On Tuesday 13 June 2023, I made a speech in Federal Parliament in opposition of the Government's bizarre Nature Repair Market Bill 2023, which would facilitate and finance further corporate greenwashing. You can watch the speech here or read the full transcript below.
E WATSON-BROWN: The Nature Repair Market Bill is version 2.0 of legislation that was cooked up by the former agriculture minister, the member for Maranoa. No-one in this House should be surprised that the coalition will be supporting this bill because it's virtually a carbon copy of theirs. It's almost as if, after spending a decade in opposition, Labor decided to simply morph into the Liberal Party to form government. As the former government was hardly well known for environmental protection, what can we expect of this bill and the associated legislation?
It's a bit embarrassing that the first major piece of environmental legislation to come before this parliament is a recycled coalition bill. There's no environmental protection agency and no repair of our clearly broken environmental laws. This is after the Minister for the Environment and Water on national radio used the excuse that she was constrained by law as the reason she approved a new coalmine. I asked her about it in question time recently, and she couldn't answer then either. So who makes laws in this country? Shouldn't it be the first priority of the environment minister to change the law to allow rejection of coalmines on the grounds that they will damage the environment and make the climate crisis worse? Apparently not. The environment minister instead proposes this bizarre scheme that, rather than facilitating environmental repair, actually facilitates endless opportunities for greenwashing and for a few landholders to make a buck. It's no wonder the environment minister termed this 'green Wall Street'. I couldn't quite believe it when I heard her use that language—from a self-described progressive Labor government. That language clearly demonstrates, yet again, the comprehensive capture of this government by their corporate friends—prioritising, yet again, their interests over the needs of everyday people and the environment.
In another sign of a government very beholden to private corporations, this bill actually privatises environmental protection, thereby ensuring that it will absolutely fail. It shouldn't be news to the environment minister that the market is profit driven. The market doesn't care about koalas and the market doesn't care about protecting our reefs or our precious mangrove habitats. Why can't the government just take responsibility to actually govern—to actually provide for and support everyday Australians, rather than forever handing everything over to the private market? It's happening across the board with this government. They won't build housing, they won't address the climate crisis directly and they'll outsource our aged-care and disability-care sectors. They just turned everything over to private corporations, and now the environment minister is very happy to let private corporations profit from trade in bogus offsets, to spruik, advertise and benefit commercially from their supposed environmental credentials instead of the government actually doing the work of a good government and investing directly in the future of the environment.
This bill sees no direct government investment in protecting our environment for future generations, but we do seem to have plenty of money to invest in nuclear submarines and plenty for financing fossil fuel projects and subsidising fossil fuel use. But there's no direct funding for environmental protection. As with the housing bill, they're really hoping that the private market will do their work for them. I think that's a lazy sort of abrogation of government responsibility. Is it a good idea to hand over this particular important responsibility of protecting our environment, holus-bolus, to the private market? Without watertight regulations, obviously, corporations will purchase these biodiversity certificates for greenwashing, and this bill will provide the perfect cover for their continued environmental destruction. Under this bill, Santos, for example, will be able to claim they're protecting the environment while continuing to pollute, to destroy sacred First Nations sites and to desecrate the environment. Under this bill, Woodside, for example, will be able to purchase a few of these biodiversity certificates and run a glossy PR campaign to try to repair their image, benefiting only Woodside and their marketing team, and clearly not the environment. Under this bill, our banks will be able to continue investing in fossil fuels while claiming they care about the environment. The problems with carbon offsets are well known, and there's absolutely nothing in this bill to suggest that these biodiversity certificates will function any differently. In fact, the original version of this bill, proposed by the member for Maranoa, took its crediting framework almost exactly from the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act. Those offsets were so questionable that they had to be put under independent review.
The Greens are not alone in opposing this bill. Many environmental groups have raised their concerns, only to be ignored by the government. The Wilderness Society has urged the government not to pass the bill in its current form, describing it as a market in the absence of clear objectives or any caps or limits on environmental damage and, at best, a scheme for habitat loss trade-offs. In fact, a similar scheme in New South Wales has been the subject of a scathing review, describing it as having no strategy for making sure it delivered the environmental outcomes required. Despite the clear failure of this in New South Wales, the Labor government is showing no signs of deviating from the market based path to failure with this bill.
Labor's Nature Repair Market Bill is a bizarre joke. It says, 'Okay, let's give certificates to huge private corporations so they can make money greenwashing while actual native habitat and crucial carbon sinks are destroyed.' Huge, nature-destroying corporations are the problem, so why has the government decided all of a sudden that they should be trusted to be the solution? They need to be reined in and regulated, not given a new market to play around with and to make more money from.
I'm sorry, but Labor's nature repair market will see an increase in habitat destruction in pursuit of profit. It is going to see an increase in extinctions of our endangered species, it will see an increase in the decline of our reef and, perhaps most importantly, it will see an increase in the number of coal and gas projects approved in this country, making the climate crisis worse. You can't offset your way out of environmental catastrophe, just like you can't offset your way out of the climate crisis.