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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1217

Senator Bob Brown asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, upon notice, on 16 December 2008:

With reference to the desalination plant proposed for the Victorian coastline near Wonthaggi:

(1)   Does the Victorian Environment Effects Statement (EES) for the desalination plant adequately account for the effects on endangered marine animals, such as whales and Great White Sharks, that live or pass through the area; if so, what are the measures that will be put in place to protect these animals.

(2)   Has the department received a response to its letter dated 9 October 2008 to the Victorian Department of Planning and Community Development regarding its concerns with the EES; if so, what was the response; if not, when is a response expected.

(3)   On the department’s website there is a fact sheet about whales and noise dated 2 May 2008 that states the department is ‘currently reviewing the guidelines aimed at avoiding or minimising impacts from seismic activity on whales’: has this review finished; if so, what were its findings; if not, will the Minister delay considering approval for the desalination plant until the review is finished.

Senator Wong (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)   The Victorian Government’s assessment of impacts of the proposed Victorian desalination plant on matters of national environmental significance, which was accredited under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, has recently been completed.  The assessment report of the Victorian Minister for Planning is still under consideration by officers in my Department. The coastal marine environment in the vicinity of the proposed intake/outlet structures is not known to provide important habitat for any EPBC-listed fauna species.  Listed species that may occur in the area are widespread and pelagic and most of them would visit inshore coastal areas infrequently. My decision on whether to approve the proposed desalination plant will be based on the Victorian Government’s assessment report, but I may request additional information on any matters that are inadequately addressed.  If specific mitigation measures are required, the option to impose conditions on the project is available to me.

(2)   No formal response to the letter from my Department to the Victorian Department of Planning and Community Development, dated 9 October 2008, has been received.  It is normal practice that the issues identified by the Department would be addressed during the Victorian Government’s assessment of the proposed action and would be reflected in the assessment report of the Victorian Minister for Planning, which is currently under consideration by officers in my Department.  If the information provided in the assessment report is not adequate to inform my decision under the EPBC Act, the Victorian Government will be requested to provide further information.  This has in fact occurred, with my Department requesting further information from the Victorian Government on the 23 January 2009.  This information was provided on 4 February 2009.

(3)   Yes, the review has finished.  The review finalised the revised Guidelines for interaction between offshore seismic exploration and whales.  The revised guidelines provide clear guidance on legislative requirements, considerations for survey planning and implementation of operational procedures.