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Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Page: 6719

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (2:21 PM) —My question goes, with some notice, to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. It regards the Traveston Dam. I ask: is it true that earthworks are underway at the dam site to remove 200,000 cubic metres of overburden and 20,000 cubic metres of rock preparatory to building the dam, and have eviction notices been given to at least half-a-dozen local farmers effective by the end of this month? I ask the minister: is it not a clear breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of the law for the project to have got underway, as it obviously has done, before the minister for the environment completed an assessment?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Senator Brown, I did make some inquiries, given you indicated that you had some concerns about these issues. A similar question was asked at estimates by Senator Macdonald in relation to various activities being asserted. Can I just step back for a moment and remind the Senate what Minister Garrett’s role is in relation to the proposed dam. Mr Garrett is the minister making a determination under the EPBC Act. That assessment and approval process is not a political process; it is a process predicated on a rigorous and comprehensive scientific assessment of this project, as with any other project. I am advised that the Queensland government has yet to finalise the assessment report for Traveston Crossing Dam and has not yet approved the dam under state legislation. I emphasise again that Minister Garrett’s responsibilities for decision making under the EPBC Act will only commence once that assessment report has been submitted to him, and the timing of that is at the discretion of the Queensland Coordinator-General.

In relation to the specific issues raised, Senator Brown, it may be that further information may be available, given the additional detail you have provided us with today. Can I indicate to you that my advice is that the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, which is responsible for the administration of this legislation, has not given any explicit or implied authorisation that would allow the construction of the Traveston Crossing Dam to commence prior to a final decision to approve or not approve under the EPBC Act in terms of the process I have outlined.

I am advised that the department is also not aware of any notification or advice having been given to local residents by any other party that they should expect construction to commence prior to the required approvals having been obtained. It is the case that commencement of construction prior to the conclusion of an assessment process would constitute a breach of section 74AA of the EPBC Act, and such a breach would be investigated by the department as appropriate.

I am advised that the proponent has notified the department that they will be undertaking a range of investigative geotechnical works necessary to inform design elements of the proposal. The advice I have received is that the department’s view is that these investigations do not constitute the taking of an action that has been referred for assessment under the EPBC Act. That action is the construction and operation of the Traveston Crossing Dam. It is also the case that the proponent has notified the department of their intention to conduct other geotechnical investigations in the vicinity relating to the upgrade of community facilities. Similarly, my advice is that this is not considered to be part of the referred action.

Senator BOB BROWN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Did the minister, as distinct from the department, make the decisions on the so-called preparatory work, which as she indicated is essential to the dam proceeding and therefore should be seen as part of the construction? Secondly, if it is true that people have been given until the end of the month to vacate their land, without the minister’s knowledge, is this a breach of either an arrangement with the Queensland government or the legislation to which she refers? Finally, is it possible for the Queensland government to build a dam and do everything except put the plug in before the minister takes action?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —The answer in relation to the last question is no. I have clearly indicated the advice the government has about the nature of the action which is to be determined under the EPBC Act. The second point I would make is that Senator Brown made an assertion about my answer which I do not regard as an accurate reading of the answer I gave. I made it clear that commencement of construction prior to the conclusion could constitute a breach, but there was a distinction in the advice given to me—

Senator Bob Brown interjecting—

Senator WONG —I appreciate that Senator Brown has strong views about this, but there was a distinction in terms of the advice given to me as between that and investigative geotechnical works necessary to inform design elements of the proposal. If Senator Brown considers that there has been a breach—and I referred to the section that would enable such investigation—he is welcome to provide further details to enable an assessment as to whether such an investigation should occur.