12 March 1991 - Current
SUSTAINABILITY VICTORIA BILL Second reading Mr THWAITES (Minister for Environment) -- I move: That this bill be now read a second time. Becoming more environmentally sustainable is one of the greatest challenges facing Victorians. It is not just a challenge for us, but for all the peoples of the world. International agreements -- most notably the Kyoto protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -- have been debated and ratified by national governments and are gradually -- perhaps too gradually -- leading to more environmentally sustainable practices around the globe. State governments share a responsibility to act as well. This bill sets out to further that aim by establishing a new body -- Sustainability Victoria -- which will tackle the sustainability challenge in a more holistic, accessible and efficient way. In addition to adopting the previous functions of Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria and EcoRecycle,
Sustainability Victoria will play a role in sustaining Victoria's water resources in relation to households and businesses. The challenge The evidence of the world's leading scientific agencies, including NASA, the Hadley Centre and the British Met Office, about the dangers of environmentally unsustainable behaviour to our planet and future standard of living is compelling. They tell us that in just the past decade, carbon dioxide levels in the world's atmosphere have risen by as much as they did during the previous 10 000 years. Scientists, including Australia's former Chief Scientist, Robin Batterham, advise that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 50 per cent by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change -- that is, greater than a 2 degree Celsius increase. World climate records already reveal that the five hottest planetary years ever recorded have occurred since 1998. Global warming is a reality. It is happening now. And Victorians are not immune from its effects. In a number of landmark studies, our very own CSIRO has reported on the current and likely future impacts of global warming on Victoria. For instance, it predicts that unless global warming is slowed, Melbourne will lose water due to less rainfall, reduced river flows and higher temperatures. The CSIRO's 'mid-range' scenarios project an 8 per cent loss of average flows by 2020, rising to a loss of 20 per cent by 2050. Combined with population increases, this will place enormous pressure on our future water resources. For too long we have treated the environment as an inexhaustible bounty. We have consumed natural resources at a faster rate than they can naturally replenish. We have considered the needs of today, but not the rights of future generations. In Victoria, like many places around the world, we are only now feeling the consequences of many of these past mistakes. For example -- Since European settlement began in Victoria in the 1830s approximately 65 per cent of our native vegetation has been cleared, degrading the quality of some of our land and waterways. Inappropriate land-use has led to around 670 000 hectares of land being at high risk of becoming saline and it is estimated that this could more than double by 2050. Forty-four per cent of our native plants and 30 per cent of our native animals are either extinct or threatened. We are creating 8 million tonnes of waste a year, half of which goes into landfill. All up, our ecological footprint is huge. If everyone on the planet used as many of the world's resources as Victorians, we would need four planets to provide for us. The enormity of our environmental footprint is a measure of our responsibility to change. Facts like these necessitate action. The vision In response to the growing public awareness of this issue, in April 2005, the government released a comprehensive environmental sustainability framework for Victoria, accompanied by a ministerial statement to the Parliament. The framework and statement build on a long and proud history in Victoria of protecting the environment and moving towards sustainability. Victoria's achievements began with the establishment of the Environment Protection Authority, which since 1970 has acted as an environmental guardian and has worked in partnership with business and the community to improve sustainable practices -- in recent times through establishing sustainability covenants. The framework and the statement set out the challenges posed by environmentally unsustainable behaviour and the many environmental, social and economic benefits that will flow from adopting more sustainable practices. They also set out a series of objectives against which Victorians can measure their progress and establish a series of principles for government, businesses and the community generally to guide future decision making.
The framework and the statement had one simple, important message: we must make sustainability a part of everything we do if we are to maximise our future economic growth, maintain our quality of life and protect our unique Victorian environment. More precisely the framework and statement set out three crucial tasks: 1. we must continue maintaining and restoring our natural assets; 2. we must use our resources more efficiently; and 3. we must reduce our environmental impacts. Victorians have already made great progress. Our state now has a world-leading environmental reform agenda. We are now starting to use our natural resources more sensibly and repair the damage we have caused to our natural assets. We have launched the Victorian greenhouse strategy; we have released a comprehensive water policy -- Our Water Our Future -- including 110 new initiatives for water conservation and $320 million to ensure clean and sustainable water supplies for Victoria. Melbourne households now use an average of 19 per cent less water than in the 1990s; we have achieved an historic agreement to boost the flow of the Snowy River from 6 to 28 per cent; fifty per cent of waste is now recycled, and diverted away from landfills, compared to 26 per cent 10 years ago. Victoria currently leads the world in the recycling of newspapers; we have established 13 marine national parks and 11 marine sanctuaries; we have adopted Melbourne 2030 -- a 30-year plan to protect Melbourne's liveability and manage growth; and we have set a renewable energy target of 10 per cent by 2010. Gratifying though those results are, this progress must be maintained and its pace accelerated. More needs to be done to change behaviour and make Victoria even more environmentally sustainable. More ambitious targets have to be met, which are spelt out in the environmental sustainability framework -- including targets for reducing Victoria's climate impact. States like California in the United States of America have made commitments to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As good international citizens, it is our duty to do likewise. This is the reason why in the ministerial statement accompanying the framework, the government announced its intention to establish a new body -- Sustainability Victoria, which merges and replaces two existing state government agencies -- Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria, which was established by the Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria Act 1990, and EcoRecycle, which was established by the Environment Protection (Amendment) Act 1996. The new body will also have responsibility for improving Victoria's sustainable approach to water use in relation to households and businesses. The new body is based on the understanding that environmental choices do not happen in isolation. The things that save energy are often the same things that save water, recycle products and cut pollution. Just as major businesses that take recycling seriously tend not to have separate bodies looking at reducing energy use, saving water and recycling, so Victoria will now have a single body to advise and assist Victorians to live sustainably. Sustainability Victoria will lead a more holistic approach to achieving sustainability. It will work with business and communities to put in place the programs needed to take a quantum leap forward in the sustainable management of our natural and built environment. It will be more convenient for business and the public to access by setting up a one-stop shop for sustainability advice and assistance. And it will deliver these services in a more cost-efficient and effective manner. In this way, it will achieve the aims of the environmental sustainability framework in integrating environmental sustainability into our everyday lives.
The bill I now turn to the particulars of the bill. Purpose The purpose of the bill is to establish Sustainability Victoria and provide for it to be the successor in law of the Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria and EcoRecycle Victoria. It amends the Environment Protection Act 1970 to repeal the provisions relating to EcoRecycle Victoria and gives its functions and powers to Sustainability Victoria. It repeals the Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria Act 1990. And also consequentially amends certain other acts. Principles The bill sets out a number of principles to guide the decisions and actions of the new body: Its decision-making processes should effectively integrate both long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equity considerations. It is expected that this principle will take into account issues of intergenerational equity. If there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation. This important guiding principle is to prevent the outcome desired by many global warming sceptics, who use the claim that our scientific knowledge of the causes of global warming is incomplete to argue that we cannot set limits to emissions of greenhouse gases. The basis of the bill is that the overwhelming majority of the world's scientific experts accept the reality and danger of global warming and that in this case, the principle of safety first demands that we act to reduce emissions. Sustainability Victoria needs to consider the global impact of its actions and policies. It assumes the development of a strong, growing and diversified economy will enhance, not hinder, environmental protection. And it assumes the need for Victoria to maintain international competitiveness in an environmentally sound manner. These two principles are based on the understanding that a more environmentally sustainable economy will be a long-term source of economic growth and employment opportunities for Victoria. Acting sustainably is good for the economy. Sustainability Victoria will recognise the need to adopt cost-effective and flexible policy instruments such as improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms. This principle recognises that businesses and individuals must accept responsibility for the environmentally damaging by-products of their goods and services by including the full costs of pollution, disposal and recycling into their pricing arrangements. Environmental bodies around the world today recognise this process -- 'internalising environmental externalities' -- as crucial to reducing emissions and waste and boosting sustainability. And finally, Sustainability Victoria will recognise the importance of facilitating community involvement in decisions and actions on issues that affect the community. This recognises that sustainability requires significant cultural change in the community. In other words, it requires the acceptance of the need to be sustainable and it requires changes in everyday behaviour -- whether that be cutting down on car usage, using less water in showers and the garden, phasing out the use of plastic bags or other daily actions. Objective Clause 6 of the bill defines the objective of Sustainability Victoria, which is to facilitate and promote environmental sustainability in the use of resources. At this point it is relevant to state that the definition of 'sustainability' under which the new body will operate comes from the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland commission) in its 1987 report Our Common Future, which defined sustainability as: Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Functions Clause 7 of the bill sets out the functions of Sustainability Victoria. The functions are broader than the functions of the Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria and EcoRecycle Victoria because Sustainability Victoria will take on an expanded role. Sustainability Victoria will assist all Victorians to integrate environmental sustainability into
their everyday lives; accelerate progress towards sustainability in businesses and households; and provide advice on new technologies and areas of market failure. For example, its functions include: facilitating the implementation of environmentally sustainable measures in all sectors of the Victorian economy, including local government, business and households; and encouraging and promoting the development and use of environmentally sustainable practices, markets, technologies and industries, including resource efficiency, energy efficiency, renewable energy and water. Powers Clause 8 of the bill sets out the powers of Sustainability Victoria. It may do all things necessary or convenient to carry out its functions, including obtaining and holding intellectual property rights, including patents, copyrights, trademarks and registered designs. Annual business plan Clause 19 sets out requirements for Sustainability Victoria to produce an annual business plan, including its budget, priorities and other matters set out in the bill. Savings and transitional provisions And finally, clauses 20 to 25 of the bill set out the savings and transitional provisions to make Sustainability Victoria the successor in law to the Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria and EcoRecycle. This includes: details of the transference of responsibility for regulations, subordinate instruments, other documents and staff from the old bodies to the new one; sundry amendments to the Environment Protection Act 1970 and the Electricity Act 2000; and the repeal of the Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria Act 1990. Conclusion In conclusion, the establishment of Sustainability Victoria, as proposed in this bill, will make a significant contribution to the creation of a more sustainable Victoria and contribute to global sustainability. Creating the conditions for a sustainable society here in Victoria will not be easy. The goal will not be reached overnight. But we must head in this direction. Like all long journeys it starts with a small step -- changing our culture and behaviour to become more environmentally sustainable. Sustainability Victoria will help lead us to this goal. I commend the bill to the house. Debate adjourned on motion of Mr HONEYWOOD (Warrandyte). Debate adjourned until Thursday, 25 August.