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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5065

James Price Point


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:42): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Senator Conroy. I refer to the environmental impact assessment process—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Wait a minute, Senator Siewert. You are entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I refer to the Browse Basin LNG processing plant planned for James Price Point in the Kimberley and ask: are you aware that Woodside, the proponent for the development, has significantly underestimated the number of whales in the area? Given that the community science monitoring program has so far identified 1,698 whales within eight kilometres of the shore in five weeks, compared to Woodside's assessment of 1,000 whales for the entire migration season, how are you addressing this gross underestimation in your current assessment process?

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! On my left; Senator Siewert is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you or you will you commission an independent scientific monitoring program to help you assess this project in light of the mounting evidence that the EIA document is insufficient in its assessment process?






Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:44): I thank Senator Siewert for her questions. We are working with the Western Australian government on a strategic assessment of this proposal. The state assessment process continues, and finalisation of the state report must precede finalisation of the strategic assessment documents. The strategic assessment process requires all potential environmental, heritage and Indigenous impacts to be fully assessed. I am aware there are a range of views in relation to this proposal. The government will not be in a position to make a decision on the plan to develop the precinct until all matters required by the terms of the strategic assessment have been appropriately investigated.

The Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority has finalised its draft recommendation report, with draft approval conditions, and completed a two-week public appeals period. I am advised the Western Australian Office of the Appeals Convenor is considering appeals received before providing a report to the Western Australian Minister for Environment for final decision. The government will not be in a position to make a decision on this proposal until the Western Australian government has finalised its strategic assessment documents to meet the terms of the strategic assessment agreement.

As to whales, in Australian waters they are protected under national environmental law. Humpback whales migrate annually along the Kimberley's Dampier Peninsula coast, including past James Price Point, the site of the Western Australian government's proposed Browse LNG precinct. Under the terms of reference for the joint federal-state strategic assessment for the Browse LNG precinct, potential impacts to protected matters such as humpback whales must be appropriately investigated. The government will not be in a position to make a decision on this proposal until all matters required by the terms of the strategic assessment— (Time expired)


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:46): Mr President, I am not asking what the decision is; I am asking how they are going to make the decision and whether they will seek independent scientific advice as they cannot rely on the Woodside assessment process. So, further to that, I have a supplementary question. The Woodside environmental assessment process listed many dolphins as unidentified and did not distinguish between the normal spinner dolphins and the now identified miniature spinner dolphins. Is the government aware of recent reports— (Time expired)


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:47): The government has received an application under sections 9 and 10 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act to protect an area near James Price Point. The act requires that a report be commissioned in response to the section 10 application. The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities is currently consulting interested parties on Minister Burke's behalf as part of the section 9 process. As the applications are the subject of a legal decision-making process, it would be inappropriate to comment further.

Minister Burke has advised that Woodside has resumed geotechnical investigations, including near-shore drilling, after a break over the wet season. Minister Burke has received advice from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities that these activities are unlikely to have a significant impact upon listed matters. Minister Burke has advised that departmental compliance officers inspected the onshore and near-shore activities on 6 and 7 June and that no matters of concern— (Time expired)


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:48): Mr President, it was nice the minister was answering a question I did not even ask, so I will try again with a further supplementary question. How is the government going to undertake to make the decision? Is the government aware that Woodside have told marine researchers not to tell anybody about the fact that they had photographed the miniature spinner dolphins? What action will the minister take to address this particular issue around the miniature spinner dolphins?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:49): I thank Senator Siewert for her additional question. I am happy to seek further information from Minister Burke on that specific issue; I will take that on notice for you.