Bill: Landscape South Australia

In speaking to the Government's Landscape South Australia Bill, Mark noted that when the Government rewrites a major piece of controlling legislation, especially one that dictates how natural resources are managed, that a number of fundamental questions should be asked.  These first is: is this genuine reform and does it target the main issues that are pressing for South Australia? 

Landscape South Australia Bill 2019

Before I commence my remarks on the Landscape Bill, I would just add my frustration to those expressed by the Leader of the Opposition. We do our best in this place to follow the order of service. When an item is marked as having a number of speakers and an arrow indicating that it will go through all remaining stages, and as the first priority for the day and the reason that we have actually sat on a Thursday morning, then the expectation is that we would have seen that through and that other items would have been reached in due course. Having said that, I was certainly aware that I had put myself down to speak to this bill; I just had not expected it to be at this stage before higher orders of priority had been reached.

Having said that, let me commence my remarks on this legislation by noting that when the Government rewrites a major piece of controlling legislation, especially one that dictates how natural resources are managed, it is quite reasonable for us to think in terms of fundamental questions. The first question that arises is whether such a bill is in fact real and genuine reform or whether it is just a new government changing the name, redesigning the logo and applying a fresh lick of paint to give the impression of change whereas, in reality, business goes on as normal.

That is the first question: is this genuine reform and does it target the main issues that are pressing for South Australia? That is a very legitimate question, given that the act that this bill seeks to replace is now getting old and we have seen major changes in our understanding of the natural environment in the last decade or more. For example, a question that the Greens will ask when looking through this bill is whether it recognises the global twin challenges of climate change and species extinction—the climate emergency and the biodiversity emergency as well. Does this bill become part of the solution, is it part of the problem, or is it neutral?

Another question that we would ask is whether the bill recognises properly the challenges that are faced by landholders in managing pest plants and animals. There is a second side to that, because species that might be problematic in an agricultural environment may not be the same species that are a problem in the natural environment. We need to make sure that the focus of legislation is on both and not simply focused on species that farmers have difficulty in managing.

We also need to ask ourselves whether this new bill provides a fairer regime for the management of finite or even renewable natural resources. Lastly, we need to ask whether it provides for genuine opportunities for community engagement, including the ability of citizens and civil society groups to hold the executive to account for their actions and, more importantly in this space, their inactions.

Overlaying all of these fundamental questions is the fact that when reform is delivered by a more conservative government, there is always the suspicion that the new regime represents a diminution of public responsibility over natural resources. When push comes to shove, this government believes in less state intervention and not more. It believes in smaller government and that means less capacity for the state to step in and protect our common heritage, which, in this case, includes our diminishing water resources, our fertile and healthy soils, and our abundant and diverse biodiversity.

As I have said, we need to reduce the threats that are posed by climate change, by pest plants and animals in an agricultural setting and species that are causing harm to the natural environment as well. We do need to pay close attention to the decision-making structures that are set out in this legislation and we have to pay even closer attention to the funding arrangements.

The questions we pose are: Who pays? How do they pay? Do they pay enough? Who decides how the money is spent? Is there sufficient accountability built into the system? Are levies truly hypothecated or are they a back-door method of general taxation? These are all questions that we will explore in some great detail, I suspect, when this bill gets to the committee stage.

The bill consists of 246 clauses, plus another 138 clauses in the five schedules. Debate in the lower house takes up 90 pages of Hansard and I expect that the debate will be just as long, or longer, in this chamber. The main emphasis, I think, in this house of review will be on amendments to the bill.

The Greens are continuing to consult with stakeholders, and I expect to have many amendments filed by the time we debate this bill in committee, perhaps commencing in August. I certainly suspect we will still be going after the winter break. Consequently, I do not propose to go into a lot of detail today, other than to say that our treatment of this bill in committee will be detailed and forensic.

The Hon. R.I. Lucas: Hear! Hear!

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: As the honourable Treasurer interjects, he would expect nothing less. I might also add that it is bills like this—complex, detailed bills like this—that invariably show up the shortcomings of our antiquated parliamentary system, whereby a minister who does not have direct responsibility for the portfolio must do their best, with the aid of a single adviser, to answer our questions and to explain a highly technical administrative bill.

With no disrespect to the ministers in this place who have carriage of other ministers' bills, it is not the best way to elicit information, to identify shortcomings or unintended consequences, or to consider appropriate amendments. I have always maintained that a scrutiny of bills committee process, comprising relevant and interchangeable members of both houses, with the ability to directly interrogate the minister, senior officials and key external stakeholders, would be a far more effective and efficient way to manage legislation such as this. Such a system need not infringe on the principles of Westminster accountability. The buck certainly stops with us, but such a mechanism would provide for a better shared information base and, I believe, better legislation. It would certainly save time in this chamber.

I want to make a couple more observations in relation to the natural resource management regime, if we can call it that. Members may recall that the NRM system has taken a real hiding in debate in this chamber over many years. In fact, if we took literally some of the complaints that have been made by some members in the past, you would think that the natural resource management regime was akin to jackbooted storm troopers whose only delight was to invade properties in the Mount Lofty Ranges and throw their weight around.

It is interesting that this bill does not appear to change any of the powers of authorised officers, yet that was one of the main complaints of, certainly, the then opposition, now government, but probably also, if I am going to be fair, the former Family First members and the Hon. Ann Bressington, former member of this place. We had an almost daily diet of their complaints about the heavy-handed nature of the inspection and enforcement regime under the NRM system. It is interesting that people who were on that bandwagon a few years ago now see no need to change any of those powers.

The second thing that I would note in relation to that is that one of the great complaints—I think a piece of misinformation—that was out there over many, many years was the role of the state in relation to rainwater. People would come and they would complain and say, 'If rainwater falls on your property, you can't do anything with it. You are not allowed to touch it. It's not yours.'

I think that was disingenuous, because certainly any civilised system of catchment management says that the person upstream is not allowed to capture every drop of water, otherwise there is nothing in the stream and it does not go down to anyone further down. I do not know anyone who would seriously suggest that we revert to a system where you have complete control over every drop of water that might fall on a property that you own.

I did notice that in last Thursday's Government Gazette there are many pages devoted to the topic of rainfall on houses, sheds and other buildings, in not just the Mount Lofty Ranges but other parts of South Australia, and clarifying that rain that falls on your roof and flows into your rainwater tank is in fact water that you can use. The suggestion that was out there was that that was somehow the state's water and you were not allowed to do anything with it. I think that is a load of rubbish. I would be interested in a response from the minister, eventually. Is that a clarification, or is it in fact an admission that the regulations were not up to scratch in relation to rain falling on buildings and running into private rainwater tanks in the Mount Lofty Ranges and in other parts of South Australia?

I do not propose to put a lot of detailed questions on the record at the second reading but, as I said, when we get to these nearly 500 clauses, or whatever it is—it is over 400 clauses but less than 500—we will be asking lots of questions at that stage. What I would like to ask now is: in relation to the collection of the levy under this new regime, why does the Government not take full responsibility for collecting that itself? It has its own taxation database. Why does it not do that rather than rely on councils, who tell me that they tend to bear the wrath of their ratepayers when a range of state government levies accompany a council rate notice and appear to come from the council, even though a closer reading would indicate that it is not all money going to the council? I pose the question: why does the Government not collect the money itself?

I would also like the Government to clarify the employment status of people who are going to work in the new regime. My initial analysis of the bill indicates that employees of the Green Adelaide organisation will be public servants, but it is very unclear whether people employed by other boards will be regarded as public servants and therefore be entitled to the same wages and conditions set out in the enterprise agreement.

Also, I would like the Government to provide us with a document that I know exists and which I do not think is particularly controversial. It is actually a table showing which provisions have been translated across, unamended, from the Natural Resources Management Act into the new landscapes act. Certainly, we could sit down with both very large pieces of legislation and do that exercise for ourselves. We know the government has done it, so could they share it with us?

It is not to say that just because something is translated across directly we are not going to challenge it or seek to amend it, because that is the nature of legislation like this: when you open up an entire regime with a brand-new bill, we obviously reserve the right to challenge even longstanding provisions that have been there. It would be very helpful if the government could provide that information, otherwise a very likely question during the committee stage, as we get to each section, would be, 'Is this the same as what was in the previous act?', and that would become very tedious in the extreme.

With those brief words, the Greens are very much looking forward to the detailed committee stage of this debate. Like I say, we think there are better ways for future parliaments to deal with complex legislation like this, but we will work with the tools that we have, and the Greens will be going through these hundreds of pages clause by clause. We look forward to the final outcome being a piece of legislation that could truly be regarded as a vehicle for sustainability in South Australia.