TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview - Parliament House

By Terri Butler MP

03 September 2020

Topics: Government shut down of debate on Tony Abbott 2.0 environmental law changes; Queensland borders; Recession

TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: [inaudible] ...it also affects jobs and it affects investment. It's really important that this be scrutinized properly. But instead, the government just rushed it through the house. 
 
JOURNALIST: Could I, sorry, if I'm coming in late on this. Would Labor have supported the amendments to the EPBC Act that were being performed. 
 
BUTLER: So Zali Stegall had given us some amendments, we were inclined to support those amendments, they were we thought sensible amendments. Our preference was to vote against the entire bill, which we were going to do. But those amendments, you know, were reasonable amendments. They were important issues in terms of what the national standards would be about if they were made, what would happen with it would trigger. But we wanted to oppose this bill, which we did. We oppose the bill in the House, but we also wanted it to be debated properly. And there were so many people who wanted to get the chance to make a contribution on this bill, not on their private behalf but on behalf of the electors who send them to the parliament to represent their interests. To just gag that debate, to prevent people from having their say I think is a real disgrace.
 
This isn't minor legislation. This is significant legislation that affects what happens to our natural environment, what happens with jobs and what happens with investment. 
 
JOURNALIST: No doubt significant legislation, but probably I'm sure you agree subordinate to dealing with the health crisis and the COVID crisis. Can you see that perhaps the government's got its attention focussed there and doesn't want necessarily to engage in these other issues?
 
BUTLER: Well all of these issues are so connected. We are in an environmental crisis and a jobs crisis and a health crisis. And the government is failing on all of those counts.
 
The fact is, this law, this incredibly important law is one of many things that the government is trying to rush through, under the cover of the pandemic. Now is the time for more scrutiny when people's attention is rightfully captured by the serious health crisis and the serious economic crisis. Now is a time for more scrutiny. Now is not the time for us to be putting up with the government rushing things through in the dead of night in a situation where there's not that attention focused on them.
 
Because we still have to live with the decisions that this government makes years and decades into the future and this decision is terrible for the environment and it's terrible for jobs and investment. And I might say, we're in the first recession for three decades, this is some legislation that will have an impact on jobs and investment because it goes to what major projects are approved and what developments are approved.
 
So in a recession, we absolutely have to be very careful about any changes made to the environment law. And I don't trust the government. This is the government that cut 40% of the funding from the environment department. Then we had a terrible Audit Office report saying delays in decision making blow out by 510%, 79% of decisions being affected by error or non compliant. Financial year 2018-19, 95% of key decisions were made late. This is the sort of thing we're talking about with this government. They can't be trusted to make the right decisions. They can't be trusted on resourcing and they certainly shouldn't be allowed to rush this sort of thing through the parliament without scrutiny. 
 
JOURNALIST: There was a pretty short debate on the  higher education bill as well. Are you prepared to accuse the government of using COVID as an excuse to rush things through without proper scrutiny? 
 
BUTLER: What the government has been doing all week has been shutting down debate. The government is allergic to scrutiny. Scott Morrison hates scrutiny, hates accountability. You see it. You see it on his face. He resents being asked questions, whether they're questions about COVID, whether they're questions about why he doesn't have a plan in relation to the jobs crisis, whether they're questions about what his government is doing to fix the crisis in aged care. He resents the scrutiny. He resents questions and what his government has done this week to shut down debate.
 
On the day that the national accounts were released, we tried to move a motion to debate the fact that this country is in recession for the first time in almost 30 years. That was shut down. They have shut down bills, they have shut down motions, they have gagged debated at every possible opportunity and it is a disgrace. And the people of Australia expect, particularly during a time of crisis, they expect the parliament to be operating to protect their rights, their liberties and their interests and when you shut down debate that's the cost of that. 
 
JOURNALIST: Could I switch gears and ask for your views as a Queenslander on the border restrictions and the so called hotspot definition that we're apparently going to get at national cabinet? What should that definition be in your view and as a Queenslander when do you think the border should be at least partially reopened?
 
BUTLER: Well, I'm not going weigh into the border debate because I'm not the Chief Medical Officer for Queensland and I'm not a member of the Queensland Government. I really encourage all of the states to do the right thing to make sure they're listening to the medical advice. I think most Queenslanders would say, and that's certainly what they say to me, that Annastacia Palaszczuk and her government are doing a good job of keeping Queenslanders safe. That's really important and I will leave it to the Premier to make her own comments in relation to the borders. Thank you. Have a great night.