BILLS – Nature Repair Market Bill 2023, Nature Repair Market (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2023 – Second Reading, June 14 2023


Indi is home to some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in Australia—indeed, in the world. We are rich with parks, wetlands, rivers, grasslands, abundant fields, fauna and flora, from the grass-tree orchards in the Warby Ranges to the native orchids in the Chiltern-Mount Pilot National Park. Our high rainfall also means that we’re home to fertile farmland producing beef, dairy, wool, wine, cherries, berries, apples and more.

Sadly, though, like much of Australia, Indi’s unique flora and fauna are under threat. Land clearing for farming and timber supply means that plants and animals across Indi are threatened with extinction. Some of our most endangered species include the Macquarie perch, the swift parrot, the mountain pygmy possum and the Swainson-pea. A changing climate presents one of the biggest threats to our wildlife. Of Australia’s 1,800 threatened species, 327 were severely impacted by the Black Summer bushfires, including the koala, the greater glider and the regent honeyeater. Losing just one species forever has a ripple effect. It impacts the water we drink, the pollination of our crops and the existence of other native species. The regent honeyeater, for example, pollinates iconic eucalyptus trees. If we lose it, then we’re at risk of losing food and habitat for many other native animals.

The Nature Repair Market Bill 2023 presents a significant opportunity to restore, repair and protect Indi’s farmland, bushland, public land and parks, and, in turn, protects our native species. I support this bill’s intentions but, to ensure its success, we must support those navigating this new complex biodiversity market. This is key to ensuring a robust and trusted framework. The bill aims to repair nature by creating a framework for a national market in biodiversity certificates. This means that organisations and businesses, including farms, can undertake projects on land that protect or enhance biodiversity. If someone wants to remove an invasive pest, repair a riverbank or replant a species habitat, they can apply to the Clean Energy Regulator for a unique biodiversity certificate that would then be sold on the market to government, businesses or philanthropists.

This bill is one part of fulfilling the government’s important commitment under the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and to protect 30 per cent of land, inland waters and ocean by 2030. Farmers are going to play a key role in this new market. Indeed, this bill is closely modelled on the former government’s Agriculture Biodiversity Stewardship Market Bill, where only farmers would participate in a biodiversity credit scheme. For this bill to work, farmers must be educated and supported so they can fully participate in the market. That’s because farmers already engage in nature repair. JP Murphy, who runs a beef farm near Lurg in my electorate of Indi, has reintroduced native trees on his property to improve the canopy and understorey. Many other farmers are like JP Murphy. He speaks about how this kind of nature repair activity brings back other species, like bird life and wombats, in abundance to create resilient and self-replenishing ecosystems that benefit the landscape and, therefore, his farming business.

JP wants any participation in a biodiversity credit market to ensure co-benefits for the environment and for business. A survey of 600 farmers by Farmers for Climate Action found that 94 per cent of respondents, just like JP, want to change their practices if it would benefit both themselves and the environment. But 70 per cent of these respondents had not been involved in any kind of educational extension program to help them do this. Government funded extension programs have been used historically to help farmers navigate changing times. But in recent times the government has clearly failed to provide this kind of support. We can, and must, change this, and the government’s Climate-Smart Agriculture program is the beginning.

I was overjoyed that this budget included support for a network of sustainable agricultural facilitators. These facilitators will provide extension services to farmers to do exactly what we need: to build their knowledge of climate-smart practices and to understand the emerging carbon and biodiversity markets to inform future investment decisions. This replicates directly my policy that I took to the last election, a policy about which farmers in my electorate, farmers just like JP Murphy, told me, ‘This is what we needed to bridge the knowledge gap.’ I heard from them that a network of neutral and trusted advisers on sustainable practices, technologies and emerging markets was exactly the kind of information they needed. What a great idea coming from the farmers!

So I took this idea to Canberra and, on the way, gained the support of the National Farmers Federation, Farmers for Climate Action and many others. I’ve used every tool available to me to show government that this is part of the solution, a key one: speeches, motions and a budget submission to Treasury back in January. I’ve had many conversations with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and I want to thank him very much for working with me so constructively to listen to farmers and deliver on this policy.

As an Independent regional member of parliament, I listened to the farmers in my community saying they wanted to be more sustainable, to understand about carbon and biodiversity markets—to understand what they mean for them and to understand how they can improve the productivity of their farming enterprises to be more profitable and to help the environment. This is what happens when you listen to the people in your community and take evidence based solutions—solutions from the ground up—to government. I’m really proud of that.

I want to thank all of those who fought alongside me to see this policy through, including the farmers in Indi and the agricultural community around the nation more broadly. I’ll now watch very closely how the government consults with the agricultural sector and these organisations—organisations like Landcare—to ensure the funding that’s been committed delivers real benefits to farmers’ productivity and profitability and to the environment.

I support this bill but I also hear concerns from local and national environmental groups, including the Environmental Defenders Office and the Landcare groups in my electorate. I hear concerns about whether the new nature repair market will be used to offset biodiversity loss from proposed developments and projects. Experts have found that the practice of offsetting biodiversity loss does not actually benefit our environment. The Samuel review found that current offset policies actually contribute to environmental decline rather than to active restoration. As the Beechworth Landcare group described to me, offsetting biodiversity loss is basically permitting harm in one area based on doing good work somewhere else. Ultimately, though, the harm still happens. I see this in my own electorate. The nearest existing offset location for a recent vegetation clearing application in Wangaratta was in the Baw Baw shire, over 300 kilometres away. If the intention is for an offset to benefit the local ecosystem, it’s hard to see how it was achieved in this instance.

The government admit biodiversity offsets could be one source of demand for credits under a nature repair market, and they’ve committed to a future review of environmental laws that deals with offsets, a review which I very much welcome. But right now it’s very unclear whether biodiversity certificates as described under the bill can be used to offset biodiversity loss, and many of my colleagues here on the crossbench share this concern. I urge the government to clarify this and clarify it very soon.

I want to see this nature repair market and the biodiversity credits it issues operate with integrity. We can’t afford to lose trust in a system that is so critical to protecting our precious biodiversity. I’m pleased that the government has already implemented recommendations to improve the bill, such as ensuring the Nature Repair Market Committee always has a biodiversity expert to advise the minister on what methodologies can be used for projects, but there’s still room for improvement. The government must go a lot further than this on this bill to actually protect our declining biodiversity.

I’ve listened to the concerns of groups like the Places You Love Alliance, who are continuing to advocate for substantial government investment in biodiversity protection. It’s insufficient to rely on private investment through a nature repair market alone. This government must continue to implement the recommendations of the Samuel review, which, sadly, highlighted the deteriorating state of Australia’s biodiversity and the failure of Australia’s national environmental laws. We need new, legally binding, outcomes focused national environmental standards, and we need them urgently. A strong, independent and adequately funded national environment protection agency is crucial.

The bill could also be strengthened by requiring projects to align with natural resource management plans. These plans are developed by catchment management authorities, like the North East Catchment Management Authority in my electorate, alongside community groups and First Nations people. They articulate regional communities’ priorities for land management, including repairing nature. Ensuring that projects under the bill align with these plans will build a stronger social licence to operate, remove potential perverse outcomes and build opportunities to leverage multiple community benefits. Government can, and must, do more to protect our environment.

Until they do, we are lucky to have dedicated organisations and individuals that are working hard, often as volunteers, to protect our native wildlife and restore our environments. For over 30 years, Wangaratta Landcare and Sustainability have been repairing native vegetation. The team manage and protect Kaluna Park, an award-winning rehabilitation site that was once a weed-infested wilderness area. Through careful removal of invasive trees, replanting native trees and regular weeding, this site, which is so close to the Wangaratta CBD, has been successfully restored. It is a total joy. Kaluna Park is particularly precious because it’s home to culturally significant signal trees, birthing trees and canoe trees of the Bangerang people. It is truly a treasure.

The North East Catchment Management Authority, or NECMA, brings together partners from across the region to identify and respond to the challenges that cannot be solved by one organisation or one stakeholder alone. For five years, they’ve worked on the Bush for Birds program to restore habitat for the threatened regent honeyeater and swift parrot. NECMA has worked closely with Trust for Nature, local Indigenous groups, local government, Parks Victoria, Landcare and private landholders to revegetate, remove weeds and control pests across thousands of hectares to improve habitat for these beautiful bird species. The government’s budget commitment to the Nature Heritage Trust will also resource NECMA and other natural resource management organisations like the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority in my electorate so that they can continue this incredibly important work delivering climate smart, sustainable agricultural actions.

Community collaboration has seen the reintroduction of the Mountain Swainson-pea, which I mentioned earlier. It was once found across the state, but grazing, land clearing and fertiliser had seen its population decline so drastically that in 2012 it disappeared entirely in Victoria. However, a Victorian government program, in collaboration with NECMA, Landcare and private landholders, has cultivated seeds and planted hundreds of these in the Chiltern-Mount Pilot National Park. Through time and dedication, this program has given the formerly extinct native plant a second chance at life. I want to recognise Neville Bartlett, Eileen Collins and all the members of the Friends of Chiltern Mount-Pilot National Park for their dedicated efforts towards rejuvenating the wild pea and many other species.

I want to support our local groups and farmers to protect and rejuvenate the flora and fauna we love so much. A nature repair market is one part of the solution. The government’s budget commitments to fund climate smart agricultural projects, replicating that extension officer policy of mine that I talked about, is a fantastic start to bringing it all together. Bringing together government, farmers and Landcare groups is the right approach to protecting and repairing our treasured natural landscapes and species, like the Mountain Swainson-pea in Victoria.

During this term of parliament, we need to see a whole lot more action from this government to follow through on the goals which we all see and which we want to achieve. Our biodiversity is crucial. It’s precious, because once it’s gone, it is gone forever.

Sign up

Keep up to date with the latest news and information