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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 42


Senator LUDLAM (Western AustraliaCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (15:05): I move:

That the Senate take note of the minister’s failure to provide either an answer or an explanation

I acknowledge Senator Birmingham's comments and particularly the fact that he is here in a representing capacity and so it is unlikely that he would have the brief on his desk. Nonetheless, the Minister for the Environment and Energy has had a brief on his desk for months, you assume. The questions that I put on 2 November relate to the disastrous Roe Highway. I was going to call it 'a proposal', but since we were here late last year the damage is now well under way. This project is being rammed through the Beeliar Wetlands. More than a hundred hectares of priceless and precious banksia woodland is being bowled over even as we speak.

The questions I put to the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Minister Frydenberg, relate to the approval of the Roe 8 and in particular how the environment minister decided upon the criminally abject offsets condition—I will talk a little bit more about offsets in a moment—and whether the core surveys of endangered Carnaby's Cockatoos were conducted or even completed. As I speak, 300-year-old tuart trees are being cleared, as are banksia trees and paper barks in an area of woodland incredibly precious and rare. While this disastrous project is still being assessed, it was declared to be a federally-listed threatened ecological community. So while we wait for the wheels of bureaucracy to slowly turn and while we wait for a flicker of interest from the Commonwealth government, irreplaceable urban bushland is being torn apart and pushed into piles.

I want to pay my respects to everyone who has shown up in defence of this incredibly precious place and conducted respectful and determined nonviolent direct action. When legal processes fail, when processes of governance fail, when processes of allocation of scarce taxpayers' resources fail, it is often the last resort of ordinary members of the community to step up in protection of their backyard. There have been many arrests on site. For the most part, relations between community members who have put themselves on the line and the police have been respectful. But, I should say, all of this could have been avoided.

This process has been a debacle from the start. Since construction began in December, with three court cases at a state and federal level still pending, the community has been bearing witness to clearing and construction practices that have been in breach of many of the ministerial conditions that these questions go to. These have been reported to the minister. The minister did me the courtesy of taking a phone call even though he was on leave earlier this year—I appreciated that—and made some of his advisers available. When it came to the conversation, we were paid the courtesy of the conversation. When it comes to action or anything at all actually being done to change the practices on the ground, nothing, zero impact. Asbestos has been uncovered. Dust suppression has been almost non-existent. Native fauna management borders on the criminally negligent, with the trapping and removal of endangered southern brown bandicoots occurring as little as 90 minutes before bulldozers move in to tear the place apart.

My question went directly to the issue of the status of the management plans. We will continue to raise these issues of noncompliance, but the government should be aware that these powerful community-led actions will continue until some sense is coming from this government, which is, after all, bankrolling it. We are here, thousands of kilometres from the impact area, but it is this Commonwealth government writing the cheques that makes this project even possible—and that is one of the ghost policies of Prime Minister Abbott that we are still dealing with today.

Even worse is the reliance on offsets to approve the project and the failure of the offset conditions to even comply with the government's own policy. I do not know whether senators would be aware of what an offset is when it is put into environmental conditions. It does not mean that the government has to go out and plant 100 hectares of banksia woodland and restore ecosystems to their former intact state, not at all; it is simply the drawing of a rectangle around an area of bushland that already exists and a commitment to not flatten it at some stage into the future.

The questions that we put to the minister included: is it the intention that the endangered cockatoos at these wetlands will find their way to the new offsets 100 kilometres from the Beeliar wetlands? How will the cockatoos be notified? Are you going to set up a website? How are you going to get them there? Are you going to set up a new bus route? Exactly how are these offsets meant to work? What it betrays, unfortunately, is an incredible illiteracy as to how ecosystems function. This is a tragic and avoidable destruction of a precious place.

We have evidence to believe that the surveys of the black cockatoos were never even conducted. The community groups who have been spearheading the campaign to protect this area and to create a much saner freight strategy for the Perth metropolitan area have had eyes on that site for months. It is our understanding that that work simply has not been done. We have been asking for copies of the surveys. We have been asking for responses not to just to my letters but to those representing the 40 or so citizen scientists who are working around the clock to report the breaches on site. We have been begging the minister to send compliance officers and shut down works until these things can be investigated but has come to nothing and that is why I am asking for an explanation as to why my questions still remain unanswered.

Before the minister provides an answer though, I would like the government senators and members to be absolutely crystal clear: this is that an election-defining issue back in Perth. This costly debacle is going to cost Premier Barnett government; that is the way the polls are running. There are a lot of people working across Western Australia and across political divides—the Greens, the Australian Labor Party—and this project is so reckless and pathetic that even One Nation have come out and said they oppose it. The project is a disaster but it is somehow fitting that the final legacy of eight empty and pointless years of the Barnett government will be a five-kilometre stretch of complete ruination that will take many years to repair.