Senate debates

Monday, 17 June 2013

Bills

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013; In Committee

7:54 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | Hansard source

I thank the minister for the explanation. The explanation adds another layer of concern, however, to my way of thinking in this matter, and that is that the capacity of the government to assess projects through this legislation is unique when it comes to this new subdivision, subdivision FB, that is being inserted into the EPBC Act, because it is a subdivision that requires assessment of matters of national environmental significance that do not have to be assessed for any other types of development. So, Minister, though you said that the government would not want to see a situation where there had to be specific assessment of a coal seam gas development or a large coalmining development—you would rather see assessment of the totality of those developments—it does mean that the aspects of those developments that are unrelated, or are not, at least, a coal seam gas development or a large coalmining development, will have to clear hurdles that they would not have to clear were they not associated with a coal seam gas development or large coalmining development. If you were building a new port, for example, as part of the project, that new port would be subjected—and I am sure the officials will correct me if I am wrong—to these provisions about the significant impact on the water resource or the likelihood of a significant impact on the water resource, whereas if you were simply to make application to the government for approval to build that new port, in an application that did not involve a coal seam gas development or a large coalmining development, then it would not have to clear those particular hurdles around its impact on water resources.

So the risk and the concern here are that it sets up basically two different approval processes for potentially the same type of infrastructure or activity: that if you were building a port, a railway line or anything else for that matter—it could even be a tourist facility on the same site as a coalmine for some reason—it would have to clear the new water-trigger provisions, but if you were building that exact same proposal, without it being in any way close to a coal seam gas development or a large coalmining development, it would not have to clear the water-trigger conditions. So we will be setting up in this legislation essentially a two-tier system.

It is one thing for the government, by proposing, in passing this legislation, to subject coal seam gas developments and large coalmining developments to a different standard than it is subjecting all other economic activity or development proposals to, but it is something quite different for the government to say, 'And anything else that might be associated with that coal seam gas development and that large coalmining development will also be subjected to the higher standard, notwithstanding the fact that the same type of activities undertaken separate from a coal seam gas development or large coalmining development would in fact not face the same level of scrutiny.'

That two-tier approach—that discrimination, as such, against associated activities that requires them to clear a higher hurdle of environmental assessment than would otherwise be the case—is of particular concern and would be fixed by having the coalition's amendment. Yes, that may require there to be distinct assessment processes, in that if a project is a coal seam gas development then it would have to be assessed using the water-trigger tests under the EPBC Act and, separate to that, if it were a port or a rail line or anything else then it would be assessed like any other port or any other rail line under the remaining provisions of the EPBC Act.

I am sure that there are ways to ensure that the regulatory burden of that are minimised and in fact would be minimised, by virtue of the fact that you are not applying additional environmental conditions to those supplementary activities that might be undertaken in addition to the coal seam gas or large coalmine developments. So, Minister, I hope that you understand the point that I am making there, and if the government has some comfort in that regard I would welcome it, but otherwise I do think that there is an issue here: that we are setting up a situation where some actions of a development will face tougher environmental laws than would be the case were they not to be associated with a coal seam gas or large coalmining development.

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