Monday, 15 March 2010
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Public Health and Safety) Bill 2010
Bill and explanatory memorandum presented by Mr Hartsuyker.
I present the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Public Health and Safety) Bill 2010 and the explanatory memorandum. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 for a number of reasons: firstly, to introduce public health and safety as one of the matters which the federal minister for the environment must take into account when deciding whether or not to approve an action under the act; secondly, to give the issue of public health and safety prominence amongst matters which must be taken into account by the minister; and, thirdly, to provide the minister with emergency powers to act immediately when there is a serious threat to public health and safety. Whilst these amendments could deliver a positive outcome for a number of communities across Australia, the reason I have tabled this bill relates to the farcical circumstances which exist in Maclean, which is in my electorate of Cowper.
Over the past year we have seen an explosion in the number of flying foxes in a colony which inhabits vegetation surrounding the Maclean High School, the nearby TAFE, and the surrounding residential area. There has been an invasion by thousands upon thousands of bats, and we are talking about a high school community of around 1,100 students. These flying foxes defecate over the school, its students and teachers. The smell is absolutely revolting and the colony can be extremely noisy. They pose a risk of hendra virus and lyssavirus and this is a risk that extends to the staff and students of the nearby TAFE and the surrounding residents.
The school has been forced to take drastic measures to protect the safety of the students and teachers. Bubblers and seats are covered to avoid contamination. Classroom windows are permanently closed. Air conditioning has had to be installed in some rooms because windows cannot be opened. Car parks, walkways and disabled accesses are all going to be covered because of the flying fox faeces. And let us not forget the residents living close by. Their homes have become virtually uninhabitable because of the stench and the problems that these bats cause, and a similar situation exists in the nearby TAFE.
We have a failure of government, both state and federal, to disperse the bats, which is an absolute disgrace. Last year federal and state bureaucrats established a McLean Bats Working Group, which was designed to do nothing more than conduct paper shuffling. This was Yes Minister at its worst. A push by the community to draft a licence application to disperse the bats was knocked on the head last November when the bureaucrats made it clear to the school P&C that such an application would not be supported by the government departments. There was no intention to act by this working group. It was just a process of delay and delay in the hope that the community got sick of it. When the school commenced their Christmas holidays in December we had the ludicrous situation where the bureaucrats were ensuring no licence application was drafted, and the federal environment minister was saying he could not approve a licence because no application had been lodged.
This is why I have drafted this bill. This bill will ensure that the minister can no longer hide behind the web of legislative instruments in failing to act on a public health issue. The bill will restore the balance between health and safety of humans and protecting species such as flying foxes. The emergency powers within these amendments will deliver the minister the authority required to do what is right by communities such as Maclean High, the nearby TAFE and surrounding residents.
I have been disappointed by the lack of support for this bill from some members of this parliament. I note the position of the federal member for Page, who has hundreds of constituents attending Maclean High School. I had hoped the member for Page would support this bill, but the electorate of Page unfortunately has been deserted by their federal member. To this day her position on the bat dispersal remains unclear. Originally she opposed dispersal. Then she suggested moving the school had a lot of merit. Then the member for Page denied saying she wanted to move the school and in the next breath said relocating the school may be a long-term option.
Certainly I have welcomed the great support I have received from the community. We have some 4,300 signatures on this petition calling on the parliament to support this private member’s bill, calling on support for Maclean High School in this urgent matter of the dispersal of the bats. It is vitally important as a matter of health and safety that the colony be dispersed permanently from the grounds of Maclean High School. The health of the students and staff is at stake. The health of the students and staff of the TAFE is at stake, and the welfare of nearby residents whose homes have been adversely affected by this bat colony. (Time expired)
Bill read a first time.
Ordered that the second reading be made an order of the day for the next sitting.