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