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Senate Estimates: What would be left for the Environment minister to do? Would we even need one?

Estimates & Committees
Larissa Waters 19 Nov 2013

Senator LUDLAM: If I understood your colleague correctly, the assessment of uranium mines is being delegated to states and you are leaving the door open for approvals of uranium mining to also be conducted by states. If these powers go ahead, what will our environment minister actually do? What would be left for the minister to do? Would we even need one?

Dr de Brouwer: The environment minister has a wide range of responsibilities, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: He is busy handing them off to the states and territories as we speak.

Dr de Brouwer: It has not happened, and it is a process of negotiation. I can come back with the activities that he does.

Senator LUDLAM: I am interested in the activities that he would have-

CHAIR: Senator Ludlam, let Dr de Brouwer answer.

Senator LUDLAM: What will he do after these processes are all worked through and everything has been handed back to the states?

Dr de Brouwer: It is a power under the act, so it is an entitlement for the minister to do that. It is part of the operation of the act if he wants to go through with bilateral assessments and approvals. That is arranged for and allowed for in the act. Maybe there are other things around the assurance mechanism, but the environment minister has a broad set of responsibilities, Senator, and I am happy to go through what they are.

Senator LUDLAM: Which he is busy dissolving and delegating out to the states. I am aware that these responsibilities exist.

Senator Cormann: In order to cut red and green tape and simplify the process and strengthen our economy moving forward and still maintaining environmental standards at the high level that they have been in the past.

Senator LUDLAM: You cannot have it both ways, Senator Cormann.

Senator Cormann: Yes, you can.

Senator LUDLAM: No, you cannot.

Senator Cormann: Well, that is exactly what we are doing.

Senator LUDLAM: This is a 30-year ark of Commonwealth environmental law being dissolved and handed back to the states. That is how long this has been afoot.

Senator Cormann: Maintaining the standards by making it more efficient so that our economy can grow strongly.

Senator LUDLAM: How do you think these powers ended up with the environment minister at a Commonwealth level in the first place?

Dr de Brouwer: There are other elements under the arrangements that would apply for the minister.

Senator WATERS: Senator Ludlam has passed me the call. I think, perhaps, that last question may have been rhetorical.

Senator LUDLAM: You can take those on notice, Chair.

CHAIR: We are out of time. We are going to stop in literally a minute and 25 seconds. You have one minute, Senator Waters.

Senator WATERS: Thank you, Chair. Regarding Abbot Point, GBRMPA documents released under FOI show that GBRMPA advised the department that there should have been a strategic assessment of the Abbot Point coal port. Why was this not done?

Mr Knudson: Senator, as I mentioned earlier on, if we have a referral for a particular activity, we are obliged to consider that and provide advice to the minister accordingly.

Senator WATERS: What action did the department take in relation to GBRMPA's feedback that the voluntary cumulative impact assessment of Abbot Point was, in fact, not cumulative and was not an appropriate cumulative assessment? Did the department advise the minister of GBRMPA's concerns about the inadequacy of that voluntary process?

Mr Knudson: In any assessment we will be providing to the minister, and always do, a range of advice from both within the department and from relevant agencies. Certainly in the case of Abbot Point the advice of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will play a significant role in helping to inform him in making his decision.



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