2nd Reading Speech

6 June 2018

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE (20:07): I make a contribution in this debate and at the outset I reinforce a point that has been made by a number of my Labor colleagues: the New South Wales Labor Opposition rules out the introduction of aerial culling in the future. I note that a number of members making a contribution in this debate have used that aspect to attack the Labor Opposition, particularly by reference to the past. The Labor Party acknowledges that, but this is not about the past. This is about the present and the future. It is wanton misrepresentation of the Labor Party’s current position to be suggesting that a future Labor Government might contemplate the reintroduction of aerial culling….

With those introductory remarks, I move:

That the question be amended by omitting all words after “That” and inserting instead “this House declines to give the bill a second reading for the following reasons:

(a)the Leader of the Opposition has written to the Premier seeking an investigation into an alleged breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct and the bill should either be withdrawn or not proceed until this matter has been dealt with; and

(b)there are unprecedented scientific concerns regarding this bill including those raised by the RSPCA, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Australian Academy of Science.

In speaking to the amendment that I propose to the second reading, and to make good the first point about why the passage of this bill should be paused until the investigation proposed by the Leader of the Opposition takes place, there is no better way to deal with the matter than to quote the letter sent by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Luke Foley, MP, to the Premier. He sought an investigation into concerns that the Ministerial Code of Conduct may have been breached by the Deputy Premier and member for Monaro, the Hon. John Barilaro, MP. He stated:

The Ministerial Code of Conduct was introduced in 2014 and is prescribed as an applicable Code within the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988. The preamble to the Code states that it is essential for the maintenance of public confidence in the integrity of Government that Ministers exhibit, and be seen to exhibit, the highest standards of probity in the exercise of their offices, and that they pursue, and be seen to pursue, the best interests of the people of New South Wales to the exclusion of any other interest.

There are reasons to be concerned that the Deputy Premier’s actions in relation to the development and introduction of the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill are in breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct. These are serious allegations and require a full investigation.

Under the Code, Ministers have a duty to act honestly and in the public interest:

A Minister, in the exercise or performance of their official functions, must not act dishonestly, must act only in what they consider to be the public interest, and must not act improperly for their private benefit or for the private benefit of any other person.

Ministers are required to carefully manage any conflicts, specifically the Code states:

A conflict of interest arises in relation to a Minister if there is a conflict between the public duty and the private interest of the Minister, in which the Minister’s private interest could objectively have the potential to influence the performance of their public duty.

Ministers are also required to absent themselves from decision making if such a conflict arises.

Within the Code there is also a section that applies to Ministerial discretion that encourages a Minister to disclose and abstain when they have a substantial personal connection with a matter

There are concerns that the Deputy Premier has taken political donations from an individual and has gone on to work with them to introduce a bill to the parliament that directly benefits that individual.

…The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: In light of that very careful ruling, and to avoid antagonising any member of the Chamber, I think the concerns outlined by the Leader of the Opposition in his letter have probably been ventilated quite extensively elsewhere. I do not think I am transgressing the ruling, and no doubt somebody will pull me up if I do, but the Deputy Premier has publicly stated that Mr Cochran has been involved in the drafting of the bill that is before the House today, and Mr Cochran has stated that he and his solicitor were intimately involved in the drafting of the legislation. Mr Foley’s letter to the Premier also states:

Given that this bill overturns specific advice given to Government in the form of the Draft Wild Horse Management Plan, and makes a significant change that overrides theNational Parks and Wildlife Act, it is important that the public is assured that the actions of Mr Barilaro have not breached the Ministerial Code.

Until a full investigation into these matters has been completed, it would be appropriate to suspend the Parliament’s consideration of the bill.

Yours sincerely
Luke Foley MP
Leader of the Opposition

I have read the letter at some length to make good the grounds in paragraph (a) of my motion to amend the second reading question that there be an investigation in this matter and into the allegations that the Deputy Premier has breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct and accordingly the bill at this point should be withdrawn or not proceed until that matter has been dealt with. Paragraph (b) states that there are unprecedented scientific concerns regarding this legislation, and the Hon. Penny Sharpe and the Hon. John Graham have elaborated on those points. I believe the Hon. Penny Sharpe sought leave, and tabled a letter from the Australian Academy of Science, dated 1 June 2018 and another from the International Union for Conservation of Nature dated 4 June 2018. The letter from the Australian Academy of Science states:

The Heritage Bill places a priority on a single invasive species over many native species and ecosystems, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. It is compatible with the principles that underpin Australia’s world-leading protected area system, and with our commitments as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Leading research on the impacts of feral horses locally and from around the world provides clear scientific evidence of environmental damage done by this invasive species.

That research leads the Academy to expect substantial negative impacts on species and ecosystems within the park arising from the passage of this legislation. This bill in summary risks the removal of established management zones, catchment protection and environmental planning provisions as defined in the plan of management. The Academy of Science further states:

The Wild Horse Community Advisory Panel to be established … has no requirement for representation by people with scientific qualifications in areas associated with the conservation of nature … or cultural heritage …

They are very substantial concerns of the Academy. Further, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature points out that many of the alpine and subalpine plants and animals are endemic to the area to be affected by this legislation and exist nowhere else on earth, which is a point also made by the Hon. John Graham. The damage to those species posed by brumbies is a very significant matter for this House to consider.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN] also raises the same concern about the Wild Horse Community Advisory Panel and is also concerned that the legislation prioritises an alien species bred from domestic stock which demonstrably damages the fundamental values of the protected area. In short, it makes quite a compelling case on scientific grounds that this legislation is simply inconsistent with the protected area’s conservation objective and the existing plan of management as well. The simple proposition is that retaining large numbers of wild horses simply cannot be reconciled with the stated values of the park.

Another point raised which is of significant concern to those of us on this side of the House at least is that the legislation before the House asserts the primacy of the adopted wild horse heritage management plan over and above the National Parks and Wildlife Act of 1974 and the 2006 plan of management of the park, and removes the provisions of the Act in relation to anything done to carry out or give effect to the adopted plan. These are far-reaching effects to the conservation values, affected species and ecosystems, which I am not certain every member of the House is fully aware of. This should weigh heavily on all of us when considering this legislation.

The IUCN makes a strong scientific case for asserting that wild horses negatively affect the integrity of the park and the values for which it was established. It makes the case that the State Government’s own Threatened Species Scientific Committee has determined that feral horses in the park were “a key threatening process affecting the integrity of the protected area” and recommended that wild horse numbers should be greatly reduced.

Damage to the ecosystem and to biodiversity values of the national park that would arise from the passage of this legislation in the view of these scientific bodies is of such grave concern that they call upon the Government not to support the legislation. I find their concerns compelling, and that has moved me to move the amendment to the second reading with the two limbs as I have outlined. I urge all members to give close consideration to delaying the passage of this legislation until both of those matters have been satisfactorily dealt with.