I’m proud to represent a region endowed with diverse and beautiful geography, with mountains, rivers and fertile lands. We are rich with national and state parks, wetlands, rivers, grasslands and abundant fields, fauna and flora—from the grass trees in the Warby Ranges to orchids in the Chiltern state park. We are rich in cultural heritage too. These are the lands of the Waywurru, Dhudhuroa, Bpangerang and Taungurung peoples. Where I live, in Wangaratta, the signs of the Bpangerang people abound. Rings trees, canoe trees and birthing trees signal that these are lands that are abundant in food, water and spirit.
These custodians have protected our environment for tens of thousands of years, and frankly I find it a bit rich when the member for Ryan says people here on the crossbench and in other places are all talk and no action. That’s coming from someone who’s coming from the city of Brisbane, from a small electorate of 370 square kilometres, I believe.
I’m representing 29,000 square kilometres of magnificent natural environment, and that natural environment drives our local economy: tourism, food and fibre, forestry, viticulture, agriculture, timber processing and manufacturing. Our great outdoors attracts visitors for skiing, trail running, kayaking, caving, bushwalking and camping. We have internationally renowned wine and gourmet food growing in our rich, fertile valleys. We have skin in the game. The protection of the environment is inseparable from regional prosperity, our jobs, our economy—our way of life. Our fresh air, clear skies and majestic beauty have not happened by accident. The relationship between conservation, regeneration, protection from invasive species, and agriculture and productive land use is one we live every single day.
The importance of the environment to my constituents is why I, as an independent MP, will scrutinise any attempt by any government and, in this case, this government to water down its protection.
Today we are debating the government’s approach to the protection of the environment. We only need to look at the actions of the government at the beginning of September to answer this question. On that awful night, the government guillotined debate and rammed through its EPBC Amendment Act—and, as the member for Clark pointed out so acutely, for what point? It’s still sitting in the Senate undebated. This started the process of taking the Commonwealth out of environmental approvals, which would leave states and territories as the sole approver for projects.
I opposed the bill on the basis that it was rushed, that consultation had not concluded and that the protections recommended by the review’s interim report were not included. And I say this as someone who has 50 per cent of the water going into the Murray-Darling Basin coming from Indi: there was no chance to debate the water trigger. I also supported the member for Warringah’s well-founded amendments. There was no chance to debate those either.
But on that night the government silenced all debate. This is a government who says they are worthy custodians of our environment. This is the government who quite rightly told us they introduced the Environment Protection Act many years ago. I think their forefathers would be rather disgusted by the fact that there was no opportunity to discuss that very Act.
If that night in September is anything to go by then I fear this will happen again the next time the House considers environmental protection. If that’s the case then I want to make some more points right now.
Firstly, we can’t rush the EPBC Act. It’s flagged to get a major overhaul. It will affect projects for generations to come, and we need to get it right.
We need robust environmental laws for the sake of our way of life. If we don’t have strong protections, what would happen to heritage towns like Beechworth and Chiltern? Could we still keep our alpine resorts pristine by warding off inappropriate development? These environments are key to the Mansfield, Bright and Myrtleford and their economies too. And how could we protect our incredible natural environment that brings in billions of dollars in tourism in our magnificent alpine areas in Buxton and Taggerty or our wetlands in Yea and Winton? We need these assets protected.
Protecting our environment creates jobs, and we have a small army of biologists, conservationists and heritage workers employed to do great work under a solid environment protection Act. Climate change poses an immediate threat to our environment and tourism and agriculture systems too, and we need meaningful action on climate change now. I support the member for Warringah in her bid to have the Climate Change Bill 2020 debated in this House. I commend her for her leadership. Likewise, the work from our electorate is strong and important for our environment.