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Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Page: 3910


Senator MILNE (3:33 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Climate Change and Water (Senator Wong) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to proposed developments in Queensland.

The moment is now for Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett. People around the country have been waiting for this minister to make one strong, unequivocal decision for the environment, and now is his opportunity—and that is in relation to this megaproposal for a new coalmine, pipeline and railway port development in Queensland. This is a mine which has a reserve of something like four billion tonnes of coal, and the port will be in Shoalwater Bay, wholly contained within a Ramsar wetland, with impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage listed area. I have just mentioned two treaties. Thirdly, we have impacts on endangered species like the dugong or the loggerhead turtle, for example. There are many of them.

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, there is a very clear provision that the minister for the environment on receiving a proposal can decide that it is, under the act, ‘clearly unacceptable’. There is no way you could look at this massive proposal for a coalmine in Queensland other than to see it as an environmental disaster. It is an environmental disaster from a greenhouse gas point of view. It will start off exporting 50 million tonnes of coal a year, going up to 100 million tonnes a year, and there is no carbon capture and storage in China, India or wherever they are going to export this coal. There is nothing there.

We know the crisis of climate change. The government promised to have a greenhouse trigger in the EPBC Act. That has not happened. But, regardless of that, because this coal facility—both the mine and the port—is going to trigger six out of the seven national considerations under the EPBC Act, it would have to be the clearest example of a case where the minister would say it triggers six and the only one it does not trigger is nuclear. It triggers all of the others: national heritage listed properties, World Heritage listed properties, endangered species, Commonwealth waters—you name it, it is all there. This is a very clear case.

If the minister squibs this one, what he is doing is condemning the Australian community to years of environmental assessments, approvals, appeals and frustration. We have already seen the completely irresponsible Queensland government of Premier Anna Bligh make this a project of state significance, which puts it on the fast-track of approvals in Queensland. It is clear that the government there is totally in favour of this greenhouse gas generating project. She and the Prime Minister got a letter earlier this year from James Hansen, who is a globally renowned NASA scientist. He wrote to the premiers and to the Prime Minister, saying:

Yet there are plans for continuing mining of coal, export of coal, and construction of new coal-fired power plants around the world, including in Australia, plants that would have a lifetime of half a century or more. Your leadership in halting these plans could seed a transition that is needed to solve the global warming problem.

He went on to say:

Prime Minister Rudd, we cannot avert our eyes from the basic fossil fuel facts, or the consequences for life on our planet of ignoring these fossil fuel facts.

That is the challenge to Minister Garrett. He, in a documentary in the early nineties, said very clearly that the community must decide what happens to these special areas of wilderness significance like Shoalwater Bay. He knows more than any other person in this parliament how special Shoalwater Bay is. He also knows his responsibilities under the act. He has the power; is he going to use it? The whole country is going to be looking to see whether he has the personal strength to recognise his powers under the act. I will read what he said about Shoalwater Bay. He said:

Shoalwater Bay represents one of the last opportunities that we have in Australia, and probably on the planet, to actually hold onto an entire coastal eco system. It’s already recognised on the Australian heritage Commission list and we have to make up our minds—

(Time expired)

Question agreed to.