Planning and Environment Amendment Bill 2021 | Bill

Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (16:41): I am standing here today to make a contribution towards the Planning and Environment Amendment Bill 2021, which Mr Hayes has brought before us. I thank Mr Hayes for his work and interest in the planning space. I understand the intent of the bill; however, I will not be supporting this bill today.

Victoria is at the forefront when it comes to environmental policy. The Andrews government has done a lot to make sure that the environment remains protected. This Planning and Environment Amendment Bill 2021 introduces a new requirement to provide an environmental impact statement for all planning permits and planning scheme amendments. At present Victoria already has processes for considering environmental values in planning matters. These processes are fit for purpose and robust.

We have made a point of cutting red tape so our state systems can work more efficiently; however, this bill adds unnecessary overlap and duplication. This is just adding to the regulatory burden. There is a framework already in place which this billed does not recognise. Victoria has a complementary system of legislation to protect environmental values, including the Wildlife Act 1975, the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and the Environment Protection Act 2017. There is other legislation in place as well—for example: the Environment Effects Act 1978, which provides a comprehensive assessment process for projects that have the potential for significant impacts on the environment; the Planning and Environment Act 1987, which provides for the assessment of environmental values through planning schemes which include policies, zones, overlays and particular provisions; the 2017 Guidelines for the Removal, Destruction or Lopping of Native Vegetation; and the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978, which sets out the process for reserving, actively purchasing and managing land to protect environmental values. If a project has the potential to impact nationally significant flora, fauna or communities, it may also require approval under the commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This system provides comprehensive coverage. This already existing legislation underpins a wide range of obligations and regulatory activities. It also embeds environmental values in the decision-making process. It provides a framework for regulating and monitoring behaviours and development, including offences for damaging the environment.

The approach outlined in this bill will create a huge regulatory burden. It proposes to impose an environmental impact statement on all planning permits and planning scheme amendments. This is unwarranted as there is significant overlap between what is already present and what is being proposed. The existing assessment pathway already captures the level of assessment outlined in the bill, and on many planning matters this level of assessment is not necessary. The imposition of an environmental impact statement for every permit application presents an unnecessary overlap and costly duplication of regulatory burden. Where do you think this extra cost will end up? It will be passed on to everyday residents.

The proposals in this bill are uninformed. The issue is that this bill does not address the actions that matter. The Andrews Labor government has delivered more for environmental reform than any other government. We banned cattle grazing in the alpine and river red gum national parks in 2015. We removed the power to grant 99-year leases over national and other parks under the National Parks Act 1975 in 2015. We delivered major reform of the Environment Protection Authority through the Environment Protection Act 2017 and the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018. We banned fracking in Victoria, securing agricultural productivity and a strong, healthy environment into the future. We delivered the Climate Change Act 2017, a world-leading legislative foundation to manage climate change risks, maximise the opportunities that arise from decisive action and drive our transition to a climate-resilient community and economy with net zero emissions by 2050.

Climate change has led to an exponential decline in biodiversity across the globe, so we have invested heavily to prioritise conservation of biodiversity. Biodiversity is all components of the living world, the number and variety of native plants, animals and other living things across our land, rivers, coast and ocean. Victoria has a natural environment that is rich, diverse, unique and very precious. However, there is an obvious need for on-ground action. Therefore we have invested nearly $500 million into biodiversity since we came to government in 2014. This is the largest investment by a Victorian government ever. Our government has also provided more than $270 million in the past two state budgets to waterway and catchment health initiatives. We introduced new legislation to better protect biodiversity in Victoria. The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Amendment Act was passed by the Parliament in 2019. We also created a nation-leading 20-year strategy to improve, protect and work together to support Victoria’s biodiversity, Protecting Victoria’s Environment: Biodiversity 2037. A healthy natural environment is the most important thing to our existence. This long-term plan will stop the decline of Victoria’s unique biodiversity and ensure that our natural environment remains healthy.

We have also taken a strong stance on making sure that we do what we can to make sure that climate change is addressed appropriately. The Andrews Labor government has set ambitious interim emissions reduction targets, halving emissions by 2030 on a path to net zero emissions by 2050, but we must also adapt to prepare for the impacts of changing climate. Our solar grants are a massive hit, and their adoption by the public has been amazing. The Andrews Labor government has invested a record $515 million to transform Victoria’s waste and recycling system, including $380 million to deliver Recycling Victoria: A New Economy, to move Victoria to a truly circular economy. Our new container deposit scheme is set to start in 2023. By 2023 we will also ban certain single-use plastics.

The Andrews Labor government is providing more opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. We are also making it easier for Victorians to get out and take advantage of our beaches, rivers, forests and bushlands. Before the 2018 election the Victorian government committed $105.6 million in a historic boost for camping by building new campgrounds, upgrading facilities and tracks and making family holidays more affordable. Recently we announced $5 million for 500 000 new trees in Melbourne’s west, creating cooler spaces for families in the western suburbs to enjoy for generations to come. I am really proud of this particular announcement. We have also developed the Victorian Forestry Plan to ensure a long-term and sustainable future for Victoria’s forestry industry and for the Victorian workers who rely on it. Victoria’s central west will have 65 106 hectares of new national parks, further protecting the area’s unique environment and giving Victorians and tourists more opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.

The Andrews Labor government appointed an independent expert advisory panel to lead a review of the Wildlife Act 1975 to further protect and manage our state’s unique wildlife. The Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change announced the most comprehensive review of the Wildlife Act since its introduction more than 45 years ago to ensure that it keeps pace with contemporary issues, changes in policy settings and community expectations.

It is important that Victoria’s wildlife legislation is modern, fit for purpose and includes all the necessary safeguards to punish and deter wildlife crime. The proposed bill creates extensive overlapping and duplicating of regulations, which disregard the existing framework to protect the environmental values of Victoria. Our government has made record investments to address environmental changes in the right way. I do not support this bill.