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Monday, 19 November 2012
Page: 8961

Environment


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:06): Mr President, my question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Senator Conroy. I ask: can the minister confirm that the decision on the natural heritage listing of the Tarkine will be announced before the end of the year? If so, can you confirm that it will conform to the boundaries recommended by the Australian Heritage Council and incorporate all of the Meredith Range Regional Reserve, or will the Venture Minerals mining exploration licence and lease area be excised from the listing?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:07): The Gillard government is committed to thorough environmental assessments under the EPBC Act to ensure matters of national environmental significance in the Tarkine region are protected. The assessment process under the EPBC Act is rigorous and there are a number of points at which the public is invited to comment. Mining and development projects are currently being assessed under national environmental law in the Tarkine region, as Senator Milne has indicated. The Australian government's role is regulating proposals that have an impact on matters protected by national environmental law, including matters of national significance such as listed threatened species. Only actions which might have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance are required to be referred for approval under national environmental law.

Senator Milne: I rise on a point of order, Mr President. I ask the minister to answer the question of whether there will be a decision on the National Heritage listing by the end of the year.

The PRESIDENT: I believe the minister is answering the question. There is no point of order at this stage.

Senator CONROY: Mr Burke is well aware of the issues in the Tarkine. He has been to the Tarkine region on a number of occasions, where he met with mining stakeholders, environmental groups and tourism operators, to make sure that he had firsthand knowledge before any decisions were made. Minister Burke may seek further information and advice before making the decision. A National Heritage listing of the Tarkine, just on 30,000— (Time expired)





Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:09): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the Tasmanian Premier, Lara Giddings, opposes National Heritage listing for the Tarkine and is all for mining the largest tract of temperate rainforest and the last remaining habitat for disease-free endangered Tasmanian devils, how can the government be confident that handing over environmental powers to Tasmania under the EPBC Act at COAG on 7 December will see the environmental and cultural values of the Tarkine protected?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:10): I cannot actually accept the premise of the question. Minister Burke may seek further information and advice before making that decision. A National Heritage listing of the Tarkine would not mean an automatic lockout for development or other activities; rather, it would ensure that the Tarkine's heritage values are given appropriate consideration in statutory decision making. If listed, any future action might have a significant impact on the listed heritage values of the Tarkine and would require approval under the EPBC Act. So, as I said, I cannot accept the premise of the question. More importantly, what Senator Milne is seeking to get me to do is make an announcement on behalf of Minister Burke, which clearly I am not in a position to do. I invite the senator to await Minister Burke's announcements.


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:11): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The minister needs to remember we have been waiting for a decade for this. Given the performance to date of Premier Giddings in Tasmania on the Tarkine, Premier Barnett on James Price Point, or Premier Newman on the Great Barrier Reef, will the government now abandon its deal with the Business Council of Australia and the mining and gas industry to hand over environmental protection to the states at its COAG meeting in December?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:12): The government have taken a position on that matter and I am not going to stand here and say that we are going to back away from it simply because the Greens do not agree with it. Let me be very clear about this: we have reached a position. We are going to COAG. It is a thorough process. Many people have had their say, like you, but we are going to go ahead and improve the situation in the streamlining of these processes. In terms of the COAG meeting I, like you, await the outcome of the final COAG discussions.