Coalition Senators’ dissenting report

Coalition Senators thank the many witnesses who raised substantive issues during the hearings referenced in this report. It is a matter of deep regret that the evidence they provided has been largely ignored in the Labor/Green committee-majority considerations and recommendations, which have instead sought to use this report as a platform to instead make party-political attacks.
In submitting this dissenting report, Coalition Senators note and deplore the blatant abuse and misuse of the Senate’s committee process.

EPBC Act Review

The Australian Government is committed to delivering improved national environmental laws to ensure a healthy environment and a strong economy.
On 29 October 2019, the Minister for the Environment the Hon Sussan Ley MP announced the start of the independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This is in accordance with the Act’s requirement for a review every ten years to examine the operation of the EPBC Act, and the extent to which its objects have been met. It is expected the review will take around 12 months.
The independent reviewer is Professor Graeme Samuel AC, one of Australia’s leading regulatory experts. Professor Samuel’s previous roles include Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Associate Member of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, and President of the National Competition Council.
Professor Samuel will be supported by an Expert Panel consisting of Mr Bruce Martin, Dr Wendy Craik AM, Dr Erica Smyth AC and Professor Andrew Macintosh.
The Expert Panel brings expertise and experience across a range of areas relevant to the functions of the EPBC Act, including natural resource management, indigenous culture and heritage, industry and development, and environmental law.

Review of the Interaction between the Agriculture Sector and the EPBC Act

In response to concerns raised by both farmers and the environmental bodies which had a regulatory role of how the farmers managed their land, the Government took a decision to establish a targeted review of interactions between the EPBC Act and the agriculture sector in early 2018.
On 29 March 2018 the Government formally announced the Review and the appointment of Dr Wendy Craik as the Independent Reviewer. The Review report and addendum were released on 27 June 2019.
The Government has subsequently put in place a number of initiatives to facilitate a more constructive interaction between Australia’s farming community and the requirements of environmental policy. Some of these include:
Appointing agriculture expert Professor Richard Harper to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee to increase farming-sector representation on this important environmental decision-making body;
Co-design by the Department and the agriculture sector developing targeted outreach and guidance products, to increase awareness and compliance; and
$150,000 through the Department of Agriculture to the National Farmers’ Federation to inform farmers about the EPBC Act.

NSW Grasslands

The Senate (as a whole) voted multiple times against holding an inquiry into the matters examined in this report. It is disappointing that Labor and Greens Senators have seen fit to ignore the will of the Senate and to hijack this inquiry for a clearly partisan political purpose.
The Federal Member for Hume, the Hon Angus Taylor MP has made detailed statements to the House of Representatives, including a full and comprehensive statement to the House of Representatives on 29 July 2019 regarding these matters. In that statement, Mr Taylor said:
On the basis of these concerns I sought a briefing on the revised listing from the then minister's office, which I made clear was not to include any discussion of compliance matters. This has already been confirmed by departmental documents released to journalists under FOI, in which an official writes in internal correspondence that the meeting with me was, 'to answer questions on the technical aspects of the listing outcome,' and highlights that they would completely stay out of any compliance action underway. The official also writes, 'We will confine our discussion to the EPBC Act-listing process'.
On 20 March 2017 I attended the meeting. At no time during this meeting was any compliance matter or any personal interest of mine discussed. At that meeting we discussed precisely what the department had said we would discuss. Officials in attendance were determined by the department.1
On 23 August 2019, the Department of the Environment and Energy (the Department) appeared before the Committee and was asked extensively about these matters. The Department’s evidence was clear and has verified the statements made by the Minister. For example, the Department specifically confirmed that it was aware of the Minister’s relationship to the listing prior to the meeting:
Ms Collins: I haven't got specific timing in relation to that question, but we were certainly aware at the time the request came in, that—
Senator GALLAGHER: For the meeting in March 2017—at that point you were aware?
Ms Collins: We were aware that there was a relationship between the landowner and Minister Taylor.2
Further, the Department confirmed that compliance matters weren’t discussed in the meeting:
SENATOR RICE: Was the compliance issue discussed at the meeting?
Mr Richardson: No, it was not raised. It was not discussed.3
The evidence provided by the Department confirms that Mr Taylor has acted appropriately and in accordance with the rules. Labor and Greens Senators continuing to repeat claims and assertions for partisan political reasons do not change this fact.
Coalition Senators deplore this inappropriate misuse of a Senate Committee with a valid environmental Terms of Reference to be subverted for partisan political purposes.
Consequently, Coalition Senators do not support the blatant partisan recommendations of this interim report.
Senator David FawcettSenator Sam McMahon
Deputy ChairMember

  • 1
    The Hon Angus Taylor MP, House of Representatives Hansard, 29 July 2019, p. 1159.
  • 2
    Ms Monica Collins, Chief Compliance Officer, Department of the Environment and Energy, Department of the Environment and Energy, Committee Hansard, 23 August 2019, p. 34.
  • 3
    Mr Geoff Richardson, Assistant Secretary, Protected Species and Communities Branch, Department of the Environment and Energy, Committee Hansard, 23 August 2019, p. 37.

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