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Take Note Speech: Abbot Point

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Larissa Waters 11 Dec 2013

I move that the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Waters today relating to decisions taken by the Minister for the Environment (Mr Hunt).

Sadly, the minister was not able, or perhaps not willing, to answer the substance of my questions.

Call on Minister Hunt to treat the Great Barrier Reef as a natural treasure, not a coal and gas highway.

The first part of my questions went to how on earth a dredging company could be given approval to dredge and dump three million cubic metres of sludge into a World Heritage area-and not just any World Heritage area but the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism that can be seen from space, is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and is in my beautiful home state of Queensland. How on earth did the Minister for the Environment tick off on the world's largest coal port and all of that dredging and dumping? My first question to the minister was: how do you think they could possibly offset that damage by working with landholders to try to reduce the sediment flowing into the reef when in five years, with the full might of the Commonwealth, the Queensland government and those very hardworking farmers, we have been able to save only one-twentieth of the amount that the dredging company is now allowed to dump on the reef? It is a magic pudding condition that is not even possible to be complied with even if there were the will to try.

We know, sadly, that in Queensland the Newman government has cut 220 workers from its Department of Environment and Heritage Protection-those same people who would check on whether conditions are going to be complied with. They would monitor that and possibly take court action if conditions were being breached. And we know, sadly, that the federal Department of the Environment faces those same cuts and more coming down the line. Where are the people who are going to be checking these conditions? They have been sacked. These conditions will not be complied with and we will see massive water quality damage to the World Heritage area that is the Great Barrier Reef, right at the time when the World Heritage Committee has warned Australia that the reef could end up on that international list of shame, the List of World Heritage in Danger. That would be a huge blow to our tourism industry. We would be one of the few developed nations with a World Heritage site on that list, and that would massively damage the 63,000 jobs that rely on the reef being healthy and visitable by tourists. The minister gave some glib remarks about how the economy would save everything and completely ignored the fact that underpinning a healthy economy needs to be a healthy environment. Clearly basic biophysics has completely eluded the government, as has the notion of science itself, with its lack of a science minister.

I next raised the fact that the government on Monday in the House of Representatives moved to water down environment protections for threatened species across the board by allowing the Minister for the Environment to ignore expert advice about the threats to threatened species from things like dredging, dumping, mines and the like. I mentioned the approval not just of the world's biggest coal port, at Abbot Point, but also the coal seam gas liquefaction facility in Gladstone Harbour. I mentioned that, yesterday, this government also tried to repeal part of our climate laws-unsuccessfully, thank goodness. I mentioned that, today, the government in the House has sought to remove protection for endangered ecological communities in the Murray-Darling. And, of course, on Friday the Prime Minister wants to completely get rid of all his federal approval responsibilities and just leave that to state governments. This has been an atrocious week for Australia's environment, but it has been a week when we have absolutely seen the true colours of this government. So I asked the minister representing when Minister Hunt would be ordering his new door plaque, 'Minister against the Environment'. Sadly, I got yet another glib reply to that very serious question. Perhaps I will have one made and send it to the minister.

I come back to the fact that we have a World Heritage icon-perhaps the most globally famous and beautiful World Heritage icon-which brings in $6 billion a year to our economy, which employs 63,000 people and which does not need any more coal ports. We have 12 coal and other mixed export ports already in the Great Barrier Reef. They are not even being used to their full capacity. We have had several reports that show they are being used at about two-thirds capacity. So we have empty coal port capacity, and yet we have plans, with approvals last night, to expand coal ports, to do needless damage to the reef, to burn coal from the Galilee Basin. If all the coal in the Galilee Basin were a country, it would be the seventh-biggest emitter in the world. This is a disastrous government, and Australia's environment is finished under this administration.

Question agreed to.

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