Monday, 16 June 2014
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bilateral Agreement Implementation) Bill 2014; Consideration in Detail
by leave—I move government amendments (1) to (3):
(1) Schedule 3, page 13 (after line 9), after item 2, insert:
2A Subsection 48A(1)
After "described in subsection (2) or (3)", insert ", or referred to in subsection (2A),".
2B Subsection 48A(1)
After "subsection (2)" (second occurring), insert ", (2A)".
2C After subsection 48A(2)
(2A) A bilateral agreement including a declaration that is described in section 46 and that covers an action described in section 24D or 24E must include the following undertakings by the State or Territory:
(a) that the appropriate State or Territory Minister will obtain the advice of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development if the taking of the action, or a class of actions that includes the action, is likely to have a significant impact on water resources, including any impacts of associated salt production and/or salinity;
(b) that, in deciding whether or not to approve the taking of the action or a class of actions that includes the action, the decision maker will take into account any relevant advice obtained from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development under the agreement.
(2B) To avoid doubt, the fact that a bilateral agreement contains the undertakings mentioned in subsection (2A) does not limit the ability of the appropriate State or Territory Minister to request advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development.
Note: See subsection 505D(2).
2D After paragraph 505D(1)(b)
(ba) at the request of the Environment Minister—to provide advice to the Environment Minister about the operation of a bilateral agreement including a declaration that:
(i) is described in section 46 or 47; and
(ii) covers an action described in section 24D or 24E;
(2) Schedule 3, item 5, page 13 (line 15), before "The", insert "(1)".
(3) Schedule 3, item 5, page 13 (after line 18), at the end of the item, add:
(2) The amendments made by items 2A, 2B and 2C of this Part apply in relation to an action that is approved in accordance with a management arrangement or authorisation process that is a bilaterally accredited management arrangement or bilaterally accredited authorisation process for the purposes of a bilateral agreement on or after the day this item commences, regardless of when the agreement is entered into.
I introduce these amendments to Australia's national environment law to ensure the continued protection of Australia's water resources from coal seam gas and large coalmining development. The Australian government recently introduced a bill that amends the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the EPBC Act, to support the implementation of the Australian government's one-stop shop reform for environmental approvals. The bill includes an amendment to allow states and territories to make approval decisions in relation to the water trigger.
I have been carefully considering the Australian government's amendments in relation to the one-stop shop and the water trigger. I have met with the Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, on a number of occasions to discuss the concerns that my local community have in relation to coal-seam gas development. I impressed upon him that it is of utmost importance that the community has confidence in the one-stop shop and the approval decisions made by the states and territories for CSG and large coalmining projects.
To make sure that the states and territories maintain high environmental standards when making decisions relating to the water trigger, I have introduced two amendments. The first amendment will make it mandatory for states and territories making approval decisions under bilateral agreements to seek and take into account the advice—and this is very important—of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development. The second amendment gives the independent expert scientific committee an additional function and allows the federal environment minister to request its supplementary advice on high-risk coal seam gas and large coalmining developments assessed under the one-stop shop. The Commonwealth minister can ask the IESC if their advice has been adequately considered.
My amendments ensure two things. Firstly, under bilateral agreements, decision makers must seek or take into account the advice of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development. Currently in some instances this is not the case. The second amendment gives the IESC an additional function and, importantly, gives the federal environment minister the ultimate say and indeed oversight of this. An example would be, as I said, if the IESC does not believe their advice and opinion has been taken into account. I believe these two amendments strengthen not only the bill before us today but indeed the water trigger legislation passed by the previous parliament. Water is crucial. It is everything with regard to food production and a lot of other things. It affects our daily life.
There was a lot of concern in my community on this issue, including in Bentley, as has previously been mentioned in this chamber. This water trigger legislation, along with my two amendments, strengthens the protection of our waterways from CSG mining. The assurance framework included in the bill has evaluations or audits against the state and territory commitments in the bilateral agreements, transitional and five-yearly reviews of bilateral agreements, reporting mechanisms, ongoing monitoring, continuous improvement mechanisms and ultimately a call-in power for the Commonwealth environment minister. The call-in power will allow the Commonwealth environment minister to take back a project before it is approved by a state or territory if the project will result in or is likely to result in serious or irreversible environmental damage and a breach of the agreement. In extreme circumstances the minister has the power under the EPBC Act to suspend or cancel an entitlement agreement. I commend these amendments to the House.