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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 916

Foreign Affairs and Trade: Mekong River

(Question No. 840)


Senator Rhiannon asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 21 July 2011:

In regard to Lao People ' s Democratic Republic ' s (Laos ' ) proposed Xayaburi Dam on the mainstream of the Mekong River, Australia ' s support to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), and Australia ' s bilateral aid to Mekong countries bordering the Mekong River:

(1)    As a major donor to the MRC, and for the MRCs Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement under the 1955 Mekong Agreement (PNPCA), what position does the Australian Government hold on the proposed Xayaburi Dam, and the other proposed mainstream dams on the Mekong River.

(2)    What is the Australian Government ' s understanding of the current status of the PNPCA.

(3)    Does the Australian Government consider that obligations under the procedures have been met, and whether they are completed or still ongoing .

(4)    What messages will Australia be sending to the Mekong governments in the lead up to the proposed ministerial meeting to discuss the Xayaburi Dam .

(5)    Given that the Vietnam and Cambodian Governments have made clear public statements regarding their concerns with the Xayaburi Dam, including support for the recommended 10 year moratorium on the dams, how will Australia support these countries ' clearly stated public views on the Xayaburi Dam and the PNPCA.

(6)    Will the Minister, or an Australian Government representative, meet bilaterally with the Lao Government to encourage a renewed commitment by Laos to international dialogue and decision making, via regionally mandated processes, for the Xayaburi Dam; if so, what messages will the Australian Government give to the Lao Government.

(7)    Given Australia ' s previous influential role in Development Partner considerations of the proposed dams, will the Australian Government join with other governments such as Vietnam and the United States of America, in publicly supporting the recommendations of the Strategic Environmental Assessment and call for a 10 year moratorium on decisions regarding the Mekong mainstream dams.


Senator Conroy: The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1)   The Australian Government regards the development and use of the waters of the Mekong River Basin as sovereign decisions for Mekong governments. However the Australian Government is concerned that deliberation processes about Mekong water resources development are transparent, well-informed and inclusive, as the livelihoods of millions of people may be affected. The Australian Government's technical support provided under the Australian Mekong Water Resources Program and policy advocacy about the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) process supports this ambition.

(2)   The MRC met at ministerial level in Siem Reap, Cambodia from 7-9 December 2011 to further discuss the proposed Xayaburi Hydropower Dam proposal. There was no direct statement on the Xayaburi Hydropower Dam issued at that meeting. Member countries agreed to conduct further studies on the sustainable development and management of the Mekong River, including the impacts of mainstream hydropower development projects. The MRC has not officially announced that the formal Xayaburi Hydropower Dam deliberation process has completed.

(3)   The Australian Government notes the status of the formal Xayaburi Hydropower Dam deliberation process is uncertain. The Australian Government, and other MRC development partners, consider that there are many key remaining knowledge gaps about the potential impact of Xayaburi Hydropower Dam proposal and other Mekong mainstream dam proposals. The potential impact of the Xayaburi Hydropower dam proposal, and others like it, on fisheries and sediment flows are areas that in particular warrant further research. Therefore Australia and other MRC development partners have urged (through a range of fora that includes the MRC), that the results of research work into these issues needs to be made available and discussed with all relevant stakeholders before any Lower Mekong mainstream dam proposal proceeds to construction, including the Xayaburi Hydropower Dam.

(4)   Australia took the lead in formulating a joint MRC development partner statement, which addressed the dam, delivered to the 7-9 December 2011 MRC Council meeting. In this statement donors welcomed the decision reached at the Council meeting to conduct further studies on the sustainable development and management of the Mekong River, including the impacts of mainstream hydropower development projects. The statement noted that the study should draw upon the best of international scientific, social and economic advice and holistic consultation processes and that MRC development partners would assist the MRC to ensure this was realized. The statement urged that the results of the research work needed to be available and discussed before any Lower Mekong mainstream dam proposal proceeds to construction, including the Xayaburi Hydropower Dam.

(5)   The Australian Government will continue to engage with all MRC Member States in support of dam deliberation processes that are well-informed, transparent and allow for contestability. The Australian Government's aim is to support, and advocate for, robust deliberative processes in the countries and communities most affected. The Australian Government wants to ensure the benefits and costs are fully considered, and that as a result, informed decisions are taken by the governments of the Mekong basin countries. The Australian Government's support for, and engagement with, the MRC and its Member States supports these objectives.

(6)   Australia's Ambassador to Laos has raised the Xayaburi Hydropower dam on several occasions with senior members of the Government of Laos. These have included the Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Head of the Water Resources and Environment Administration, the Minister for Planning and Investment, and the Minister for Natural Resources and Environment. During these meetings Australia advocated for a transparent and well informed Xayaburi hydropower dam deliberation process that would allow for meaningful discussions by all interested stakeholders. Australia and other donors have continued to call for this through the Joint MRC development partner statement to the December 2011 MRC Council meeting.

(7)   The Australian Government has not called for a 10 year moratorium of Mekong mainstream dam construction. The Australian Government judges it would be more productive to continue to engage with MRC Member States in support of dam deliberation processes that are well-informed, transparent and allow for contestability. The Australian Government's aim is to support, and advocate for, robust deliberative processes in the countries and communities most affected. The Australian Government wants to ensure the benefits and costs are fully considered, and that as a result, informed decisions are taken by the sovereign nations of the Mekong basin.