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Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Page: 130

Mr LINDSAY (6:24 PM) —The EPBC Act is very important to me and to my electorate in Townsville and North Queensland. In Townsville we have the Barrier Reef lagoon, in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Of course, that is World Heritage listed but we also have the World Heritage listed tropical rainforest. The interaction between the coastal plain and the reef lagoon gives rise to concerns from time to time in relation to protecting that environment. It is the EPBC Act that comes into play, when it is triggered, to make sure that that special place is protected.

The EPBC Act is also important to me because it may well be that Townsville will be the location for the new alumina refinery in Queensland called the Chalco project. Bauxite will be shipped from Cape York down to Townsville, if that is where the refinery is situated, and it will be refined in our city. Alumina refineries produce copious quantities of what is known in the industry as ‘red mud’. There is some discussion about where the refinery would be located in Townsville and I know that the coordinator general’s department of the Queensland government and the company itself is mindful that this project will trigger the EPBC Act. This act will provide protection for the Great Barrier Reef lagoon and I am very pleased to see that the community leaders in Townsville, to a person, have said that they are not—(Quorum formed) I thank my colleagues for attending. It gives me the opportunity to remind them that the Australian Labor Party intends to vote against these very sensible amendments to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

As I was saying, community leaders in Townsville, to a person, have made it very clear that the Chalco refinery will not proceed unless it satisfies the EPBC Act. This is a vote of confidence in the act by both sides of politics, and I am very pleased to see that the act is operating as intended. The current act has been six years in operation and it has operated very successfully. But from time to time you pick up things in the act where, if there were changes introduced, it would allow a better act and a more sensible operation of the act, and that is why the government has brought these amendments to the House today. The changes basically simplify the processes in the act. They make it easier for all people who are captured by the act, but they do not in any way alter the protections that have been in the act for the last six years.

Dr Emerson —Yes, they do.

Ms George —Yes, they do.

Mr LINDSAY —There are 400 pages of amendments or changes. What sort of a point is that? What point are the Labor Party making? If you have to change the act, you have to change the act, and if you have to make minor technical amendments then you make the minor technical amendments.

Ms George —Without public consultation. No public consultation!

Mr LINDSAY —In relation to the point that is made about having no public consultation, I have seen the consultation process occur on a project on Magnetic Island in Herbert, and the process was unreasonably disgraceful. Two or three people are able to hold up sensible development that has absolutely no impact on the environment or heritage whatsoever—zero—for two years. That is obviously unreasonable, and obviously you have to do something about it. These processes today will do something about it.

In relation to the amendment that the Labor Party put up, the first part says:

(1)   the bill is being rushed through the Parliament without proper consideration or consultation …

Goodness me. If the Labor Party would only act more sensibly in the operations of the parliament, it would stop having these silly quorums when we are trying to have a debate about these things, it would stop wasting the time of the House throughout the sittings of the parliament and perhaps things could be a little bit better. Then I see:

(4)   the bill will increase the Howard Government’s politicisation of environment and heritage protection …

What absolute rubbish. The Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006 is not about that at all. The Howard government implemented the most significant environmental protection that this country has ever seen. It funded the largest environmental protection program this country has ever seen. The Natural Heritage Trust has been outstandingly successful. The Labor Party’s answer to all that when the EPBC Act was first proposed was to vote against it.

The Labor Party will claim cutting red tape is just weasel words for reducing environmental protection. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Howard government is not interested in process for process’ sake. Many of the changes in the act before the parliament are relatively minor and of a machinery nature. These all add up to making the act easier to use without changing—and that is a guarantee—the very high level of basic environmental protection. Projects that are likely to have significant impact—for example, the Chalco alumina refinery—will still need rigorous approval under the EPBC Act. But this now provides for quick decisions for straightforward proposals. What is wrong with that? There are projects that trigger the EPBC Act, but these are straightforward and blind Freddy can see that there will not be any impact on the environment or the heritage. So we are reducing the number of mandatory steps and enabling decision points to be handled concurrently along the way. Of course, it provides more tailored assessment guidelines to fit the particular proposal.

I heard the member for Grayndler give an example of the government’s high-handedness in relation to the environment and heritage when he talked about the nuclear waste repository proposed for this country. Governments have to show leadership from time to time. We had all of the state governments saying, ‘Not in my backyard.’ But Australia needs a nuclear waste repository in a proper location, and that is why proper locations were determined. The member for Grayndler seemed to think that a piece of land somewhere in the desert in the Northern Territory used for a nuclear waste repository would somehow or other affect the environment and the heritage of the place. Any reasonable Australian would know that that comment is unreasonable. We cannot have nuclear waste stored in containers in car parks in hospitals. We just cannot. With the Labor state governments, to a person, saying, ‘No, it’s not going to be in our state,’ the federal government showed the necessary leadership and moved on.

The member for Grayndler also spoke about the Kyoto protocol. We hear the Labor Party all the time talking about the Kyoto protocol, but I remind the House that those who are part of the sensible debate on the environment know and understand that Kyoto is a slogan—it is not a solution. Signing the Kyoto protocol is an excuse for not having a proper debate at all. Sensible people in this debate know and understand that. And they know that the direction Australia is heading is a much better way than signing a protocol that is already dead in the water—a protocol that does not include the biggest polluters in the world, a protocol that would damage Australia. Of course Australia is very proud to be one of the few nations in the world that are actually meeting Kyoto targets.

These changes before the House will provide for quick decisions on straightforward proposals. They are going to reduce the number of mandatory steps in the process. They will provide greater flexibility for the process and they will enable the minister to decide that advice to other ministers under section 160 is not required. This is a good result and it is what the country needs. It is appropriate and sensible, after six years of operation of the EPBC Act, to make amendments to further streamline and improve the efficiency of the operation of the act while continuing to protect our very precious environment and heritage. I support the bill.