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 did hear my colleague Senator Feeney as I was arriving in the chamber earlier that the point of this was to find a balance, to find the right solutions. I think these arrangements will provide all Australians with greater confidence that projects will be subject to rigorous and objective scientific assessment. Independent assessment will help build greater trust and help build community confidence in coal seam gas and coal mining development in sensitive areas. Under these arrangements, the states will remain the primary regulators, the framework will apply to future licences and businesses will not be required to change the way they apply for a licence. The framework is not designed to add extra work or to increase the regulatory burden for upcoming projects but it does mean, however, that their applications will be subject to rigorous and independent scientific assessment by the committee before states grant an approval for a relevant activity. This is a good outcome as it will inform better environmental regulation of coal seam gas and large coalmine development impacts on groundwater across Australia without imposing additional Commonwealth regulation.
It leaves the administration in the hands of the states, which have the local knowledge and local relationships, while avoiding duplicated regulatory systems, with the added cost and uncertainty that brings. Independent expert scientific advice to provide quality recommendations for the protection of underground water has formed part of federal approvals when they have been given. To date, this quality independent advice has been limited to the extent of the environmental powers set out under the EPBC Act. With this new independent expert scientific committee, the level of scientific rigour will be applied to consider the impact on underground water more generally. This is an important development, with Australia set to benefit from a strong coalmining and coal seam gas industry for years to come.