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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6069


Mr WINDSOR (New England) (14:21): Speaker, my question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Can the minister update the House on progress of the independent scientific committee and the minister's department on the development of the framework for bioregional assessments and the relationship of this work with the so-called water trigger?

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for the Arts, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (14:21): I thank the member for New England. Throughout the life of this parliament the member for New England, along with a number of others, has been very passionate in making sure that we take proper precautions with underground water and have a proper scientific approach to make sure that we get across the connectivity issues between different parts of underground water, and their connection to surface water as well. There are effectively three components, and bioregional assessment is one of them. The independent scientific committee that was established by this parliament and funded to the tune of $200 million deals with two different things. Firstly, it deals with providing independent advice project by project. Secondly, it is involved in providing bioregional assessments. These assessments will happen across many areas across Australia. At the moment there are the first four—in Namoi, in Gloucester, in Galilee and in Clarence—and I was meeting only this morning with the members affected as to the Clarence area, those from the north coast of New South Wales.

Those bioregional assessments have been supported and the work of the independent scientific committee has been supported by three separate government agencies. The work is led by the Bureau of Meteorology but also supported by the CSIRO and by Geoscience Australia. Effectively, what they are doing is bringing together in a bioregional assessment a series of different compartments of information: the data that we have, modelling that is available and the proper risk assessment, as well as an impact assessment of any work. What that then means is that in the future, when different projects come forward, we have a much more fundamental understanding of the full range of connectivity issues beyond the specifics of the project that is in front of us. But to be able to take all of this into account is the final part of the three parts of the approach, and that is what was referred to in the question as a water trigger.

We had already established all of this information, making sure it was being independently collected. The water trigger—which was before the Senate yesterday and was still before the Senate this morning, and I suspect it will continue to be before the Senate this afternoon as they are debating and working it through—effectively has one issue at its core. There is a large level of frustration that the states were not properly and fully taking all of this scientific information into account and it is to fill that gap, to make sure that there is a federal requirement. Now I have to say that the amendment that was moved by the member for New England and was supported by the government has again been challenged in the Senate. I am not sure what the point is in having a water trigger if the opposition say that you should then be able to defer it back to the states, because the whole concept of having the water trigger is that the states have not been doing their job. So to vote for a water trigger and then say we are going to give it back to the states anyway takes away what the public is demanding, that we are very careful with underground water.