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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 20

Senator WONG (2:01 PM) —My question is to Senator Ian Campbell, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Can the minister confirm that Primary Energy Ltd has sought funding for its Gunnedah grains-to-ethanol project under the environment department's Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program? When did the company seek funding under this program, and what was the amount of funding sought from the Environment portfolio? What were the reasons the minister declined to provide funding support from his own portfolio?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I do not have details of that. I am happy to seek any relevant information in relation to the greenhouse program. I will have to check on the detail of the program. But, once again, what you see here is Labor attacking a proponent of a proposal, attacking a program that is designed to assist a regional community that is suffering from the effects of water reform and attacking a proposal that has significant benefits for that regional community by creating 50 permanent jobs, 350 additional indirect jobs and significant advantages for that community through a small grant through the Regional Services portfolio. What you saw here last week, Mr President, was, firstly, Labor attacking the proposal. Secondly, when they found out the proposal had passed the guidelines of not only that program but a previous program, they then started to attack the project itself. When they found out the guidelines had been adhered to and the project had been approved based on those guidelines—

Senator Wong —I rise on a point of order, Mr President. The minister was asked specifically about a decision on funding—or lack of funding—for this project in his own portfolio. He is clearly nowhere near that in his answer. The point of order is on relevance. I would ask you to bring him to the question. What he is going on about is entirely irrelevant to the question that was asked. We asked him about the decision in his own portfolio area under the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program, and he seems to be unable to answer the question.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —On the point of order, if Senator Wong were to be honest and read the question again, she would see that the question specifically referred to a project that had been approved under one program and she was asking why it had not been approved under another. I am now talking about the project, talking about the approvals process that it has been through—

Honourable senators interjecting—

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I am specifically answering the question that Senator Wong was asking.

Senator Wong —On the point of order, Mr President: I am happy to read the question again, because it does appear from the minister's contribution that he may not have heard the question correctly.

The PRESIDENT —It is my understanding that you asked the minister a question and he said he would get information on that question. I suspect that perhaps that should have been when the minister sat down because, really, the rest of the answer was not relevant strictly because the minister had already said he would get the information. I thought he may have been adding more information to the answer. On the point of relevance, Minister, you have two minutes left. If you have anything to add to the answer, I would invite you to do so.

Senator WONG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Could I confirm that the minister is going to take on notice the original question, which was on the decision not to fund this project under the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program, which is a program within his portfolio. Can he confirm that 15 projects have in fact been funded under that program—the Greenhouse Gas Abatement program? Can he provide detailed reasons as to why an application for funding from Primary Energy Ltd was not successful? Perhaps he could explain to the Senate why he told us last Wednesday that the project was a great win for the environment when his own department has declined to back the project.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —It is totally inaccurate to say that my department have declined to back the project. Senator Wong claims that it was not funded under the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program. As I have said, I am happy to see whether or not it was even an applicant, and what the reasons are. It is a fair question. But she presumes that my department have not backed this project. The reality is that, regardless of whether it has been approved under the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program, any other program in my department or any other program within any other department—which I was addressing in my first answer—this project is a good project. It helps the local community. It helps a region that is suffering because of reform to water. It helps a region that is suffering from high levels of unemployment, and this is an employment generation program as well. It is a positive project that, once again, the Labor Party are trying to tear down because they do not like regional Australia being assisted by a federal government that is focused on helping regional Australia.