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Wednesday, 29 November 2006
Page: 196

Mr BAIRD (12:22 PM) —Recent events have shown that the New South Wales government is trying to sneak its shelved desalination plant back onto its agenda. New South Wales planning minister, Frank Sartor, announced two weeks ago that he approved the development application for the plant to be built on the Kurnell Peninsula. This belies Mr Sartor’s previous cancellation of the program. Mr Sartor now says that the plant is not necessarily going to be built. If the state government is not necessarily going to build the desalination plant, as they say, why would they be approving a development application for it to be built? Why would they have spent $100 million? In addition, they have now built a pilot plant on the site to road-test the technology, yet they are not necessarily going to build the plant! This smacks of policy by stealth.

The Kurnell Peninsula is of major historical and environmental significance to the people of the Sutherland shire, Sydney and indeed around Australia. It is of course the birthplace of modern Australia. It was the landing place of Captain Cook in 1770 and of Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet 18 years later—all now being taught in Australian schools as a result of our fine policies. It is also the site of the first encounter between Indigenous and European peoples and cultures and the site of first resistance by the traditional owners and the original inhabitants of New South Wales. Kurnell is also of great environmental worth and recognised in international accords—it is protected in part by the Ramsar treaty as well as the Japan-Australia migratory birds and the China-Australia migratory birds agreements.

It is a disgrace that the state government is so intent on putting this plant on such a historically and environmentally important site. They seem to have no regard for the history or the unique ecosystems of the area. Neither do they seem to care about the local residents of Kurnell. The plant will create even more traffic and noise problems for local residents. You would think that they had suffered enough with the sand mining and the factories continuing to be built around them.

The proposed desalination plant would have a very negative impact on the environment, particularly on local marine life. The plant will pump 750 million litres of hot concentrated brine into Botany Bay every day. Let us not forget that Cape Solander at Botany Bay is considered to be the whale super highway. Only last year 1,608 migrating humpback whales were recorded passing through this area in the 68 days of the whale migration. This is a record since whale counting began 10 years ago and 200 up from last year. What kind of effect will 750 million litres per day of brine have on these whales? What about the thousands of people from the Sutherland shire and from around Sydney who have flocked to various viewing sites along the coast to watch these whales as they move past Botany Bay?

The plant would also be a heavy air polluter, depending on CO emissions to produce their desalinated water. Sydney Water is of course committed to reducing greenhouse emissions from the plant by 50 per cent but exactly how they intend to do so has remained unannounced. Just how much air pollution is yet to be determined. The New South Wales government has not even undertaken an accurate environmental impact assessment because it does not need to because of the nature of the project. Details like the size of the plant, the final distribution routes and detail design are not yet available. Until distribution routes are released, how are we even supposed to know exactly how different communities around Sydney will be affected?

On top of all this, the plant is a total waste of money. The state government wants to spend $2 billion on a plant that would service the water needs of just 350,000 people and would promote the single use of water rather than education, recycling and re-use. The state government has already spent $120 million to complete the planning and infrastructure for the proposed plant and a further undisclosed amount for the land. It is a significant amount of money that could have been used far more effectively providing incentives for water tanks or for any number of recycling projects.

Desalination technology is also massively energy intensive. Just running the plant would represent two per cent of Sydney’s daily power consumption. This is by the state government’s own estimates. At a time when we are concerned about global warming, this is a move in the opposite direction. The Iemma government seems content to continue with its policies of environmental vandalism for the Sutherland shire. I question whether the state government has fully explored all the water recycling options available. The government seems to dismiss the question of recycling without proper consideration.

Has the government looked at the use of grey water or water from creeks and canals? Has it considered incentives for homes? Has it considered water tanks or recycling from stormwater channels? There are many other options that would be less expensive, less energy intensive and a better environmental solution than desalination technology. The state government should put the brakes on this proposal immediately. It is environmentally unfriendly, inefficient and unpopular.