NATIVE VEGETATION CREDIT MARKET BILL 2014

Ms Garrett (Brunswick)  —  It  is  with  pleasure  that  I  rise  to make  a contribution  on  the Native Vegetation Credit Market Bill 2014. I would like to pay tribute to our lead speaker and shadow Minister for Environment and Climate  Change, the member for Bellarine, not only for her very significant and  comprehensive words today, which reflect the amount of work she has  done on this  issue,  but  also because she  has  done  more work than  the government has. When I consider what is coming forward — —

  Honourable members interjecting.

  Ms Garrett — Absolutely she has. She has set out in a very clear and detailed manner the major concerns the Labor opposition has with this flawed legislation. I agree with the previous speaker, the member for Gembrook, that this is  a very complex  area.  The  protection,  enhancement  and  management  of   our  native vegetation is a complicated and difficult area that needs to be navigated well.

Clearly the government is  making changes  to how  the system  operates — it is creating a legislative underpinning — but once again this government has failed to seize the opportunity to comprehensively look at these  issues  to  work with the  community  and  key stakeholders and come up with plans and proposals  that take  us forward. As the lead speaker pointed out, this government is  taking us backwards in the environment space for the first time in 25 years.

While the focus  of this debate is clearly  on the terms of  this legislation — and the shadow minister  and member for Gembrook pointed to some other issues — I note that  this  is  an area where the government really  has  been  a wolf in sheep’s  clothing. This government  came  to power  in  2010  with a  bipartisan commitment  to  a  reduction  in  emissions in this state and with  backing  for continuing to support our extraordinary solar and wind  industries. There was no mention of what the coalition was going to do in terms of slashing feed-in tariffs — —

  Mr  R.  Smith — On a point of  order,  Speaker,  I would appreciate it if you could bring the member for Brunswick back to the bill.

  The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Ryall) — Order! I uphold the point of order, and I ask the member for Brunswick to come back to the substance of the bill.

  Ms Garrett– I return to  the bill, which is another step  in a long line of disasters of this  government  in  the  environment space. This bill needs to be looked at in that broader context, because  quite frankly the community has very little confidence in anything this coalition is serving  up  in  this  space. We have an approach here, a legislative underpinning, about which there has been no consultation  with stakeholders. There is a very stark contrast to be made  here with what New South Wales is doing in this space.

New South Wales is approaching this in a methodical manner in which the views of people  who  are directly  affected  in  this very  complicated  area are  being listened to and taken on board. When the legislative program  ultimately emerges in  a  state  such as New South Wales,  you  will  have  buy-in from all the key people. In Victoria, however, what we  have  is  no  consultation, no buy-in and some shoddy work.

The opposition’s reasoned amendment is an attempt at addressing this fundamental failing of this government; it proposes that we refuse to read the bill a second time until it has been referred to and considered by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The reasoned amendment is absolutely designed to ensure the steps this  government  should have  taken  in developing  this  legislation are properly taken. The concerns we have in  relation to  the bill  include that  it entrenches the new  native vegetation system, which  is flawed and  which raises really significant issues for local government.

Would members believe  that local government  has  not been  properly  consulted about this legislation? There are also a range of changes regarding offsets.

The opposition lead speaker  made an important point — and it is not  an attack on the public service, because some of the finest public servants we have are in the Department of Environment and Primary Industries — that the problem for the public servants is that they are  stretched beyond measure. That  department has absolutely borne the brunt of 

Liberal-Nationals cuts.  Hundreds and hundreds of  staff have been  removed from the department. Yet this  legislation seeks to place  all of this responsibility on a department that is absolutely falling apart  at the  seams. There are empty hallways, computers not working and the staff are simply not there to administer the scheme.

There  has  been no consultation  with stakeholders. Stakeholders  have had some concerns about how the scheme would be administered and about the removal of the role of local government, yet there has  been no consultation whatsoever, just a blanket inclusion in this piece of legislation. We have real concerns around the extension  of  the  offsets  regarding  Crown  land  that  the department  would administer, as it  would  become the regulator,  land manager and  recipient  of offset money. This has the potential to create conflict of  interest.  If  there had  been  a  thorough  analysis  done or if there had been proper consultation, these  issues could have  been  identified, addressed  and  ironed out. This  is exactly what  this reasoned amendment is designed to do.  The reasoned amendment is designed to do the work the government has failed to do.

 Then there is the policy issue of whether it is appropriate to  allow Crown land that is  already protected to be an  offset. A full discussion  with all the key stakeholders  and  the community  about  this scheme, this  legislation  and the impacts it  will have is absolutely and fundamentally critical. The bill further cements  a  reliance  on  a  biodiversity mapping system that has been viewed as flawed  and  inaccurate  by  stakeholders.  The  bill  does   not  specify  what proportions  of  offset  payments will  be  paid  over  the  10  years  of  land management, which means entities like local councils and community organisations may need to operate  at a loss in  certain years. There are concerns  around the potential inconsistencies around the scoring system. The list goes on and on and on.

The protection, enhancement  and management of our  native vegetation should  be taken very seriously, but this government has done this all behind closed doors.

It has  done it all without the benefit of the input of experts and stakeholders and has served this legislation up to this house and the  people of Victoria. We are deeply concerned about it. When you look at  the issue  around our  national parks — the cows in the parks, the hotels in the  parks — you realise that the record of this  government does  not give the community faith that what is being proposed will actually make positive changes or will protect the environment. In fact, this government has been disastrous  in respect of the environment. It has wound the clock back. It reminds me of the antidiscrimination legislation — —

  The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Ryall) — Order!

  Ms Garrett — I am back on the bill, Acting Speaker. Victorians were not aware that fundamentally this government was going to take the state backwards.

This area was a huge opportunity  for the  government to work with the community and to design and create something that would take the state forward and deliver some protections for  the  environment. It could  have given the community  some confidence. Yet again, as we  have seen  time and  again, the government has not only failed to seize the opportunity  but  it has squandered the opportunity, as it has done with so many issues,  not  just in this portfolio but in many  other portfolios. It has squandered the opportunity of  government, and it has  failed to deliver real benefits and outcomes for the community in this space.

We are concerned that this bill will undo the years and years of great work done by  local  councils and  small  businesses to become  viable  under the existing scheme. If you are not  speaking to people about what those impacts are, you  do not  know  what  they  might be. When you introduce  something  like  this,  the repercussions can ripple through the community in a very serious way.

We are deeply concerned, stakeholders are deeply  concerned and the community is deeply concerned. That is why we are proposing an amendment that would see these issues  addressed in a  transparent, open and serious  fashion. It would  ensure that a scheme that is as  important as this is for  the future of this state and the  future  of those who would  rely  on a strong  and  robust  scheme to enjoy environmental benefits and protections in the future would be fully explored and fully met. We should create a scheme that is actually  going to  improve things, rather than one which turns the clock back.

Hansard, 26 June 2014