Monday, 16 June 2014
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bilateral Agreement Implementation) Bill 2014; Consideration in Detail
On behalf of the government, I present the explanatory memorandum in relation to the amendments moved by the member for Page. I make some brief comments on the amendments. The member for Page has moved two amendments, which are aimed at, and will deliver, an increase in the role of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development, known as the IESC. I hope that all members of this House can support the amendments. Not only do the amendments strengthen this legislation; they strengthen the role of the IESC and the safeguard system throughout the entire Commonwealth and state framework. As a consequence of this, the states will be subject to more rigorous standards than has ever been the case.
We have discussed these amendments not just with the New South Wales farmers but also with the National Farmers Federation, the Queensland government and the New South Wales government. I must say that the state governments have accepted in good grace the lifting of the standards to which they are subject and to which they will be subject. In particular, the member for Page has been a great advocate and a true parliamentarian in the course of this process. He has helped in the crafting and the design of the legislative amendments and he has advocated a policy position that is common sense. I think that this strengthens the process significantly.
To summarise, two steps are being encompassed in the amendments before the House today. Firstly, this set of amendments will ensure that state and territory decision makers must—and I repeat 'must'—seek and take into account the advice of the IESC. This is achieved by making it mandatory for bilateral agreements to include this requirement. This is a standard which was never there under the previous government. It is there now and it will remain there so long as we are responsible for this legislation. In other words, these are the toughest standards in relation to the protection of water that Australia has ever had. Secondly, this legislation also allows the environment minister at a federal level to request from the IESC information on the operation of the bilateral agreement in relation to the water trigger. For example, this could include advice on the extent to which a state or territory has assessed the impacts of the development and has considered the initial advice of the IESC.
I want to make one correction for the sake of the House. I mentioned earlier that this would last until the bioregional assessments were complete. I want to clarify that it will in fact last in perpetuity and not just until the bioregional assessments are completed. There is no sunset provision. I apologise if there was any inadvertence on my behalf.
In summary, let me make the very simple point that the member for Page, on behalf of the government, has set out these amendments. He has argued for additional protections for the water resources of Australia, in particular the subterranean water resources contained within aquifers and basins. He and the government together, working with the farming community and the states, produced these two amendments. For the first time ever, states will be subject to a requirement, if they are to operate under bilateral agreements, that state and territory decision makers must seek, and take into account, the advice of the ISC. All up, these are valuable amendments, which produce additional protection to water resources—the most protection that has ever been given under Australian law. I thank the member and I commend the amendments.