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Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Page: 6559

Senator IAN MACDONALD (2:24 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Senator Wong. Has Mr Garrett been present at the meetings, widely reported in today’s Australian and yesterday’s Courier-Mail, between Prime Minister Rudd and Queensland Premier Bligh on the subject of the Traveston Crossing dam on the Mary River in South-East Queensland, at which Ms Bligh claims to have been lobbying the Prime Minister for approval?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I think it is important for us to recall the state which this proposal is at—which I thought I explained in detail yesterday to Senator Brown, from memory. Obviously, Senator Macdonald has come late to this question. It is important to note that the proposal for a Traveston dam has not formally been referred to the Commonwealth. It is only a preliminary or a draft report, I think, from the Queensland Coordinator-General, which has been provided to Minister Garrett’s department.

As I made clear yesterday, Mr Garrett has no formal involvement as a decision maker under the EPBC Act in this matter until he receives the final assessment report from the Queensland Coordinator-General. It is not the case that this has happened as yet and therefore Mr Garrett’s involvement is not yet enlivened, in the legal sense, under the EPBC Act. So, as yet, it is not the case that Mr Garrett has to make a decision on this issue.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Mr Presi-dent, I ask a supplementary question. The fact that the minister has not answered the question as to whether Mr Garrett was present at those meetings leads me and others to assume that he was. Can the Senate be assured that the close political relationship between the Prime Minister and the Premier will not in any way influence the decision of the environment minister on the Traveston Crossing dam? And does the fact that Mr Garrett, then the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, and Mr Rudd, then the senior advisor to the then Queensland Premier, worked together to stop the Wolffdene dam in South-East Queensland in 1989 have any influence on Mr Garrett’s responsibilities for the Traveston Crossing dam, given that it is accepted that the failure to construct the Wolffdene dam in 1989 is the reason for the critical water situation in Queensland in the last decade?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Mr President, that seems to me to be more of a speech and a range of assertions than a question. I do not propose to give opinions on what has happened in the past. But I will say that a number of questions put there by Senator Macdonald implied quite clearly that Mr Garrett was going to do something other than act in accordance with the law. I invite Senator Macdonald to reconsider the way that question was framed. I have made it very clear in this place, as has Mr Garrett on many occasions, how he will approach decisions under this legislation, whether it is Traveston or others, and he has been absolutely clear that he will be guided according to his statutory responsibilities. The implication in the question, Senator Macdonald, really is I would say beneath you but others might not say that. (Time expired)

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. That leads to my next question as to whether the minister can give an assurance about which she is talking. Can she assure the Senate that the Traveston Crossing dam has not been mentioned or discussed in any cabinet meeting? I am not asking for any advice on what the discussion was. I simply ask whether she can assure us that it has not been mentioned. And will the minister give an assurance that he will refuse to discuss the matter of the Traveston Crossing dam with the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, or any of Mr Rudd’s staff?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I can give an assurance that Mr Garrett will ensure that his decision making under the EPBC Act will be conducted according to law. That is the way Mr Garrett has approached every decision he has made. He has been absolutely clear about how scrupulously he will observe that act and his discretion under it. I am absolutely clear about this, and I want no senator in this place to have a different understanding: Mr Garrett will ensure he applies his discretion and decision making powers under the EPBC Act appropriately.