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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 777

Water


Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:07): My question without notice goes to the Minister representing the Minister for the Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. I ask regarding the wild rivers protection in Queensland of Cooper Creek and Diamantina River, which provide, with the Georgina River, 90 per cent of the inflow to Lake Eyre in South Australia. The traditional owners have 100 per cent support for wild rivers protection. I ask the minister: in view of the clear intention of Campbell Newman, the Leader of the Opposition in Queensland, to throw over that protection, allowing the onrush of coal seam gas exploitation, what is the federal government doing to protect these extremely important catchments in line with the wishes of the traditional owners?


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) (14:08): I thank Senator Brown for his ongoing interest. The Australian government is supportive of measures aimed at protecting our nation's important biodiversity, heritage and environmental assets. The Australian government pursues these objectives through a range of measures including funding under programs such as Caring for our Country and administration of our national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Conservation of biodiversity and environmental protection through state and territory legislation is a matter for those governments. I am encouraged to see that the Queensland government is delivering on its commitment to establish Indigenous reference groups to consult with Indigenous people about potential wild rivers areas. In 2011, the Queensland government amended the Wild Rivers Act 2005 to provide a formal role for traditional owners in the wild rivers consultation process through the establishment of Indigenous reference groups. I understand that Indigenous reference groups will be established for the five new potential wild rivers areas that the Bligh government will progress if they are re-elected: the Jeannie, Jacky Jacky, Dulcie, Jardine and Holroyd rivers. This follows the establishment in late 2011 of Indigenous reference groups for the Queensland government's consideration of wild rivers declaration in the Coleman, Olive-Pascoe and Watson river areas. While I know there are a range of views about the Queensland wild rivers scheme among Indigenous communities in Cape York, I understand that there are many traditional owners who support wild rivers and who have welcomed Premier Bligh's announcement of 50 new wild river ranger positions.

There are, as I said, a range of views, and I understand that many communities are supportive of wild rivers, particularly in the Channel Country and the Lake Eyre Basin in the west of Queensland. Unfortunately, Tony Abbott—

Senator Abetz: Mr Abbott.

Senator CONROY: Sorry, Mr Abbott—thank you, Senator Abetz—does not respect the views of these communities. (Time expired)




Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:10): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. My question was about the rivers that the minister got to at the end of his answer. I ask him if he would continue to give that answer and whether he will use the EPBC Act to protect those rivers in the event that the opposition gains power and throws them open to coal seam gas exploration and degradation.


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): As I was saying, Mr Abbott does not respect the views of these communities and wants to overturn wild rivers. Having said that, I did particularly enjoy the Queensland election this week, with Alan Jones alongside Bob Katter. That was my photo for the weekend.

The Australian government has no direct role in Queensland's wild rivers legislation, which is a matter for the Queensland government. The Queensland Wild Rivers Act 2005 aims to preserve the natural values of wild rivers by providing for declarations of rivers as wild and then regulating future development activities within the declared wild river and its catchment area. In wild river areas projects such as in-stream dams and weirs, surface mining and intensive agriculture are subject to restrictions. Low-impact activities such as small-scale commercial fishing, ecotourism and sustainable industries are permitted with government approval. (Time expired)


Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:12): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In view of the fact that Campbell Newman, if he becomes Premier, will destroy this protection for these wild rivers in South-West Queensland, will the minister come back with an assessment of how the EPBC Act may be used to give Commonwealth protection to the very same areas now protected under Queensland law?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides! The time to debate this is after question time. Senator Conroy.



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 Cape York Land Council opposes wild river declarations on the grounds that they infringe on land rights and constrain Indigenous economic opportunity. In November 2010—

Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. It is very clear my question was never about Cape York. It is about the Cooper Basin, thousands of kilometres away. I ask the minister if he will address that question.

Senator CONROY: In November 2010, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, introduced the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011 to override the effect of declarations made under the Queensland Wild Rivers Act 2005 unless Indigenous consent is provided as prescribed in the bill. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee reported on the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill on 10 May. The House Standing Committee on Economics reported its inquiry into Indigenous economic development in Queensland and the review of the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill on 11 May.

Senator Bob Brown: My question is: would the minister take my question on notice and report back to the Senate?

The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order, but the minister has 13 seconds remaining to address the question.

Senator CONROY: I am happy to take any other matters I have not covered on notice to see if the minister would like to add to that answer.