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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 1906

Mr WHITELEY (Braddon) (12:48): The member for Makin talked about the environment being under threat. Let me educate the member for Makin about who is in fact under threat in my state, in my electorate. It is the worker, the investor and the general community on the north-west coast of Tasmania. I would ask the member for Makin, the member for Wills and the member for Port Adelaide: how many mines are being developed in your electorates? How is the unemployment rate going in your electorates? How is investor confidence going in your electorates?

The reality is that the members opposite, having now moved the amendment—which, I understand, they have foreshadowed—just do not get it. Is nigh on 50 per cent of their state locked up? No, it is not. We are sick and tired in our state, and certainly in my electorate of Braddon, of being treated as some social, political and environmental experiment. The reality here is that we need this amendment to ensure that, in future, confidence can be gained by those people who go through the approval process and who do everything that they need to do.

I will not be spending any time speaking on the first part of the Environment Legislation Amendment Bill. As you would expect, I want to use my time to focus on the second part. This bill seeks to amend the EPBC Act to ensure that if the Minister for the Environment does not have regard to and relevant approved advice, it will not invalidate a decision under the act. That section of the bill is of particular interest, as I said, to many constituents, to small and medium-sized businesses and to mining operations in my electorate of Braddon. The questions here are: do we want to continue to stand in the way of development or not? Do we want to continue to add to the list of endangered species by adding that of the worker? I do not think so. I would hope that members opposite would also agree that that is not what we want.

It was only last week in this chamber that I delivered my maiden speech. As anyone who has done it over the last few weeks and those yet to come will know, it is a very special moment in an elected member's time. What they speak about often indicates the priorities of the particular member. In my maiden speech I made the point very strongly that mining companies need certainty in the application process, and this amendment is certainly timely for me to speak about. I said I have a vision of a mining industry that is not only finally confident in the processes of approval that they undertake but also confident that the process optimises environmental outcomes while being efficient, fair, reasonable, dependable and free of opportunistic political intervention. I went on to say that Australian mines of the 21st century know well their environmental responsibilities. It is high time we got off their backs and let them once again stimulate our economy; the members opposite want to get back on their back. They have not got off. They will stay on the back of development in Tasmania. As I said last week, enough is enough.

If you were to believe what has been coming from that side over the last hour, you would think that there is some sort of deep, evil conspiracy that somehow or other attaches to this amendment. But I can say that this amendment is about finally shining some sunlight on the inconsistencies and vagaries of this act and the way in which it opens loopholes for groups such as the Save the Tarkine coalition in my electorate. I believe that this amendment is in fact the first step towards achieving many of the goals that we have set in re-opening Tasmania for business.

The conservation advice amendment is a technical amendment that addresses a risk so that past or future decisions made under the EPBC Act will not be invalidated if the minister does not meet the requirement to have regard to any relevant approved conservation advice. We need to understand what this means. It means that—after the process has been gone through and everything has been considered that could be considered—if suddenly something pops up from somewhere, it does not open the door to it's being something the minister did not give consideration to. The amendment that we see before us is vital for Braddon, for my state and for other parts of the country, as it is currently the case that the EPBC Act decisions could be challenged and overturned if a court rules that a minister has not given due consideration to relevant conservation advice, which potentially exposes a series of past project approvals to possible legal challenge.

I believe it is important to note here that this amendment does not reduce or alter the level of protection for the environment. It just does not. The conservation advice amendment does not reduce the level of protection provided for threatened species and ecological communities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The amendment is technical and designed to ensure the validity of decisions made under the act.

If the members opposite want to continue to stand in the way of development in the electorate of Braddon and in Tasmania and across the country, be that on their heads. They just do not get it. The former members who were in this place obviously did not represent sufficiently the interests of my state and my electorate, because, if they had, the previous parliament, the 43rd Parliament, would have dealt with this and would have given the confidence that is required. The perfect example of this obviously goes to the matter that has already been raised, and that is the issue of Shree Minerals, who, in July of the year just gone, had their application for an iron ore mine overturned by the courts following a challenge by the Save the Tarkine organisation.

I will digress just for a moment to say that—and this is breaking news, I suspect—they are up to it again. The Venture Minerals proposal has been going along reasonably swimmingly as another great job-creating investment in my electorate, but the Save the Tarkine coalition are up to it again. They have been back to the High Court with a further intervention in that process. With only a week to go for the case to be heard, it obviously has not given enough time for that matter to be considered properly without damaging the prospects of the court case. And now what have we got? We are coming into Christmas. How beautiful is their timing! They are a bunch of geniuses! We will not get this matter heard until, probably, February, and, as is too often the case, more than likely jobs will be at risk over the next two months through the Christmas-New Year period. What a disgrace! They are up to it again: working with lawyers who just want to attack development in Tasmania and who continue to use my state and my electorate as some sort of political experiment, working pro bono to make a name for themselves—a group that sits around a kitchen table for its committee meetings, or perhaps meets in a phone box, because that is how many of them there are! But they are up to it again.

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr WHITELEY: You can laugh, but you should know better. My state is in deep trouble.

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr WHITELEY: You should know better too, and you should know and understand what this is all about.

Shree Minerals have since had their application approved—thank goodness—and I can say here today that their Nelson Bay mine, located about 70 kilometres south-west of Smithton, has increased production at the mine and is now on the verge of having its first shipment of iron ore out of the Burnie port. It is about jobs, to me. That is why I am here; that is why I got elected. We are about development—acceptable and approved through the processes—and this amendment now goes to protecting these applications in the future from any past or future disputes.

What is going on at Shree Minerals in my electorate is momentous not only for that company but also for that community—a community that has been in a very awkward spiral of job losses over the last few years. It is telling that, on the day that Shree Minerals finally began work on the mine and so bringing employment to a hurting community, this group, which could meet in a phone box, said—when jobs have been made available to people in my electorate and they wander into their workplace with pride in anticipation of a pay cheque to feed their family—'It is a shameful day.' But I will tell you what is a shameful day. It is when such a minority group can have such a negative impact on a community. That is what they are up to. They are economic vandals. There is no doubt about that. They never accept the reality. They will never accept the umpire's decision. They do not care if jobs are lost; they want to keep their name in the press. They ought to go somewhere else. Maybe they should go to the electorates of you over there—the ones who are not supporting this amendment today. Maybe then you would get a taste of what it is like to have people continually trying to lock up even more of your state. We have nearly 50 per cent—just get that: 50 per cent—of my state locked up so that you cannot do any development, and they want more. They will never be satisfied with what they get. In the very area that they protest in, over the last 150 years, hundreds of mines have been mined in my electorate, and thousands upon thousands of jobs and thousands upon thousands of families' lifestyles have been sustained through that activity.

This just cannot go on. So I welcome this amendment and I cannot believe that members opposite will stand in the way of this amendment. In the months leading up to the campaign, they all of a sudden found their conscience and, together with the Deputy Premier in Tasmania, Mr Green, put their hands up to say: 'We are pro mining. We will do what we have to do. They are a bunch of nerds,' and other words you would not want to say in this parliament, to distance themselves from these people. No, you are not. Your words are hollow. You are not distancing yourself from the Greens, the minority groups or from the Save the Tarkine coalition. You are back in bed with them today through trying to knock back this amendment and put forward your own amendments to withhold schedule 1. So do not dare tell people in my electorate and in my state that you are on their team. You are anything but on their team. You are with the enemy on this. You need to support this amendment.

Mining is so important an industry in Tasmania and in my electorate and it has to be a part of the economic recovery. The mining industry's current value-added contribution to Tasmania is about $1.3 billion, or approaching six per cent of the state's GDP. This is not to be frowned at. This is a huge part of what the economy of Tasmania is about. I cannot stand here in this place today and not urge members opposite to have some sense of justice for the people of Tasmania. Do not try to play these political games. I can see what you are up to. It is absolutely transparent. You just want to be stoppers and hinderers. The people of my electorate of Braddon and the people of Tasmania have had enough. Do not dare put up your hand in my electorate and say you are on the team of the developer, of the miner, of the worker or of the families when you sneak up here into Canberra—hardly with a member of the Labor Party now represented in this place, other than the member for Franklin—a week or two out from Christmas and stand in the way of getting legislation through this House that will ensure what happened to Shree Minerals will not happen to someone else.

To suggest for one moment that the environment in this country or in my state is under threat could be nothing further from the truth. This country has a proud environmental record. Have we made mistakes? Are there things we wish we had not done back then? Of course there are. But obviously the intelligence and the research was not available back then. It is now our job to get research and intelligence and accumulate it, and we do. Every assessment and proposal has to jump through hoop after hoop. And even when you get to the end of the hoops and it has been approved, unless we change this legislation it will always be possible for someone, some group, meeting in a phone box somewhere to decide it is time to put another spanner in the works, to chuck another wobbly, and try to stop development in my state. That time should be over. I plead with members opposite to reconsider their position and support this legislation as it stands and as is required to give certainty in my electorate of Braddon.