Search

Former Environment Minister Sussan Ley Accused of "Hiding" State of the Environment Report

Updated: 23 hours ago

Sussan Ley is the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party alongside Peter Dutton. Ms. Ley was formerly the Minister for the Environment from 2019. From 2014 to 2016 she also served as Minister for Health. In 2017, Ms. Ley stepped aside as Health Minister without pay following an investigation into her claims for taxpayer funded travel expenses and an 'impulse' purchase of a $795,000 Gold Coast apartment while traveling for ministerial business.

Sussan Ley's Record as Minister for the Environment

Ms. Ley faced criticism in her role as Minister for the Environment, most notably for her handling of development projects, koala conservation and the State of the Environment Report.


State of the Environment Report "Hidden" Before 2022 Federal Election

In April of 2022, Ms. Ley and the Coalition Government was accused of "sitting" on the State of the Environment Report despite having access to it for more than 3 months as a way to avoid “more bad news”.


The Environment Minister is required to address the report in parliament within 15 days of receiving it. With parliament only having been sat briefly during 2022 and the Federal Election expected to be called within days, the government was not legally required to release the report until the next parliament was formed.


Environmental groups and scientists and members of Parliament from Labor, the Greens and Independents all called on the government to release the report. Terri Butler, Labor’s environment spokesperson, suggested the government was hiding the findings of the report:

“It is a disgrace that the Morrison-Joyce government are sitting on this important five-yearly report. What are they hiding? Australians deserve to know how the environment has fared under the Morrison-Joyce government so they can decide whether they want a second decade of the same mismanagement.”

Similarly, Independent MP, Zali Steggall, accused the government of not releasing the report because it would be “more bad news” and “ drive home the environmental negligence of this Coalition government”.


In July the new Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek, accused Ms. Ley of choosing to keep the report "hidden – locked away until after the federal election," despite having received it before Christmas of 2021.


A Spokesperson for Sussan Ley, defended the decision to not release the report prior to the election, declaring that the report had been handled within the required time frame,


Recovery Plans for 176 Threatened Species Scrapped

In early June of 2022, as one of Ms. Ley's final acts as Environment Minister, 176 of the originally proposed 185 species by the Morrison government, including the Tasmanian Devil, had been signed off for, removing any required legislation for their protection. The changes were made "quietly" by the environment department following the Australian Federal Election being called in April. Ms. Ley made the decision despite receiving nearly 7000 responses to the proposal, all of which disagreed.


Ms. Ley had stated in documentation surrounding the decisions that she had consulted with the scientific committee and had come to the conclusion that a recovery plan would "not provide a significant conservation planning benefit” greater than the plans already in place. The Guardian reported that Ms. Ley's office directed any questions surrounding the decision to the environment department as she no longer held responsibility for that area.

As well as the Tasmanian Devil, other critically endangered species were scrapped under the change include several Christmas Island species, including the Christmas Island Flying Fox, the nightcap oak, which was heavily impacted by the 2019-2020 bushfires, and the Cumberland Plain woodland which has been gradually cleared for development in Sydney's west.


Manager of policy and strategy at the Wilderness Society, Tim Beshara, claimed the former minister’s decision was “disgraceful” and hoped the incoming minister, Tanya Plibersek, would rectify it:

“On what sort of planet does the commonwealth think they don’t need a recovery plan for a Tasmanian devil, one of the ecologically most important species in existence or the critically endangered Christmas Island flying fox, a species entirely under commonwealth control and one of Australia’s most likely next extinctions."

$5 Million Commitment to SunRice

In May of 2022, the Morrison Government committed $5 Million towards SunRice's Leeton manufacturing plant, supporting a $20 Million upgrade of the facility.


Ms. Ley stated regarding the project:

"The project will adopt state-of-the-art equipment and develop new automated processes, and is expected to create 28 additional skilled jobs for the Leeton area. Demand for convenience and microwave rice products is increasing – this project will step up Australia’s onshore manufacturing capability, enabling that demand to be met with locally grown and produced products. SunRice’s operations in the MIA (Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area) contribute close to $400 million to the local economy, through its rice processing mills, value-added production facilities and corporate offices, R&D and animal nutrient production facilities."

According to SunRice's Annual Report for 2022, the company saw record revenue of $1.3 Billion for the 2022 financial year, a 30% improvement year-on-year, with net profit growing nearly 170% YOY to nearly $50 Million.


Approval of Quarry Development on Koala Habitat

In 2020, Ms. Ley's department fast-tracked approval of the Brandy Hill Quarry Expansion Project in Port Stephens. The project would lead to 52 hectares of koala habitat being destroyed. In January of the same year, Ms. Ley established a wildlife expert group which was intended to identify which Australian species were most in need as result of the recent bushfires. The group released a priority list of mammals needing urgent attention within the next 12 months, with Koalas coming in third-highest on this list. The development plan included a requirement for koala trees to be planted which would take a minimum of 7 years to be useful as either food or shelter for koalas.

Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

In February 2021, the final report of the independent review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was released. The report noted failures in addressing several important issues and provided 38 recommendations. One of these recommendations included the appointment of an independent regulator.


Ms. Ley was interviewed by the ABC shortly after the release of the report. During the interview, Ms. Ley claimed that she "started this modernisation process [of the EPBC Act] which hasn’t been touched for 20 years.” This is in contradiction to section 522A of the act which requires an independent review every 10 years, with the last review being undertaken in 2008.


Ms. Ley was also questioned on the report's recommendation to appoint an independent regulator. Ms. Ley had rejected the idea back in July 2020, following the release of the interim report, describing the role as an "independent cop." Ms. Ley stated that thee government would take steps to strengthen the compliance functionality and ensure that all agreements with states and territories would bee subject to "rigorous assurance monitoring" but would not look to establish a regulator:

"It will not, however, support additional layers of bureaucracy such as the establishment of an independent regulator."

In 2021, during her ABC interview however, Ms. Ley claimed:

“I’ve always said an independent regulator is vital and we’re having discussions about form rather than function. Assurance is important."

Expenses Claimed for 27 Taxpayer Funded Trips

In January 2017, it was revealed that Ms. Ley had taken 27 taxpayer-funded flights in and out of the Gold Coast since 2013, significantly more than her non-Queensland ministerial colleagues. For example, Nationals' Leader, Barnaby Joyce, and Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, had only spent three and five nights on the Gold Coast respectively over the same periods. Ms. Ley's travel claims also included two trips over two consecutive years during the new year period.


In total, Ms. Ley has used her taxpayer entitlements to spent 37 nights on the Gold Coast, consisting of 15 nights in 2013, 11 nights in 2014, 10 in 2015 and one in 2016.


Purchase of Gold Coast Property

On one of her taxpayer funded trips in May of 2015 for ministerial business, Ms. Ley was also accompanied by her partner whose travel was also covered by the taxpayer funded travel allowance. During this trip, Ms. Ley purchased a Gold Coast apartment for $795,000 from a Liberal Party donor.


Martin Corkery, the previous owner of the apartment, had donated $50,000 to the Queensland Liberal National Party in 2011, but stated that he had only met Ms. Ley once while the Liberal National Party was in opposition. He also stated that he was overseas at the time of the auction, had no knowledge that Ms. Ley was amongst the possible buyers, and only discovered that Ms. Ley was the purchaser after he received the contract. The Gold Coast property is listed as an investment in Ms. Ley's Register of Interests as is this mortgage for the property.

A spokesperson representing Ms. Ley stated that she had travelled to Brisbane for the purposes of announcing health funding before then meeting with "local health stakeholders" who were 80km away on the Gold Coast. The spokespersons statement continued to say that all expenses claimed during the trip were within the rules for ministerial travel:

"Minister Ley's partner was invited to accompany her to a function in Sydney on the Friday evening. He then travelled with the Minister to Queensland under family travel arrangements. The EMB [Entitlements Management Branch] was consulted at the time to confirm Ms Ley's partner's travel was within the rules. All travel undertaken was in accordance with the rules."

The total cost of Ms. Ley and her partner's travel was $3125, entirely paid for by the taxpayer. During this period, from January 1st 2015 to June 30th 2015, Ms. Ley had the fourth highest expenditure of any MP, claiming almost $650,000 in total, which included more than $100,000 of charter flights and nearly $12,000 on expenses for family travel. In the following 6 month period, from July 1st 2015 to December 31st 2015, Ms. Ley had the highest recorded total for travel allowance claims at nearly $43,000 and the fifth highest recorded total claims for family travel at nearly $15,000. For this period of 2015, Ms. Ley's overall claims totalled nearly $500,000.

Bulk Billing Incentives for Pathologists

In 2016 Ms. Ley faced criticism for a policy which saw bulk billing incentives for pathologists scrapped. The changes to the bulk billing legislation began a day before the 2016 federal election. While the policy was suggested to save $650,000,000 over 4 years, Pathology Australia chief executive, Liesel Wett, argued that the changes could lead to patients refraining from having medical tests. Mr. Wett organised a petition to refute the changes which gathered 466,000 signatures as of April 2016.

Sources & Further Reading

https://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Parliamentarian?MPID=00AMN


https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/06/coalition-accused-of-sitting-on-environment-report-to-avoid-delivering-more-bad-news


https://minister.dcceew.gov.au/plibersek/speeches/national-press-club-address-minister-environment-and-water-tanya-plibersek


https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/19/labor-says-it-wont-put-head-in-the-sand-as-it-releases-shocking-environment-report


https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-20/bulk-billing-incentives-to-be-scrapped-sussan-ley-says/7340198


https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/sussan-leys-approval-of-quarry-development-set-to-destroy-koala-habitat,14483


https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/sussan-leys-largesse-koalas-failed-to-make-the-grade,13910


https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/apr/16/environment-groups-ask-government-to-delay-review-of-australias-conservation-laws


https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/federal-legislation-fails-to-protect-wildlife-and-the-environment,14756


https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-20/epbc-act-environmental-review-report-recommends-independent-cop/12392594


https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/your-resignation-is-demanded-forthwith-an-open-letter-to-sussan-ley,9910


https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/sussan-ley-workshop-reveals-ignorance-towards-bushfire-koala-crisis,13353


https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/sussan-ley-and-the-government-are-still-the-biggest-threat-to-koalas,13511


https://independentaustralia.net/life/life-display/sussan-leys-latest-koala-plan-is-a-national-disaster,14556


https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/sussan-leys-environmental-law-circus,13279


https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-06/sussan-ley-bought-unit-from-lnp-donor-on-taxpayer-funded-trip/8166202


https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-06/leys-purchase-of-unit-on-taxpayer-funded-trip-not-planned/8165414


https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-08/sussan-ley-to-pay-back-cost-of-taxpayer-funded-gold-coast-trips/8168718


https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/health-minister-sussan-ley-faces-fresh-calls-for-resignation-after-frequent-trips-to-gold-coast-20170109-gtnyb1.html


https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/health-minister-sussan-ley-stands-aside-pending-investigation-over-taxpayerfunded-gold-coast-trips-20170109-gtnz6z.html


https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/health-minister-sussan-ley-apologises-for-gold-coast-trip-agrees-to-repay-expenses-20170108-gtnrnn.html


https://www.thesenior.com.au/story/5414598/sussan-ley-stands-aside-over-taxpayer-funded-gold-coast-trips/


https://www.9news.com.au/national/federal-minister-says-buying-gold-coast-flat-on-taxpayerfunded-trip-was-unplanned/c4b9b3b6-f642-4e86-9d22-02ed27d61d9f


https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/video/2017/jan/09/sussan-ley-steps-aside-investigation-taxpayer-funded-travel-video


https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/solar-industry-frustrated-by-sussan-leys-panel-recycling-scheme-ultimatum,15232


https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/sussan-ley-to-appeal-duty-of-care-order,15287


https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/court-green-lights-sussan-leys-climate-duty-of-care-appeal-,16217


https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/sussan-ley-keeps-environment-a-national-emergency,15338


https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/02/coalition-scrapped-recovery-plans-for-176-threatened-species-and-habitats-in-one-of-its-final-acts


https://sussanley.com/5-million-commitment-for-sunrice-at-leeton/


https://www.sunrice.com.au/book/Annual_Report_2022.pdf


https://www.theland.com.au/story/7793278/rice-crop-rebound-sets-sunrice-profit-soaring-166pc/?cs=4951

1,728 views0 comments