Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 November 2020


Tasmania: Environment

8:25 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The last adjournment speech I gave in this chamber a few weeks ago was about a threat to the Tasmanian devil from impending new mining operations by Venture Minerals in the Tarkine. It pains me tonight to draw the Senate's attention to another proposal, for a hard rock quarry in Maydena, southern Tasmania, a place I was actually holidaying in just last week. It's a truly beautiful part of Tasmania.

Correspondence received as part of a freedom of information request reveals that the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment identified potential impacts on matters of national environmental significance, including EPBC listed species, such as the Tasmanian devil and spotted-tailed quoll, associated with this project. This was corroborated by camera-trap footage, obtained in the area, of what appears to be a healthy devil population, with 11 devils spotted recently with pouch young. Despite this, the proponents, Jenkins Hire Pty Ltd and Stroud Pty Limited, were not formally requested to refer their proposal, and to date they have not done so.

The purpose of the EPBC Act is to provide a safeguard for matters of national environmental significance and to promote the conservation of biodiversity. The recent ANAO performance audit of assessments in the interim report of the EPBC Act review expressed concern about whether these objectives are being achieved. Given that a genuine risk has been identified and documented in relation to the Maydena quarry, relying on the proponent to self-assess would appear to constitute a significant failure to implement the EPBC Act. It is inconsistent with the precautionary approach to defer the potential issues or risks to the devils to the courts. The powers under the EPBC Act exist to ensure risks are properly assessed at the outset so impacts can be avoided. I wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, on 30 October asking that she exercise her powers as minister, after getting legal advice, to direct the proponents of the quarry to refer their proposal for assessment by her department under the EPBC Act. I've yet to hear back from the minister.

Development of the Maydena site is scheduled to begin any day now. If the minister at least makes this a controlled action she can have a look at it and we can get some semblance of an independent assessment. We're in a race against time to save and protect these remaining Tassie devils—the emblem of my home state. We can't afford to rubber-stamp developments without the basic checks and balances that are supposed to be enshrined in our federal environmental laws. Instead, as this FOI reveals, we have a case that indicates a thoroughly broken system. Asking a proponent to self-assess is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

I note that the proponents are also under investigation by the Tasmanian Environmental Protection Authority for a possible connection to their composting facility and a discharge of wastewater into a river which recently resulted in the deaths of nearly 120,000 fish at the Salmon Ponds trout hatchery. The Greens have been in touch with the EPA about this investigation. We are watching this very closely, because in my home town of Launceston there are similar growing community concerns about a proposed biosolids composting facility at St Leonards, despite the proponent saying it poses no risk. It is also in a water catchment area for the city of Launceston. As is so often the case, the job of bringing all these issues to light has fallen to local communities. We wouldn't know the first thing about these cases if it weren't for locals raising the alarm and doing the citizen science and the work to bring it to our attention.

Tonight, I'd like to acknowledge in our federal parliament, in the Australian Senate, the work in relation to the Maydena quarry of Andrew Kellett, Bert Lawatsch and Tony Conlan of Wildways Tours. I'd also like to acknowledge the work of the Environmental Defenders Office and the Australian Conservation Foundation on this particular issue. Locals have concerns not just for the devils, their habitat and other wildlife but for the impact on local residents due noise and increasing truck disturbance. There is also the potential of local tourism operators. In this case a tourism operator wants to run a night tour—potentially very lucrative—with tourists at the exact site where they want to build this new quarry, where the 11 devils have recently been spotted. Endangering one of our state's most valuable industries, tourism, and putting our state's emblem at risk, in this day and age, really is a joke. We should be doing much, much better. That's why, once again, tonight I am calling on the Minister for the Environment to act now, before it's too late.