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Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Page: 5263


Senator CASH (Western Australia) (19:54): I rise to speak tonight on the proposed National Heritage listing of the West Kimberley region, including the intertidal zone of the Dampier Peninsula. In particular, I refer to the decision that the federal Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Mr Tony Burke, will be making in relation to the national heritage listing of the intertidal zone of the Dampier Peninsula, where the shore crossing for the proposed Browse LNG precinct at James Price Point would occur. I have been following this issue closely and recently met with representatives from Woodside Petroleum to discuss the issue. I have to say that as a consequence of the advice provided by Woodside I took the opportunity to discuss the issue with some other interested parties who are supportive of the proposed Browse LNG precinct at James Price Point and question the motives of the proposed National Heritage listing of the intertidal zone of the Dampier Peninsula. I have come away from those briefings and discussions convinced that there are a number of critical issues and inconsistencies that Minister Burke must address prior to making any decision on the proposed heritage listing.

By way of background, and I will refer to my briefing notes on this issue, senators will be aware that in 2009 the Western Australian government announced its intention to establish a single LNG precinct at James Price Point in the West Kimberley. James Price Point was chosen after an extensive review of 43 sites in the Kimberley, floating LNG and sites in the Pilbara and Darwin. Quite properly, the process took some time and involved considerable input from a multitude of parties, including input by the Western Australian Environmental ProtecĀ­tion Agency, many Australian government agencies, traditional owners, environmental organisations and industry. James Price Point was identified as the preferred site for an LNG precinct because of its minimal environmental and heritage impacts. As part of the consultative process prior to the precinct being announced, the West Kimberley environment working group was set up. This group included organisations such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Wilderness Society, the Conservation Council and Environs Kimberley. They signed a joint position statement which acknowledged the significant potential beneficial outcomes for traditional owners should this project go ahead. Further, they advocated that LNG development should occur at a single location in order to minimise the footprint of the development.

In relation to the economic and social benefits that will flow to the Indigenous communities in the West Kimberley, the deal is expected to return $1.5 billion in benefits to the region's Indigenous communities over 30 years. In addition, a $1.4 billion package of benefits has been negotiated with the traditional owners of James Price Point, the Western Australian government and Woodside. The package, I am advised, includes specific job targets, substantial support for education and training, support for Indigenous businesses and business development as well as environmental assurance and cultural heritage protection.

Federal resource minister Martin Ferguson has shown his enthusiasm for the project, saying, 'If we actually bank this then we are talking about multibillion-dollar jobs with huge export earnings. The Browse project is a win for all Australians.' And Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett is on the record as saying, 'The Pilbara has supported WA for the last 50 years and the Kimberley will support us for the next 50 years.'

In 2010 the Australian Heritage Council, led by former WA Labor Premier Carmen Lawrence, recommended to the federal environment minister that parts of the Kimberley region covering around 20 million hectares be included on the National Heritage List under the Environmental Protection (Biodiversity Conservation) Act 1999. Relevant to the Western Australian government's proposed Browse LNG precinct is the recommendation to include in the National Heritage List the intertidal zone of the Dampier Peninsula where the shore crossing for the proposed Browse LNG precinct at James Price Point would occur. The Australian Heritage Council recommended that the intertidal zone of the Dampier Peninsula be listed on the National Heritage List because of its heritage values of outstanding value to the nation associated with dinosaur tracks and associated fossils.

On 8 August 2011 the assessment report prepared by the Australian Heritage Council was released by Mr Tony Burke, Minister for the Environment. As set out in the minister's press release, he says:

Heritage Council assessments are not normally released before a decision, however, I felt that it was important so that the public can be better informed about this assessment.

   …   …   …

When I come to make my decision on the proposed listing I will take into account the Council's assessment along with submissions from the public consultation process.

The Australian Heritage Council found that there are a number of potential natural and cultural heritage values in the west Kimberley.

   …   …   …

The Council also found that the Dampier Coast dinosaur tracks are among the best and most extensive evidence of dinosaurs from the western half of the continent, include some of the largest footprints found anywhere in the world, and provide a rare glimpse into the ecology of the ancient past.

I understand that Minister Burke is expected to announce his decision regarding the national heritage listing by 30 August 2011. I consider it imperative that, prior to making any decision, the minister address the following issues.

The first is the issue of the complete absence of scientific rigour in the Australian Heritage Council's assessment to support its recommendation to the minister that he include the intertidal zone of the Dampier Peninsula on the National Heritage List. I asked the minister if he is aware that the Australian Heritage Council's report does not make a single reference as to where fossils and dinosaur prints might be located along the Dampier Peninsula. I ask the minister to delay any decision in respect of the national heritage listing until an appropriate level of credible scientific assessment is made, so he and the community are adequately informed of the facts.

On the economic front, I ask the minister if he is properly informed of the massive economic benefits that will be derived from the LNG precinct at James Price Point and whether he is aware of the statements of Premier Colin Barnett, who has referred to the economic and social benefits as being 'a once-in-a-generation opportunity' for the Australian community, including the IndigĀ­enous communities in the West Kimberley.

I further ask the minister if he is aware of the $1.4 billion package of benefits that has been negotiated with the traditional owners of James Price Point, the Western Australian government and Woodside. Further, is the minister aware of projections that the Browse LNG development will increase WA's gross state product by around $65 billion, increase Australia's gross domestic product by around $50 billion over the life of the project and generate 6,000 direct jobs during the peak construction period and 400 ongoing jobs once operations begin?

I implore the minister, having regard to the economic and social benefits that will flow to the Australian community from this project, to at the very least defer any decision on the national heritage listing until after the completion of the research of the dinosaur footprints within the area of the proposed Browse LNG precinct. This would be the most prudent course of action for the minister to take.