Speeches

Environmental Protection Motion

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION Motion 18 February 2016

HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [10.06 am] — without notice: I move —

That this Council notes that environmental protection is in crisis in this state. There have been repeated and significant incidents that demonstrate that the government is failing to protect our environment. The Council draws attention to —

(a) the felling of ancient and significant trees including the 500-year-old jarrah tree in the Roe 8 reserve;

(b) the Supreme Court’s decisions to invalidate two environmental approvals— James Price Point and Roe 8;

(c) the recent listing of three Western Australian species—woylie, western ringtail possum and Gilbert’s potoroo—on the commonwealth’s rare and threatened species list; and

 (d) ongoing uncertainty about the role and integrity of the Environmental Protection Authority.

 

 Noting these environmental protection failings, this council asks the Barnett government to initiate an urgent inquiry into the protection of Western Australia’s biodiversity and the implementation of the Environmental Protection Act 1986. There has never been a time when our environment has been under so much pressure. I have spoken before of the cumulative impacts of land use conversion, fragmentation of ecosystems, high population growth, high personal consumption levels and changing climatic conditions, combined with a limited understanding and appreciation in the community of the state’s impressive array of unique flora and fauna. With so many pressures, it is imperative that any current legislative and regulatory protections are well implemented. However, recent events serve to highlight the failing of our current government to uphold these protections. It should be reducing the impacts of these competing pressures on our environment. In recent history the Supreme Court has on two occasions invalidated the Environmental Protection Authority’s approval—in the proposed James Price Point development and, more recently, the Roe 8 highway. My colleague, Hon Robin Chapple, will speak in greater detail about the James Price Point decision. As members are well aware, in December last year, Chief Justice Wayne Martin found that the EPA approval of the Roe 8 project was invalid because the government failed to refer to its own policies in making the decision. It is farcical that the community needed to take the case to the Supreme Court just to get the EPA to follow its own guidelines. I note that the government is now appealing the decision because of its potential implications across government decision-making. It seems to be a fairly simple case of: why have policies in the first place if we are not going to follow them? Rather than appealing the decision, we believe there is merit in the government reviewing other approaches and other approvals in light of the fact that the government may not have been guided by its own policy on other occasions. In mounting further legal action questioning the esteemed Chief Justice Martin’s decision, the government is wasting even more taxpayers’ money to prop up an already failed project, rather than directing funds towards ensuring that current environmental protections are upheld. Again, my colleague Hon Robin Chapple will expand further our concerns about the role and integrity of the EPA. A tragic example of the government’s failure to uphold environmental protection was the felling of an ancient king jarrah tree in the Roe 8 reserve last month. The questions without notice that I asked in Parliament yesterday and on Tuesday have confirmed that this tree was listed as “conservation significant”. Yet, despite that, somehow this tree was cut down without the relevant processes being followed. I have with me the report of the arborist. I want to ask a series of questions to drill down into the decision making processes of Main Roads in this matter. We know from question time that Main Roads has handballed its responsibilities by saying that it subcontracted it to an arborist, who cut down this tree. That is not adequate. If a law is in place to protect a tree, any person who seeks to cut down that tree should be bound by that law. Significant trees in this state, particularly significant trees that have been identified in the environmental approval process for Roe 8, should be protected. That is the point of identifying these trees. To say that this tree was dangerous because some bees were living in that tree, and therefore that tree should be killed, is, frankly, insulting to the population of Western Australia, and to the media, who have replied with incredulousness each time someone has tried to defend this decision. I visited that tree the day after it was felled in the company of Reverend Sealin Garlett, the local Aboriginal elder. I want to quote from a chilling speech that he gave at the site of that tree, because it will give members a flavour of the significance of that moment in time and the reason that I have elevated this issue to the degree that we are now debating it in the Legislative Council. This speech by Reverend Sealin Garlett, which I videorecorded on my phone, has been shared around the internet. I believe close to 20 000 people have seen this man’s response and have reacted strongly to his plea. Mr President, I am quoting from the speech by Reverend Sealin Garlett at this time — Today is for the mourning of our heritage—a tree that was older than 200 years. For the Aboriginal people, this land and the trees have been associated with us and the spirit of our people for generations and generations. Today we stand here with our community and we say that you continue to rape our land; that you continue to devastate the place where we live and want to grow. This tree was felled on 13 January. This kind of thing happens across this city more often than we know. I believe the reason we were attuned to the felling of this tree is that it is in the Roe 8 reserve. The people who live in that area are highly protective of that land. We have been bracing ourselves for the onslaught of bulldozers in that area since the government announced that it wanted to build Roe 8. The felling of this tree occurred after the Supreme Court decision that invalidated the approval for work to continue in that area. The government has stated that it intends to continue with the building of Roe 8. If the felling of this tree is in any way associated with a push by Main Roads to continue to build Roe 8, I suggest that this action by Main Roads is in contempt of court. Therefore, it is appropriate that we drill down into this question: who gave the approval for the felling of this tree, and what evidence did they show to Main Roads that this tree presented such a significant danger to the community—which is what Main Roads is saying—that it should be felled? To date, there have been no answers to that question. I wrote to the Minister for Environment, Hon Albert Jacob, immediately after I heard about this, and after I had been able to get as much detail about this matter as I could. The response from the minister was basically that all the right processes had been followed. It was a one-page letter. The first I heard that there had been any investigation into this matter was in the response to my question without notice yesterday, which acknowledged that some further investigations would take place. The letter that I received from the minister said that all the right boxes had been ticked, everybody had checked it out, and it was perfectly fine. Well, it is not perfectly fine. I can show members the report from the arborist, along with the letter from the Minister for Environment, in response to the many botanists, scientists and academics who are concerned about the felling of this tree. The arborist report is a one-page document. This is what the government accepts for the felling of a 200-year-old acknowledged significant tree in the Roe 8 reserve. I do not know whether we are lucky enough to get this kind of work on other significant trees around the metropolitan region, but this is how much contempt the government shows for the process. The report states in part — I went to inspect a Jarrah (Eucalyptus Marginata) tree on the 11th January on some vacant land alongside Forrest Road, Coolbellup. I had been told that there was a problem with bees and as I approached the tree I noticed swarms of bees hovering all around the tree and estimated that there were at least 4 hives present. Yesterday, we learned that Main Roads gave approval in December for the felling of this tree. Yet the arborist’s report is dated 11 January. That is contempt for the process. The arborist states in his report that he observed that a number of large branches had already fallen. I invite members to look at my Facebook page and they will see that we have aerial footage of that tree that shows there is no way that any of those branches were anywhere near any path. The arborist continues by saying that he did not think it was safe to go up the tree with a picker and trim the tree. He says he checked with the City of Cockburn council to find out what it does with bees in trees. The vegetation survey criteria that are listed on the City of Cockburn’s website state that “works are generally only recommended when the tree represents a risk to persons or property.” The Mayor of the City of Cockburn was there the next morning, too, and he was in tears as well. He said that if they had contacted the City of Stirling, they would have brought in the people they know who can get rid of bees by smoking them out or whatever they do to manage bees. However, the arborist did not do that, such was their contempt for this ancient jarrah. Destruction of this kind is, of course, irrevocable. We cannot replant this tree. It has gone. We hope that the felling of this tree remains a monument to this point in time and this history, when contempt for the environment is so extreme. We hope that in the future, this situation will not recur. We must work to ensure that this does not happen again. Yet another piece of evidence that the state government is not taking the protection of our environment seriously is the commonwealth government’s recent move to protect Western Australia’s rare and threatened species. Western Australia’s rare and threatened species are being pushed to the brink of extinction. The commonwealth is taking action to protect our fauna, while the state government stands by and does nothing.

Hon Donna Faragher interjected.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: There has been a report on the Minster for Environment’s desk, suggesting the elevation of risk to native animal species, yet the minister has not elevated the protection of those species. We have that information from a freedom of information request. I have the report on my desk. One of those species is the western ringtail possum.

Hon Donna Faragher interjected.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I do not think the honourable member had the environment portfolio at the time. However, if she had, I would be very worried. If the western ringtail possum does reach the brink of extinction, are we doing anything to stop it? No. The federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, did the right thing by adding three Western Australian species—the woylie, gilbert’s potoroo and the western ringtail possum—to the federal threatened species list. We have grave fears for these animal populations due to multiple threats, including a drying climate, forest fires, which we will talk about soon, habitat loss, and predation by feral species, including foxes and cats. The feral government—excuse me for that faux pas—the federal government’s move serves to raise a question about why the state’s biodiversity legislation lists the western ringtail possum as endangered, when scientific evidence supports listing it as critically endangered, which would warrant giving it more protection. We are extremely concerned about this. I tried to find out the number of Western Australian threatened species on the federal list. From memory, something like eight of the 20 species listed are from Western Australia. What is going on in our state to push so many of our precious fauna to this point? We know that one of the things identified is loss of habitat. When I talk about the felling of the jarrah tree in Coolbellup, that is where the rubber hits the road. If we fell an ancient jarrah tree that can roost cockatoos, we push those cockatoos further to the brink of extinction. It is not hard for the public to understand. The Greens are extremely concerned that the funding for the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife has been repeatedly cut by this government. DPaW will lose around 100 full-time employees this year from last year’s total of 1 600. The biggest cuts have been made to the agency’s conservation work, with 30 full-time jobs to go from its science and conservation division. Another 27 have been lost from its conservation partnerships program with Aboriginal people, industry and community groups. We are now seeing essential research and conservation work on species such as Gilbert’s potoroo and WA’s mammalian emblem, the numbat, dependent on public donations because this state government is failing in its duty. The federal Threatened Species Commissioner visited WA last year and took a strong interest in our threatened emblem species, the numbat. Successive governments have allowed populations of our most threatened animals in the wild to all but disappear. The introduction of a bill to update conservation laws in Parliament late last year was a step in the right direction by the WA Minister for Environment.

Hon Donna Faragher interjected.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: But I have bad news, member because —

Hon Donna Faragher: Of course you do, because you can never be positive about anything we do, can you?

 Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I would be positive, and the minister knows that I have welcomed his move in that direction and I worked cooperatively with him to bring it to this state. However, as members will agree, the Biodiversity Conservation Bill will achieve very little if the Barnett government does not fund research and conservation programs for these animals that are found nowhere else in the world. We are now approaching the end of the strategic assessment of the Perth and Peel region. It has been a great effort by several government departments to determine what is important in Western Australia to preserve and protect. The green plan is now out for public comment and a series of seminars will be held. Members should go along to a seminar if they can and try to figure out whether areas that are precious to them are protected in that green plan. But that green plan and the work that has gone into it strategically so far does not match up with all the little laws I have been talking about such as those against cutting down significant trees in the suburbs, those to maintain an urban canopy not only for the protection of our animals but also to reduce the heat island effect in our cities and to allow property values to rise due to the cool and comforting green surroundings. This strategic plan is a great move in the right direction but if it does not connect with the conservation programs, with the laws and regulations in place to protect significant, mature trees and our forest management practices, I can assure members that Perth will continue to fall into the category of a brown state instead of a green state.

It does not take long to find clippings in the paper about trees being felled in our neighbourhoods. I have one from the weekend Fremantle Herald, about Susanne Taylor-Rees being upset about Bunnings cutting down trees in its Myaree car park. More recently, a study in Nedlands of The Urban Canopy reads — Western suburbs not-so-leafy … Nedlands loses 12 hectares of tree cover I want members to read this because it is in WAtoday and the chap who investigated it says — … WA was behind other more progressive governments when it came to tree protection. “The UK has tree preservation orders where no development can proceed unless a detailed assessment of trees has been carried out by a qualified arboriculturist,” … That is the direction we are calling for this government to go in. Members should read the stories that illustrate why it is important to them as property owners as well as to all those people who care about our unique and rare fauna in Western Australia. I can assure members that it is not just Western Australians who care about that; around the world we are revered for our reputation for biodiversity. Let us protect it and enhance it to encourage tourists here to appreciate it and let us stop killing it.

Authorised by Lynn MacLaren © 2018

Hon Lynn MacLaren MLC - Member for South Metropolitan Region (2009-2017)
Legislative Council, Parliament of Western Australia