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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Great Barrier Reef) Bill 2013
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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
CHAIR (Senator Cameron)
Singh, Sen Lisa
Moore, Sen Claire
Waters, Sen Larissa
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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
(Senate-Thursday, 23 May 2013)
CHAIR (Senator Cameron)
- Ms Garland
Content WindowEnvironment and Communications Legislation Committee - 23/05/2013 - Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Great Barrier Reef) Bill 2013
ANDERSON, Mr David, Chief Executive Officer, Ports Australia
GARLAND, Ms Nicola, Advisor Environment Policy, Queensland Resources Council
ROCHE, Mr Michael, Chief Executive, Queensland Resources Council
Committee met at 09:15
CHAIR ( Senator Cameron ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications' inquiry into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Great Barrier Reef) Bill 2013. The committee may agree to a request to have evidence heard in camera or may determine that certain evidence should be heard in camera. I remind all witnesses giving evidence to the committee that they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to the committee. If a witness objects to answering a question the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is to be taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer having regard to the ground which was claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may also be made at any other time.
We have a request from Dr Andrew Jeremijenko from Save the Reef to appear today. I propose that we give him a 10-minute slot between 12:50 and one o'clock and that we break from one o'clock to 01:30.
Senator SINGH: It is so moved.
CHAIR: It has been moved. I declare it carried. On that basis, I welcome representatives of the Queensland Resources Council and Ports Australia. The committee has received your submissions as submission 34 and 24 respectively. Do either of you wish to make any amendments or alterations to your submissions?
Mr Roche : No.
CHAIR: Do you wish to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions? Can you clarify before we start, on page 3 of your submission I think there might be a few words missing. In the third paragraph from the bottom it says, 'The resource sector has a very strong social licence to operate,' and then it says, 'interest in preserving biodiversity.'
Mr Roche : It should read, 'has a very strong social licence to operate interest.' It is perhaps some sort of jargon. Basically we have a vested interest through our social licence to operate.
CHAIR: Thank you for that. I was confused when I read it.
Mr Roche : The Great Barrier Reef is unquestionably one of the most important features of Queensland and Australia's biodiversity. It is one of the better-known coral reef ecosystems in the world. Crucially, the reef continues to be one of the world's best managed natural wonders, covered by stringent environment and development regulation.
I represent the Queensland minerals and energy sector and that export sector has a proud record of working alongside this natural wonder. Our industry's direct contact with the reef is through the use of ports and bulk cargo ships that travel through the reef World Heritage area. The presence of major industrial ports within a World Heritage property is neither unique nor mutually exclusive. In establishing the World Heritage area boundaries in 1981, the presence of a number of commercial trading ports inside the boundary was clear recognition that port infrastructure and operations were not considered unworkable or unmanageable in a World Heritage area.
All port activities, developments and associated shipping are highly managed and conducted in accordance with Queensland and marine park zonings. Vast areas of outer reef and the key breeding grounds and habitats for species such as turtles, dugongs and whales are untouched and unaffected by these activities. Where impacts may occur, a rigorous environmental assessment regime and management arrangements are applied to avoid and minimise impacts. So, despite more than 30 years of steady growth in population and trade, coupled with prudent environmental management of an area extending along 80 per cent of the Queensland coastline, the resource sector is being singled out in an emotive campaign opposing trade development. Furthermore, the persistent use of highly exaggerated forecasts of new coal port capacity and shipping numbers does nothing to ensure protection of the reef.
This bill appears to be based on a false premise that port developments, primarily driven by resource sector growth, have been or will be the cause of decline in the health of the reef. This view is contrary to extensive scientific studies and government pronouncements that make clear that the key issues affecting the reef are crown-of-thorns starfish, water quality and nutrient inflows from coastal rivers and storm damage. A number of key misrepresentations have been pervading national discussion on the Great Barrier Reef and they appear to be the basis for this bill’s development.
The Queensland-Australian environmental regulatory framework does not pick winners. This means that any type of development application may be put to government to be assessed on its merits as to whether it meets the threshold principles of ecologically sustainable development. As the Australian government itself notes in its 2013 State party report to the World Heritage Committee:
Australia’s environmental law … grants legal rights to applicants to have their proposals assessed under this law. The Australian Government must continue to respect these rights.
What seems to be lost in the discussion on the reef is that not every single development application will be approved and nor will all proceed to construction. For example, in September 2008 the then federal environment minister rejected a proposed rail line and coal terminal at Shoalwater Bay. In May 2012, the new Queensland government decided that the previous government’s multicargo facility and an additional six terminals at Abbot Point would not proceed. Just last week Glencore Australia relinquished development rights over Balaclava Island export terminal.
There is no dispute that, as exports of commodities and imports of vital goods to and from Queensland grow, so must the number of ship movements through the World Heritage area. However, claims of anywhere between 7,000 and 11,000 coal ships moving along the reef every year within the next 10 years are without foundation. The most up-to-date and comprehensive forecasting of ship calls to ports adjacent to the reef area was undertaken by the Queensland Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning in late 2012. Using historical evidence and careful forecasting sourced from industry and government agencies such as the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, at the upper end of forecasts, the number of ship calls could increase from the current estimated 4,600 vessels—
CHAIR: Mr Roche, much of this is in your submission.
Mr Roche : Sorry, Senator, it is actually not.
CHAIR: I would ask you to be a bit quicker because we have not got a lot of time for questions. We have read your submission. Mr Anderson has an opening statement as well. I am not sure how much more time you need for your opening statement.
Mr Roche : Not very much at all, Senator. And this is very important, because I have just said that you have submissions talking about 7,000 to 11,000 coal ships. What I am saying is that at the upper end of the forecasts the total number of vessels calling into Great Barrier Reef ports is put at 6,100 by 2022, half of which will be coal and LNG ships. I will leave my opening remarks there and will happily address some key features of the bill which we find disturbing.
CHAIR: Thanks, Mr Roche. I am sure you will manage to be able to bring any other issues that you have in response to questions. Over to Mr Anderson.
Mr Anderson : Thank you very much, Mr Chairman. Ports Australia is the peak industry body representing all port authorities and corporations in Australia. Our primary goal is to secure the effective and sustainable development of ports to support the national and regional economies, to promote balanced public policy as it applies to ports and to facilitate the dissemination of good practice amongst its members across a range of port business and functions.
Ports Australia has some significant reservations with the bill. It is useful to think of ports as the largest freight hubs in the country and as such they are a very critical element in our supply chains. Those supply chains in turn drive the national economic activity which forms the tax base to support government programs such as public health and education. The bill, if accepted by the Australian parliament, offers the prospect to severely undermine investment confidence in the minerals, resource and agricultural exports sectors not only in Queensland but nationwide. The bill undermines orderly planning. There is no acknowledgement of the national ports strategy or any policy alignment with the GBR ports strategy, the Queensland government's ports strategy or the national land freight strategy. All these programs need to address long-term coordinated planning around future port capacity, supply chain and transport corridors including shipping channels. There is a considerable body of work currently underway by both the federal and Queensland governments—for example, the strategic assessment and associated research and there is also a project under way commissioned by Minister Burke to ascertain international best practice environmental standards for ports. The bill pre-empts that work. Further, the World Heritage Committee, as much as we like to take their advice, does not set Australian government policy.
The bill appears to be based on the assumption that the development and operation of ports is the predominant cause of adverse impacts on the GBR and World Heritage area. Ports Australia has challenged this assumption in the past and does so again at this inquiry. In its GBR outlook report 2009, the marine park authority identified that the major pressures on the reef included illegal fishing; sediment, nutrient and pesticide run-off; crown of thorns starfish; storms and impacts from climate change. Dredging and spoil placement has been assessed by the marine park authority as being a 'minor risk'. Consequential impacts from agriculture have a far greater detrimental impact on the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage area than ports activity.
It is arguable that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage area is already one of the most highly regulated marine environments in the world. On the Commonwealth front, there is the EPBC Act and a number of other legislative instruments. The suite of relevant Queensland legislation is also extensive. Ports are also subject to numerous legally binding documents such as permits, approvals and applications under these various acts. Regrettably, the bill does not acknowledge the existing regulatory framework in place throughout the region which is robust.
Ports are continually striving to be good environmental citizens. We have not jumped on a bandwagon in calling for less green tape. We like a balanced approach to these issues. Our ports recognise that they are central to some of the largest infrastructure developments along the Queensland coast, most of which are within the World Heritage area and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. We recognise that major projects can cause community concerns and one of the best ways of addressing those concerns is by fulfilling obligations with environmental assessments and by ports showing that they are willing participants in a clear and transparent assessment process.
The ongoing sustainable development of all ports in the World Heritage area and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is essential. Our Queensland ports have shown themselves in this regard to be highly responsible environmental citizens and have a long history of association with the reef and of successfully coexisting with it. All of the ports in Queensland have been in operation for many years. Each of the ports is a complex and highly integrated operation facilitating a wide range of exports and imports linking the supply chains of national economic significance. Each port has invested substantially in infrastructure providing jobs for their regional community with whom they have a close and enduring relationship. The ports have developed close liaison with exporters in the region and have undertaken the necessary forward planning over many years enabling them to incrementally and responsibly expand their capacity.
Any additional regulatory impost must facilitate the development of the Queensland economy through appropriately managed incremental growth in port capacity. Already this outcome is at risk from uninformed rhetoric about the impact of port developments in the broader GBR which, among other things, does not have a good scientific basis or has been subject to extensive objective analysis. Discussions around the environmental impacts of dredging and shipping in Queensland ports have been exaggerated, whereas scientific research has indicated that the impacts are low or minimal. We reiterate that port developments and shipping activities are not recognised as the primary impacts upon the reef. All the ports located in the GBR will continue to apply a highly precautionary approach with new development proposals, given their long association with the reef and their profound stake in its health and wellbeing.
CHAIR: If I can go to the Queensland Resources Council submission, on page 3 and page 4, Mr Roche, you say a number of things. You say that the impact behind this bill is 'solely driven by a political, antiresources agenda', you say it is about 'populist or emotive reactions' and you talk about an 'emotive ideology'. What do you say to the Law Council and Professor Terry Hughes? Are they using emotive ideology and populist and emotive reactions, and do they have a political, antiresource agenda? I do not understand this part of your submission. There are people who are genuinely concerned for the reef. Why would you blanket everyone with this sort of approach?
Mr Roche : If we felt that the representations made by NGOs and others—and others might rely on NGO forecasts—were in fact accurate then we would be able to start the discussion on the same page. But as I outlined in my opening statement, albeit foreshortened, there are wildly exaggerated estimates out into the community about the extent of port development and coal export plans. We have first of all to get the discussion back to some reality. That is what we have tried to inject this morning in our opening statement and in our submission. I take you to the document that was—
CHAIR: I am not you asking about details of your document, I am asking you about these groups.
Mr Roche : I am answering your question. I take you to the document called Stopping the Australian coal export boom: funding proposal for the Australian anti-coal movement. This document does set out a clear strategy for creating fear and loathing in the community about resource sector impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. The proposition that we are putting to the committee is that the debate has therefore been skewed away from what is scientifically based evidence around the real impacts on the reef.
CHAIR: Are you saying that because one group uses language that you do not like and facts that you challenge everyone who supports this bill should be tarred with the same brush? That is the question I am asking you. Is the Law Council saying these things?
Mr Roche : I am not here to speak of the Law Council.
CHAIR: You have made statements about people who are supporting the bill. The Law Council is supporting the bill. You have gone to some other group that I have never heard of. I have certainly heard of the Law Council; it has a point of view. I would rather hear your views on the Law Council's submissions than on some far Left or far Right group.
Mr Roche : The group that I referred to is not a group. It comprises a whole range of parties, many of which have made submissions or will be before this committee.
CHAIR: Yes, but you keep wanting to talk about them. I am asking you about the Law Council; I am asking you about Professor Terry Hughes.
Mr Roche : I am not going to be able to help you with the Law Council submission.
CHAIR: You cannot help me with Professor Terry Hughes's submission either? I am just asking you whether you brand them the same as you have indicated in your submission. That is all I am asking.
Mr Roche : I think there are many well-meaning people in Australia who have been influenced by a range of exaggerated projections and forecasts around the impacts of resource import development on the health of the Great Barrier Reef and have not been given the facts around the impacts of things like the crown-of-thorns starfish, nutrient inflows, storm damage and the like.
CHAIR: Let us go to that. You speak on page 6 of your submission about the best science available, and then you go to that point you have just made about the effects on the reef—sediment, nutrients and toxic chemicals. You have footnoted that to the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report. Why did not you include all of the issues from the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report?
Mr Roche : That part of the submission, which also references the Australian Institute of Marine Science study that came out last year, does—
CHAIR: I had a look at it. I am simply asking why you did not put in all of the impacts.
Mr Roche : The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in making an assessment of the impacts on the reef spoke about the same issues we spoke about. They have expressed a concern about the future. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and others, have perhaps been relying on unrealistic and exaggerated estimates of port development and shipping development in the Great Barrier Reef. So we are on the same page as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in terms of impacts to date, but where we depart from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is on the extent of future port development and shipping activity through the reef.
CHAIR: That is fine. That is one aspect, but it is not the aspect I am looking at. Your actual quote says 'the best science available estimates that around 90 per cent of the loads of sediments, nutrients and toxic chemicals', but you have missed climate change. That was the lead position. Did you prepare this, Mr Roche? Was it Ms Garland?
Mr Roche : Certainly in other documents we acknowledge that a number of scientific studies also mention the impact of climate change.
CHAIR: You talk about cumulative effect. For instance, in that document that is quoted Jean-Michel Cousteau is reported as saying that there is an 'enormous danger' from climate change, and yet you completely ignore it in your submission. I just do not understand it. I just do not understand this for one minute. If you are saying there are all these problems that should be dealt with, why have you missed the lead point from the document that you quote? The lead point is climate change. There is talk about bleaching and acidification. You ignore it. Why?
Ms Garland : That was not intentional. The direct quote was with regard to where the nutrient and sediment loads were coming from. We recognise, and have in the past in our media releases, that climate change has had a significant impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
CHAIR: Yes, but you also have crown-of-thorns starfish. It is not just nutrient load in your submission. You go into all the other issues, but you ignore climate change. I am just wondering why. It was inadvertent, was it?
Ms Garland : It was not intentional.
CHAIR: Inadvertent and unintentional. Do you accept that climate change is having a huge impact on the Great Barrier Reef?
Ms Garland : Yes. As the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority notes, climate change is one of the impacts, not the only impact.
CHAIR: That is good. At least you are not climate change deniers, as we have from some people in parliament. On page 4 of your submission you talk about the primacy of market forces in one of your dot points on the overarching principles. Are you saying that one of the overarching principles is the primacy of market forces when we are dealing with the protection of the reef?
Mr Roche : As outlined in our submission and the opening statement, we are saying that the way that the regulatory system operates in Australia, through state environmental legislation and the EPBC Act and the principles of ecologically sustainable development, is that project proponents get the opportunity to bring forward their development proposals and that they will be judged on a couple of grounds: (1) they will be judged on their environmental sustainability; (2) market forces will determine whether or not all projects will proceed. I mentioned some examples in our submission of projects where the market has ensured that a particular project will not proceed. In other instances it has been through environmental regulatory decisions by ministers.
CHAIR: I am a bit more relaxed. You are not simply saying that an overarching principle is the primacy of market forces when you are dealing with a World Heritage area?
Mr Roche : No. What we are saying is that, in the context of global demand for resource commodities, Australian resource developers should be given the opportunity to be suppliers into that demand. The constraints that will operate will be our competitiveness to be a cost-competitive supplier and also our ability to, for example, have supply chains and ports which are consistent with environmental sustainability.
CHAIR: On page 5 of your submission, you talk about rejecting the underlying premise of the bill, which is based on the automatic assumption that there will be impacts on the GBR. But there are impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. I have a document here which has been put out by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that lists 23 impacts on the reef from ports and shipping. They have scientifically verified these impacts by footnoting the impacts on the document. It is called a ports and shipping information sheet. It has footnoted scientists at the OECD, UNESCO. It is very—
Mr Roche : Are they footnoting studies of the Great Barrier Reef?
CHAIR: Yes, and the impacts. You are saying that you should have automatic assumptions. I am saying that this would lead me to believe that it is not about automatic assumptions. There are scientifically examined and verifiable impacts for ports and shipping. This little information sheet has about 23 impacts and they are all footnoted by scientific analysis. What do you say to that?
Mr Roche : A couple of things. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority does not, nevertheless, claim that port development and shipping activities have been a significant factor in the currently documented damage to the reef. We are not saying that any industrial intervention in a port or a harbour has an impact. It is how you manage those impacts, and that is why those impacts are subject to regulation and conditioning.
Senator MOORE: Have you seen that document, Mr Roche?
Mr Roche : We have seen many documents.
Senator MOORE: Or Mr Anderson. If we are talking about a document, it would be useful if you have seen it.
CHAIR: It would be good to have copies of it. You can find it pretty easily. I am sure you have looked at it. Mr Anderson from Ports Australia, you say you have not jumped on the bandwagon in relation to green tape, and I appreciate that. That is good. It has been indicated this morning in your submission that the regulatory framework is robust. There has been lots of concern that, if there is a referral of federal powers to the state, the robustness of the environmental protections might be diminished. Do you have a view on that?
Mr Anderson : I do have a view. At the moment there is a lot of work going on at both the federal and Queensland levels and in cooperation between the federal government and the state government, the strategic assessment in particular, which I believe will test the rigour of that regime. The regime is also backed by other regulatory instruments such as those performed by AMSA in vessel tracking and so on. Getting back to your question, yes, I believe that it is rigorous. In any regulatory framework which is complex and so on you can point sometimes to small failures, but overall there are so many checks and balances in that framework—my colleague to the right has pointed out where some projects have been declined on the basis of assessment in the framework. No regulatory framework is ever perfect— and you would be a brave person to suggest that it was—but by world standards our environmental assessment procedures are rigorous.
CHAIR: You can work within that rigour without a referral of powers?
Mr Anderson : There has been a lot of debate within COAG on that particular matter. I think we have to be careful about a referral of powers—I agree. In that dialogue between the Commonwealth and the states there have been questions of whether some states, for example, could adequately resource the functions that might be deferred to them. But in general we have a very strong preference for working under one, streamlined regime.
Senator WATERS: You have mentioned 'uninformed rhetoric' and 'a range of exaggerated forecasts'. The Law Council has said that this bill accurately reflects the World Heritage Committee's concerns and its recommendations. Do you contend that the World Heritage Committee is espousing uninformed rhetoric or relying on exaggerated forecasts?
Mr Roche : We did have the opportunity to meet with the reactive monitoring mission when they visited Australia. They clearly came to Australia with views about unprecedented—I think that was the term they used—development. They spoke to us about their concerns that the coal export industry, which in the last financial year exported 160 million tonnes of coal, was very quickly, perhaps by the end of the decade, going to be exporting one billion tonnes of coal. It turns out that they were relying on information that was actually presented to them by the Australian government in 2012 in the state party report. In 2013 the state party report actually presents far more realistic scenarios based on the work of the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics. I think it is still a work in progress in educating the World Heritage Committee—who may be experts in many things but not necessarily in matters to do with the economics of resource and port development—around the likelihood of projects proceeding through simple economics as well as in trying to reassure them of the rigour of the regulatory system in Australia and in Queensland.
Senator WATERS: I draw your attention to the state party reports of 2012 and 2013. I am reading from the 2013 state-party report, which you say reflects reduced development. In fact, the figures here are that in 2012 the state party report advised that there were 42 proposed developments being assessed for potential impacts on the reef's World Heritage values. Since then, 25 were still ongoing, six had been withdrawn, two had lapsed, nine had been approved and 19 new proposals are now being assessed, with a total of 43 proposals currently assessed. Clearly, some have been approved, more have been applied for and there are now more on the books. I am at a loss to understand your description of it as a reduced development footprint.
Mr Roche : First of all, all of those development proposals are not resource sector proposals—there is a whole range of proposals to do with urban development, tourism and the like.
Secondly, if you read further into the state party report, you will see that the Australian government has submitted to the World Heritage Committee forecasts around growth in coal exports which are based on the bureau of resource and energy economics numbers and which, depending on whether you take mid-range or high range, talk about growth at around six per cent per annum out to something that is just in excess of 300 million tonnes of export capacity. Even on the current economic conditions that will be a stretch. So the work in progress is to explain to the World Heritage Committee the economics of resource and port development and the fact that if you were to rely on just adding up all the dreams of project proponents and port developers then you would get a very large number. But that number, the billion tonnes of coal I mentioned, would require as to the coal industry, for which the growth in exports has been around five per cent per annum historically, that that growth would suddenly have to move up to around 20 per cent per annum between now and the end of the decade. It is simply not going to happen.
Senator WATERS: It is interesting to hear you say that. I want to take you now to Glencore Xstrata's recent decision of about two weeks ago—in fact, I think it was at the beginning of last week—to withdraw from its proposal to put a coal export terminal on Balaclava Island—and this is for either of you folk. One of the reasons that they cite for withdrawing from this proposal is 'excess port capacity'. So I found it quite encouraging actually that the industry was acknowledging—in fact, one of the biggest players in the industry—that actually they do not really need any new coal ports. What was your reaction to that?
Mr Roche : That goes to the question about economics, that port development is not the stuff of a field of dreams. It is not a case of build it and they we come. New port capacity will be committed to and these days funded by the private sector when there are mining projects that are going to commit to that capacity. So I think what Glencore Xstrata are pointing to is the opportunities to develop incremental capacity around existing ports. That is the position of the Queensland government. It is a position that we think is realistic. So we do not expect, as the Queensland government says, to see development outside the existing ports limits over the next 10 years.
Senator WATERS: So do you agree that there is excess port capacity?
Mr Roche : I have not interrogated Glencore around what they mean by that, whether they mean right now today or whether they are looking out into the future in terms of future development opportunities. I think, and this is where I agree with that statement, there are excess port development proposals.
Senator WATERS: There words were, as I have here, 'excess port capacity' as to that current capacity, not just proposals. Did you have a view on that, Mr Anderson?
Mr Anderson : I have a short comment. Indeed we have seen a lot of projections as to both coal exports and port development which are aspirational rather than perhaps reality but at the end of the day port investments, particularly hard port infrastructure, have a life of 50 or 60 or more years and have to be done against what you think is going to happen with your industry in the medium and long terms as well as in the short term. I am not quite sure what they mean, to be quite honest, in saying there is 'excess port capacity'. If you asked another company they might say they are having difficulty, because a lot of these proposals just do not depend on port capacity but depend on supply chain capacity, so the rail links, the handling capacity in the port, the depth of water alongside, the number of berths and so on. So I would have to have a more in depth discussion with them to understand exactly what it is that they mean. If you go to Western Australia at the moment you certainly would not be hearing people talking about excess port capacity. Everybody is looking to take iron ore out everywhere. You might also recall that when Premier Newman took office in Queensland the proposed capacity or the talked about capacity at Abbott Point, which at that stage, I think, was four or five berths, was brought back to two on the basis of 'let's not expand until we actually have these firm proposals on the table'. And that is against a background that has been very evident in the columns of the papers lately that the competitive dynamics around coal seem to be almost changing on a daily basis with new mines coming on in Africa and the Chinese taking more out of Mongolia and where we are evolving into a high-cost economy so our competitive position is changing. So a lack of port capacity today might not be a lack of port capacity tomorrow. But, as I said, I would have to have a more in-depth conversation with them to understand what they really need.
Mr Roche : I will just add a bit of supplementary information. I referred earlier to the historical growth rate of coal exports from Queensland of about five per cent. If you take the exports from our ports in 2012 and apply a five per cent growth rate then towards the end of this decade all of the capacity of those existing ports, except Abbott Point, would be fully utilised. It is the case that the lead times for new port development are quite long, so some companies would be looking at that trend and wanting to plan for the port capacity that may be required into the next decade. Abbott Point is complicated by the fact that the existing capacity is owned by one company and a lot of that will be tied up in their own development plans.
Senator SINGH: I have a specific question for Ports Australia. But first I just want to ask Mr Roche a question about QRC's submission. On page 6 it is written that:
The QRC believes that this is yet another case of policy and legislative drafting on the run …
What do you mean by that, Mr Roche? What other policy and legislation are you referring to that was drafted 'on the run'?
Mr Roche : If I had had the opportunity to appear at another hearing it would have been in relation to, for example, the EPBC amendments around water triggers.
Senator SINGH: You are specifically referring to the water trigger?
Mr Roche : It is an example.
Senator SINGH: Are there any others?
Mr Roche : That is the one that comes to mind most readily.
Senator SINGH: That statement reads like there are a number of other policies or pieces of legislation, presumably by government, that are drafted on the run, which is obviously quite negative in its reference to government. So I would like to know what you are referring to, other than the water trigger.
Mr Roche : If the hat fits. You would know that in relation to the EPBC water triggers—
CHAIR: I am not sure what you mean by 'if the hat fits'.
Mr Roche : If the EPBC water trigger is taken as an example, that legislation came about through a range of contributions from the minor parties and Independents, not just from government. The last time I looked, this bill that we are talking about today is not sponsored by the government. So we were not focusing particularly on government when we made that statement.
Senator SINGH: But with the water trigger you are. Anyway, I will go now to Mr Anderson in the interests of time. In Port Australia's submission you talk about how all Queensland ports have shown themselves to be highly responsible environmental citizens—a very positive statement. But then you seem to have a problem with UNESCO, specifically the UNESCO state of conservation report which recommended that the World Heritage Committee maintain a watching brief on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area. Why are you so against that particular UNESCO recommendation to carry on a watching brief of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area if Queensland ports have shown themselves to be such highly responsible environmental citizens?
Mr Anderson : I do not have any problem with UNESCO keeping a watching brief on it. I think we have to be sensitive to what these international agencies with stature say about us. It could have a bearing on our tourism industry and so on. That is all readily acknowledged. What I do have a view about is that, at last I think it is incumbent upon us to take notice of what they say, I do not think that should be driving our legislation and policy to the extent that it will have a highly or potentially highly disruptive effect on employment and economic growth in one of our states. I do not think we should abrogate our policy-making to them.
Senator SINGH: If you are behaving as good and responsible environmental citizens, as you say you are, there would not be an impact—there would not be a problem—for UNESCO finding that, would there?
Mr Anderson : No.
Senator SINGH: Which one is it?
Mr Anderson : I am sorry, you will have to ask the question again.
Senator SINGH: Are Queensland's ports, as you say, behaving as highly responsible environmental citizens or not?
Mr Anderson : Yes.
Senator SINGH: Then I would think that there would not be a problem with UNESCO's World Heritage Committee providing a watching brief.
Mr Anderson : I think I made the comment that Ports Australia has no objection to UNESCO, as such, keeping a watching brief. What we do object to—
Senator SINGH: But you do say that it 'should be treated with considerable caution'. That is in your submission, on page 2.
Mr Anderson : If it was not relayed, what we did endeavour to relay is that the thrust of their report should be treated with caution because we should not totally abrogate our policy making and the way we go about things to an international agency. This legislation is driven by the recommendations of an international agency. As I said, on balance that is not desirable, because of the highly disruptive effect or the potentially disruptive effect on the economy and jobs in Queensland.
Mr Roche : I can supplement this very briefly. The bill seems to hand to the World Heritage Committee the power to assess the adequacy or otherwise of the strategic assessments. Under Australian law that is the responsibility of the environment minister. What the World Heritage Committee will do, and it is within their powers of course, is to consider, as they said they will in 2014, whether or not the property is 'in danger'. But the powers reside with the federal environment minister, and I guess we are both submitting that that is where they should stay.
CHAIR: And those powers are consistent with our international obligations. That is where the link is. Mr Roche and Mr Anderson, thanks very much for your contributions this morning and thanks for persevering through the division bells.