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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1503

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland) (16:37): I too rise to speak on the matter of public importance. I wanted to take up some of the points Senator Boswell has made, in that we all support the creation of jobs and opportunity in Queensland. I think everyone supports the opportunities that will be presented by the expansion of the terminal at Abbot Point, the Adani project at Abbot Point, the Arrow LNG facility on Curtis Island and the Arrow gas pipeline to Curtis Island. I think even the Greens support the opportunities that jobs will bring.

Let me put forward a note of caution which Senator Boswell did not instil into the debate: it is not only the caveats that Minister Hunt would put on the project to ensure that it meets environmental conditions, it is also the implementation of that to ensure that those conditions are met. It will create opportunity, but it will also create concerns in respect of the environment.

We have a world-class environment. We have the Great Barrier Reef, which is world recognised. GBRMPA itself—that is the body that looks after the Great Barrier Reef—also has a policy which deals with how to manage the dredging and dredging disposal. This is an issue that has continued for some time and has been dealt with through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, where they provide for how dredging and dredging material disposal will be dealt with, but what is really important here is not only how you manage the issues of dredging through the GBRMPA. With ports within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, you also have to deal with how you are going to manage the terminals, the storage and waste facilities, the cargo, the loading and unloading facilities—all of these things which are part and parcel of the development of operations such as the expansion at Abbot Point.

Let us come back to what the coalition are doing. Before the election, the Abbott government announced in their environmental policy:

We will streamline the environmental approval process for all users—resulting in less duplication across federal and state jurisdictions and delivering a real boost to the nation’s productivity. We will establish a one-stop shop environmental approvals process covering both Commonwealth and state legislation, that maintains high environmental standards, delivers certainty for all users and importantly makes swift decisions.

If you take out the broad motherhood statement that it is seeking to achieve, streamlining—as they call it—is a positive sounding proposition. However, offloading powers to the states without proper oversight and without proper conditions put in place may have a detrimental effect on the environment.

What we are talking about is the devolution of the powers from the federal government not to another state—let us look at the specifics. Let us look at what the Newman government has been doing, because they will be part and parcel of the management of the expansion at Abbot Point to make sure not only that jobs and the economy get a boost but also that the environment is not detrimentally impacted as a consequence. In other words, there is a balance to be struck. I think Senator Boswell was going with the balance towards jobs and opportunity, forsaking the environment. If that was not what he was saying then it certainly sounded very much like it.

The Newman government cut funding to the environmental defenders office, which provides legal advice to individuals and community groups where they are resisting inappropriate developments—where you want an alternative voice to be heard, where you want a different argument to be put; they shut that down. In their second week in office the Newman government axed the entire Office of Climate Change. They then abolished the waste levy, making Queensland the only mainland state without one. Subsequently, waste from New South Wales is being transported to Queensland to be dumped. That is their response.

Then there are the dirty mine water releases. The Newman government passed legislation, the Economic Development Bill, to allow for the release of excess mine water into the river systems. Subsequently, they announced a pilot mine water release program. They might call it, euphemistically, 'streamlining' the environmental process, but what it ultimately meant was that there would be a reduction in the environmental regulations and controls that are put in place in Queensland. They want to open up national parks to development with the nature conservation amendment bill—another euphemistic sounding name with a completely different result. Currently before the house in Queensland, this bill allows development in national parks. The Newman government initially stopped enforcing vegetation management penalties and has subsequently announced a review into the penalties.

You can start to feel, from the Queensland perspective, that you can start off with a very good program and position. But, in the case of the Newman government, it has chipped away at every environmental control and measure to reduce the burden in these areas to meet appropriate environmental standards. The concern is that in Queensland, in some of these regions—one of them could be Abbot Point—the Newman government might take the same approach

So you might have a federal government effectively washing its hands of the environmental issue by passing it to the states and the states doing what the Newman government in this instance is doing, backsliding on environmental measures. That would certainly be a concern to this side. It clearly was not a concern to Senator Boswell. Of course, the Newman government reduced the solar feed-in tariff from 44c to 8c—another area where they do not want to assist the environment and what they do want to do is slide away from many of the environmental issues that have been fought and won over the last 10 to 15 years. That leads us to this: on the face of it, when you turn to the developments that are being proposed, the community has a right to be concerned about the potential environmental impacts of the project at Abbot Point.

We expect the government to manage the project's progress and ensure the proponents meet their obligations under the agreement. The government has the responsibility to manage the Great Barrier Reef for everyone, for Australians from the tip of Cape York all the way down to Tasmania, and the onus then is clearly on this government to ensure that the project is managed properly and its decisions do not have a long-term detrimental effect in that region, particularly as to the environment.

On this issue the world is watching. It is the Great Barrier Reef and the world will hold us to account if we do not ensure proper environmental management is put in place. The world will not accept the excuse that we passed it to Queensland and Queensland dropped the ball on the issue. The world will not accept that. It will only look to us, from a Commonwealth perspective, to ensure that we get it right. In this instance, given all of the conditions, we say we will continue to hold this government to account. (Time expired)