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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 3956

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (10:23): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise in support of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development) Bill 2012. On 21 November 2011, the Prime Minister announced the government's intention to establish an independent expert scientific committee to provide scientific advice to federal, state and territory governments on coal seam gas and large coalmining developments where they have significant impacts on water. The committee is part of a new, science based framework introduced by the government to provide more certainty for regional communities around coal seam gas and large coalmining developments, jobs and investment, and the protection of water resources. The committee will provide independent scientific advice to governments on coal seam gas and large coalmining projects when they consider applications for these types of developments. The establishment of this committee will also provide local communities and other stakeholders with accessible and reliable scientific information that will build confidence in government assessment processes.

In support of this the government is negotiating a national partnership agreement with relevant state and territory governments. Under the agreement, signatory governments are required to seek the independent expert scientific committee's advice when considering applications for coal seam gas and large coalmining developments that have a significant impact on water resources. Queensland was the first signatory to the national partnership agreement, on 14 February this year, and New South Wales followed, on 6 March. Negotiations with the other states and territories are continuing.

The bill being introduced into parliament today formally establishes the committee and makes it a requirement that the environment minister must seek and take account of the committee's advice in certain specific circumstances. The bill also establishes a number of functions for the committee. At the request of governments that are signatories to the national partnership agreement, the committee will provide scientific advice on proposed coal seam gas or large coalmining developments that are likely to have a significant impact on water resources. This scientific advice will be provided within two months of the date of the request.

As part of its functions, the committee will also scope and advise on bioregional assessments in areas where coal seam gas and/or large coalmining developments are underway or planned, including priority areas for these assessments. It will advise on research priorities that tackle critical gaps in scientific understanding, including in circumstances where further information is required to assist in regulatory decisions. It will provide advice on ways to improve the consistency and comparability of research on coal seam gas and/or large coalmining developments, including possible standards for protecting water resources from these impacts. The independent expert scientific committee will be an open committee that will provide regular public updates of its work on a dedicated website and publish its advice and the outcomes of bioregional assessments and commissioned research.

The government considers the establishment of the independent expert scientific committee as important, given the potential impacts associated with the large number of applications for coal seam gas and the large amount of coalmining exploration and number of developments currently in the pipeline. Independent expert scientific advice to provide quality recommendations for the protection of water resources has formed part of the consideration of applications where they have been under national environmental law. To date, this quality independent advice has been limited to the extent of environmental powers in relation to matters of national environmental significance set out under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The work of the committee will provide industry greater guidance on sustainable management of water resources in areas where coal seam gas and coalmining exploration and developments are proposed. An independent assessment process will help build community confidence in coal seam gas and coalmining developments in sensitive areas. These arrangements will provide Australians with greater confidence that projects will be subject to the most rigorous and objective scientific assessment. I commend the amendment bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.