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Wednesday, 5 March 1997
Page: 2025

Dr LAWRENCE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment. Now that the Minister for the Environment has acknowledged that he is aware of the granting of the licence for oil and gas exploration involving the construction of 100 kilometres of seismic lines and two exploration wells in the Shark Bay world heritage area, what does the government propose to do to ensure world heritage values are protected and—to quote the minister—`that the Commonwealth's conservation responsibilities are met', or will this be another example of the government sacrificing world heritage values on the altar of multiple use?

Mr WARWICK SMITH —I am advised by the Minister for the Environment, Senator Hill, that on 29 November last year the WA Department of Minerals and Energy did grant an exploration permit to several companies—Moondance, Tap Oil and Omega Oil—to investigate part of Shark Bay for petroleum. They also advise that it is expected that about 100 kilometres of seismic surveys are planned for 1998 and two exploration wells for 1999 and 2000.

Dr Lawrence —This is old hat.

Mr WARWICK SMITH —I think it is important to get the facts on the record, shadow minister.

Dr Lawrence interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The member for Fremantle has asked her question.

Mr WARWICK SMITH —Their proposal to grant an exploration permit was not referred to the Commonwealth. No approval is required under Commonwealth legislation. It is understood by the department that they became aware of the permits in late January and Senator Hill's office was not informed until yesterday.

Shark Bay is a world heritage area. It is recognised for its outstanding conservation values. Several rare and endangered species are present in Shark Bay. Senator Hill is advised that the exploration permit only provides a form of tenure over the area in question. It is also advised that no exploration or mining activity may occur unless an environmental clearance is obtained from the WA environment ministers.

The department has been asked by Senator Hill to provide advice on the likely environmental impacts associated with the proposed activities and in particular on the compatibility of such activities with the world heritage values of Shark Bay. If it is proposed that activities are not consistent with the protection of the world heritage values, then the Commonwealth will not support such activities being carried out.