Second Reading – Environment Protection Amendment Bill

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (19:22): I must say it is rare in the House that I get to follow the member for Throsby, and his contribution is spoken just like a lawyer, which I believe is his training. Out in the real world in my electorate, the single biggest issue is unemployment. That is the No. 1 issue for the people that I represent. The median personal income is just $411 a week, and the people in my electorate are doing it tough. I have said it many times before and I will continue to say it until the people on the other side of the House start to listen: governments do not create jobs; businesses do. That is why we need investment in regional areas. If people are employed, it improves their self-esteem. They can care for themselves and their families. They can live a better quality of life.

The Wide Bay-Burnett region’s central proximity to the growing markets of Gladstone, South-East Queensland and the Surat Basin presents enormous overflow opportunities for the people of my electorate. Traditionally a farming district with the largest population of any Queensland region outside the South-East Corner, we have the potential for new medium-scale manufacturing to support supply chains in a number of sectors. The Regional Development Australia Wide Bay Burnett has developed a capability document to inform the resource sector and construction companies of the Wide Bay-Burnett’s ability to meet key industry requirements in the sourcing, recruiting and mobilising of fly-in fly-out workforces. That is why I find it completely ironic that those on the other side of the House would side with the green groups and allow mining and infrastructure projects in regional Queensland to be strangled by green tape, stifling job creation that is desperately needed.

If a project is stalled, it does not affect just one region; it flows to all of the surrounding areas. If there are no workers, there will be no members of their beloved unions. Most Labor Party MPs and senators have not worked outside on a tough day in a tough environment, and how many of them have actually been tradesmen, farmers or small business owners, the people who are out there building our economy? I would suggest it is very few. If we look at their leader, for example, what does he know about the people he claims to represent? Probably nothing. I think he spent most of his time in an air conditioned office.

Coalition members know what it is like to work in the real world. Labor only serves its own interest and any minority group that will help them score cheap political points, and I find it absolutely extraordinary that Labor is opposing these changes which merely bring the EPBC Act into line with other Commonwealth laws. This government will not stand by and allow jobs, investment and our economy to be threatened by activist litigation.

Courts should not be used to support green groups’ political tactics. In the past, people with no connection to a development other than a desire to stop it have been able to use the courts to disrupt and delay key infrastructure even after it has been appropriately considered under the EPBC Act. I would like to focus on that point for a moment. These are people who have no connection with the project. Most have never set foot on the proposed site. They have not even visited the towns nearby. To give you an example of the scale of economic vandalism, I will quote from the Greenpeace Australia report titled Stopping the Australian coal export boom:

Our strategy is to ‘disrupt and delay’ key projects and infrastructure while gradually eroding public and political support for the industry …

…   …   …

Legal challenges can stop projects outright, or can delay them in order to buy time to build a much stronger movement and powerful public campaigns. They can also expose the impacts, increase costs, raise investor uncertainty, and create a powerful platform for public campaigning.

They go on to say they will:

Mount legal challenges to the approval of several key ports, mines and rail lines … that delay, limit or stop all of the major infrastructure projects … that have been identified as a high priority in the strategy …

Many of the mining and infrastructure companies we have in Australia take their social responsibilities very seriously. They donate to schools and community groups, build new roads and community infrastructure and employ local people. For example, the proposed Macmines Austasia China Stone project in the North Galilee Basin has committed to sourcing 60 per cent of the operational workforce from regional Queensland: Townsville, Cairns, Charters Towers and Wide Bay. They undertook a labour market study to identify the labour source locations for the project and, as such, they will recruit some 775 workers—25 per cent of their work force—from the Wide Bay region. That would be a huge boost for my local economy and the region, with almost 800 jobs created, people bringing money into Hinkler communities and spending it at local businesses that employ local people. The cycle of benefits goes around and around.

This legislation will stop green groups from using the courts to delay projects like these. Delays cost jobs in communities that need them most. People do not know whether a project that has gone through all the necessary hoops, sometimes over many years, will continue to be in doubt. Should they stay there or should they look for work elsewhere? Under this government Australia is open for business, and part of that is removing uncertainty for investors. We have halved the time for approvals and cleared Labor’s backlog of approvals. We have approved over $1 trillion in projects. It is important to note that Australia continues to have some of the most stringent and effective environmental laws in the world, just as it should. I say as it should because no-one is questioning the fact that there needs to be an appropriate balance between the social, economic, environmental and cultural needs of our communities.

The proposed amendments contained in this legislation do not change environmental standards. Farmers, landowners and any other person whose interests are adversely affected by the decision will continue to have a right to appeal any decision. The EPBC Act standing provisions were always intended to allow the genuine interests of an aggrieved person whose interests are adversely affected to be preserved. This will continue to be the case. Changing the EPBC Act will not prevent those who may be affected by a project from seeking judicial review. It will maintain and protect their rights. This legislation will, however, ensure that environmental activists no longer receive special treatment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Once projects have met these tough environmental requirements, they should be able to proceed without being subjected to legal sabotage. Environmental groups will still have ample opportunities to put forward evidence and make their cases through our rigorous environmental impact assessment processes. No longer will they be able to delay, limit or stop major projects that this country desperately needs. We are putting an end to the economic vandalism.

To those people who are out there listening to this speech live and to those who might read it after delivery I say: if you get up in the morning and you put on your steel-cap boots and your Hi Vis shirt; if you go to work at a mine as a truck driver, as a diesel fitter, as an electrician or as many of the thousands of other occupations, the changes in this legislation are for you. If you get in your service vehicle first thing in the morning and work on servicing equipment at the local gas plant, the local mine, the local feedlot, the local trawlers, the changes in this bill are for you. If you are one of the thousands of Australians who are up at three in the morning, providing catering services to those men and women who start early and finish late, whether on-site or in transit, making takeaway breakfasts and lunch packs— (Time expired)

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (09:37): As I was saying, if you are one of the thousands of Australians who are up at three in the morning providing catering services to those men and women who start early and finish late, whether on site or in transit, making takeaway breakfasts and lunch packs, cleaning on-site accommodation or cleaning hotels, this change is for you. If you are the teachers, the nurses and the doctors working in regional Australia, helping the people working in regional Australia, this change is for you.

If you are the union members of any stripe, I say to you this: the Labor Party are interested in your membership fees; they are not interested in your long-term employment. If they were, they would be supporting this change, because the Greens have publicly stated:

Our strategy is to disrupt and delay key projects and infrastructure while gradually eroding public and political support for industry …

So, every time you see a political ad from the Greens, it is not about the environment. If it were, they would be talking about matters which are doing enormous damage to our flora and fauna: the feral cats that are wiping out entire species; the feral dogs that are destroying livestock for fun, not for food; the feral pigs that are eating to extinction our sea turtle eggs and hatchlings and, in my region, the loggerhead turtles. They are turtles which nest in only two locations in the world, one of them Mon Repos beach, right in the middle of my electorate.

We on this side of the House are the ones improving the environment. It is this government that is allocating money to control feral pigs, to control feral cats and to control wild dogs. When the Greens speak about the Great Barrier Reef or Queensland ports, know that they speak with a forked tongue, because the Greens’ aim—the Greens’ only aim—is to ensure that Australians do not have a job. That is because the Greens’ goal is to destroy industry. The Greens’ goal is to close Queensland ports. And they will do anything, say anything and spend anything to ensure that investment in this great nation stops.

We must end the economic vandalism of the Greens, and we must end it now. I commend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Bill 2015 to the House.

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