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When will Minister Hunt change the plaque on his door to Minister Against the Environment?

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Larissa Waters 11 Dec 2013

Senator WATERS: My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Senator Cormann. Last night Minister Hunt approved the world's largest coal port, at Abbot Point, in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area, as well as another coal-seam-gas liquefication plant at Gladstone Harbour, also in the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef. These approvals for more coal and gas exports to worsen global climate change came on the same day that the government tried to repeal our climate laws.

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

Senator Waters: The Abbot Point approval allows dredging of three million cubic metres and offshore dumping of that sludge. The minister says the dredgers will have to offset that by saving 4½ million cubic metres of sediment from running off land to the reef, yet under the reef rescue program, with the full resources of the Commonwealth and Queensland and the hard work of farmers, in five years only one-twentieth of the amount of sludge that is planned to be dumped offshore from Abbot Point was stopped from entering the reef. How is it even possible that the dredgers will be able to save 20 times that amount? Who will enforce these conditions when the government wants to put Campbell Newman in charge of the reef and when you have sacked half the environment workers?

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia—Minister for Finance): I thank Senator Waters for that question. Let me say at the outset that the government is unapologetic about our commitment to building a stronger economy to create more jobs, to create opportunities for people right across Australia and to do so in a way that is environmentally sustainable. This is of course why, after a rigorous assessment, two projects have indeed been approved by the Minister for the Environment at the port of Abbot Point: the Abbot Point coal terminal 0 project and the Abbot Point capital dredging project. It is important to note here that the port of Abbot Point is an existing, well-established coal port in the Great Barrier Reef. Some of the strictest conditions in Australian history—

Senator Waters: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I am well aware of what has been approved. My question went to how you could possibly comply with a condition like that and who would enforce those conditions after all of the sackings we have seen.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order at this stage. The minister still has one minute 12 seconds remaining to address the question. The minister.

Senator CORMANN: As I was saying: some of the strictest conditions in Australian history have been placed on these projects to ensure that any impacts are avoided, mitigated or offset. That is because the coalition government is committed to the long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef as one of Australia's greatest natural assets. Ninety-five conditions have been placed on the two projects. They reflect the commitment to deliver a net benefit to the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, which includes a requirement to improve the water quality of the reef through a long-term net reduction of fine sediments entering the marine park from land based sources well beyond the life of the project. I add that the conditions, as Senator Waters said, require offset contributions estimated at around $32 million towards recovery actions for marine species and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The decisions have been made in line with the UNESCO World Heritage Committee's recommendations on port developments, in particular that no port developments or associated port infrastructure be permitted outside the existing and long-established major port areas within or adjoining the property. (Time expired)

Senator WATERS: Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the World Heritage Committee has warned that the reef is headed for a downgrade in its status to World Heritage in Danger if this industrialisation of the reef continues and given that 63,000 people rely on a health reef for their livelihood, will the minister take personal responsibility for the collapse of tourism jobs that will follow a World Heritage in Danger listing?

Senator CORMANN: Clearly, Senator Waters did not listen to my answer to her initial question. I clearly pointed out that our approval and the conditions that go with the approval actually contribute to an improvement of water conditions in that area. We are actually making things better than they were before by making sensible decisions where we balance opportunities for economic growth with improvement in environmental sustainability. That is something the coalition is committed to. That is something the Greens will never understand. I am hopeful that the Labor Party can understand this.

I might also point out that under Labor at least 38 million cubic metres of dredging was proposed for Abbot Point. The dredging approved for Abbot Point by this government is limited to three million cubic metres—less than one-twelfth the size of the proposal previously progressed by the Labor Party. They are going to go a bit quiet now. (Time expired)

Senator WATERS: Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. On Monday the government watered down threatened species protection in the House of Representatives. Yesterday the government approved the world's biggest coal port and yet another LNG plant in the reef and tried to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Today the government moved to reduce protection for the Murray-Darling, and on Friday the Prime Minister is hoping to palm off all national environmental approval responsibilities to the states. When will Minister Hunt change his door plaque to 'Minister Against the Environment'?

The PRESIDENT: You can answer that in so much as it comes into the portfolio.

Senator CORMANN: The first thing I would say is that Minister Hunt is the best friend the environment has ever had. The second thing I would say is that under the coalition we will grow our economy and do it in a way that improves our environment, unlike the Labor-Greens government. When you were in government, you progressed 33 decisions to advance port and dredging activities at Abbot Point. We cannot undo the decisions of the Labor-Greens government, but we can clean up the mess of the Labor-Greens government, which put at risk the Great Barrier Reef, which we are committed to protect, preserve and see improved moving forward.

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