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Environment and Communications References Committee
Protection of Aboriginal rock art of the Burrup Peninsula

KUYLENSTIERNA, Dr Johan Carl Ivar, Policy Director, Stockholm Environment Institute

Committee met at 08 :02

Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR ( Senator Whish-Wilson ): Good morning everyone. I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee in relation to its inquiry into the protection of Aboriginal rock art of the Burrup Peninsula.

This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that, in giving evidence to the committee, they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee. Such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public, but, under the Senate's resolutions, witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. In addition, if the committee has reason to believe that evidence about to be given may reflect adversely on a person, the committee may also direct that the evidence be heard in private session. Examples of adverse reflections on a person might include allegations of incompetence, negligence, corruption, deception or prejudice. If a person is subject to an adverse reflection in oral evidence given in public, the committee will endeavour to alert them to the evidence in question and provide them with an opportunity to reply. Individuals and organisations who believe they have been the subject of adverse reflection in oral evidence may also contact the committee, through the secretariat, and request an opportunity to reply.

If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken, and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may, of course, also be made at any other time.

On behalf of the committee, I thank all those who have made submissions and sent representatives here today for their cooperation in this inquiry. I now welcome Dr Johan Kuylenstierna.

Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. As has been indicated, the parliamentary protection of this hearing may extend only to Australia and you should therefore be aware of the limitations of this protection.

Dr Kuylenstierna : The submission I made was in reference to the use of some research that we carried out a while ago on acidification.

CHAIR: Thank you, Professor. The committee has your submission. I invite you to make a brief opening statement and then the committee will ask some questions. Please go ahead.

Dr Kuylenstierna : I was made aware that the work that we did in the late nineties on the sensitivity of ecosystems to acidic deposition where we made a global map showing those areas which could be sensitive to acid rain had been used to as part of the evidence related to the impact, or potential impact, of air pollution and particularly acidic air pollution on rock art.

The submission I put forward was that the maps and the assessment that we did was really looking at the sensitivity of ecosystems to acid rain. Therefore it was not designed to look at the impact on rock art and I felt it was worth making clear that I do not think that this is appropriate to use as evidence in this case.

The maps which we developed were based on soil type and the idea was that, if you have something which has lots of minerals that can weather quickly, then the ecosystem will be safe. That is a different end point than the weathering of rocks with rock art and therefore it is not really relevant in this case.

As I understand it, some detailed work on the impact on rock art is required rather than referring to what is a global assessment to give a broadbrush idea of what is sensitive to the ecosystems such as streams and lakes can be to acid rain. So that is it really, so I do not think that the work that we did is relevant to what you are discussing in this case.

CHAIR: Thank you. I will now hand over to Senator Siewert.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you, Johan—sorry, I am terrible at pronunciation, so I am not even going to try and embarrass myself.

Dr Kuylenstierna : That is all right: they get it wrong in my native country of Sweden as well.

Senator SIEWERT: For what it is worth, lots of people pronounce my name wrong too. Bearing in mind what you have just said—and you said in your submission that the use of your work to say anything of relevance to rock arts is just plain wrong—the CSIRO over here has in fact done that: used your work to justify acid load emissions of 200 milliequivalent or square metre per year. They have done that to talk about Yara—are you aware of the issues around the proposed ammonium nitrate plant in the Burrup?

Dr Kuylenstierna : I am aware that it is related to emissions from an industrial plant but I do not know the detail. I was merely responding to the use of our work in relation to the sensitivity of rock art. I do not know the details of the rest of the issues around—

Senator SIEWERT: Okay; so it is just a general comment in terms of it being inappropriate use of the data, your work, in this particular context?

Dr Kuylenstierna : That is exactly it.

Senator SIEWERT: Would you say it is a complete misuse of the science and of your work, in the context that it has been used?

Dr Kuylenstierna : I understand that the actual reference to our work was one paragraph in a much larger report, so I am not commenting on the work of the larger report which, as far as understand it, was related to the atmospheric processes and measurements in the region. It was only the reference to the critical load. The critical loads that were developed and used in Europe extensively were related to the impact on vegetation and fish death in lakes and, therefore, it was not related to thresholds for rock art; it just was not in the design of the use of those tools. Our assessment did not think about weathering of monuments; that is a different exercise.

Senator SIEWERT: Just to be really clear, is what you are saying that it should not have been used for rock art?

Dr Kuylenstierna : That is right.

Senator SIEWERT: What are the known effects of acid levels on rock, statues, buildings, monuments, as you just said?

Dr Kuylenstierna : I am not an expert on corrosion, but what I was doing was looking at the weathering of minerals in relation to buffering acid rain. If you have a rock-type or minerals in the soil which weather very rapidly, then it buffers the acid rain. Some rock types will react more than others to acid rain. For example, where I live in York in the UK, the monuments are made of limestone and they were a bit worried about that in the days when there was a lot of acid rain in the UK. Limestone is very susceptible to corrosion because of the type of rock it is made of, whereas something like granite, which is very hard, is much more resistant to weathering. So granite monuments will not weather as quickly as limestone, for example.

It just depends on the type of rock and the rate at which it weathers but, as I understand it, with the rock art that you have there you need some detailed knowledge of what is going on with those rocks. I do not have that knowledge, so I would not be able to comment on any particular case here. You need to have somebody who really understands weathering processes related to the rock art in this particular case to do the assessment on that, rather than using these global assessments that we did.

Senator SIEWERT: In order to make an assessment of the impact in these circumstances, as I understand from what you are saying, you would need to do detailed analysis of the rocks on the peninsula to understand what impact the acid load would have on the rocks and, therefore, the rock art.

Dr Kuylenstierna : And also to get someone who is a specialist in that. I have worked with people who have been studying corrosion for years, but I am not one of them. I have worked with them and it is a specialised subject, so you need a specialist to look at it and come up with the likely sensitivity of it to acidity or any pollutant loads.

Senator SIEWERT: Going back to my question, is that what you would need to do—you would need a specialist to actually assess the impact?

Dr Kuylenstierna : I would have thought that, yes, you need specialist advice on what the impact in this particular case would be. Using this global map is not very appropriate.

Senator SIEWERT: Did you say it is not very credible?

Dr Kuylenstierna : It is not appropriate to use this global assessment of ecosystems to look at the rock art.

CHAIR: In relation to that, given the context of what you know—you have obviously read the CSIRO report and seen the paragraph where they have referenced this study—do you believe this reference should be withdrawn by CSIRO?

Dr Kuylenstierna : Like I said, I am only referring to the paragraph where it talks about our work. I am not commenting on the rest of the report and I have not read that in detail. I am just saying that the reference to our work does not add anything to the analysis.

CHAIR: Adding to analysis is one thing—and on that basis do you think that reference should be withdrawn?—but do you also believe that this study is being used to underwrite a project in this area?

Dr Kuylenstierna : I really do not know the detail surrounding the issues that you are discussing in the committee, so I think that is for you to sort out. I am just saying that the use of our map to say anything useful about the impact on rock art is just not relevant. Our work is not relevant to your deliberations. But I cannot comment on the details of what is going on there, because I do not know.

CHAIR: Does it surprise you that CSIRO has not conducted any assessment of the capacity of the rocks to cope with acid deposition from the industry or whether acid deposition in the Burrup area is likely to cause any negative effects on the rock or the rock art? Does that surprise you? Do you think that is a fundamental failure of methodology?

Dr Kuylenstierna : I do not know what their role in this was, but I think that if you want to understand what is going on you need to have the proper evidence in front of you. Our map is not going to give you that.

CHAIR: The reality that we are facing is that the CSIRO work in total is being referenced by industry and by government to justify industrial expansion on a peninsula that many believe contains World Heritage values, and your paragraph is an essential part of that CSIRO report. So I will ask you again on that basis: do you think that paragraph—your work, your study—should be withdrawn?

Dr Kuylenstierna : Yes, I think that you should take it out. It is not relevant to the deliberations that you are undertaking. I think the reference to Cinderby et al. should just be taken out, because it refers to the sensitivity of ecosystems; it was never designed to look at rock art.

Senator CHISHOLM: I am interested to know whether you have had any contact from the CSIRO in relation to the use of your work.

Dr Kuylenstierna : No, I have not. I have not been contacted by CSIRO. It was a consultant called John Black, who contacted me by email and asked me whether the reference to our work was relevant, and I said no. And I was asked to give evidence at a Senate committee, which I did.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the approach to assessment, are you aware of the circumstances and the fact that they are looking at the load and the impact of emissions from industrialisation on the rock art?

Dr Kuylenstierna : Yes, I am aware.

Senator SIEWERT: Should they be looking at the cumulative pollution load from all the various industrial plants there to try and assess the safe pollution load for the rock art? In your professional opinion, how would you go about doing that?

Dr Kuylenstierna : When pollutants are emitted, they undergo chemical transformation and are blown around in the winds. So the pollution that is experienced in any one site will depend on the sources and the meteorology and so forth. The first thing you need to do is monitor the current pollution loads at the site you are interested in and then undertake assessment of likely changes to that using emission inventory and modelling and that sort of technique. Then you need to understand what is the impact of that on the rock art. So those are all different steps which are quite common in air pollution assessment.

I understand that the CSIRO report was talking about some of those aspects. I did not read it in detail; just the bits about the use of our work in terms of the likely impact of acidic deposition on the rock art. I think that is where you need to have more specialist advice on the processes that are taking place on the rocks.

Senator SIEWERT: You would assess the cumulative load, you would do the monitoring and you would assess the rock and the art, but you could not do that assessment if you did not have an understanding of pollution loads and the various pollutants on the rocks themselves?

Dr Kuylenstierna : Yes, you need to understand what the pollution is doing to the rock art itself.

Senator SIEWERT: If that has not been done, what is your professional opinion of the scientific method that was used—how the previous assessment was undertaken and the use of your work, and the lack of an actual assessment of the impact on the rocks and the art itself?

Dr Kuylenstierna : Without reviewing all the scientific material that has been produced and the evidence, I do not think it is appropriate for me to comment. Basically, in terms of that reference to our work, my submission is that that is what I can comment on with confidence. I do not know what you have at your fingertips, but you need to understand both the pollution load and you need to understand what its impact is on the things that you care about. That is the basic information you need. I do not know what has been produced, so I cannot really comment on what you have. But it makes sense that you need to understand the amount of pollution that is occurring and what impact it is having.

CHAIR: If the CSIRO study was specifically referring to the rock art, are you surprised that they did not check that your report and therefore the reference related to ecosystems? Are you surprised that they used that to justify it?

Dr Kuylenstierna : I am just saying it is an inappropriate use of our science. I think that is enough.

CHAIR: That is fine. CSIRO is our pre-eminent Australian scientific body and it has a very good reputation internationally. Do you think this reflects badly on CSIRO's reputation?

Dr Kuylenstierna : I do not think I can say that because I have not studied all the literature that you have got. I have met with many colleagues at CSIRO and they are good scientists. I cannot comment, because I have not studied all of the literature that you have available.

CHAIR: Professor, are there any other matters that you wish to draw to the committee's attention?

Dr Kuylenstierna : No, I think it is enough. I really wanted to comment on the bit I know about, which is the use of our work, and because it was based on ecosystems it does not tell you what you want to know about rock art. I just hope that you have got the evidence you need to make informed decisions.

CHAIR: Before we let you go and thank you for your participation today, I might just ask: in your understanding, are there other experts internationally who would have published papers and have considerable experience on something like rock structures, in terms of acid deposition and buffering capacity—those kinds of things?

Dr Kuylenstierna : Yes, there are some people who I have worked with in Sweden, for example. it used to be called the Swedish Corrosion Institute and now it is called KIMAB, I think. They are people who work on corrosion of buildings. They understand corrosion processes on monuments and things like that. Yes, so there are people who are doing that in Europe. There is a guy called Johan Tidblad in Stockholm, if he is still there—I have not been in touch with him for a while.

Senator SIEWERT: I know that Hansard is going to want to know how to spell that!

CHAIR: Could you give us the spelling of his surname, or perhaps could we chase that up with you, Professor?

Dr Kuylenstierna : We wrote a paper together, so it is the second reference in the references in the submission—J Tidblad.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay.

Dr Kuylenstierna : I think that is where there is the organisation or a company now: KIMAB. Somebody else I know who used to work there is called Vladimir Kucera. But anyway, if you were to try to get hold of Johan Tidblad—I will just check if he still works there. He does.

CHAIR: So certainly in Europe, in Sweden and in your academic and scientific networks you know of people who would have been able to have given an informed opinion in relation to the Burrup, if they had been sought out. Does it surprise you that for a matter of such significance that this kind of scientific input—

Dr Kuylenstierna : I would rather keep my comments to what I know about. I feel that I am not aware of all of the context in evidence that you have. So I think that being surprised or not surprised is not for me to say. I would rather stick to the facts—that paragraph which refers to our work is not going to help you. You need good advice about the impact on the rock art itself.

CHAIR: Thank you. The committee may chase up any other sources of expertise that you could provide us with as well; that would be very useful. I would like to thank you very much for your participation today, and we look forward to keeping in touch with you.

Dr Kuylenstierna : Thank you very much. I wish you good luck with your committee.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.