Using Markets to Save the Environment - Speech

Nature Repair Market Bill 2023
Nature Repair Market (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2023
House of Representatives, 19 June 2023

In 1984 EO Wilson popularised the notion of biophilia, what he called 'the urge to affiliate with other forms of life'. His 1984 book was a bestseller and reminds us that many of us are at our best when we're in nature. I tend to start the day with a run. At first, I did it mostly for exercise purposes but then I realised one of the reasons it's really good for my head is I'm fortunate to live near Mount Majura and Mount Ainslie, so I get to spend time with the kangaroos and the kookaburras and the spiders and the galahs and all the rest. That always seems to set the day up, as it did this morning.

As I run through that area I'll often think about the lessons that I've learned about that part of the world from Tyronne Bell, a Ngunawal man who took the time to take my family and me through parts of the Mount Majura and Mount Ainslie reserves, showing us where the scar trees were, where the traditional areas were and the way in which country has been used for millennia by First Nations people.

The Nature Repair Market is going to be important for First Nations communities, which is critical for the work those First Nations people do right across this country. We know that more than 60 per cent of Australia is privately held, and of that land, the majority is owned by farmers and First Nations people. We know too that those areas are where a large share of critical habitats exist and where some of our most endangered animals live. This bill will support landowners to do things like planting native species, repairing damaged riverbeds or removing invasive species. This bill will do so in a way that ensures a market that is open to all landholders. Farmers, First Nations, conservation groups, businesses and local councils will be eligible.

At the heart of this bill is the principle that, when a landowner conducts a project to repair or protect nature, they will be issued with a tradable certificate. As an economist I am strongly in favour of tradable permit schemes, and this one will provide a range of standardised information, such as the size of land repaired, the kind of work conducted, the threatened species protected and the length of time the actions will continue. That will help buyers understand what they are investing in. Once those projects are approved by the regulator, those certificates can then be sold. They might be sold to a philanthropist, a government or an individual, and that will provide additional income for landholders.

It would let corporations demonstrate their environmental credentials, and it'll help philanthropists achieve their mission. Right now we have the challenge that, if philanthropists want to support nature repair, then they have to either buy the land themselves or find a willing landowner to enter into a complicated management agreement, and that's frustrating for everyone. Companies aren't generally in the business of environmental management. They shouldn't have to own land in order to protect it. What we want to do is ensure that farmers and First Nations people can continue to steward the land. They don't need to sell the land outright or initiate complex legal agreements. Instead they can find projects they want to support and get the tradable permits from that.

What might that mean in practice? It might involve a farming family who wish to remove invasive plants and manage feral animals on their land or to better protect a stretch of native forest where endangered greater gliders live. It might involve a group of Indigenous land and sea rangers who want to control feral species across a coastal flood plain to protect sea turtles and migratory birds or improve water quality for fish and crabs. It might entail farmers who want to replant native grasses and trees on an unproductive stretch of land to make the area more resilient to drought and salinity or a group of fishers who want to regrow a meadow of seagrass, previously killed by poor water quality, to provide a habitat for dugongs, turtles and seahorses. These are just some of the examples, and the scheme is flexible enough to mean that landowners can do whatever environmental work is needed in their area. That might involve helping to support the east coast koala population, reviving critical nature corridors where animals travel for food and shelter or to avoid bushfires or replanting hillside vegetation to stop erosion and protect their local soil.

This provides a straightforward scheme and, importantly, a transparent scheme. The regulator will publish information on projects and the ownership and use of certificates, actively release relevant data and allow parliament and citizens to scrutinise the scheme. This scheme sits in conjunction with the recent review of carbon crediting led by Professor Ian Chubb, and we are keen to ensure that nature markets are properly regulated. These markets will not work if there is an element of greenwashing, if there isn't a national regulator enforcing the rules and ensuring compliance. The conservationists and organisations who want to support nature repair need trust and integrity around this scheme.

We understand the importance of protecting the land and seas. The Australian government has a commitment to protecting 30 per cent of Australia's land and seas by 2030. That's the same goal that's been adopted globally under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, and it's going to require significant investment. This nature repair market will be based on science and will ensure the ongoing integrity of the market.

The bill will enable the Clean Energy Regulator, an independent statutory authority with significant expertise in regulating environmental markets, to issue Australian landowners with tradeable biodiversity certificates. The nature of this market is such that it will be transparent, as I mentioned, and that the department will work with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to ensure that certificates issued in the nature repair market are not victims of greenwashing claims.

The reforms come before the House at a time in which Australians are showing a strong commitment to improving the natural environment. I have been pleased, over recent years, to hold a number of park clean-up barbecue events. They're always terrifically well attended by the local community and supported by Canberrans who want to improve their local environment. We've held these in grasslands around the electorate, bringing people together with gloves and bags. People go out and pick up garbage or pull out weeds, then we all wash our hands and enjoy a good barbecue.

We get a terrific turnout, too, in the ACT for Clean Up Australia Day, held, as members know, on the first Sunday of March each year. It was a real pleasure this year to have Clean Up Australia CEO Jenny Geddes come to the Hackett shops, in Canberra, to help with Clean Up Australia Day. Jenny did that because we were celebrating 20 years of activism on Clean Up Australia Day by Terry de Luca, who's been the Clean Up Australia coordinator in Hackett for a full two decades.

As we discuss these issues, I think, too, of the important work done by Indigenous rangers in the Booderee National Park, part of the Jervis Bay Territory that forms a portion of the electorate of Fenner. As you know, Deputy Speaker, when the founders set up the ACT they took the view that every capital city needs its own port. So, in the Jervis Bay, we have the Booderee National Park, and the work of the Indigenous rangers there, and it might be that they're able to tap into the nature repair market to augment the vital work they do with philanthropic support to improve the local work.

Here in parliament this week, we're going to be pleased to be able to hear, tomorrow night, from one of Australia's greatest authors, Tim Winton, who has produced a documentary this year called Ningaloo Nyinggulu. That is a three-part documentary that talks about the Ningaloo Marine Park and the inland desert areas. The documentary, which I commend to members of the House, shows the extraordinary beauty of the whale sharks, the green turtles, the humpback whales and other species in that area. The Ningaloo Marine Park got its World Heritage status in 2011—not coincidentally, a year in which Labor was in office. Labor's commitment to expanding our marine parks network is one which has carried through from the Rudd and Gillard governments to the Albanese government, and to our strong support for improving the natural environment.

In doing so, we work very closely with Indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians have been on this continent for over 60 millennia. European settlers have been here for just a quarter of a millennium, yet in that time Australia has lost more mammal species to extinction than any other continent. Right now, Australia has more foreign plant species than native. From the years 2000 to 2017, habitat the size of Tasmania was cleared. Plastics are currently choking the world's oceans, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area in which there is so much plastic that, in parts, you can actually walk on top of the plastics.

Over the course of the last decade, when the Liberals and Nationals were in office, we saw them axing climate laws; failing to fix Australia's broken environmental laws, despite having a widely supported blueprint to do so; failing to land a single one of their 22 different energy policies; sabotaging the Murray-Darling Basin Plan; promising $40 million in Indigenous water but never delivering a drop; setting recycling targets but with no plan to achieve those recycling targets; and laughing, as the Leader of the Opposition did, about our Pacific island neighbours going underwater. Since the change of government they have voted against the safeguard mechanism despite it being a policy that they previously championed. The safeguard mechanism was designed by Tony Abbott, yet when Labor in office sought to make it work the coalition voted against it.

The former government cut highly protected areas of marine parks in half and cut billions of dollars from our environment department. The former Liberal-National government had a recycling target of 70 per cent, yet recycling in Australia was stuck at 16 per cent for four years. That's what happens when you have a target but no plan to deliver it. That's why Labor not only has set a 43 per cent emissions reduction target but has a plan to get there. If you're wondering why our emissions reduction target doesn't end in a 0, it's because we didn't pluck a target out of the air and then figure how to get there. The target is based on our plan to improve Australia's environmental performance by steadily reducing our carbon footprint, by expanding the renewables share of electricity generation from one-third to four-fifths between now and 2030 and by ensuring that the safeguard mechanism delivers what it's meant to do. It is a shocking environmental record that those opposite left us when we came into office.

I was pleased to be part of a government that voted for significant climate action in this parliament last year, and I'm pleased now to be standing up on the Nature Repair Market Bill 2023, a bill that will make a tangible difference to communities across the country, allowing farmers and First Nations peoples to carry out environmental remediation, allowing corporations to be part of the acquitted positive environmental impact and allowing philanthropists to step up to the plate with the confidence that, if they're paying for environmental repair, that environmental repair will be delivered. The transparency that backs it is the same transparency that has led the Albanese government to put in place a National Anti-Corruption Commission. We are committed to good government and committed to the environment. I commend the bill to the House.

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  • Andrew Leigh Mp
    published this page in What's New 2023-06-20 12:40:32 +1000

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.