Nov 30, 2006

Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment (Antarctic Seals and Other Measur


Second Reading

30 November 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10.06 a.m.)—The Australian Labor Party support the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment (Antarctic Seals and Other Measures) Bill 2006. We do have, however, deep concerns about the government’s approach to environmental protection. The Howard government has delivered one extreme bill after another, each one designed to trample on environment protection measures. So it is a small relief to find a bill that we can actually support. The rule seems to be to introduce bills that roll back environmental protection, but this bill seems to be the exception. Maybe it is the influence of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage that has resulted in that.

The Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment (Antarctic Seals and Other Measures) Bill 2006 transfers the protection of seals in the Antarctic Seals Conservation Regulations Act 1986 to the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980. This enables penalties to be imposed which are in line with other wildlife related offences and to meet Australia’s obligations under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, commonly known as the Madrid protocol. The bill also amends the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005 to enable a determination by incorporation of a reference to the water efficiency and labelling standards. It also makes other minor drafting amendments. I note that Senator Ellison in his second reading speech stated:

In addition to the pecuniary penalty already available, the bill introduces a maximum imprisonment penalty of sixteen years for mining in the Antarctic. The ban on mining is the key feature of the Madrid Protocol and the severity of the proposed penalty reflects the seriousness of this offence as well as the degree of premeditated planning required to commit such an action.

In recognition of the high scientific value of meteorites found in the Antarctic, the Antarctic Treaty Parties in 2003 agreed to a measure to protect them from uncontrolled collection. The bill implements this agreement by requiring a permit to collect meteorites or to remove meteorites or rocks from the Antarctic. Accordingly, it will also be an offence for a person to remove a meteorite or rock collected in the Antarctic. Collecting rocks and meteorites under a permit is exempted from the restriction on mining activities.

The bill will also extend to individual animals the protection afforded by the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 to seals and birds in concentrations of more than 20.

Those measures are fine, but the real issue is the Howard government’s environmental performance. The problem with the inadequate performance of the government is best illustrated by the amendments currently being proposed to Australia’s main environmental law—the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This bill shows how arrogant the government is when it comes to environmental protection. Let us not forget there was no exposure draft and no environmental heritage groups were consulted about the bill. The 409-page bill was introduced in the House on the Thursday and debated the following Wednesday. The bill was debated in the House without a Bills Digest and before submissions had even been received for the Senate inquiry.

Senator Carr, Labor’s representative on the Senate inquiry into the bill, was given only eight minutes to question each witness. WA Liberal senator David Johnson got it absolutely right when he told the Senate on 18 October 2006 that the explanatory memorandum for the bill:

… is probably one of the most appalling I have ever seen in the short time I have been in the Senate. It discloses no motivation, no reasoning and no justification for some of the most draconian powers that this parliament can conceivably and possibly enact: rights of search and seizure without warrant and rights of personal frisking without warrant.

… this legislation should go back to the drawing board.

It is of particular concern that we have the extraordinary position that the EPBC Act has 733 pages and the bill has 409 pages of amendments, and yet we have no reference whatsoever to climate change as part of the legislation or the amendments.

The other issue that is worth addressing, given the relevance to the bill currently before the House, is the protection of whales. There is a profound irony that the environment minister uses the EPBC Act as his personal political plaything but runs a mile from it when it is all too hard. Just have a look at the Australian Whale Sanctuary. The EPBC Act provides for the establishment of an Australian whale sanctuary to:

… give formal recognition of the high level of protection and management afforded to cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in Commonwealth marine areas and prescribed waters.

It is a legally-binding safe haven for whales, and what has the Howard government done with these powers? Absolutely nothing.

It is tragic that more whales than ever before have been slaughtered in the Australian Whale Sanctuary since it was established because the Australian government has refused to enforce the EPBC Act. It has also refused to take legal action. Indeed, when the HSI took legal action to enforce the EPBC Act, the Attorney-General intervened in the court case. In his submission, he said:

It would create a diplomatic disagreement with Japan.

Japan are our friends, but we do have a diplomatic disagreement when it comes to whales and when it comes to the failure to enforce the Australian Whale Sanctuary.

In conclusion, the Labor Party supports the bill before the House, but we do have very deep concerns about the government’s approach to environmental protection. There is, of course, no more important issue than the issue of climate change, and this is a government that is failing to address the greatest challenge facing the global community in the interests of not just this generation but future generations to come.