February 2021

Matters of Public Importance: Environmental Protection

I welcome the opportunity to address this issue of environmental protection. I share some of the sentiments of those opposite who have concerns about our environment. I think it's undoubtedly true that the massive growth in the world's population and the growth in our living standards and the consumption that comes with that has put a strain on our natural environment. If you look back through history at the population of humans, around the time that settled agricultural societies first developed in 10,000 BC or thereabouts the world's population was about 2½ million people. At the time of Jesus's birth, around 0 BC, the world's population was about 180 million. It grew only slowly after that. It was about 300 million in the year 1000, 500 million in 1500 and one billion people in 1800. The point is that, up until the 20th century, the world's population had never doubled in a century and the world's GDP had never doubled in a century. But in the 20th century we had the world's population not only double once but double twice and the world's GDP did not only double once, twice or three times but doubled four times, in fact. So today we are 7.7 billion people or thereabouts in the world aspiring to and leading in many respects middle-class lives like we live in Australia. Undoubtedly around the world that is putting a strain on our natural environment.

That is why, naturally enough, environmental protection has been elevated in people's minds as a priority. That takes a number of forms. It's the coexistence with our own natural world. It's the level of CO2 emissions and our contribution to the global climate. It's things like biodiversity and species preservation. It's issues like limiting our waste and it's imperatives like protecting our oceans. I think sometimes when you think of the scale of these challenges it can be easy to give in to despondency. But, piece by piece, step by step and issue by issue, we are making good progress in addressing these issues.

I thought rather than rehashing some of the arguments that have already been heard today I would just go through some of the things that the government has announced literally within the last two months to address some of these issues. Just after Christmas, on 26 December, we announced a new $4 million body called Stop Food Waste Australia that will bring together some of the brightest minds in supply chain management and food waste NGOs to help tackle the problem and reduce or halve by 2030 the millions of tonnes of food that currently go to landfill each year. Each year, as many here would know, we throw away over seven million tonnes of food at a cost to the economy of more than $20 billion. Every household in Australia, on average, throws away some $3,800 of food a year. So this initiative announced before Christmas will help reduce that.

In January we announced funding to assist recycling in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. In Victoria we have announced funding to help double that state's domestic glass-recycling capacity and increase plastic recycling by 40 per cent and create over 350 jobs in doing so. In New South Wales we announced $162 million for new recycling infrastructure to help transform the industry there. In Western Australia we announced $70 million in joint funding to drive a $174 million recycling boom in Western Australia. All of these were under our Recycling Modernisation Fund, which is designed to help build a circular economy in Australia, process more of our waste in Australia and extract more value from our waste in Australia—all worthwhile initiatives.

We are also protecting our built heritage. I was pleased to see the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, in Sydney just earlier this month announcing the addition of a 100-hectare site in Sydney to our National Heritage List, the old part of Sydney known as the Governor's Domain and Civic Precinct, which covers Government House, Hyde Park Barracks, the Conservatorium of Music, the mint, New South Wales Parliament House, Hyde Park and the Domain, making sure that those areas are preserved for future generations.

Even just this week, in fact, we've announced two important initiatives. The Minister for the Environment announced yesterday that we have joined the Global Oceans Alliance. We are committed to an initiative called the 30by30 initiative, which is intended to provide formal protection to 30 per cent of the world's oceans by 2030. In Australia we are already at 37 per cent of our oceans that warrant this protection. We will be providing assistance to other countries to make sure that they protect their own marine jurisdictions.

Lastly and one of my favourites is an initiative we announced just yesterday under the National Environment Science Program, using artificial intelligence, technology and the traditional knowledge of Indigenous rangers to help increase the survival rates of turtle hatchlings in Australia's remote far north. So we are doing things. There's no cause for complacency but nor is there cause for despair.