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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2111

Cape York


Senator BOSWELL (Queensland) (14:00): My question is to Senator Conroy, the Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. I refer to the government's decision to dump its conditional approval of the $4 billion South of Embley bauxite project on Cape York following a formal complaint by the Wilderness Society. The Wilderness Society, in an attempt to stop the project, first raised grave concerns regarding the local bare-rumped sheathtail bat. This was followed up by concerns regarding a new species of freshwater crab. Finally, they were successful with incorrect claims of increased shipping in the Great Barrier Reef. Will the government continue to surrender to the Wilderness Society's vexatious complaints and jeopardise economic investment and Aboriginal jobs on Cape York, and unionist jobs in Gladstone, that rely on bauxite to operate?


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) (14:01): I thank Senator Boswell for his question. The Gillard government is committed to protecting matters of national environmental significance on Cape York Peninsula under national environmental law. The assessment process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is rigorous, and there are a number of points at which the public are invited to comment.

The South of Embley project is being assessed under national environmental law. On 15 March, Minister Burke revoked the original referral decision and substituted it with one that takes the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park World Heritage and National Heritage into account. To address the new controlling provisions, the proponent must prepare a new draft environmental impact statement, which will be available for public comment. On 17 November 2011, Minister Burke received a valid request under section 78A of the EPBC Act to reconsider the original controlled action referral decision on the basis of new and substantial information about shipping activities through the Great Barrier Reef. Information about shipping activities was not provided by the proponent at the time of the original controlled action referral decision.

In making his decision, Minister Burke considered advice from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Rio Tinto and public comments received during the invitation-to-comment period. The Great Barrier Reef is—as every senator in this chamber would agree—one of our most significant environmental assets and it has been recognised as being among the world's healthiest coral reefs and ecosystems and best managed marine areas. The government makes no apologies— (Time expired)


Senator BOSWELL (Queensland) (14:03): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Was it a coincidence that the same day Minister Burke announced that he would expand the EIS to include shipping for the project the Greens announced they would preference the Queensland Labor Party in the crucial seat of Ashgrove? Prior to the decision to dump the EIS did the department discuss with the management of Rio Tinto the increased shipping claims made by the Wilderness Society?


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) (14:04): The government makes no apologies for ensuring that we continue our commitment to sustainable development that ensures the outstanding universal values of the Great Barrier Reef. Senator Boswell asked about new species. The government is aware of reports that surveying work undertaken by the proponents may have detected a new species of freshwater crab and a new species of shrimp previously unrecorded in this area—

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator CONROY: No, it is just the remnants of the white-shoe brigade coming back to life. It is not a new species; it is an old species of the white-shoe brigade.

Mr President, if studies indicate that there are new species, these would not be matters listed under national environmental law. The environmental protection of these matters is the responsibility of the state. The government is also aware of requests— (Time expired)



Senator BOSWELL (Queensland) (14:05): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Has the government in its capitulation to the Wilderness Society assessed the economic impact of this decision on Indigenous Queenslanders employed in Rio Tinto's Weipa operation and the flow-on impact to the two Gladstone refineries that depend on Weipa for bauxite, and the unionists that will lose their jobs?


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) (14:05): I am afraid I cannot take seriously a question from those opposite that tries to pretend that they are remotely interested in working Australians. Absolutely not. It is impossible to take seriously the National Party, the white-shoe brigade, the party that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mr Clive Palmer—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Brandis, I will give you the call when there is silence on both sides. Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Conroy is up to his old tricks again. You have ruled repeatedly that abusing the opposition or opposition parties is not an answer to a question about policy. He was asked one question. He was asked whether consideration was given to two particular matters: the effect on Indigenous peoples and the effect on Gladstone refineries. He has not addressed either.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. The minister has been going 18 seconds. I am listening closely to the minister's answer. He has 42 seconds remaining in which to address the question.

Senator CONROY: Thank you, Mr President. It is no surprise to see Senator Brandis being so precious about the mention of Clive Palmer.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, just come to your answer.

Senator CONROY: Senator Boswell asked specifically about the impact on working families in Gladstone. Well, Senator Boswell would not know one if he fell over it. Let us be very clear: he knows the way through the front door of Clive Palmer's jet, so he knows the way there and so does Senator Brandis and so does Senator Bernardi—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, come to the question.

Senator CONROY: and a few of the others.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, come to the question!

Senator CONROY: They know where that is. But they would not know a working family if they fell over it.

Senator Heffernan: Mr President, on a point of order: Senator Conroy, with a trade union background, should withdraw his inference that people like myself are not interested in working Australians. I am a working Australian. Farmers are working Australians.

The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order. It is a debating point.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. It is that it is obvious to everyone in the chamber that Senator Conroy flagrantly for most of the course of his answer defied your ruling. If your authority in the chair is to be supported by this chamber, you must insist on imposing your rulings upon him.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.