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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 1031

Senator COLLARD (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(9.25) —The Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Amendment Bill has been around in the Senate for some considerable time. As a matter of fact, when I found out it was coming on for debate at long last, I immediately had to refresh my memory as to what the heck it was all about. This is a Bill that we will not be opposing, as it makes a fair bit of sense. I think it must be said at the outset that this Bill concerns actions and decisions of the Commonwealth Government and its authorities, lest anybody tries to read into it more than it actually involves. Some of its implications can concern airports, railways, ports, highways, buildings, coal, iron ore, uranium mines and woodchip export projects. The original Bill was introduced and passed in 1974.

This Bill is the result of the benefits of several reports from parliamentary committees, not the least of which have been the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation and the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. The fact that these committees have reported and made recommendations and that the Government has seen fit to pick up some of those recommendations is to the good of us all. The Act will continue to provide for the preparation, public review and submission to the Commonwealth environment Minister, whoever he may be at that time, of environmental impact statements for proposals which are of major environmental significant. However, one amendment, with which we agree, provides for the preparation of what will become known as public environmental reports or PERs. These will be for proposals with less complex or less important environmental implications. There may be many such proposals that do not warrant the preparation of an environmental impact statement or an EIS as we have all come to know it. This is normally a pretty comprehensive document. It requires considerable time and resources to prepare. Indeed, quite often it costs a considerable amount of money. The PER will be simpler and much less costly than an EIS, but it will still provide a sound basis for public comment and for Government consideration on projects which are obviously of a lesser nature than the major ones which will provide for an EIS.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) will still require the supply of information to enable him to consider the need for an EIS or a PER. Section 10 of the Act will enable any person to write to the Minister asking what action has been taken or is proposed to assess a proposal under a provision of the Act. The requirement for the Minister to respond promptly was considered pretty vague. The House of Representatives Standing Committee reported on this matter. It indicated that a period of three months for the Minister to reply should be specified. The Act, of course, will be amended accordingly.

These amendments seem to be a valid attempt to streamline and thus cut the costs of providing environmental impact information on projects. Looking at the legislation, two areas of concern were brought to my attention. Unfortunately, there are no officers in the chamber, but the first area of concern was that the Bill does not clarify what was really entailed in the PER, nor does it make clear at what level of impact it would apply. There has also been some concern expressed at the total ministerial discretion with all environmental impact statements. The Australian Conservation Foundation feels that it would be helpful if it would detail at what level of development it was mandatory to provide an environmental impact statement, but those are really minor considerations.

We in the Opposition say that it would be good to get a comment from the Minister on these matters, but we do not consider them of any great significance. It is certainly not significant enough to hold the passage of this legislation. As I indicated, the Opposition will not be opposing this legislation.