Michelle Lensink

Environment, Water and Natural Resources Department

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation regarding morale in the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: At the recent launch of DEWNR's corporate plan for 2014-15, the CE stated to the staff that he had abandoned a particular vision statement which was as follows: 'We put the environment first; South Australians put the environment first.' In his own words, he said: 'I like that because we don't.' He was referring to this state. My questions for the minister are:

1.Do you agree with the CE of your department that South Australians don't put the environment first?

2.Where does the environment rank in this Labor government's priorities? Is it fifth, eighth, 18th, or where would the minister rank it?

3.What is the minister doing to address the levels of cynicism and low morale that would lead to the leader of the department making such a remark?
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:39  ): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. If she wants to ask questions about commitment to the environment I am prepared to stand up to her any day. If those opposite—
 
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: $600,000 for an artificial reef; goodness me!

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Lensink, you have asked the question and he is now trying to answer it. The honourable minister.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Mr President, if the honourable member opposite was so serious about the environment, why didn’t she address the issue in her election commitments? What were the Liberal Party’s election commitments, Mr President? It was $1 million for extra rangers, and I think around $20,000 or $25,000 for an organisation their own federal Liberal National Party government cut. That is what they did, and they came up with a couple of thousand dollars to fund it. That was it: $1 million and zip—that was their commitment to the environment. Plus, their jewel-in-the-crown commitment was to rip apart marine parks. They have come in here as an opposition with a bill to strip two-thirds away from our sanctuary exclusion zones, leaving us with a remnant.

They are stripping out the jewels in the crown from our marine park exclusion zones. That is their credentials as an environmentally concerned party. They have not got a clue. Their biggest promise, as I said, is to unwind the greatest environmental initiative of the past two decades in South Australia. In the March state election the Labor government committed roughly $30 million over the forward estimates for environmental initiatives.

As I said, if they were really concerned they would not have insulted the electorate at the last election with pathetic commitments for the environment and the promise to rip apart marine parks as they have done and are now proceeding to do so with the Hon. Michelle Lensink’s bill, which I understand she seeks to bring to a vote tomorrow in this place.

Why are we surprised at this? We know the protection of the environment does not even come close to the Liberal Party policy commitments. It is not in their DNA. We can see that by looking at the Liberal Party around the country. I think it was some article I saw, and I will come back to that in a moment, Mr President, as an indication of what the Liberals’ commitment to the environment is.

Let us have a look at what the Liberal government has done at a federal level. They have erased the science portfolio out of existence; they have slashed funding to science and research, including the CSIRO, as we have just heard from my leader in her passionate defence of science and technology in this country. They have scrapped the climate commission. They have scrapped the national water commission. They have stopped buybacks under the Murray-Darling Basin scheme in terms of water and, instead of over four years, as was promised by the former government, they have now pushed it back to six years, and the concern is they will never reach the target which they are required to do by 2019.

They have attempted to repeal the price on carbon. They have attempted to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. They have commenced an inquiry into the Renewable Energy Target scheme (headed up, I should say, by a self-confessed climate sceptic). They have attempted to delist Tasmania’s world heritage forests and were rebuffed at the international level for that attempt to strip away protections for national forests. This is what the Liberals do, Mr President; this is their DNA. Their commitment to the environment is: let’s destroy marine parks.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting: 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: ‘Let’s destroy marine parks.’ That is all the Hon. Michelle Lensink has to offer to the community of South Australia. That is it; that is the sum total of what they have.

The PRESIDENT: Sit down. The Hon. Ms Lensink—
 
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: Supplementary.

The PRESIDENT: No, he hasn’t finished yet; I have put him down. Please allow him to finish the question and then ask your sup, okay?
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Where was the Hon. Michelle Lensink when her federal colleagues stripped $486 million out of Caring for Our Country programs? Where was she? Was she out in the streets, doing interviews with the media?
 
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: Were you?
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I have done many, many attempts to try and bring this federal government to heel over their cuts, and I will be doing so again, because, the Hon. Michelle Lensink, we will hang these cuts around your neck—around your neck! You will not get off the hook.
 
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: I look forward to it!
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: You will not get off the hook for these cuts. You are there cheering on your federal Liberal colleagues at every opportunity. The Hon. Rob Lucas, in a radio interview yesterday, accepted around $900 million of cuts to the forward estimates in South Australia from the federal government and is out there cheering them on. He is out there cheering them on, Mr President, to cut away the funding to South Australia, and all the Hon. Michelle Lensink can do is come in here with a plan to rip apart the environmental protections for marine parks. She is a disgrace!
 
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: Answer the question about your department, minister—your department after 12 years!

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Lensink—
 
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: Supplementary question.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I haven't finished.

The PRESIDENT: No, he hasn't finished. I put him down. The Hon. Ms Lensink, it is absolutely vital that we do not have this—I don't mind a bit of banter, but I think you have gone a bit beyond that at this particular stage. We would like to hear what the Hon. Mr Hunter has to say. You can then ask another supplementary if required.
 
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Point of order: could you actually ask that these gutless ministers try to answer questions and take some responsibility instead of continuously listing cuts to federal departments when they knew damn well that this all took place under their watch after 12 years.

The PRESIDENT: It is really up to the ministers to answer the question in the best way they choose to answer the question.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: You have a role, too.

The PRESIDENT: Yes.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: No, he hasn't finished yet. The Hon. Mr Hunter.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Lensink, would you please refrain.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting: 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Mr President, they don't like it when they get labelled with the truth.

The PRESIDENT: I also don't think it is parliamentary to be yelling 'gutless wonder' across the chamber. Thanks for your cooperation. The Hon. Mr Hunter.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr President. In fact, I wouldn't mind being a gutless wonder. I have a bit of a gut, as you know, and I should try and work it off, I suppose. I digress, and that is inappropriate, of course, but I am trying to cut down a little, just like the federal Liberal government is cutting down at a massive level to this state and other states.

Let's look at what the Liberals are doing as a brand around the country, and not just the federal Liberal government. In Western Australia, for example, they have allowed an unscientific and indiscriminate culling of sharks. They said, 'Let's go out and kill the white pointers.' How many have they killed? None. But they have killed hundreds of tiger sharks. This is the Liberal Party's policy on the environment: let's slaughter the apex predators in the sea. That is the Liberal Party's position on the environment in Western Australia.

What is the Liberal Party's position on the environment in Victoria? Let's let the grazers back into our alpine national parks. Let's let those grazers back in and they can mow down all the vulnerable protected species in our alpine national parks. That is what the Liberals offer us in terms of the environment from Victoria.

In Queensland, what are they doing? They are allowing the dumping of dredge spoil on the Great Barrier Reef, and the federal Liberal government is moving heaven and earth to help them to do that. I notice in an ABC news report from May this year about how the Queensland Liberal Party actually makes environmental policy. It is headed 'QCoal's James Mackay developing environmental policy for Newman Government in Queensland'.
 
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Point of order: standing order 186 states that the President may call attention to the conduct of a member who persists in continued irrelevance, prolixity or tedious repetition and may direct such member to discontinue speaking and be seated.

The PRESIDENT: It is a very subjective matter when a minister is answering a question. If the minister thinks he is answering the question accordingly, he will answer it the way he wants. The honourable minister.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I don't know that it has been repetitive. It might be prolix, but that's something they need to suck up, because it is acutely relevant when a Queensland Coal employee develops environmental policy for a Liberal government in this country. When the Liberal Party in this country outsources environment policy making to:

The head of corporate affairs for a mining company at the centre of an environmental dispute has been in charge of developing policy for the environment for Queensland's ruling Liberal National Party…since 2012.

That is quintessentially what the Liberals are about. This is in their DNA.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! The minister is on his feet. Let the minister answer the question in silence.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: This is illustrative of the Liberal thinking in terms of environment. We have Mr James Mackay reported by ABC news, who worked full time for the Liberal National Party during the 2012 election while he was being paid $10,000 a month by the company Queensland Coal. So, the Liberal Party brand in this country think the environment can be bettered by having a Queensland Coal mining employee writing their environmental policy. They are a joke. They are hypocrites.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: I have asked members on a number of occasions to allow the minister to answer—regardless, if you don't like—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Will you allow me to speak? Under section 208 I will start warning people in a minute, if you continue, because I am not going to allow this chamber to be degraded into a rabble.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: It will happen very shortly; my patience will end very quickly. If the minister stands up I want you to listen.
 
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: Go right ahead. This is an abuse of our time.

The PRESIDENT: I must say that I am absolutely appalled, Hon. Ms Lensink. This is unusual behaviour for you; I do not know what is going on, but it is unusual behaviour. What I want you to do is listen to the minister. If you have a supplementary, you ask at the start. Honourable minister, proceed.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr President. As I said, the Hon. Mr Lucas, in radio interviews yesterday, was all over the place confirming that commonwealth cuts would amount to almost $900 million over the forward estimates. Over the next 10 years health and education cuts in this state will be equal to about $5.5 billion and, as a Labor government, we will seek to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. We are making tough budget decisions—
 
The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: Point of order. Given that the minister has been on his feet answering this question for 11 minutes, when will you, sir, ask him to answer the actual question?

The PRESIDENT: I will say this, honourable minister: please try to do your answer as quickly as possible because we have many members who want to ask questions.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr President. As always I will be directed by you in most things. As a Labor government, we seek to protect the most vulnerable people in our community. We are making the tough budget decisions. We will prioritise the preservation of our world-class healthcare and education systems. That is why we have sought to protect pensioners from Prime Minister Abbott's cruel cuts to pension concessions, after he slashed $30 million a year from concessions. These cuts have seen as much as $200 per year ripped out of the pockets of South Australian pensioners, and this Liberal opposition on the other side has been cheering on the Prime Minister.
 
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:53  ): Supplementary question. Is the CE of the minister's department correct when he said that South Australians do not put the environment first?
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:54  ): I do not know what the Hon. Michelle Lensink is referring to in that quote—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting: 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: That is exactly right, Mr President, but all I can speak to is the priorities of the government. As I said, despite what the Liberal Party does at a federal level, to hit the most vulnerable, the young, the old, those on pensions, this state government will always prioritise looking after the vulnerable in our community. They are our highest priorities.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:53  ): Supplementary question. Is the CE of the minister's department correct when he said that South Australians do not put the environment first?
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:54  ): I do not know what the Hon. Michelle Lensink is referring to in that quote—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting: 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: That is exactly right, Mr President, but all I can speak to is the priorities of the government. As I said, despite what the Liberal Party does at a federal level, to hit the most vulnerable, the young, the old, those on pensions, this state government will always prioritise looking after the vulnerable in our community. They are our highest priorities.

 

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