Monday, 10 September 2012
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development) Bill 2012; In Committee
I would like for a minute to reinforce the question that Senator Macdonald has been asking in relation to the establishment of the committee. I think it is a very reasonable question. It is a bit symptomatic of the way this government work that they put up a piece of legislation and have no concept of how the fundamentals of it might work. I think it is a reasonable question for Senator Macdonald to ask—a very reasonable question. He did ask Minister Conroy this morning how that process might operate. I acknowledge that Senator Conroy said that he would have to seek some additional advice—and, as Senator Macdonald has just said, some five hours have passed since he asked that question. I think it is quite reasonable that this chamber have some understanding of the process through which the committee might be established.
It is all very well for Senator Conroy to make comments about how other processes may have worked, but that really is not quite relevant to the questions that we are asking. We are asking some genuine questions about how the panel might be appointed. There are a number of mechanisms that are relatively standard. Will there be a selection panel appointed with a recommendation to the minister? Or is the minister just going to make his own appointments based on information from staff in his office? Or will the department recommend to the minister names for appointment? Given the contention that exists around this issue and given the concerns that have been raised both in this chamber and in the other place, it is reasonable that we ask these questions and get a serious response. This piece of legislation has been around for a while. It has been through a Senate inquiry process and I find it difficult to understand why the minister has absolutely no idea what particular process might be undertaken to select the panel. It is perhaps one of the fundamental issues of how this whole process is going to work. If we cannot have confidence in the efficacy of that process, if we do not understand while we are passing the legislation how that process is going to work, what can we have confidence in?
Senator Macdonald has mentioned some of the previous and numerous failures of this government around process. He mentioned pink batts and I think that is a pretty prime example. He mentioned school halls and the complete disaster that was the process of allocating funds, particularly through the former New South Wales government. If the minister cannot tell us, at least, what the process might be or give us an indication of how the process might work, are we going to find out prior to the passing of the bill? I do not think it is reasonable that we do not know that information prior to the passing of the bill. It is a simple question. It is a reasonable question. This piece of legislation has been around for some time and I think it is quite reasonable that the chamber actually ask the question and receive an answer.