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Thursday, 31 August 2000
Page: 17090

Senator BARTLETT (2:45 PM) —My question is to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Is the minister aware of the proposed Naturelink cableway between Mudgeeraba and Springbrook on the Gold Coast hinterland in Queensland? Can the minister confirm that the proposed route of the cableway will go through the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserve, one of Australia's world heritage areas, and through areas containing the habitat of threatened species of plants and animals? Can the minister also confirm whether or not the proposal has been referred to him under the provisions of the new Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by the proponent for the development? Will the minister confirm that the proposal does trigger the new EPBC Act, thus requiring his assessment and approval of the project before it can proceed and before any construction can commence?

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I am aware of the proposed development to build a cableway in that particular region. It has been subject to an assessment process by the Queensland government for some time. We, as I recall it, have made some contribution to that process. Since the new Commonwealth legislation came into effect, I understand that the question has been referred to us under that legislation and that we will make a determination as to whether it triggers that legislation within the very short timeframe that is contained within the EPBC Act. So we are going through the processes.

Senator BARTLETT —Madam Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. I note his reference to the environmental assessment process that has been conducted to date by the Queensland government. I ask if he is aware of the appraisal submitted by the Gold Coast City Council, their own commissioned report on the draft EIS, which highlighted more than 500 deficiencies in the submission provided by Naturelink, the proponent of the development? Is he also aware of widespread criticism of the inadequacies of the environmental impact assessment requirements at the Queensland legislative level? In such a case and given that this proposal is going through a world heritage area, will he ensure that the environmental impact assessments that are done are clearly independent and up to the high standards required under the new EPBC Act?

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —Certainly, if approval is required under the Commonwealth legislation, we will apply high standards. That is what we expect of proponents in very sensitive areas such as this. I am aware that there has been local criticism of the proposal—there is no secret about that. There are of course proponents of it also. If you look at the cable car in the Cairns region, at the time of construction it was roundly criticised. Subsequent to that, it has received a whole range of environmental awards. Some would argue that that is an ideal way to present a sensitive asset to the community. I remind the honourable senator that one of the obligations under the World Heritage Convention is in fact to present the assets—so it is not only to conserve and protect but also to present. How you do that in sensitive rainforest areas is quite complex, and some would argue that cable cars actually result in a smaller footprint and therefore are a viable option. But that is something to be considered. (Time expired)