Monday, 17 September 2007
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007
by leave—I move Democrat amendments (1) to (3) on sheet 5385:
(1) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 4), before item 1, insert:
1A After paragraph 7(1)(fa)
(fb) to conduct plebiscites in localities where major infrastructure projects are proposed.
Note: Examples of major infrastructure projects include a dam, a desalination plant, a pulp mill, a nuclear facility and harbour dredging.
(2) Schedule 1, item 1, page 4 (after line 5), at the end of the item, add:
(1H) To ensure that communities in which a major infrastructure project is to be established have authorised that establishment and have consented to the health, welfare, safety and environmental impacts and risks of the establishment of the major infrastructure project, for the purposes of paragraph 7(1)(fb), a plebiscite must be conducted by the Commission in every federal electorate within 0.5km of the boundary of the major infrastructure project seeking approval for the establishment of the facility.
(1I) A major infrastructure project may not proceed unless a plebiscite has first been conducted in accordance with subsection (1H).
(3) Schedule 1, page 4 (after line 5), after item 1, insert:
1A After section 7A
7AB Preparation of arguments for and against an infrastructure project for which a plebiscite is to be conducted
(1) A plebiscite may not be conducted in accordance with paragraph 7(1)(fb) unless an argument in favour of the proposed major infrastructure project (the project) and an argument against the proposed major infrastructure project has first been prepared in relation to the plebiscite for that major infrastructure project.
(2) The argument for and the argument against the project must include a statement consisting of not more than 2,000 words, which includes:
(a) an analysis of the costs and benefits of the project;
(b) an analysis of the environmental impacts of the project;
(c) a consideration of alternative options to the project.
(3) The argument in favour of the project may be submitted to the Electoral Commission by the chief proponent or proponents for the project.
(4) The argument against the project may be submitted to the Electoral Commission by the chief opponent or opponents of the project.
(5) The Electoral Commission must cause to be printed and to be posted to each elector within the area in which the plebiscite is to be conducted a pamphlet containing the arguments for and against the project.
A legislative note says that examples of major infrastructure projects, which are the subject matter of these amendments, include a dam, a desalination plant, a pulp mill, a nuclear facility and harbour dredging. That is not an exhaustive list, obviously. The intention is to indicate to the community at large that issues which the community, any community, considers to be of great importance to them should be capable of being subject to a non-binding plebiscite so that the community as a whole can express their opinion about such matters.
I know, for instance, a desalination plant will produce different reactions in different cities. In Perth our desalination plant is really strongly supported; I might add that I am one of the supporters. It acts in a reserve capacity and it is powered through wind power. Once that wind power argument was made, the community was happy, because the thing they were most concerned about was not the conversion of seawater into potable water but the excessive energy use involved in that conversion. I am well aware that in other parts of the country desalination plants which do not have that background are highly controversial.
There is a similar situation with pulp mills. Personally, I am a supporter of pulp mills being established in Australia, but I am a supporter of those pulp mills which have the lowest energy use, the least environmental impact and which are accepted in the community they are in. I have been intrigued by the arguments in Tasmania. I have found the argument against the pulp mill that is proposed in the Tamar Valley persuasive on my reading of it. I have found the arguments for a different sort of pulp mill in Braddon much more persuasive. I do not claim to be an expert, but the point is that I think a desalination plant in Sydney or a pulp mill in Braddon or Bass or harbour dredging in Melbourne are all the kinds of topics and subjects which should be open to plebiscites. Once again we raise this not because we think the bill excludes them. On the face of the bill, any plebiscite is possible. We raise it because the explanatory memorandum seemed to be exclusive. That is why we are proposing these amendments, based on the precautionary principle, you might say, but also to make the point that we would like to encourage communities to have a more direct say in matters of great moment, such as infrastructure projects.