Legislative Council: Wednesday, April 10, 2024


Nature Positive

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (15:42): I rise to talk about the current Nature Positive agenda being pushed by the federal government that, if successful, will have ramifications on businesses right across South Australia, and not in a good way.

'Nature Positive' is the terminology adopted by the Albanese federal Labor government through reviewing the previous Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The review was conducted by Graeme Samuel and delivered in October 2020. The Samuel review concluded that the legislation was no longer fit for purpose and would benefit from streamlining. Thirty-eight recommendations were included, including the development of legally enforceable national standards.

At face value, the term 'Nature Positive' sounds appealing—a global movement seeking to achieve many well-intentioned ecological outcomes, including the preservation of biodiversity, clean water, air provisions and the enhancement of nature. However, there are significant concerns about the way the Nature Positive agenda is playing out. The EPBC Act, at over 1,100 pages, is a complex piece of legislation that has an impact across many parts of Australian industry and society.

The Institute of Public Affairs notes that last financial year there were 214 decisions made under the EPBC Act across projects relating to renewable energy, mining, agriculture, aquaculture, public infrastructure, waste management, tourism, residential developments and water management.

The current progress towards Nature Positive has raised issues of concern, such as a noted lack of transparency. Consultation takes place behind closed doors with limited industry representatives and bureaucrats attending—a little bit like the wine industry working group. There has been no exposure draft, no impact statement, nor proper consultation with affected stakeholders, despite commitments being made that these measures would be included as part of the process.

Even Western Australia's Labor Premier Roger Cook has expressed concerns about this lack of transparency and the potential of more complex and unwieldy legislation having a negative impact on industry in his state. When a Labor state government is concerned about transparency, you know it must be bad, given their usual lax approach to transparency.

The proposed changes will take decision powers away from the relevant minister, which is a direct contradiction to recommendations in the 2020 Samuel review. There are real and significant concerns that these changes will enable Canberra bureaucrats to halt developments simply by claiming negative impacts.

This will impact not only mining and agriculture but also building, tourism and other sectors. The proposed changes will create a new environmental protection authority and an environmental information authority, along with more regulations. For development projects to be approved they will have to demonstrate that they are Nature Positive and not only comply with initial development criteria but also complete mandatory ongoing reporting against a range of assessment criteria.

It is difficult to see how this will result in processes being streamlined. Rather, I suspect what we will see is more bureaucracy, regulation and inefficiency, which is what we have come to expect with all Labor governments, including those opposite. It will be a handbrake on business, a handbrake on productivity and a handbrake on the economy, which not even a Gather Round will be able to fix.

While every reasonable minded person wants sound environmental outcomes, the current Nature Positive agenda will absolutely be industry negative. There is a worry within this state and across the country that there appears to be a growing trend against private business and a lack of appreciation for the importance of business. As Churchill said:

Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few of those see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon.

More recently, Bran Black, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, wrote in The Australian 'you need decent, dependable profit to create and maintain secure jobs.' Anyone who believes in the provision of sound public education, a viable and effective public health system and maintaining a safety net for those less fortunate in society should support the preservation of profitable businesses, for it is from profitable businesses that taxation flows to support these laudable social outcomes.

It is vital that measures to preserve nature are made in concert with, and not at the expense of, profitable business. Any other outcome would be disastrous for the South Australian economy and its people.