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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8798

Environment


Senator WATERS (Queensland) (14:21): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans, regarding the scope of the handover of federal environmental responsibilities under the COAG deal. There is considerable confusion about what environment powers the federal government is preparing to hand to the states. In estimates the government confirmed that everything was up for grabs and that officers in PM&C were drafting standards for all matters of national environmental significance to enable a hand-off to the states of federal approval powers. However, this week the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities told one of my colleagues that nuclear activities would be retained by the feds. The minister and the department are saying different things. Which is the truth? Which matters of national environmental significance is the government currently preparing to hand to the states to administer?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:22): I thank Senator Waters for the question, but I have to indicate that I do not have a detailed brief on that question. Most of them go to the environmental portfolio, which I do not represent in this chamber. I accept that, as representing the Prime Minister, I have to have a broad grasp of many issues, and sometimes I fail in having a broad enough grasp. But, in terms of the details that you seek, I will have to take those aspects on notice and ask, probably, for the environment minister to provide an update to the information you were given during the estimates processes. I am sure he will be able to get that to me quickly.


Senator WATERS (Queensland) (14:23): Thank you, Minister. Yes, it is officials in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet that are actually doing the drafting, so thank you for taking that on notice. I have a supplementary question. The April COAG agreement for the feds to hand off their powers to the states followed intense lobbying by big business. How many times has the minister or the department met with the business community about the design of our environmental laws, and why is the government letting big business write its environmental laws?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:23): If the question is about whether I have met with business as the minister, I met with them this morning. If it is about the minister for the environment, I will have to take that on notice. But I do reject the suggestion that our environmental policy has been developed by responding to some directive by what you refer to as 'big business'. As I understand it, the COAG agreement is to negotiate approved bilateral agreements to provide that environmental standards can be met. We are prepared to consider accrediting states to approve all matters of national environmental significance except uranium mining. Consistent with the COAG communique, the Commonwealth will work in the context of bilateral discussions. As I say, in terms of the detail you have asked for, I will get an answer from the minister in response.


Senator WATERS (Queensland) (14:25): Thank you, Minister. You answered my first question, so that was helpful. I have a second supplementary question: why does the government think the states are up to the job if they have not assessed the capacity of the states to administer the federal government's environment responsibilities, they have not considered the states' poor history on environmental matters and they have not considered the recent job cuts in state environment departments, particularly Queensland?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:25): Clearly any negotiations with the states would be undertaken based on standards which the Commonwealth would require, which obviously relate to statutory requirements and the minister's satisfaction. I understand some draft standards are being prepared, but clearly it would be on the basis that the Commonwealth was satisfied with the arrangements that we put in place. But, as I say, I am happy to take the detail of the question on notice and get a full response from the minister for the environment.