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State of the Environment Report

Speech given in the Senate on 27 July 2022.

This is not my first speech, but I would like to take this opportunity to talk briefly about the recently released State of the environment report. At the commencement of this 47th parliament it is clear that our environment sits on a precipice, which means that our way of life sits on the precipice, as we are part of nature and if nature goes down we go down with it. None of what was contained in the report was a surprise, and none of it was the fault of any one government; it is the result of decades of underfunding and mismanagement of our natural environment. We have to do better. Australians expect us to do better, and we can.

As the report highlighted, we have the opportunity to learn from the oldest living cultures in the world. We need First Nations knowledge and wisdom more than ever. Combining this with the latest in science and technology, the brilliant work done by our scientific community, we can solve the challenges we face, but this work must be properly resourced. Declining investment in our natural environment has to be reversed now. I commend Minister Plibersek's commitment to reforming our environmental laws next year. As Professor Graeme Samuel pointed out in his review of the act almost two years ago:

"The EPBC Act is ineffective… It is not fit to address current or future environmental challenges—"

including climate change. With so many ecosystems and species on the brink, some tough decisions will need to be made before the act can be updated, decisions that prioritise the health of ecosystems and the diversity of life that this incredible continent has sustained for millennia.

One of the things the State of the environment report highlighted was the need for us as a country to take invasive species management more seriously. In Australia feral cats alone kill some 316 million birds and almost 600 million reptiles every year. Invasive species have cost us almost $400 billion since the 1960s and continue to have a significant impact on our ecosystems and our farmers. Many mammal species have become extinct and others are on the brink of extinction due to the impact of feral animals. Many of our incredible marsupials such as numbats, bettongs, bilbies and dunnarts now exist only in fully fenced feral-free areas dotted across the country.

Invasive species management requires funding for existing programs and investment in innovation, as well as working collaboratively with farmers and landholders to control invasive species. This collaboration with farmers must extend beyond invasive species management. Farmers look after more than half of Australia. Growing up on a farm gave me a love of the land, and most of the farmers I know love the land that they are on and want to leave it in a better condition for future generations. Farmers can and must be part of the solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises we face. We have a number of world-leaders in regenerative agriculture here in Australia, farmers who are producing world-class food and fibre while sequestering carbon and increasing biodiversity on farms. We have an opportunity to learn from them, build on their knowledge and regenerate land whilst also providing quality food and fibre today and handing our land to future generations in a better condition. I look forward to working with my fellow senators to halt our extinction crisis and leave a legacy for future generations, one that can excite younger generations and one that can excite us as a country as we talk about the kind of future that we want.