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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 6393

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (2:34 PM) —My question is to Senator Wong, Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. Has the minister received the Queensland Coordinator-General’s draft report on the proposed Traveston dam; and, if so—

Senator Ian Macdonald —Bob, you preferenced the Queensland government, didn’t you?

Senator BOB BROWN —The interjection from Senator Macdonald is disorderly.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Bob Brown, please resume your seat. You are entitled to be heard in silence. Interjections are disorderly—

Government senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —on both sides. Order, on both sides! Senator Bob Brown.

Senator BOB BROWN —Is the minister for the environment going to release the report for public comment; and what status does a draft report have in his final deliberations? I also ask: is it true that the minister is considering the failure of so-called protective measures for the Australian lungfish in the Paradise Dam, and has that held up proceedings in the Federal Court?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I think, of the four questions asked, I can probably assist with three. I may have to take one of them to the minister, Senator Brown. In relation to whether the minister for the environment has received a draft report, I am aware the department has, on 11 September, and also that the Queensland Coordinator-General is in fact still preparing his final assessment report. I should make clear that the minister’s decision-making powers and responsibilities under the EPBC Act in fact do not commence—in terms of the time clock commencing—until there is formal submission by the Queensland government of the Coordinator-General’s final assessment report. So the draft assessment is being reviewed by the department, and they will meet with the Queensland department of infrastructure to discuss the proposal.

In relation to the second question about public comment, that is the issue I probably will have to take on notice. Obviously, there is public consultation under the act, but I do not know the answer in relation to the draft assessment report.

Finally, in relation to the lungfish, it is the case that the minister has indicated that any relevant scientific information relating to the recent death of lungfish following the release of water from North Pine Dam will be taken into account in deciding whether or not to approve Traveston dam. More broadly, the potential for lungfish and other aquatic species’ fatalities as a result of the operations of the Traveston dam is being considered in the assessment process as well as through independent expert reports commissioned by DEWHA.

Senator BOB BROWN —I thank the minister and look forward to the reply on notice. I ask a supplementary question. Is it true that the Federal Court suspended hearings last week because the Minister for the Environment is doing an assessment of the failure of measures to allow the lungfish to move to and fro past the Paradise Dam on the Burnett River—the other river—which is its natural habitat? Will the minister be ensuring that he takes into account also the 2007 University of Technology, Sydney, report when looking at prudent and feasible alternatives to the Traveston dam?

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —In relation to the Paradise Dam issue, I am aware of the current civil action associated with Paradise Dam. Perhaps Senator Macdonald might like to hear the question rather than trying to interject.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, ignore the interjections. Address the chair.

Senator WONG —In relation to the issues before the Federal Court, I am not in a position to comment about matters before the court, Senator Brown, and I think that would not come as any surprise to you. The minister is aware of current civil action associated with Paradise Dam. I can indicate that fishway design and effectiveness, including under drought and climate change scenarios, is relevant to the minister’s decision on Traveston dam and will be examined closely.

Senator BOB BROWN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister tell the Senate whether the measures for the passage of fish around the Paradise Dam have succeeded or failed? Can the minister also say whether the University of Technology, Sydney, report putting forward prudent and feasible and cheaper alternatives for water supply to South-East Queensland than the Traveston dam are being taken into account by the minister in this period when the Queensland government has asked him to take account of matters to do with the Traveston dam before the Coordinator-General’s final report is available?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I think it is very important to recall what Minister Garrett’s role is here. Minister Garrett has a duty, a discretion, under the EPBC Act to make a decision within the parameters of that act and to take into account issues that are properly before him and relevant to that decision. It is not a wide-ranging general discretion about what is good in the world. It is a very clear set of discretions bounded by the provisions of that legislation. Minister Garrett has made very clear that he will be applying his obligations in relation to this decision, and in relation to all decisions he makes under the EPBC Act, in accordance with that discretion and to consider properly the things which are put before him in accordance with the act. Clearly, there is a great amount of interest in this project. (Time expired)