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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
Waters, Sen Larissa
Moore, Sen Claire
Singh, Sen Lisa
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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
McCABE, Mr Michael Alan, Coordinator, Capricorn Conservation Council Inc.
ALLEN, Ms Janelle Kay, Chairman, Keppel and Fitzroy Delta Alliance
TUBMAN, Ms Wendy, Coordinator, North Queensland Conservation Council
CHAIR: I now welcome representatives of the Capricorn Conservation Council, the Keppel and Fitzroy Delta Alliance and the North Queensland Conservation Council. The committee has received your submissions and numbered them 31, 25 and 35 respectively. Would any of you like to make any amendments or alterations to your submission?
Ms Tubman : Yes, I would. In the penultimate paragraph I accidentally wrote 'economy' whereas I meant 'environment'. We note the importance of ports to Australia's social and economic status; however, we point out that both the wellbeing of society and financial prosperity are essentially based on a healthy environment and not on a healthy economy.
CHAIR: Would anyone like to make a brief opening statement?
Ms Allen : Thank you for the opportunity to address the inquiry. My Alliance strongly supports the proposed amendments. The full effect of this enhanced federal legislation is necessary to ensure the protection of the reef from highly destructive port developments currently proposed for our area, and from future proposals.
The Keppel and Fitzroy Delta region is the largest and last undeveloped estuarine system feeding into the Great Barrier Reef. This critical ecosystem includes the Fitzroy Delta, Balaclava Island, Port Alma, Raglan Creek and the northern part of Curtis Island. It must be protected for three very important reasons: their extremely high ecological significance in providing critical marine habitat; their intrinsic relationship to the Great Barrier Reef, including the islands and marine life; and for the outstanding values of this world heritage area, which have been recognised by UNESCO and were specifically identified in their recent recommendation to the World Heritage Committee as not acceptable for port development.
The current systems of protection under the EPBC Act are insufficient. The addition of specific special designation of protected areas is required in order to prevent the Queensland government and their associated port corporations from planning, facilitating and approving port development without regard for the protection of Australia's most prized asset, the Great Barrier Reef.
Prior to this hearing, permission was sought to table a document—of which I have copies here—to which I will now refer. This document clearly demonstrates that the Australian government has failed to take heed of its own authority—that is, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—which advised that the proposal for the Fitzroy terminal project has the potential to 'have unacceptable and high-risk impacts on the values of the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park' and included 'seven risks with an extreme-consequence rating'. The advice went on to say that one of the current proposals planned to tranship coal within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park does not meet the legally permitted activities in the general use zone of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
This clearly demonstrates the need for greater direction of the act to ensure that unacceptable developments are rejected in a timely manner so as to avoid unnecessary costs to developers, government and the community. We strongly support spatial delineation of areas for port development under the act, such as the Fitzroy River delta, to guarantee protection of areas that maintain the outstanding universal values of the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area.
The Fitzroy River delta and the Great Barrier Reef itself must be protected from political whim and disregard of environmental protection. Federal government protection through amendments to the EPBC Act is urgently required. We strongly urge the Australian Parliament to take immediate action to save the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area from further destruction and to ensure that Australia maintains the positive regard of international agencies, such as UNESCO, for this world heritage site.
Ms Tubman : The North Queensland Conservation Council is based in Townsville, which is also the home of James Cook University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. So we are dead centre in this debate. We are also a working port—largely an industrial port—and we have a very strong tourism industry. Our interest is related to those three things.
Mr McCabe : The Capricorn Conservation Council has been around since 1973. We cover from Baffle Creek, near Bundaberg, the Discovery Coast, Port Curtis, which is Gladstone, the Capricorn Coast, Broad Sound, Shoalwater Bay, and the entire Fitzroy basin and beyond to Winton. We have been very involved in many activities, including some we have heard of this morning about tree clearing in the catchments, which historically has been one of the biggest threats to the reef, with much action in the past few decades to control that.
In terms of some of the earlier questions I heard you ask other speakers, we are heavily involved with industry. I am a member of the Central Queensland Mining Rehabilitation Group and of the Fitzroy Water Quality Advisory Group, which arose from the flooding of Ensham in 2008 and the continuing problem of 250 gigalitres of mine water. We are involved in the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership. Additionally, I am the chair of the Local Marine Advisory Committee. Also, I have seen draft of the executive summary of the strategic assessment, which shows the dire state that the reef is in. The only indicator that was in the graphs was that the number of whales had increased.
I spent the first two days of this week with my head buried in the taxonomy and complex ecology of the marine aquarium industry, who are gravely concerned about their very small but significant industry for collecting live corals for the aquarium trade. In the case of the Keppels, as Janelle mentioned the Keppels has been in moratorium for the last couple of years because of the massive impact of floods, silt and sediment. With others, such as the fishing industry and the recreational fishers, if you talk about emotion and passion, that is where you get it. If you touch the fishing grounds and the nursery areas in the Fitzroy Delta, which are already under stress from the catchment issue, they are the issues that are having an effect broadly across industry, so we engage heavily with industry. I have seen more passion from the environmental managers in some of the coal mine sites than from the companies themselves.
We very strongly support the bill. We believe that Gladstone is already overstressed. In fact, those were the words Xstrata used with us when we went to the first reference groups regarding Balaclava Island. They said that Gladstone will become too busy. You will hear from other speakers this afternoon about some of the stresses that continue down there.
There are now two independent scientific panels and we are urging all the time to look at the 50-year legacy of industry down there. We should definitely not expand ports beyond the existing ones. We need a lot more science to understand what is currently going on. Earlier, someone, I think it was Jo Bragg, mentioned offsets and in fact with some of the money for the offsets for seagrass we now have researchers trudging around in the wetlands finding seeds from seagrasses to determine if they can be viable and can be replanted. That may or may not show success in the next five, 10 or 15 years. That offset is occurring a long time after the destruction has come and gone.
CHAIR: I will put to you a question I have been putting to everyone. Are you the groups that the Queensland Resources Council is saying are solely driven by a political anti-resource agenda? I suppose by asking that question it means that you are anti-jobs, anti-growth and anti-development in Queensland. That I think is the underlying position in that statement by QRC. Does anyone want to comment on that?
Ms Allen : My organisation is very broadly community based. It involves people from professional fishing organisations, recreational fishers, tourism bodies, local businesses, concerned citizens and so forth. I think many of those people would balk at the term 'emotive'. However, I would state that we are human beings and we are emotional creatures. There are things that we will feel strongly about, and the only things we can ever really make a huge difference about, usually, are those where there is some emotion involved. That does not mean to say that our arguments are based on emotive considerations only. We strongly believe that the science does support our arguments; it is very difficult these days to put an argument forward unless you have that as well. It is simply not true that this is based on emotion, but we are human beings.
Ms Tubman : The emotion that springs to mind when I hear those sorts of comments is anger, I suppose. We base our arguments very strongly on the science. We have the EIS for the expansion of the Townsville port out at the moment. I was quoted regularly in the paper using the science. This was always refuted by the Port of Townsville, saying that I was extremist, alarmist and unscientific. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority then came out and said exactly the same things, and there was silence.
Mr McCabe : Some of the most emotive members of our organisation are some of the grazing community, who have worked strenuously over the last several decades to manage their riparian areas and are now seeing coal mines, coal seam gas et cetera approaching. They are the ones who are saying to us, 'Michael, we need another Eureka Stockade.' We ask questions all the time of the dissolved aluminium levels in the Fitzroy River and the complexity of the high levels of aluminium, iron et cetera in Gladstone Harbour. They are not emotive questions. We also ask questions about the now complete absence of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin in Gladstone Harbour, probably due to the noise levels. That is not an emotive issue. But we make no apology that there are very few organisations that speak up for the critically endangered Capricorn yellow chat and the snubfin dolphin in the delta et cetera. Those are not emotional issues. I cannot put an economic value on those species, but it is a very sound concern and is based on science, or lack of science in many cases.
CHAIR: I use the QRC because they are the biggest and probably the most powerful, wealthiest and most influential group that are appearing before us, unless you have some accounts we do not know about!
Mr McCabe : I doubt it!
CHAIR: In their submission the QRC say:
In the first instance it is worth noting that "the best science available estimates that around 90 per cent of the loads of sediments, nutrients and toxic chemicals entering the Great Barrier Reef lagoon come from agricultural practices in the Great Barrier Reef catchment."
The quoted text in that statement is from the GBRMPA outlook report. The QRC then say that the crown of thorns starfish is the other area of concern. When I asked them this morning why they had only selectively quoted the GBRMPA document they said it was an oversight. That oversight was climate change and global warming. I thought that was a big oversight, to be honest. Do you have any views on the argument that ports and shipping are not the problem; the best science available is that the problems are climate change—which was not included in the QRC quote—sediments, nutrients from agriculture and the crown of thorns starfish?
Mr McCabe : I have no argument with the historical legacy. Land clearing has been the biggest single detriment to the reef for the last 50-odd years. We can see it in the sediments of the Fitzroy Delta, from the old coastal research centres, when the Brigalow scheme operated, particularly from the 1960s to the 1990s. In terms of shipping, I put to the meeting with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as part of the strategic assessment discussions that in some sense it is not so much the shipping, although there is a concern—I will mention the Shen Neng 1 shortly—it is basically what is on the ship.
We are now at 400 parts per million atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is 50 above the level that is seen as safe in terms of the extreme effects of climate change. The researchers on Heron Island have looked at coral and experimented with what level of atmospheric carbon dioxide may start to create acidification that prevents the corals from forming their skeletons—already, some species of molluscs are having trouble with their shells—and that figure is around 450. Some experts suggest that that could come within two or three decades. That is a big issue that is whole-of-world and whole-of-community. That is not an emotional issue, but it is of grave concern. It is not extremist. These are scientists raising the issues.
In terms of shipping, the Shen Neng 1 was mentioned earlier. It crashed into Douglas Shoal, and we have had lots of near misses. The problem is not so much the two kilometres of smashed reef, which is in bad condition. Reefs get smashed all the time—Cyclone Hamish knocked around more reef than Yasi, in fact, and it did not even cross the coast. But it is the 15 layers of anti-fouling paint that may prevent the recovery of that reef for decades, and we still do not know the full extent of that. The legal process to try to recover money from that company may take decades. They are the sorts of issues of concern: the acidification, and we have heard a lot on dredging. I think you will be talking to Dr Matt Landos this afternoon. He will talk some more about Gladstone Harbour. Again, these are not emotional issues. As I said, I talked to the farmers who are affected by changing land use practices and talked to the fisherfolk, recreational and professional, whose livelihoods have been affected and I have talked to the marine aquarium industry. They are very emotional about the risks to their livelihoods and industries.
CHAIR: Unless anyone has got anything in addition to that, then we might say that has been a comprehensive response.
Senator WATERS: Thank you very much; I appreciate the attention you have been giving to these issues and your advocacy so far on behalf of the reef. One of the submissions outlined that there are currently 11 ports in the Great Barrier Reef catchment area and we know that there are proposals for six or more additional ports. What is your view on how many ports are too many ports? Should we constrain port development? And if so, why?
Ms Tubman : I do not think it is necessarily a case of let us pick a number and go for that. We need to look at the suitability of each area. I note that Townsville port is one of the existing ports. Townsville port was established in 1884. It has been around an awful long time. But in 1884, when there were small ships plying local and regional waters, no-one had the vaguest idea that we would be looking at Panamax-plus ships, and thousands of them, coming in and out.
Cleveland Bay, where Townsville port is situated, is a very shallow bay. It is not an appropriate place for a large commercial port these days. It is not necessarily a case of the number of ports. It is a case of where, it is a case of what are the conditions of the surrounding environments and it is always a case of the dredge spoil. In the case of Townsville port we are looking at 9.9 million cubic metres of dredge spoil, 5.6 of that to be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. It is never appropriate for spoil to be dumped in a world heritage area.
Ms Allen : I would like to make a comment. I noticed in one of the submissions from the Queensland government there was a claim that amendments to this act would actually prohibit economic growth and so forth. I would like to point out that current usage of ports in Queensland is running at between 40 per cent and 65 per cent. It is far from at capacity in use and really what we have been hearing in recent times is that demand more likely than not will not increase too much in the next two to five years. I also support what Wendy was saying though, about the spatial delineation. It is about determining which areas are appropriate and which areas are not. Our view is that we should be looking at current infrastructure and expanding that if necessary, rather than developing ports willy-nilly up and down the coast to suit every company that wants to have a port or a facility of its own.
Mr McCabe : Gladstone already has six very major industries; it has been an industrial town for more than 50 years. At the time Xstrata, now Glencore Xstrata, were considering Balaclava Island they said Gladstone would be too stressed. In the meantime, at Wiggins Island there was a massive expansion that would see a doubling of the tonnage of coal out of Gladstone to around 150 million or 160 million tonnes per annum. Wiggins Island stage 1 had been approved already, Wiggins Island stage 2 has been approved, and they are now considering Wiggins Island stage 3.
At the same time we went to Gladstone to meet the UNESCO committee we heard that Everald Compton also had the Yarwun coal tenement to terminal with up to 50 million tonnes of coal. We have three gas plants on Curtis Island, a fourth one in process somewhere, along with gas pipelines, and two more on the Fisherman's Landing area. We also have a Boulder Steel proposal, a big expansion of aluminium through Rio Tinto, plus Queensland Energy Resources with their existing trial shale oil production plant, and potentially mining of shale oil right alongside The Narrows to the Fitzroy Delta. So we already have a massive set of backed-up expansions.
There is a proposal that is not even out for the public to see—it only became public when it hit the Gladstone Observer through some strange reason—about Sea Hill and a road-rail corridor across The Narrows that would occupy the northern chunk of Sea Hill, the northern part of Curtis Island. Curtis Island is the largest island in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area, the second largest island in Queensland. It is relatively untouched, apart from the gas plants on the bottom end and a flogged out bit of grazing property in the middle and some resource reserves. It is absolutely imperative—it is something in the order of, if you want to get emotional, Fraser Island in terms of its ability to recover.
In the three years since the approvals, we have not seen, apart from a few people chasing seagrass seeds, any deployment of any offsets. There is already massive expansion going on in Gladstone already approved and about to be approved, including a second dredge channel. We do not need to expand into the Fitzroy Delta; we do not need coal ports and other ports, industrial facilities, on the north of Sea Hill.
Senator MOORE: I just want to follow up on one of the answers. The proposal in the legislation is that there is no expansion beyond the existing ones that are happening, and that is fine, that is what it says. But your point about Townsville, Ms Allen and Ms Tubman, raised for me that one of the things people have been asking for is a review of the capacity and the effectiveness of the current ports. I would have thought a follow on from that would be to look at alternatives, and that is a question for me. Certainly the question is being asked about the current ports, because they are historical, there is no other reason that they are there: they were there in the past and we know they are there. My worry is whether the content in this legislation would mean that if there was a more appropriate place along the coastline for ports—I do not want to pre-empt anyone by saying 'Senator announces the closure of Townsville port'—whether there would be an alternative place. I am wondering whether this legislation would stop what I would think would be worthy consideration of whether there are any appropriate alternatives. I am wondering whether any of you have a comment on that? It is just a longer view: this is a short-term process within a very long-term need. That was my concern, so I just wanted to raise that.
Ms Tubman : In relation to Port of Townsville, I support the bill because it does not just say 'existing ports'. Go for your life with existing ports. It says existing ports are fair game provided that there is not negative impact on the values.
Senator MOORE: Property?
Ms Tubman : Yes. In my opinion, that would cut out an expansion of Townsville port. I know that Senator Waters has been to Magnetic Island; I do not know if others have.
Senator MOORE: I spend a lot of time there, Ms Tubman.
Ms Tubman : Okay, lovely. Well, we are talking about extending a channel by 2.7 kilometres length, 90 metres wide and 30 metres deep within 1½ or 1,500 metres of Magnetic Island. That is crazy. That is just crazy. It is a case of put them in appropriate places.
Mr McCabe : We also hear an argument from Fitzroy terminal proposal, currently Glencore Xstrata have withdrawn or are not proceeding at this stage with their Balaclava Island plans. But the Fitzroy terminal proposal, they suggest limited dredging but they will be running 24-hour 10,000 tonne barges to the area off Hummocky Island. According to the people I talk to, who get BOM reports and fishing and yachting reports, this is one of the areas most affected by strong winds and swells and you will be loading Cape class vessels from small barges to a trans shipper in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The barges will constantly traverse on a daily basis the preferred habitat of the last, the most south-easterly outlying population of Australia's own endemic snubfin dolphin, and also the preferred fish habitat area et cetera of Fitzroy. They propose that their project, because it does not require dredging and they will have covered train wagons and less infrastructure, it is all beautiful, but we would like to see much more science on that. I have already spoken to consultants with regard to this who are working with that company, and they are even speculating on whether they can squeeze a few more into Gladstone harbour.
Senator WATERS: Do you folks support the World Heritage Committee's recommendations?
Ms Allen : Absolutely.
Mr McCabe : Yes.
Ms Tubman : Yes.
Senator WATERS: And do you think that this bill reflects those recommendations?
Mr McCabe : Yes.
Ms Tubman : Yes.
Ms Allen : Absolutely.
Senator SINGH: Mr McCabe, earlier you touched on the strategic assessment process. I think you said you have been playing a role in that. Could you expand on your role and on how you see that going? Also, could you expand on the general environmental assessment processes that exist, how you see them meeting or not meeting the necessary requirements to have as strong as possible an environmental assessment done in relation to various developments?
Mr McCabe : My activities are almost totally consumed by input into environmental impact statements. We have 50 operating coalmines, 30 proposals, gas et cetera, et cetera. In terms of the strategic assessment, I would compliment the federal government, which has done extensive work through direct consultation with industry, with groups such as local marine advisory committees, and as chair I also had the privilege to see and interact with the draft executive summary where the words said we are do some good administrative stuff but the graph showed poor decline. So we had a lot of interrogation: how do you present that in a manner which is able to be interrogated, able to be assimilated by the public, but also presents a realistic picture? For example, one of the issues was that there is a lot of grey on the traffic light system of good bad and indifferent and for the grey they said no change but they acknowledged later a lack of knowledge—an enormous lack of scientific knowledge of the real state and much more is needed to be known. I would say that the federal government has done an extensive amount but we are waiting patiently for that outcome, to see to what extent it reflects, and we are waiting very patiently to see what real impact it will have on approval processes and research processes.
In terms of the state government, very little has been evident to us in the community for anything being done on their component, which is the coastal zone. So I am completely unaware of the process they are using. I have seen nothing in any form. We have been invited to no opportunity to consult, other than to send our comments in on the draft terms of reference et cetera. So I have no idea what the government is doing in terms of the coastal zone of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.
CHAIR: Mr McCabe, you have indicated a number of your engagements on environmental matters. Other than your involvement and your approach here, what are your qualifications? What do you do?
Mr McCabe : I studied biology back in the 1970s and my career wandered off to where I encountered the now Senator Claire Moore in government departments throughout Australia.
CHAIR: I think you have recovered.
Mr McCabe : Sort of.
Senator MOORE: There were long-term impacts.
Mr McCabe : I can even remember spending some time in—we will not talk about that. Basically, my studies were in biology in the 1970s. I have some family members behind me, one of whom has studied environmental management, so I learned from my family as well. I have also been formal in community organisations, not just in the environment. I am a muso and all sorts of things. I have been involved in the lobbying for national parks. I am an amateur ecologist and birdwatcher, et cetera. I have also been involved in riparian vegetation training programs and protection. So I have a smattering of knowledge of plants and animals and a complete lack of knowledge of coral specimens, as I found on Monday. So my background is very diverse, more community-based.
CHAIR: That is helpful because we have all been very impressed by your evidence. We wanted to understand your background of it. And we do not worry about whether you are a member of the Greens or any other political party.
Mr McCabe : I could profess to be an anarchist, but you do not have to record that.
Senator SINGH: Excuse me if this question has been answered previously: has there been a history of fast-tracking developments which have in some way impacted or affected the reef?
Ms Allen : I cannot provide a specific example but I can tell you what the current approach is. In the words of our current Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning and the Deputy Premier, he has openly stated the department's intention of reducing red tape and streamlining processes to drive economic growth in relation to the environmental impact assessments. I think that says it all about the current government's approach.
Ms Tubman : I would agree with that. Looking at the submission we put in on the proposed expansion of the port of Townsville, which I would like to leave with the committee, we have here an EIS paid for by the proponent, assessed by the state government. The proponent is a state owned corporation. It selects the consultants. It then goes to the state government for approval and the state government has already been public in saying that it wants the Townsville port to be expanded. Yes, we have grave concerns about the efficacy of the process.
Senator SINGH: So there is no independent assessment or input?
Ms Tubman : In this case we have the backup of the federal environment minister—and we are relying on it strongly.
Mr McCabe : I am not familiar with any fast-tracking as such other than the fact at any given time we have 20, 30 or 40 proposals. Some of them have been around for years, others for decades and some recur 40 years afterwards such as in the Port Curtis area, for example. It is not so much a matter of fast tracking but the sheer volume of developments occurring in an unstrategic way. Many of the delays are in fact caused by the proponents themselves and their consultants, who we often interact with. I work with an environmental scientist who has a very strong NRN background and the questions they ask often fail to be answered. We constantly ask them: have you looked at this? Why have you not done a survey of this? We feel that we are being unpaid assistants to the consultants. Many of the problems and delays are actually caused by their failure to do due process.
Senator SINGH: If the proponent is government owned and the government is backing it, where is the independent assessment?
Ms Tubman : There is not one.
Mr McCabe : That is a good question.
Ms Tubman : We were told of course that they are objective in their approach and seek a balanced solution. But in the case of the state government, that is rarely the case.
Mr McCabe : Essentially the Coordinator-General is about promoting opportunities for development. The Coordinator-General decides with some input from some organisations like the environment department. But the authority promotes the development and approves the development.
Senator SINGH: So there is no separate environmental planning commission or such that looks at those proposals?
Mr McCabe : I would seek reference from my friend Jo Bragg to answer more about the complexity of that. I know people within the environment department. I have relatives who are ex-employees from there. As we heard before from Janelle, many times very sound scientific advice is either overlooked, ignored or discounted. So organisations like the environment department can have a say but their recommendation can be ignored. That often comes out in a form of a condition. The essence of our submission to UNESCO was that there was a grave failure in the application of any offset policies, the monitoring regimes and the scientific peer reviewed data. We have not seen any results yet from the offsets or from the monitoring. We are still dragging ourselves through the various independent scientific panels to try and work out what is going on down there.
CHAIR: I will ask a technical question. You were all very vocal in your support for the bill. But there has been some concern about some technical aspects of the bill both from environmental groups and from the QRC and ports authority about the net benefits test. Do you understand how the net benefit test would work? Do you have any concerns about the net benefit test?
Ms Tubman : I could argue for that very strongly. My background is in agricultural economics. I have argued very strongly through all these processes that this is always what is missing. When they are asked to give an environmental report, it is basically how many jobs will there be in that particular industry? How many jobs, how much income and that is it. There is no reference to negative impacts on other industries, there is no reference to externalities and there is no reference to non-monetary costs and benefits. They are pathetic and totally inadequate. The same now goes to the cumulative impact assessments, which are again being used by the proponents to muddy the waters and to try and persuade government that something rigorous was undertaken. Often it is just not the case at all.
CHAIR: I am interested in how you see the net benefit. You very strongly support the legislation—that is clear. I am just wondering if you understand how the net benefit test would work. It is not a trick question; if you are not sure that is fine.
Ms Tubman : I worked in the federal government bureaucracy as an economist, and I would go back to the reports they put out—cost benefit analysis and how it is done. I think economists have been very lazy and slack in finding ways of measuring things that are hard to measure because they are not traded. But there is a framework, and that can be used.
CHAIR: One criticism—not from industry groups but from the environmental submissions we have had today—is that the net benefit test could result in a trade-off proposition. You would be trading off damage in one area against, maybe, an investment in research and development in another area. That is what I am looking for a comment on.
Ms Tubman : I go back to what Jo Bragg said about offsets. I think they are not working. I have a wonderful example, but you probably do not have time to go into it. They are being abused within the process.
CHAIR: If the issue is that trade-offs are not acceptable then the net benefit test obviously has a problem unless there is proper definition of the net benefit test. That is what I am trying to get from you. You are a very strong supporter of the bill. If you are a supporter of the bill then I think I am entitled to ask how the net benefit test works.
Mr McCabe : I am not sure if this is a good answer, but I do not think net benefits look far enough into how long the benefits take to achieve, or whether they will be achieved. As an example, my ancestors were involved in the construction of the Mount Morgan gold and copper mine, which has saved the Australian economy on multiple occasions and now contains 12,000 megalitres of highly toxic, acidic mine water which leaches into the Great Barrier Reef via the Dee, the Don and the Dawson rivers. Despite the enormous wealth and employment that that brought, as well as my existence, we cannot afford to repair that. Apply that into the future: what are the net benefits of expanding the Port of Gladstone into the Fitzroy Delta for the next 50 years compared to the net loss of hundreds of years of productive fishery, tourism industry, residential prices et cetera? We do not look beyond profit-reporting cycles or electoral terms, if I dare say.
CHAIR: Your existence is an interesting concept, because it then comes back to this issue of how you get the balance so that you can exist. Jobs were created; your family had a capacity to engage in a decent life—or maybe not, depending on their IR all those years ago! I am wondering how you get that balance. The argument is that if you put more restrictions in place then job creation is a problem and the growth of the state is a problem. You know all the arguments, and I am wondering how you get the balance.
Mr McCabe : I believe that in the case of Gladstone they had difficulty keeping up with the level of job creation from the construction phase, but already, with the settling down of the basic structure of the three LNG plants, they are starting to see the first of a lull. We see it all the time with the mining towns coming and going. I have been working with Gladstone in the federal government department for the best part of 40 years in my previous careers. Seeing those cycles and the benefits that come to some are often to the detriment of others. Gladstone at the moment is a tricky town to walk through at the end of a big shift and a big drinking session, and people make money and lose money in those sorts of areas. So the net benefit is one of those very tricky things.
The other thing—and this is in the emotional area—is that psychologists now can measure the psychological and therefore mental health benefits of having knowledge that a place such as the Great Barrier Reef—or a part thereof—exists. It is very hard to put it to conventional economics that those things also need to be considered in net benefits. They are much harder to measure but are very important for our wellbeing as a society.
CHAIR: We are out of time. Thank you very much for your very good submission. It was entertaining at times. Thanks very much for that.