BILLS - Nature Repair Market Bill 2023, Nature Repair Market (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2023 - Second Reading

19 June 2023

I'm very grateful to be given the opportunity to speak today on this very important legislation. The Nature Repair Market Bill will make it easier for all people in Australia to invest in the production and repair of our natural environment, including businesses, organisations, non-government organisations, individuals and companies. Each have a pivotal role in helping repair our natural environment, in preventing climate change and protecting the future environment for our children, our grandchildren and the generations that will follow.

I have a very special interest in this in my electorate of Macarthur. My koala population is the last surviving urban koala colony that is chlamydia free. My electorate of Macarthur is at the apex of the Sydney environment, if we see the Sydney Basin as a triangle that spreads towards Macarthur, the south-west. We have vital environmental features in my electorate, including the bases of the two major rivers of the Sydney Basin, the Georges River and the Nepean River. We are, really, the last area of the Sydney Basin that is available to for housing development, and we've seen development applications for massive developments happening to my electorate and just to the south-west, including the townships of Picton, Wilton, Appin and Maldon, where there is already massive development happening.

Shamefully in the last 20 or 30 years, there's been haphazard development in the Sydney Basin. There have been extinctions and loss of environment, and the last remnants of the Cumberland Plain woodland is gradually disappearing. That's been under the watch of successive government, not always coalition governments but some Labor governments shamefully, and I think we all have to have responsibility for this. At last, federally, we have the government that is honest about our environment, that is transparent about what we want to do and that is very active now in trying to protect our environmental future for the generations that will follow.

I'm now grandparent, and I want my grandchildren to grow up in an environment where they can see the natural habitat, the flora and the fauna, the same as I did. Our opportunity to do that is disappearing fast. In Macarthur, we have schools where kids can look out the windows of their classrooms and see koalas in the trees around them, and I think that is something that is worthy of protecting beyond measure. Yet we have developers and we have politicians who are willing to see that destroyed. In the last 10 years of Liberal-National government in New South Wales, we've had complete in action on the environment—both at a state political level and at a federal level. I invited all the state environment ministers since I was elected in 2016, all the federal environment ministers since I was elected in 2016—the coalition environment ministers—to come to Macarthur and see what was happening, including the last coalition Treasurer, who was also an environment minister, the former member for Kooyong—to come out and have a look. The only person who did was Matt Kean, the then New South Wales environment minister. He made a lot of promises. None were fulfilled.

It almost brought me to tears watching the Cumberland woodland being destroyed every time I would go out to Appin and watch the Appin development. I saw these koala habitat trees being bulldozed into the ground—absolutely tragic. I begged the environment ministers—I begged Gabrielle Upton when she was the New South Wales environment minister, I begged Melissa Price when she was the federal minister and I begged Matt Kean when he was the state environment minister—to do something to stop this environmental destruction. Nothing was done.

It's winter now, and our koalas are mostly pretty sedentary at this time, but pretty soon it will be spring. We'll watch those koalas cross Appin Road and get killed. We'll watch our wombats, our wallaroos and our lace monitors—the big goanna like lizards—cross the road and be killed. Nothing has been done. There have been promises made and nothing has been done—until the advent of a federal Labor government. Finally, we're getting things done.

This legislation is a commitment by the environment minister, the member for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek, to environmental protection. It's imperative that we follow the findings of the State of the environment report, which found that our environment is in very bad shape and was not static but getting worse. The report found that Australia had lost more mammal species to extinction than any other continent, that plastics are choking our oceans and that this all occurred under the watch of the previous coalition government as things were rapidly getting worse, as our population ramped up and as our climate deteriorated.

Over the past year there have been over 500 new species discovered in Australia and named by scientists. This equates to two new species every day. I think that's remarkable. I thank our dedicated scientists for the work they do in making us aware of our flora and fauna and how they must be protected. At this stage I'd like to pay credit to Professor Robert Close, a scientist from Western Sydney University, who did the first koala study of south-western Sydney and found the large numbers of koalas that we have with disease-free status, and their mobility across the Georges and Nepean river areas. He also documented many that had died in road traffic accidents et cetera.

The Albanese Labor government is committed to protecting our local species and to putting in place laws that will encourage people to do this. With my colleague the member for Hughes, I have set up the parliamentary friends of endangered species group. I think it's important that all of us as politicians, as lawmakers, realise the urgency of the crisis facing our environment—and we must act now. It is getting too late to change things.

I'm always very interested in new ways and means to protect our environment. We depend on our scientists to tell us about this. In Macarthur, in our peri-urban environment, we have the potential to allow our children and grandchildren to maintain the ability to see koalas from their classrooms, to see kangaroos and wallabies in our woodlands, to see the beautiful lace monitors—the big lizards—but also things like our snakes and our other reptiles, and our birds. We have black cockatoos and all sorts of bird life in our environment. I want our kids to be able to continue to see that. I was dismayed by the lack of action from previous governments, state and federal, to realise the urgency of protecting our national environment and our flora and fauna. Sadly, those on the other side really never understood the importance of it and never understood the important biodiversity that is present in our urban and peri-urban areas that require protection. Good government means transparency and it means action, and this is what the Albanese government is doing with this legislation. I also thank the New South Wales Labor government for being committed to the same policies. We depend also on our non-government organisations such as the Total Environment Centre and the Nature Conservation Council, which have helped us find ways of preserving our environment for the future.

This bill brings us all together. It brings together politicians, farmers, private companies, conservation groups, scientists, universities and individuals to protect our environment. The biodiversity offsets that will help us protect our environment are a more than $120 billion market. This is something we will now set in stone in legislation for the future, and this legislation will help with that. Transparency of course is a core of this policy, and it is very important that we allow people to see what is happening in our environment around the country. I speak mainly about Macarthur, but I have been all over this country and have seen the magnificent diversity of environments that we have, from Tasmania, to Western Australia, to Kakadu, to the Great Barrier Reef—

A government member: The Great Ocean Road!

Dr FREELANDER: The Great Ocean Road in Victoria has been mentioned! It is a magnificent environment that I have been to and seen. This bill will help preserve those environments for the future generations. We often take our grandchildren down to the South Coast to look at some of the unbelievable environments around Jervis Bay and further south, and I want them to be able to continue to see the biodiversity in those areas. It is so important for their future that we do this. This bill will support certainty and value for the market, and it shows our commitment to restoring accountability and public trust, which our Nature Positive Plan preserves.

Further, we're committed to working with all government and non-government agencies to ensure that the certificates issued in the nature repair market are not the products of greenwashing, to ensure that they really mean what they say and to ensure there is transparency about what they do. Tanya Plibersek, the environment minister, is determined to do that. It's imperative that these certificates accurately reflect the projects and investment that they represent and that the projects in the carbon and biodiversity markets are not affected by misleading claims, and transparency is important in that. These are all very, very important steps, and I am very proud to be part of a government that takes nature protection and preservation seriously. We are already committed to protecting 30 per cent of our land and seas by 2030. We have set a goal of zero new extinctions, with a more than $200 million investment in protecting threatened species.

Overall, this bill will establish a new market for investing in nature-positive outcomes and environment-positive outcomes. It will support Australia's international commitments to protect and repair ecosystems and reverse species decline and extinction. I am very fond of our local species, particularly our koalas. I have encouraged a proposal to make a Twin Rivers national park in the Macarthur area, connecting up the Georges and Nepean rivers in a koala protection area, that will connect up with the Dharug National Park, which has very important Indigenous heritage and Indigenous artefacts in the park. I really would like that to be preserved as a further extension of our local national parks. All of this will happen only with commitment from all forms of government, local, state and federal. I am very proud to be part of an Albanese Labor government that is supporting this environmental plan for our future, our children’s future and the generations that follow in the future. I commend the bill to the House.