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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 2937


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (12:01): I rise to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013, which proposes to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, known as the EPBC Act, and commend the member for New England on his contribution. As he succinctly put it, this water trigger is long overdue. I have talked to people on street stalls about environmental issues and a lot of my residents had assumed that the environment minister had such a water trigger, but, sadly, that is not the case, so the proposed amendment provides that water resources will be a matter of national environmental significance in relation to coal seam gas and large coalmining developments. I particularly commend Minister Burke on this timely and important legislative initiative.

The Gillard Labor government, like many Labor governments before it, particularly from the time of Gough Whitlam on, has been focused on appropriately assessing the challenges to ensure that there is protection of our water resources. This amendment will allow the impacts of proposed coal seam gas and large coalmining developments on water resources to be comprehensively assessed at a national level where appropriate. The Australian government is responding to community concern to ensure the long-term health and viability of Australia's water resources and the sustainable development of the coal seam gas and coalmining industries.

The EPBC Act enables the Australian government to join with the states and territories in providing a truly national scheme of environment and heritage protection and biodiversity conservation. The EPBC Act focuses Australian government interests on the protection of matters of national environmental significance. That is what a good government does to address matters of national significance. Then, obviously, the states and territories have responsibility for matters of state and local significance.

We are a federation and it is sometimes a bit of a tussle to get the balance right. I particularly say that as a Queenslander because, in my home state of Queensland, environmental protection and the conservation of biodiversity is exceptionally important to the Moreton community. Just a few weeks back, I met with a delegation led by Brad Smith from Salisbury and some other concerned youngsters who were worried about the effects of coal seam gas mining on our environment. They are a part of the Lock the Gate campaign. We had some heated discussions; we disagree on many things. I certainly do not agree with some of the arguments in the Lock the Gate campaign. I think the Leader of the Opposition even articulated once in an interview with Alan Jones that the ownership of minerals should rest with the farmer, as in the landowner. I believe strongly that the ownership of minerals rests with the Crown, as in the people of Australia, not with the person who is farming on top of it. But I am sympathetic to the intersection of farming interests and mining interests. Every Australian wants to see our economy grow and prosper, but obviously we need to do it in an environmentally sustainable way and not at all at the expense of our environment.

In Queensland, we have a chequered history, I could say, when it comes to environmental protection. I grew up at a time when Joh Bjelke-Petersen was the Premier and was taking action in Cape York against the Indigenous population in Mapoon. Police squads were sent in to move people out in the middle of the night and people were beaten up on the roads around Daintree when they were trying to put roads through. However, there have been some success stories. Fraser Island is one of the great success stories in the area of environmental protection. Historically, we can thank the Premier of Queensland's dad for doing much of the great work in ensuring that Fraser Island was protected, and FIDO, the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation, which stood up to Joh Bjelke-Petersen. At that time, Malcolm Fraser and the Liberal and National parties were able to do something significant nationally for the future of Australia. Sadly, I think things are about to change in Queensland. I also acknowledge Peter Beattie because his legislation on the prevention of tree clearing was actually pivotal in allowing Australia to meet its Kyoto emissions targets. I also commend the Beattie and Bligh governments for the Wild Rivers legislation, which, sadly, the opposition leader and Premier Newman are against.

The Queensland Liberal-National Party Newman government did not make the environment a big issue in the lead-up to the 2012 election, but, sadly, I think the white shoes are back under the desk in George Street in Brisbane. In fact, the day after the election last year, the Deputy Premier, Jeff Seeney, announced that he wanted to make the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park smaller, which was an incredible statement to make the day after the election. Talk about a mandate! It was mentioned not in the lead-up to the election but the day after the election, on the Sunday.

There has been much more. I was reading in the Courier Mail today articles about uranium mining in Queensland. We have learnt that the uranium could be transported through the Great Barrier Reef, despite a report recommending that any new Queensland exports be moved through existing ports in Adelaide and Darwin, especially since, whilst there are some uranium deposits close to Townsville, most of it is to the west. By any logic, if you were trying to protect the green brand of Queensland, you would send uranium up through Darwin or down through Adelaide, not through the Great Barrier Reef.

I am a passionate advocate for keeping safeguards over our reef. I stood up to fight with my local constituents to ensure that a marine park was introduced to help protect the biodiversity and cultural heritage of the reef for our future generations. We now have the most significant connection of marine parks in the world. So I was heartbroken to learn that Queensland's mining minister Andrew Cripps refused to back away from a long-term reef export option after being handed 40 recommendations by the Uranium Mining Implementation Committee, which is looking into cranking up uranium mining in Queensland.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has recently warned that uranium mining in connection with the reef could put it in danger because of an increase in coastal development and shipping. The Beattie and Bligh Labor governments did not allow the mining of uranium in Queensland but now Premier Newman's Liberal and National parties are reversing the ban. Environmental groups and trade unions are working together against the plans to bring uranium mining back to Queensland, claiming that the benefits are small and the risks are high, particularly when it comes to the world-famous icon, the Great Barrier Reef.

Uranium mining uses huge quantities of water. Water is needed for separating the uranium from the ore, for dust control and for covering the radioactive sludge. Olympic Dam in South Australia pumps 33 million litres a day from the Great Artesian Basin and is licensed to use 42 million litres a day. In situ leach mining, such as that used at Beverley mine in South Australia, involves acid being injected into the ore body on site and its contamination of the groundwater is almost inevitable. The water is not recoverable as it is a toxic mixture of uranium, acid, copper and ammonium that is used in the processing.

I am worried about the possibility of uranium mining affecting Queenslanders. Mary Kathleen is already leaking radioactive water. I commend this legislation before the House.