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Tuesday, 31 May 1994
Page: 984

(Question No. 1274)


Senator Woodley asked the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, upon notice, on 23 March 1994:

  With reference to the proposed Kuranda Skyrail in the Barron Falls National Park in Queensland and the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area:

  (1) Is the Queensland Impact Assessment process still incomplete; if so, what action needs to be taken to fulfil appropriate procedures.

  (2) Did the advice provided by the Australian Heritage Commission (AHC) on the proposal, dated 3 February 1992, state that `It would seem prudent for the Ministerial Council to consider whether the proposed starting and finishing points of the cable car are such that they would provide minimal impact on national estate and world heritage values'.

  (3) Did the AHC advice also state that `the preferred option [that is, route] is not, however, that with the least visual and probably environmental impact'.

  (4) Was it ensured that the Ministerial Council followed the AHC's advice to consider whether the proposed route was the one with the least visual and environmental impact; if not, why not.

  (5) Did the AHC state that `It is necessary to consider how prudent the alternative options mentioned in the IAS [Impact Assessment Statement] are'.

  (6) Was it ensured that the Ministerial Council followed the AHC's advice to consider prudent alternative options stated in the IAS.

  (7) Did the AHC's advice state that the proposal has the potential to adversely affect national estate and world heritage values through the `Destruction of Aboriginal sites including possible carved trees'.

  (8) What Aboriginal sites would be under threat from the proposal.

  (9) Did the Wet Tropics Management Authority state in an agenda paper, at a meeting of the Wet Tropics Ministerial Council on 6 February 1992, that `The Djabugay Aboriginal Tribal Council, which may represent the view of local traditional owners of the land, has objected to the project. It is understood that the Minister, and possibly the Department of Environment and Heritage, have given the Council assurances that their views would be taken into account'.

  (10) How have the views of the Djabugay Aboriginal Tribal Council and local traditional owners been taken into account.

  (11) Did the Wet Tropics Management Authority state in an agenda paper, at the meeting of the Wet Tropics Ministerial Council on 6 February 1992, that `There has been no consultation to date with the Wet Tropics Scientific Advisory Committee or the Community Consultative Committee'.

  (12) Have any consultations occurred since that meeting; if so, what consultations have taken place; if not, why not.

  (13) Why did the development conditions, agreed to by the Wet Tropics Ministerial Council on 14 May 1993, not address the issue of the potential destruction of Aboriginal sites.

  (14) What action has been taken by the Minister on the Ministerial Council to ensure that Aboriginal sites will not be destroyed by the project.

  (15) Did the Wet Tropics Management Authority recommend in an agenda paper, at the meeting of the Wet Tropics Ministerial Council on 6 February 1992, that the `Ministerial Council defer a decision on the proposal in order to allow an appropriate process of community consultation and the collection of further information on the impact of the proposal on World Heritage values'.

  (16) Did the Ministerial Council agree to allow an appropriate process of community consultation; if not, why not.

  (17) Did the Wet Tropics Management Authority state in an agenda paper, at the meeting of the Wet Tropics Ministerial Council on 6 February 1992, that `The impact on World Heritage values has not been adequately assessed'.

  (18) What action has been taken since then to ensure that the impact on World Heritage values has been adequately assessed.

  (19) Have all seven of the recommendations produced by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in regard to the project been adopted by the Ministerial Council; if not, why not.

  (20) Is it a fact that the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage's Environment Plan to manage the Kuranda Skyrail allows for roads through the World Heritage Area if required for the Skyrail to operate safely.

  (21) Is it therefore the case that road building, as a result of the project going ahead, cannot be completely ruled out.

  (22)  Is the Minister aware of a memorandum dated 25 May 1993 from Mr John Down, Head of the Office of the Co-ordinator General which operates from the Queensland Premier's Department, that states that `The Agency [Wet Tropics Management Agency] and the Authority [Wet Tropics Management Authority] have, during the past two years, severely hampered the approvals processes for a number of worthwhile private sector development projects in and in the vicinity of the WHA . . . . important examples of this [include]: Smithfield-Kuranda Sky-rail—a $28 million proposal for a 7.3 km passenger cableway through part of the WHA'.

  (23) Is the Minister also aware that the same memo went on to state that `In each of the above . . . examples, the approach of Department of Environment and Heritage and of the Office of the Co-ordinator General has been to work as an advocate of responsible development by by-passing the Agency and Authority and appealing direct to the Ministerial Council'.

  (24) Given that the Agency and the Authority have been by-passed and the advice of the AHC to assess prudent alternatives has been ignored, which Commonwealth agencies have actually been supportive of the project.

  (25) What action has the Minister taken to ensure that the Agency and the Authority are not by-passed by the Queensland Department of the Environment and Heritage and the Office of the Co-ordinator General in regard to the project.

  (26) Following the Queensland IAS in November 1991, which was regarded as inadequate by the AHC, will an Environmental Impact Statement be prepared under the Commonwealth Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974; if not, what actions will be taken to ensure adequate environmental assessment of the proposal.

  (27) Will the Minister table: (a) the Queensland IAS; (b) the response of the AHC to the Queensland IAS; and (c) the response of the Commonwealth Department of Environment to the Queensland IAS; if not, why not.

  (28) Will the Minister introduce amendments to the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 to make it clear that the obligations under the Act apply to the actions of Ministers participating on all management committees affecting the environment, including world heritage management committees.

  (29) Will the Minister introduce amendments to the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 to make it clear that the obligations under the Act apply to actions of Ministers participating in negotiations or agreements or the casting of votes on management bodies making decisions affecting places on the register or interim register of the national estate.


Senator Faulkner —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) The Queensland Impact Assessment report is complete. Management of impacts arising from implementation of the Skyrail project will be according to the Environmental Management Plan.

  (2) Yes.

  (3) and (5) Yes.

  (4) and (6) No. The AHC provided advice to the former Minister, as it is required to do, and the Minister took this into consideration. The AHC advice was not to the Ministerial Council.

  (7) Yes.

  (8) The Wet Tropics Management Authority has advised that none is known to be under threat.

  (9) Yes.

  (10) I understand that this matter was addressed by the Skyrail Steering Committee in consultation with the Queensland Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs. The Queensland Department consulted with the Djabugay Aboriginal Tribal council and reported its views back to the Steering Committee.

  (11) Yes.

  (12) Yes, the Community Consultative Committee has been consulted.

  (13) and (14) Such matters are dealt with under the Queensland Cultural Record (Landscapes Queensland and Queensland Estate) Act 1987 not under World Heritage legislation and were not brought before the Ministerial Council. The State Environment Management Plan for the Skyrail project sets out a process by which sites or artefacts of significance to Aboriginal people are to be protected and the concerns of Aboriginal people are to be addressed.

  (15) Yes.

  (16) Yes. The views of the Community Consultative Committee were obtained.

  (17) Yes.

  (18) The Wet Tropics Management Authority, the Wet Tropics Ministerial Council and my Department have progressively assessed this proposal. I will ensure that the proposal is closely monitored and that World Heritage values are protected.

  (19) Yes.

  (20) Yes. The Environmental Management Plan allows the developer to construct new roads or tracks within the World Heritage Area if required during the construction phase only of the cableway. However such an application would be subject to the most stringent review and would involve consideration of impacts on the natural, cultural and World Heritage values of the area.

  After construction is completed the only provision for the construction of new roads and tracks within the World Heritage Area is if they are required as part of the Emergency Procedures Manual. The System Specifications under which the cableway is to be constructed states that no new roads or vehicular access will be required for emergency evacuation, therefore such an application would not be considered.

  (21) No. Although, under the Environmental Management Plan, it could have been possible to construct new roads or tracks, the more recent provisions of the System Specifications does not allow the construction of new roads and tracks within the World Heritage Area for any purpose.

  (22) While I do not have the full document available to me, I am aware of the document's existence.

  (23) See answer to question 22.

  (24) The Minister with statutory responsibility for approval of the Skyrail project is the Queensland Minister for Transport. He has been willing to incorporate environmental conditions agreed by the Wet Tropics Ministerial Council into the System Specifications and to include a representative of the Wet Tropics Management Authority on the project steering committee. The Australian Heritage Commission Act does not apply to State Ministers and no Commonwealth agency was involved in the decision.

  (25) The Executive Director of the Wet Tropics Management Authority, as Secretary to the Wet Tropics Ministerial Council is responsible for ensuring that Ministerial Council's conditions are implemented. I am confident that the Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage, as Chair of the Ministerial Council, will ensure that the Queensland Government as a whole takes these conditions seriously.

  (26) Further environmental assessment of the proposal is currently being undertaken by the Queensland Government. An Environmental management Plan is being prepared and the Developer will be required to comply with the conditions of this plan. My Department is providing advice to the Queensland Government on the Environmental Management Plan.

  (27) (a) The Queensland IAS is a document of 150 pages. I have provided a copy to the honourable senator. Further copies are available from the Senate Table Office.

  (b) Yes. I have provided a copy to the honourable senator. Further copies are available from the Senate Table Office.

  (c) No. It would not be appropriate to table the Department's response to the IAS because this document is relevant to litigation currently proceeding before the Queensland Supreme Court.

  (28) The Government has initiated a review of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 and it is not appropriate to anticipate the outcome of the review or any changes to the Act that the Government may then consider appropriate.

  (29) No.