SECOND READING – FLORA AND FAUNA GUARANTEE AMENDMENT BILL 2018

I take great pleasure in joining the debate on the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Amendment Bill 2018. This bill amends the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 within its existing scope to give Victoria a modern and overarching framework for biodiversity protection and management in Victoria, providing strong and effective protection for Victoria’s native species and important habitats.

As the Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Victoria and Tourism and Major Events, I see firsthand how important our natural environment and our biodiversity is to not only the environmental future of this state but also its economic future. It is what defines us as special internationally, and we need legislation that protects that into the future. We have the opportunity with Budj Bim poised to be added onto the UNESCO World Heritage listing to have a huge uplift in the visitor economy, particularly from overseas visitors who want to see our unique natural environment.

The member for Morwell before me made some comments about green tape being an impediment to economic development and about these things impeding farmers. Like nature is an ecosystem, I believe that an economy and a community needs to be an ecosystem.

With my electorate having some of the largest population growth in the state, it is an enormous task to try and manage the biodiversity and to retain those values. I think that, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, we have a really special area. I think it is no surprise that people want to come and live here because of the majestic river red gums that are throughout the Plenty Valley — the Plenty Gorge is in the southern part of my electorate. The Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change to the south of me, the member for Bundoora and the member for Eltham — we are so fortunate to represent an area that has not only some of the highest biodiversity in Australia but also in the southern hemisphere. The diversity of plant and animal species is remarkable.

It is really incumbent on us as a government and as a Parliament to retain that biodiversity alongside our rapid population growth, because to do otherwise would mean that people would no longer want to live there. The reason so many have come to live there is because of the natural beauty. During the community consultation that the Level Crossing Removal Authority ran in the Mernda, Doreen and South Morang communities, they asked specifically what the communities felt were the values of the area. They said they wanted good public transport links, but they also wanted to be able to retain the majestic river red gums and the smaller shrubs and animal species, whether it was reptiles or kangaroos. That was what they wanted, and that is reflected in the design. I would have to think about it, but I think the Hawkstowe and Mernda stations are probably the only train stations in the metropolitan network that go directly into a state park. The canopies on these stations are evocative of an old Australian homestead, and we want them to sit in that environment. Unlike those opposite, who have a mantra of ‘We do not like sky rail’, it actually has been welcomed in my community. Only 14 per cent of the Mernda rail extension is above ground, but people have said that they want that because they want kangaroos and other macropods to have free passage and not be endangered and threatened by the rail services.

I think that one of the things that the member for Morwell said was that we are interfering with farmers and the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) do not like this. I am actually not sure whether the VFF have said they do not like this, but I think that there are farmers and there are farmers. Both my parents grew up on farms, and many of my uncles, aunts and cousins are still farming. But as I said, we all have to live with each other and with respect for our environment. I am really glad to see that this bill before the house increases penalties for those who wantonly and deliberately endanger our endangered species. I think there would be very few people who were not absolutely shocked by the wanton destruction of wedge-tailed eagles that were discovered in recent weeks in Gippsland East — hundreds and hundreds of them — and we may never know how many of these magnificent birds have been destroyed. I was listening to the ABC in the days following that horrific discovery. There was a representative — not someone I know from the VFF; I think it must have been someone from the Gippsland region, because it was not someone who was known to me, but —

Mr D. O’Brien interjected.

Ms GREEN — The member for Gippsland South has said a name, but I did not quite hear what it was. After hearing the program, there were a lot of callers to the ABC — and I believe it was a statewide program at the time — who were absolutely appalled at what they felt were ignorant comments and that there is a misunderstanding that these magnificent birds pose a significant risk to livestock when in fact their preferred method of eating is actually carrion. They are not generally known for killing live animals.

The way that the minister has gone around with the background paper is really important in bringing forward this bill. This has been a lot of consultation, and it was time that this bill was reviewed. At the moment in my community, with the duplication of Plenty Road, there is a magnificent river red gum that is due to be removed in Mernda, and people are suffering real grief around that. There are two magnificent river red gums on the corner of Bridge Inn Road and Yan Yean Road — one 400 years old, one 500 years old — which are in danger. In the initial alignment for the Yan Yean Road duplication prior to the Bridge Inn Road duplication funded in this year’s budget, these magnificent red gums were to be removed. I am really pleased that the Minister for Roads and Road Safety and VicRoads have acceded to my requests for a different alignment to be looked at that preserves these trees, because the community really does value those and they are habitat for creatures like the powerful owl.

We have a magnificent ecosystem. In terms of our visitor economy, we have four out of the big five of marsupials and birds that overseas tourists want to see in Victoria. Fortunately for me, we do not have crocodiles in Victoria — I am a bit scared of crocodiles and I hope with climate change we will not acquire them. I hear they are heading south, but hopefully that will not happen in my lifetime.

But the other big four we do have here in big numbers.

I really hope that the bill before the house and bills like it will ensure that dozens of animals and plants will not continue to join Australia’s threatened species list. We see the appalling rate of land clearing without regard to biodiversity which has occurred particularly in Queensland. When the Greens political party say that they oppose logging in this state, they need to understand that they are condemning parts of South-East Asia to the clearing that they do not want here. There is always a balance around these things. We live in an environment, a community and an economy. I think that this bill puts forward a very measured approach to protect our endangered species. I commend the bill to the house.