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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 6847

Coal Seam Gas


Senator WATERS (Queensland) (14:17): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Senator Conroy. In relation to Minister Burke's approval of three massive coal seam gas projects, with several more across the country awaiting his approval, what is the minister's response to the growing chorus of government agencies, including the CSIRO and the National Water Commission, who have concerns about the potential long-term and cumulative impacts of coal seam gas on underground water resources, in particular the Great Artesian Basin, on which much of our agriculture relies? If the government will not listen to the community's concerns, will it at least listen to its own agencies?


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) (14:18): Coal seam gas extraction is regulated by state governments. The Australian government has a role only in regulating coal seam gas proposals that impact on matters protected by national environmental law. Projects that are likely to have a significant impact on such matters must be assessed and a decision made whether to approve them. The assessment process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is rigorous and includes opportunity for public input.

Senator Waters: Mr President, I have a point of order. My question was not about how the EPBC Act works, which is something that I am very familiar with; it was about whether the government will respond to valid concerns expressed by its own agencies.

The PRESIDENT: The minister is answering the question. The minister has one minute and 22 seconds remaining.

Senator CONROY: Three coal seam gas projects in Southern Queensland have been approved under the EPBC Act. These projects are covered by comprehensive and stringent conditions which include require­ments for detailed water management and monitoring plans. These plans cover the treatment and management of coal seam gas, water and related waste to ensure no adverse impacts occur.





Senator WATERS (Queensland) (14:20): Mr President, I have a supplementary question. I thank the minister for half an answer. Given the minister's view that the regulation of coal seam gas mining on farmland is primarily a state—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! I cannot hear your question. Start again, but there is no need for the preliminary statement, just the question.

Senator WATERS: Given the minister's view that the regulation of coal seam gas mining is primarily a matter for state governments, is the minister alarmed at admissions made by the Queensland government's head of LNG enforcement last week that the coal seam gas industry will have aquifer and regional scale impacts, and that the Queensland government is only monitoring 10 per cent of coal seam gas wells for leaking methane and aquifer connectivity?




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) (14:20): I thank the senator for her question. I am not aware of the comments that the senator is referring to, so I will take that on notice and see if there is any further information that the minister would like to supply.


Senator WATERS (Queensland) (14:21): Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. Given the mounting scientific and community concern, and the inadequate state regulation of coal seam gas, will the govern­ment now adequately resource departmental monitoring and enforcement of those federal conditions, reconsider its refusal to add a water trigger to our environmental laws, and reconsider its refusal to impose a moratorium until the full impacts of coal seam gas are understood?


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) (14:21): I am not sure I accept the premise of the question in terms of accusations about resourcing by the state government. I am not in a position to accept that as a given, and I am certainly not going to accept the premise of the question that there is underresourcing at the Common­wealth level. If there is anything further that the minister would like to add I will take that part of the question on notice and get you further information.