not apply to conventional gas production. Existing gas projects that are in production and have already been approved are unaffected by this update. Projects regulated by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, NOPSEMA, will also be unaffected by this update. This will provide certainty for business and ensure continuity of gas supply.

We are grateful for the support of members of the crossbench to pursue these two important government initiatives together. We have agreed to support a number of amendments proposed by the Greens—namely, amendments to prevent biodiversity certificates from being used as environmental offsets and to remove references to offsets from the bill, and an amendment to change the name of the bill. The government has had many conversations with the crossbench about delivering our commitments, and that includes our nature repair market and expanding the water trigger. We are working with all members of the crossbench on this legislation. This is an important reform, colleagues. These are important initiatives, and I commend them to the chamber.

Jonathon Duniam

I think this rather proves the point of what is exactly the definition of a shambolic government that is rushing towards the end of the year, doing dodgy deals with the Greens and perhaps others that we have no visibility of. Just yesterday, we had this motion that Senator McAllister has referred to. It had no detail, was nebulous in its construct and talked about provisions of the EPBC Act to be referred to in assessing and approving certain petroleum mining developments. 'Certain'—we didn't know what they were. Only at 5.52 this evening—less than an hour ago—have we seen the amendments relating to these particular issues. It is really starting to become a pattern of behaviour in this place that the government seems to think that scrutiny is not important.

I might remind the Senate that, of course, just yesterday we voted on a motion to end a further four months of scrutiny on the Nature Market Repair Bill and the associated bill—legislation which, up until yesterday, no-one other than the government supported. In relation to the Australian Greens, I read Senator Hanson-Young's comments in the committee hearings saying that the bill was in tatters, that it had no friends and that it was going to leave the environment worse off. Now here we are with an arrangement between the Australian Labor Party and the Greens political party rushing to have this bill voted on and passed before parliament rises. So urgent this is that we must get it done before the parliament rises! As a sign of disrespect to this chamber, the people we represent and the industries that keep our economy ticking over, we're going to rush these amendments in with no or little information or clarity around what they're actually about. I'm glad we have at least an hour and a half of committee stage to interrogate this flurry of amendments, including the amendments from the government that have been talked about here by Senator McAllister. She gave some clarity around what has been tabled just less than an hour ago, at 5.52 pm, this document here, which outlines what the government's new plan is—the one that wasn't contemplated in the committee inquiry, wasn't referred to in the government senators report and wasn't referred to in the Greens' dissenting report, a 'dissenting' report in a bill that they're now going to support. What an interesting change of events there!

I want to know exactly—and I'll be able to ask these questions—what consultation was had with industry about these amendments tabled less than an hour ago. I'm going to hazard a guess: none. I'd love to know which participants in the industry are caught up in this set of amendments. I don't think they know. I don't think they've actually gone out to figure it out. It's just about getting a deal before the end of the year because the government needs a win. It has been a terrible couple of weeks, and, in fact, it has been a terrible 18 months, if you really think about it—

Linda Reynolds

For the nation.

Jonathon Duniam

For the nation, as Senator Reynolds says. No one's better off. The cost of living is going through the roof. People feel less secure. And here we are, to get a win before the end of the year, doing deals with the Greens political party on things that were not contemplated at any point through the deliberations in the committee process.

We're seeking to suspend standing orders to be able to bring on these extraneous amendments relating to another act, which were referred to in a nebulous fashion yesterday, and we don't know what the extent of the consequences is going to be. But do you know what? I suspect the government have got the numbers. They've done a deal. We still don't know what price has been paid for these amendments to be supported by the government—this expanded water trigger that is going to have massive impacts—or whether any modelling has been done on the costs to people who may wish to get a project up, to create jobs, to provide energy to the market. We don't know. Has there been a regulatory impact statement, which is something good governments normally do? I'd be interested to know, to foreshadow that question. I'm sure Senator McDonald has similar questions as well. Again, I'll take a punt on that: I don't reckon any of this has been done, because it is the last week of the year, ladies and gentlemen, and it's all about getting a deal. It's all about getting a win. It's all about looking like we're in control and we know what we're doing.

Not only are the impacts of these amendments unknown and we've barely had an hour to read through the documents that have been dropped on our desks but, in fact, we don't know about a range of amendments that the minister has already said the government have agreed to and what impact they will have. We will consider our position on all of them, but, at the end of the day, I'd just say that this year ends as it has been all the way throughout—that is, shambolic. This is a government that lurches from one problem to the next and does dodgy deals to try and look like it's in control. This is not the bill they had on the table all the way through the committee process. They have cut off scrutiny because they are embarrassed about where they're going. It's all about getting a win. They don't care about the Australian people, and these amendments just prove that.

Sarah Hanson-Young

The Greens will be supporting this contingency motion. The reason is that, if we are going to be voting and passing environmental legislation in this place, it should be environmental legislation that actually does something. Under the amendments that have been circulated by the Greens and the new set of amendments that has been circulated by the government to incorporate a water trigger into our nation's environmental laws, finally, this bill actually does something.

I will take Senator Duniam's point from his contribution just now that, when this bill was first tabled, it was a dog's breakfast. It didn't protect the environment, and all it did was provide offsets for corporations to destroy one piece of environment over here while pretending to protect something else over there. 'Destroy a koala habitat here, and, hopefully, look after some Tassie devil habitat there—I am offsetting the environment against itself.' That is what a dog of a bill this was. With the amendments that have been tabled and circulated today, this bill will now be a bill that protects the environment and puts in place environmental assessments particularly in relation to fracking projects. It is absolutely bonkers that in 2023 we have environmental laws in this country that do not require any type of environmental assessment for big gas corporations to frack. Zilch. Zero. It's time that was fixed. That is why this amendment is important. That is why this contingency motion is essential.

I spend a lot of time talking to traditional owners in the Northern Territory. I spend a lot of time talking to farmers in the Northern Territory. They tell me, over and over again, that they want proper process. They want due process for these projects. They want to know that there will be a proper assessment, that someone is looking at what is being proposed, that someone is looking at the facts, that someone is thinking about the consequences and that there is some national oversight of this. That is what this motion before us now will allow to happen. It will amend our environment laws to give a proper overview before any big fracking projects are just ticked off.

I will speak further in the committee stage in relation to the Greens amendments to remove and scrap all of the offsets in this Nature Repair Market Bill. I will also speak to amendments that change the name of the bill. That's because no longer is this the Nature Repair Market Bill this government brought forward; it is essentially a new bill that, if it gets through this place, passed by the Senate, will establish proper protection for the environment, establish proper protection for our precious water resources and ensure that big corporations can't continue to greenwash. That is what this amended bill will deliver if we can get it done. I urge every member of this place to take the opportunity to do it. We are about to leave parliament at the end of the week. Wouldn't it be good to give the environment a Christmas present it deserves?

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 7:14 PM on 2023-12-05
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 30
Total number of "no" votes: 23
Total number of abstentions: 23

Adapted from information made available by