MS LAWDER(Brindabella): I move:
That this Assembly:
(a) the current structure of the ACT Government, where conservation functions are divided between the Territory and Municipal Services Directorate and the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate;
(b) the importance of our local environment to the well-being of the people of the ACT;
(c) that this Assembly voted on 20 March 2013 for the Government to establish a single nature conservation agency;
(d) that the Chief Minister indicated in this Assembly on 26 February 2014, that this change would be implemented with the appointment of the sixth minister;
(e) the recent changes to the ACT Government's administrative orders and the appointment of the sixth minister; and
(f) no move has been made to create the single nature conservation agency; and
(2) directs the ACT Government to establish a Nature Conservation Agency, located within Territory and Municipal Services Directorate, which will be responsible for all conservation services, before 31 December 2014.
I rise today to bring this issue to the attention of the Assembly once more. I am here to talk once again about the current structure of the ACT government when nature conservation functions remain divided between the Territory and Municipal Services Directorate and the now Environment and Planning Directorate. For something that we all seem to agree on, it seems bizarre that here we are again trying to work out why action has not yet been taken in this area.
A single nature conservation agency is about delivering an administrative structure that can deliver improved nature conservation outcomes through the integration of all parts of biodiversity policy and research. It is about providing the best structure to protect and manage our environment. We want the best resource and service delivery. We want coordination of policy and legal requirements. We want a single department that is on the same page when it comes to monitoring and reporting. Overall, what we all want, what we have already agreed on, is better environmental outcomes.
We have Territory and Municipal Services being the overarching directorate to the boards of management of Namadgi and Tidbinbilla and the Capital Woodlands and Wetlands Conversation Trust. TAMS also looks after rural lands and law enforcement, which relates to the nature conservation estate as well as the parks and conservation Pest Plants and Animals Act 2005, the Tree Protection Act 2005 and the Domestic Animals Act 2000.
Environment, on the other hand, looks after the planning and research in conservation, natural resource management programs, all nature conservation policy, including biodiversity planning, nature conservation and its strategy, and the threatened species action plan. The Environment and Planning Directorate looks after the Nature Conservation Act, the Conservator of Flora and Fauna and the secretariat to the Flora and Fauna Committee.
Frankly, it seems illogical to keep these responsibilities separate not just in different departments but under the leadership of different ministers. It is a bit like having nurses and doctors in a different directorate to the rest of Health or teachers in a separate area with a different minister for education. It is simply something that does not make sense, and we all seem to have agreed on this before.
The Canberra Liberals 2012 policy, which was released by Mrs Dunne, stated that we would, amongst other things, consolidate the nature conservation functions under one directorate. I refer to the media release at that time that stated:
We will also hire an extra five nature conservation rangers, review theNature Conservation Act 1980, and bring all nature conservation functions into one Directorate
Further, the ACT Labor-Greens agreement states at article 3.12:
Merge the ACT's existing conservation services into a single Conservation Agency to achieve better integration of biodiversity policy, planning, research and management;
Minister Rattenbury stated on 20 March 2013:
I am particularly pleased to see tripartisan support in the Assembly for a single, integrated conservation agency.
On 20 March 2013 Mr Corbell stated:
The parliamentary agreement for the Eighth Legislative Assembly commits the government to merge the ACT's existing conservation services into a single conservation agency to achieve better integration of biodiversity planning, policy, research and management.
The government acknowledges this commitment and is currently working on its implementation.
Mr Smyth moved a motion in 2013. I moved a similar motion earlier this year. Madam Speaker, it is one of the few issues in this place where we all seem to furiously agree. So I ask what would seem to be a simple question: why then has this not been done? On 26 February 2014, the last time we brought this to the Assembly, the Chief Minister said:
I will tell the Assembly that I am looking to align that with the appointment of the sixth minister.
I ask again, Madam Speaker: why has this not been done? Fast forward to the past few weeks and now we have recommendation 76 of the estimates committee report which states:
The Committee recommends that the Government establish as a priority the single Nature Conservation Agency.
To which the government's response was:
All administrative arrangements are the responsibility of the Chief Minister.
But here we are in a situation where the one and only Greens member in this place wants this to be implemented. We have the Labor Party promising that this would be implemented. We have the Conservation Council and community groups in the sector wanting this to be implemented. We have the Canberra Liberals wanting this to be implemented. We have had motions on this pass in this place. It is in the Labor-
Greens parliamentary agreement. Recently we have had the administrative arrangements change quite significantly and now have our sixth minister. Yet there is still no action on the single nature conservation agency.
The Chief Minister in her own words said:
I do not think it is the best way of dealing with changes to the administrative orders to change them a bit here and then a few months later change them a bit there. The approach I have taken is that this work falls into the broader work we are looking at across government because there are, outside the environment and nature conservation, other areas in which I believe some administrative changes need to be made.
If we look at the Chief Minister's words there, we can almost assume that this proposal for a single nature conservation agency has been scrapped or at least will not come into effect any time in the near future, because administrative arrangements have recently been changed. Ministers were appointed and portfolios shuffled, directorates moved and renamed, and there is still no action on the single nature conservation agency.
Given the Chief Minister quite fairly does not believe these things should be done ad hoc, and that changes in administrative arrangements should occur at once and not here and there, the fact that it was not done makes us turn to the question of why. Is it that Minister Corbell is trying to out-green the Greens and does not want to hand over his beloved environment portfolio?
By the same token, Minister Rattenbury, the sole defender of the Greens in this building, does not want to forgo responsibility he has for environmental functions because he would otherwise, perhaps, be known as a minister for roads, which would not sit well on his shoulders, and without becoming the minister for the new single agency.
Perhaps we find ourselves in a deadlock. Unfortunately, as we well know the Labor government only holds power in the ACT with the support of Minister Rattenbury. If he does not want to give up the functions of environmental management in his portfolio, the government cannot really make him, can they? It is a bit of a pickle, Madam Speaker.
Logically we now have an Environment and Planning Directorate. Surely it could all fall under there with the minister, Mr Gentleman. The government would probably respond by saying that we, the Canberra Liberals, have advocated so far for it to be in TAMS. We have advocated for it to be in Environment and Sustainable Development. Now we are saying something different again. Mea culpa, mea culpa.
The point is that it should be a single conservation agency, no matter where it sits. I urge the government to come clean today. If the single nature conservation agency is not going ahead, say so. Vote against the motion; take it off the table. But stop leaving the community groups and the wider community who are concerned about the environment in limbo.
Nobody wants to hear again the words that the implementation of the proposal continues to be under consideration by the government. If it was seriously under consideration and going to be implemented, it would have happened back with the change of ministers in July. It has not occurred. So let us stop messing around with this, be up-front and tell the people of Canberra what the plan actually is.
If it is going to stay the same because of an internal battle of ministerial egos, say so. Perhaps it is part of the government's strategy in the lead-up to the next election, a way to explain changes which will result in a cosmetic split between Labor and the Greens. But, please, do not keep saying, "We are considering it." How much consideration does something that everyone agrees on need? I commend the motion to the Assembly.