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Thursday, 10 October 1996
Page: 3910

Senator LEES —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy. Minister, as you are no doubt aware, BHP Gemco manganese mine on Groote Island pleaded guilty in March this year to causing water pollution and were given a $45,000 fine for losing what was said to be at the time 900,000 litres of diesel fuel oil from its tanks down under the island. In fact, after investigations, senior management at the mine now admit that there is a minimum of 3 million litres of diesel fuel oil which has leaked from the mine's tanks down into the terrestrial environment. Others put this figure as high as 10 million litres. Have you been paying a diesel fuel rebate to this company? If so, how much? Have you deducted for the amount that is now under the island? Will your government continue to give the mine a diesel fuel rebate, if you have been doing so? Effectively, you are subsidising this company to continue damaging the environment.

Senator PARER —The diesel fuel rebate does not come under the department of resources, but it does happen to come under Customs. There are clear guidelines as to what the diesel fuel rebate is paid for. It may well be that you are opposed to the diesel fuel rebate—

Senator Lees —I didn't say that.

Senator PARER —You said yes?

Senator Lees —No, I didn't.

Senator PARER —You agree? You do not oppose the diesel fuel rebate? I am not sure whether the Democrats know whether they agree or disagree, but that is not unusual. If the diesel fuel being used at that particular mine, or any particular mine around Australia, was in keeping with the customs legislation, they would get the diesel fuel rebate on the fuel that was used for those mining purposes. In relation to the point you are making with regard to fuel that has disappeared, I am not too sure about that and I will just check with Customs on it. My understanding is that it has to be fuel that is actually used, but I will check that.

Senator LEES —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. When you do check, could you obviously let us know? If they are right, the amount in question owed back to the government is roughly $1 million. If the experts and those who have done the other assessment are right, there is some $3.2 million in rebate owing back to the government. Will you give an undertaking to collect it if indeed it has been paid? On the matter of principle, shouldn't any mining company found to be blatantly in breach of environment regulations be refused any further diesel fuel rebate?

Senator PARER —The two, I would have to say, are quite unrelated. Not only am I but also the mining companies themselves are very conscious of their environmental requirements and they do not deliberately go out of their way to waste diesel fuel or any other material they use in their mining operations. But the two are totally unrelated. The usage of fuel where it is legitimate under the Customs Act would attract the diesel fuel rebate. As I say, the environmental matters are a separate issue. The mining industry itself, as I have said—you would be aware of that—is very conscious of its responsibilities. Unfortunately, there are occasions when these things occur. As a result of that, intense investigations are going into the cause of it to ensure it does not happen in the future.