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Senator Waters in Senate Estimates about the Abbot Point approval

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Larissa Waters 24 Feb 2014

I now move to the Abbot Point approval. In the public environment report for that project there were options canvassed about land based disposal of dredge spoil. They were dismissed as not financially viable. Was there any independent analysis done of those claims about the viability of dumping anywhere other than in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area and the World Heritage area?
Mr Knudson: There are a couple things I want to start off with that I think are very important context. The expansion of Abbot Point as a proposal is an expansion of an existing port. Because of that, we think it is also consistent with the World Heritage Convention recommendations as well as consistent with their recommendations to us. We have ensured that there was a world's-best-practice environmental assessment undertaken for this port. That being said as context, the proponent did undertake a multivariate analysis of a range of options, which obviously led them to conclude that their preferred option was for the site disposal location which was approved and the methodology associated with that undertaking. Further, the piece that I would also highlight here is that, in undertaking that analysis, the proponent was required to ensure that there was an adequate scientific rigour behind each of those elements in developing their recommendation to the department.
Senator WATERS: My question was: was there any independent analysis of the proponent's claims by the department?
Mr Knudson: With any environmental assessment we would be taking a look at the veracity of any analysis provided by a proponent to ensure that there is a high level of confidence that not only the environmental impacts but also the proposed avoidance, mitigation and offset measures would be adequate to yield the acceptable outcome as required under the act.
Senator WATERS: Was there a cost-benefit analysis done of the various dumping options-not just the offshore ones but the onshore coastal and inland ones?
Mr Knudson: As I mentioned, the proponent undertook a multivariant analysis, and I ask my colleague Mr Murphy if he can go into more detail about what that consisted of.
Senator WATERS: I am more interested in the department's response to that and whether you assessed those claims with your own cost-benefit analysis or simply tick and flick.
Mr Knudson: No, the department did not undertake costing analysis of the individual proposals. The proponent was in a position where they had undertaken costing estimates for the various options for, as you would expect, a commercial corporation, but the department did not undertake any costings of those options.
Senator WATERS: Okay. On that point: I canvassed with GBRMPA in the previous estimates session that they had done some research about offshore dumping of dredge spoil, how far that spoil travels and, of course, the damage it can then do in the marine environment. GBRMPA at the time pointed out that they in their modelling had added some additional parameters to make the modelling more accurate. They pointed out that North Queensland Bulk Ports, the applicant for the dumping at Abbot Point, had not included those additional modelling parameters in their own original monitoring in the public environment report. I asked GBRMPA whether the company would be required to go back and redo the modelling properly, adding in these new parameters, and GBRMPA directed me to you guys, so I am now following that up. Given that the approval has now been given, was North Queensland Bulk Ports required to redo that modelling and factor in those additional parameters so that you could get a proper handle on where the dredge spoil would end up?
Mr Knudson: There are two pieces that I would like to respond to. First of all, in formulating our advice to the minister, we did seek the views of the marine park authority on the proposed decision and also conditions set, and one of their comments was absolutely around the idea of the importance of monitoring, as you are talking about. However, they recommended no changes to the content of our recommendations. I think that is because when you take a look at condition No. 14 in the approval documentation it talks about the ecosystem research and monitoring program and lays out in great detail the methodology for dredge plume modelling that will have to be undertaken, including the number of years that will have to be incorporated into that modelling. It goes on at some length in specifying exactly what modelling would be considered adequate to undertake this project with a good understanding of both the impacts and the long-term effects.
Senator WATERS: You asked them to do some proper modelling after the approval was given?
Mr Knudson: No. It is part of the conditions. The specific condition requires that the proponent needs to provide an Abbot Point ecosystem research and monitoring program prior to the commencement of the dredging and disposal activities. There are a number of other requirements in the decision which require the proponent to complete, and have ministerial approval of, management plans prior to commencement of the action.
Senator WATERS: The approval was given?
Mr Knudson: Absolutely, as is consistent with our decisions on a number of projects.
Senator WATERS: It is indeed consistent with your trend of conditional approvals that we continue to think are quite premature. But I will move on. Still on the reef, but on the strategic assessment: there were some reports about submissions made by various industry sectors, including the Queensland Resources Council. The report was that QRC, in its submission on the terrestrial Great Barrier Reef strategic assessment, had asked for weaker laws, effectively. It was a media report, so they did not go into technical legal detail about what precisely was being asked for. My question is whether you can now table a copy of QRC's submission? Can you table all of the submissions?
Ms Cameron: The submissions were undertaken through both GBRMPA and Queensland working together in a sort of collective, have-your-say site. So the submissions were put into this collective mechanism. They did not have a statement on the site about confidentiality, but the material is not ours to release. It is the Queensland government's and GBRMPA's-the submissions were on their proposals for the draft strategic assessments. A number of organisations have put up their submissions onto their websites-letting the community see what they have said. I do not know whether QRC have done so, but a number of organisations have-ACIUCN and others are making them available.
Senator WATERS: Will the Commonwealth write to all of the folk who made submissions and ask their permission to upload those documents so the public can see them?
Ms Cameron: We may. We have not made that decision yet. But Queensland and GBRMPA have to give us a report on public consultation. They have to indicate how all the different submissions have been dealt with. They do not have to identify specifically what was said but they have to identify the trends and concepts that were tracked through the public comments. That will definitely be made public.
Senator WATERS: Have you briefed the minister on any reforms to weaken reef protection laws as a result of those submissions, particularly the QRC submission?
Dr Dripps: You are asking us to disclose policy advice to the minister that we have not yet given. It is not a question we can respond to.
Senator WATERS: I was simply asking if you had briefed the minister on the content of any of those submissions-and you are saying, no, not yet.
Dr Dripps: As Ms Cameron has indicated, the organisations who are doing the strategic assessments are in the process of pulling together the summary and synthesis of the public comments that were received on both of the strategic assessments. That will be provided to the minister with the final strategic assessment documentation when that is ready.
Senator WATERS: Harking back to an earlier response, Dr Dripps, you said that that would not be until the second or third quarter of the year; is that right?
Dr Dripps: That is right, Senator.
Senator WATERS: So we will not get the public submissions for another six months, if at all?
Dr Dripps: That is not what I said, Senator.
Senator WATERS: No, I think that is what Ms Cameron said.
Dr Dripps: What I said is that the strategic assessment reports would be provided to the minister when they are ready, which is expected to be in the second or third quarter of this calendar year. So six months is a little bit of an exaggeration.
Senator WATERS: Sorry, I am now confused. When might we see those submissions? When might they be made public?
Dr Dripps: Between now and in six months time, Senator.
Senator WATERS: Okay, so that is six months again. Great.

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