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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1022

Senator IAN MACDONALD (2:51 PM) —My question is to Senator Wong, representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Mr Garrett. The minister would be aware that the ALP candidate for Maroochydore electorate in Queensland said on ABC Coast FM yesterday that damming the Mary River at Traveston Crossing was ‘now in the hands of the federal government’. Minister, could this be true or is what you have been telling us the truth—that it is now up to the Queensland government to apply for approval, which Premier Bligh has indicated she would do after the election? Minister, who is right? Is it the Queensland Labor government who is peddling the story that it is your fault or are you right in saying that it is up to the Queensland government to deal with the Traveston Crossing Dam first?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I have to confess that I was not listening to Coast FM—I apologise for that! I welcome Senator Ian Macdonald’s continuing interest in the Traveston dam issue, although I have to say to him that obviously this is Senate question time, not a Queensland election campaign event. The advice I have—and I again remind the Senate that these decisions are governed by the EPBC Act, as I previously discussed—is that the Queensland government has not yet made a decision on the proposal. However, Queensland have announced that, if they approve the dam, it would be subject to conditions which could delay construction until certain environmental mitigation measures are in place. I am also advised that the Queensland Coordinator-General is still preparing his assessment report.

As I believe I have previously advised the Senate, Mr Garrett is aware of the high level of public concern about the possible impacts on a number of species that occur in the Mary River and in the Great Sandy Strait Ramsar wetland. I again emphasise that, in his capacity as environmental regulator, Mr Garrett has kept an open mind throughout the ongoing assessment of this project and met with advocates both for and against the proposed dam to hear their views. I am advised that, if Queensland decides to proceed with the proposed dam and submits a formal assessment report to the Australian government, Mr Garrett will review that report and a range of other scientific evidence and make a final decision on the proposal. In applying that approach, Mr Garrett will obviously apply rigorously and transparently— (Time expired)

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for confirming that Queensland Labor Party candidates are being untruthful in blaming the federal Labor government. I want to ask the minister: is she aware of the impact the Traveston Crossing Dam will have on the Ramsar wetlands at the mouth of the Mary River and the Great Sandy Strait near Hervey Bay and Maryborough? Will the minister use whatever powers he has in relation to Ramsar wetlands to stop the Queensland government proceeding with that dam? Would she also tell her colleagues in the Queensland ALP not to tell porkies about the federal ALP when it comes to whose fault it is that the Traveston Crossing Dam is going ahead?

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I raise a point of order, which goes to the use of supplementary questions to make argument and to make allegations. I have raised this with you before, Mr President, but I think the practice is getting out of control. Consistently we have opposition senators seeking to make commentary rather than just asking the supplementary question. I think Senator Macdonald took it to a new low with his attempt to make accusations in his introduction to the supplementary question. Mr President, I raise this point of order because I do think it is becoming an unhealthy practice encouraged by the new question time format where we have seen repeated use of this practice. I do ask you to give consideration to perhaps being more firm with senators. I know you have drawn their attention to it on a number of occasions, but I do think it is becoming a practice that ought to be stamped out.

Senator Ian Macdonald —On the point of order, Mr President: a consideration of Hansard will show that I asked questions on every occasion in the supplementary. I did not do any commentary; I was simply quoting ABC Coast FM where this Labor Party candidate said that the problem of Traveston dam was in the hands of the federal government. Everything I said was truthful and was in the form of questions to the minister.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! There have been two occasions today when people have been asking supplementary questions where I have asked the people to get to the question. It is a concern sometimes that people try to debate the answers. There is a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Procedure tomorrow, and I think this would be best looked at by the Procedure Committee. We will advance the matter from there.

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —It is a little embarrassing for Senator Macdonald that he had to defend himself and no-one rose to his defence, but what was perhaps more embarrassing was that he actually did not listen—

Senator Abetz —Mr President, on a point of order: standing orders require that a minister’s answer be directly relevant to the question that was asked. I was expecting Senator Evans to get up on a pious point of order in relation to somebody trying to debate an issue but, given that he did not, I thought I would bring it to his and your attention, Mr President, and invite the minister to be directly relevant to the question that was actually asked.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The minister has been answering for 11 seconds; she has 49 seconds left.

Senator WONG —Before Senator Abetz jumped up I was going to go on and say that what was probably more embarrassing was that Senator Macdonald clearly wrote his supplementary question and read it out without listening to the answer to the primary question. The only part, as I recall, of his question that was relevant to the portfolio as opposed to being political diatribe was the question in relation to the Ramsar wetlands, and I already indicated in my answer to the first question that Minister Garrett was aware of the high level of public concern about possible impacts on a number of endemic and iconic species that occur in the Mary River and the Great Sandy Strait Ramsar wetland. So I have responded on that point. In relation to the status of Minister Garrett’s involvement, I have already provided the advice I have. (Time expired)

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Mr President, this minister does not listen to any questions. My question was: would the minister use the powers that he has in relation to Ramsar wetlands to stop the travesty that is occurring to the unique flora and fauna in those areas? Will the minister also use whatever influence he has with the Queensland Labor government to stop actual activities on the dam site and get them to call off the proposal now and not wait until after the election and then bring it back on again?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Perhaps Senator Macdonald does not understand the nature of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Senator Abetz interjecting—

Senator WONG —Senator Abetz suggests I am being patronising. Can I just say that the question betrays a lack of understanding of the role that Minister Garrett has under the act. I have outlined previously the status of this matter. Minister Garrett has a statutory responsibility under the act. The senator opposite seems to be suggesting that he should act outside of that responsibility. As we have previously indicated on a number of occasions in this place, as I have previously indicated and as Minister Garrett has indicated in the other place, he will discharge his responsibilities under this act in accordance with its provisions.