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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 307


Senator WATERS (Queensland) (16:34): I rise to speak on the matter of urgency, regarding the approval of a 13-megaton coalmine in the middle of a critically endangered forest. Sadly, the approval was given at the federal level by the former Labor government and it was given at the state level by the state Liberal government—and I will have more to say about that in the course of my short contribution.

I want to focus on the farce that was the granting of this approval, in particular the granting of the approval on the promise of this critically endangered woodland being protected elsewhere, when the company lied about finding appropriate offsets. Subsequent independent investigations revealed that the company's purported offset was in fact 95 per cent an entirely different ecosystem. Somehow, the federal Department of the Environment had not realised that until they had already issued the approval. To their credit, they then commenced an investigation, which demonstrated that, indeed, the offsets were mis-described—in my view, proving that the company had used false and misleading information in order to gain an approval. That is a prosecutable offence. Instead, we saw an investigation that rolled on for months and months and, ultimately, was dropped. That left us with a situation of a mega-coalmine approved in the middle of a forest with critically endangered woodland and endangered species, with an offsets plan that was totally inadequate and that, two years down the track, is still not finalised. This company has an approval to destroy critically endangered woodland, of which there is 0.1 per cent left in this entire country, and it still has not worked out where it is going to find replacement vegetation. If that does not make an entire mockery of our environmental legal system, I do not know what does.

Of course, we saw one of the activists involved in trying to protect this forest, Jonathan Moylan, issue a fake press release which caused a temporary dip in the share price of the bank that was proposing to fund this mine. He had the book thrown at him and was subjected to charges which would have borne a 10-year penalty. Thankfully, he got off, but it highlights the difference of approach between a company which has provided false information to get an approval and then has the investigation dropped and an activist who was faced with a potential 10 years in jail.

The other point I want to talk about is the fact that the bulldozers are about to go in. On 15 February, this coming weekend, this company, which two years on still has not finalised its offsets plan and still has not finalised where the biodiversity corridor that the conditions require it to identify and protect is going to go, is going to send the bulldozers in with all of these question marks still hanging over the entire approval.

There are question marks about the company's financial state as well, so I am worried that we might see a situation where this endangered woodland gets cleared and then the mine does not even get up at all. I would love for the mine not to happen; but for the trees to be cleared and the company then fall over would be an absolute travesty. We have got to see the minister step in and pause this approval—I think he should revoke it entirely—protect the climate from this 13-megatonne coalmine and protect those 500-plus hectares of critically endangered woodland. That is what we are calling on Minister Hunt to do.

I was very interested that Senator Birmingham said he has got confidence in the enforcement of the 40 conditions that were placed on this coalmine. It is great that he has got confidence; sadly, the federal environment department's staff have been slashed under his government's administration, so I do not have confidence that they have the people to enforce the conditions. But it is a very interesting comment for him to make given that that the company is now seeking to weaken those very conditions. Senator Birmingham said that his government would uphold the approvals, subject to the conditions in place. We will hold him to that. We will not allow this company to get in the back door and try and weaken the conditions about where the biodiversity corridor should go. So I thank Senator Birmingham for a perhaps offhand remark that we intend to hold him to and ensure that those conditions are indeed enforced. What a mockery it is for this megacoalmine to be approved right when the cost of thermal coal has halved in the last three years. This mine is not financial. It is going to have an absolutely atrocious effect on the climate. It would pump out 30 million tonnes of CO2, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of New Zealand's entire energy sector—massive climate disaster, massive biodiversity disaster. Minister Hunt needs to step in and act like an environment minister and stop this. (Time expired)