The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN [6.09 p.m.]: The Greens speak strongly against the Coastal Protection Amendment Bill 2012. We consider this bill to be based on politics, not science. The bill is not based on long-term thinking and it is not in the public interest. The Greens fully appreciate that coastal erosion is a major issue for many people living along the New South Wales coastline and we understand the enormous stresses involved for property owners who are faced with an encroaching sea. The Greens also understand that our coastline is one of the State’s most important economic assets and that its management is critically important to this State. We do not believe that the Government understands how best to deal with coastal management in a sensible, strategic and scientifically informed manner, nor does the Government have a clue as to how to proceed.
The bill will make a stressful situation much worse. We understand the Government’s regime—namely, coastal management—will not be informed by the latest respected science. Under this bill that management will become more ad hoc and even more fraught with conflict. The bill will pit neighbour against neighbour, property owners against councils, and property owners against the general public. Ultimately, the stress for all involved will only increase as a result of this bill. Instead of planning for coastal erosion in a strategic manner, this bill goes further down the ad hoc and reactionary route. It embraces a haphazard approach to managing very real and increasing coastal hazards. This is the last thing that the State’s coastline and our coastal communities need when faced with accelerated sea level rises.
In 2010 the former Government introduced a bill to amend the Coastal Protection Act that started taking the legislation in the same direction as today’s bill. The Greens had strong misgivings and concerns at that time about that direction. We were concerned that the 2010 amendments were shifting the Coastal Protection Act away from its original intent and stated objective to “provide for the protection of the coastal environment of the State for the benefit of both present and future generations”. It is important to protect private interests but so too is the public good—for the benefit of the environment and all of us collectively. The Greens considered the 2010 amendments were starting to skew the balance away from protecting the public good and further towards protecting individual private interests. In the end, The Greens did not oppose the 2010 bill. That decision was reached after a very difficult and protracted negotiation process, which saw some improvements inserted into the legislation. However, we did express serious reservations. Indeed, during my contribution today I will by quoting from the speech that Ian Cohen, my retired colleague, gave at that time.
This bill completely oversteps the mark and removes much of what The Greens negotiated in 2010. It has lost the important balance between private interests and public good. The bill has all but abandoned public good for now and for future generations. It represents an aggregation of the Government’s responsibilities and a dereliction of its duties to manage our coastal environment in a sensible, strategic and sustainable manner for future generations to enjoy as much as we do today. Our coastline is one of the State’s most important economic and environmental assets. Many people in local government are concerned that the bill seriously increases the risk of their future financial and legal liabilities.
The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: Which councils?
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: I will be quoting from a council groups letter. Councils are concerned about the consequences of the bill for the extensive planning process they have been undertaking using the existing sea level rise benchmarks and all the money the taxpayers have invested in that process. What will happen to that work now that the benchmarks are no longer supported by the State Government? The bill is irredeemable and it should be voted down—given the numbers in this place it will not be. In 2010 Ian Cohen said:
From the comments I have heard in the House tonight, I shudder to think what will happen if we have a change of government.
We have had a change of Government. Many in local government and across this State are shuddering because of this legislation and because of many other things that have happened since the O’Farrell Government was elected. Angus Gordon, an internationally respected coastal zone manager and Surfrider Foundation advisor, has described this legislation as the worse piece of coastal management legislation he has ever seen in a developed democracy. The Surfrider Foundation does a lot of good work for our coastal communities and coastal environments.
The Greens have considered this bill in two parts: changes to emergency coastal protection works and the changes to sea level planning benchmarks. Under the legislation “emergency” coastal protection works will become “temporary” coastal protection works. Items  and  of schedule 1 to the bill provides that a person does not require regulatory approval under the principal Act or any other law for works on private land. The amendment makes it clear that such works on private land are no longer required to be authorised by a pre-existing certificate. Seawalls and sandbags are designed to deflect wave energy and they can increase the scouring effect on land adjacent to them.
This will remove councils’ ability to regulate the placement of coastal protection works that may impact on neighbours or council property. Councils face financial liabilities as a result of these private works. Who pays to recover those costs when those works increase erosion to adjacent public land, for instance? If someone wants to build a retaining wall on their property over a certain height they usually have to get a development application. But under this bill if you are a property owner and you want to pile a wall of sandbags on the boundary of your property, despite the serious consequences that could have for adjacent properties, you will no longer need a certificate from council.
Schedule 1  to the bill removes the restriction that temporary works may be placed only when beach erosion is occurring, is eminent or reasonably foreseeable. The new threshold requirement for temporary protection work is not clear. It means any person can place sandbags on their property or apply to have them placed on public property whether the threat to one’s property is real or not. Schedule 1  to the bill also removes the restriction that the placement of works can be placed only to reduce impact or likely impact on a building being lawfully used for residential, commercial or community purposes.
Schedule 1  states that a council cannot unreasonably refuse access to public land for the placement of temporary works on that public land or to gain access to place works on private land. What does “unreasonably refuse” mean? That terminology is very restrictive for councils. It curtails councils’ ability to manage the impacts of installing sandbags on public property and on what may be sensitive environments. Items  and  of schedule 1 to the bill propose insufficient safeguards in the placement of temporary works on public land. For example, section 55T (3A) states:
It is a condition of a certificate under this Division that the holder of the certificate must take all reasonable measures:
(a) to avoid damage to assets and vegetation on the public land, and
(b) to minimise risks to the public on the public land, and
(c) to minimise disruption of the public use of the beach concerned.
That clause contains the terms “avoid” and “minimise”, but what do those terms mean? With what expertise are they determined? How can a private property owner be expected to have the expertise to determine the environmental impacts they will cause to dune stability, beach nourishment, native vegetation and biodiversity? Schedule 1  to the bill amends section 55Z. It provides that a private landholder can obtain permission from a neighbouring property owner to place sandbags on that neighbour’s property. Who in that situation will be liable for the increased erosion the sandbags might cause to other neighbouring or public property? Has the Government given thought to this very likely scenario? They are but some of the problems the bill has in dealing with temporary protection works or sandbags. Further, in the Minister’s second reading speech he said that the code of practice for coastal protection measures will be reviewed once the legislation is in place. That will mean current restrictions on the weight of sand bags and the height of walls could change, yet we are not privy to those important details in this debate—we should be.
Coastal erosion is normal and predictable. Due to differences in geomorphology and topography some areas of the coast recede and some resist. This is a normal process—it happens irrespective of climate change—and areas considered hotspots for coastal erosion have been so for a very long time. Accepting these basic realities of coastal erosion, the Greiner Government introduced the notion of “planned retreat” not “radical retreat”. I urge members who have not already read Ian Cohen’s speech—although it is too late now—on the 2010 bill to do so. He outlined the history of governments in this State from both sides of the political fence who have tried to grapple with this issue. Planned retreat is a policy to make the most of the coastline while dealing with its dynamic and predicted change. It is sensible policy when the alternative, which the Government often promotes, is business as usual with our heads, almost literally in this situation, in the sand. Most of us have realised that human-induced climate change is driving accelerated sea level rise.
The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: I don’t accept that.
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: I acknowledge that the Hon. Dr Peter Phelps does not accept that climate change is contributing to sea level rise. On 17 August 2012 the CSIRO released a marine climate change report card for Australia, and it had the following summary in relation to sea level rise:
The rate of rise increased from the 19th to the 20th century and during the 20th century … Sea levels are rising around Australia and the frequency of extreme high sea-level events that occur on annual to decadal timescales has increased by a factor of about three during the 20th century … Sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century and beyond in response to increasing concentration of greenhouse gases. Including an allowance for the ice sheets, the IPCC projections are for a rise of 18 cm to 79 cm by 2095 compared to 1990.
However, our current understanding of the response of ice sheets to global warming is inadequate and a larger rise is possible.
Sea levels are currently rising at near the upper end of current projections.
Ian Cohen, in his excellent contribution in 2010, said:
In explaining sea level rise to the inquiry on Managing our Coastal Zone in a Changing Climate, Dr Hunter of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre stated:
… if you get one metre of sea level rise—which is pretty well the upper limit of what we expect this century—that will give us a shoreline recession of between 50 and 100 metres. In other words, the shoreline on average will move back 50 to 100 metres. So if we take a middle of the range projection of half a metre for this century then we are talking about a recession of the shoreline, on average, of between 20 and 50 metres back.
So a one metre rise equates to between 50 and 100 metres of shoreline recession. Ian Cohen continued:
Climate change impacts on our coastal zone are not limited to shoreline recession. Concurrent with rising sea levels is the intensification in storm-surge events and wave energy. The Climate Change Risks to Australia’s Coast National Assessment report states:
With a mid range sea-level rise of 0.5 metres in the 21st century, events that now happen every 10 years would happen about every 10 days in 2100. The current 1-in-100 year event could occur several times a year.
I note with absolute disgust that many Government members in the other place spoke with outrageous climate change denialism at a time when every respected climate scientist—
The Hon. Marie Ficarra: We’re not denying it—
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: I acknowledge the interjection by the Hon. Marie Ficarra. The Government is denying that climate change and sea level rise are taking place. Members opposite are denying it. During the budget estimates last week I asked two Ministers whether they believed that greenhouse gases were contributing to climate change. I asked the Minister for the Environment, who avoided, obfuscated and did everything not to answer the question. She did not want to put on the record that she believed in anthropogenic global warming. What a proud day it was for New South Wales last week, and what a proud day it is today. On Friday in the budget estimates I asked the Minister for Roads and Ports whether it was his understanding that greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks and other vehicles contributed to climate change. His response was, “That is your understanding.” I said, “No, Minister, I am asking you the question. Is it your understanding?” He said, “I believe that is some people’s understanding.”
The Hon. Scot MacDonald: Point of order: The Hon. Cate Faehrmann seems to be drifting into some sort of nostalgia about budget estimates. She should return to the leave of the bill.
The Hon. Amanda Fazio: To the point of order: It is almost impossible to discuss this coastal bill without canvassing issues relating to global warming and sea level rise. The Hon. Cate Faehrmann is completely in order.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner): Order! I remind the Hon. Cate Faehrmann that the bill relates to coastal protection.
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: To the point of order—
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner): Order! I have ruled on the matter.
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: I am expressing concern that Government members misunderstand climate change in terms of their views. The bill removes a key piece of legislation to tackle the impacts of climate change, so it is appropriate that I talk about comments made in budget estimates last week. I am concerned that, unfortunately, the Government is being run by people who do not believe in climate change. That is one issue. It is absolutely outrageous and it fills me with disgust when I hear Government members say that the science is uncertain. I think the Hon. Marie Ficarra used the word “uncertain”. The science is not uncertain. Professor Mary O’Kane did not say that the science was uncertain.
The Hon. Marie Ficarra: It is constantly changing. The sea levels are constantly changing.
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: The Hon. Marie Ficarra used the word “uncertain”. The word “uncertain” is used by climate change denialists. Climate change denialists should use the word “uncertain” carefully when talking about climate change. Professor Mary O’Kane said that the science was adequate. I believe that Professor O’Kane’s report has been used in a way that she did not wish it to be used. She said:
The way the science has been used to determine benchmarks is adequate.
How much clearer do members opposite want it? The way the science has been used to determine benchmarks is adequate, given the current level of knowledge. Nowhere in the report does Professor O’Kane say that the science is not adequate and that the benchmarks should be withdrawn. The Hon. Robyn Parker in her second reading speech said:
It is not a denial that sea level rises exist—it does exist and has existed for thousands of years—sea levels have changed and continue to change. It is the fact that the science, in terms of the impact in different areas, is being debated …
That seems to imply that the Minister for the Environment is a climate change denialist if she is saying that climate change science is being debated. The final issue I raise is that of consultation. I wrote to the Minister expressing concern that there has not been enough consultation. She told me that there was extensive consultation in October and November 2011. However, we heard from the Sydney Coastal Councils Group today that there was no consultation on the bill; it was simply a general PowerPoint presentation. A meeting was held recently, and a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis was carried out, but there was no consultation on the bill. All the rhetoric about consultation is false. There has not been any consultation on this bill. The legislation is outrageous. The Government is abrogating its responsibilities. The Greens do not support the bill.