Wednesday 23 May - Budget Estimates - Environment and Communications Committee
Office of the Supervising Scientist
CHAIR: Mr Hughes, do you have an opening statement?
Mr Hughes : No, I have no opening statement, thank you.
CHAIR: There was some discussion earlier today about World Heritage areas. The advice I have is that the Supervising Scientist was set up by specific legislation by the Commonwealth to deal with a specific environmental issue. Is that correct?
Mr Hughes : That is correct. The piece of legislation you are referring to is known as the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978.
CHAIR: Can you give us the background as to why it was considered necessary to have a Supervising Scientist?
Mr Hughes : It probably stems from an inquiry held in the 1970s, which is known as the Fox inquiry. The Fox inquiry undertook two studies. The first was to determine whether or not Australia should be involved in uranium mining. The second, if the country were to allow uranium mining, was about what sorts of conditions would need to be applied to the uranium mining at Ranger and other mine sites in the Alligator Rivers region. That was in recognition of the environmental significance of the Alligator Rivers region at the time.
CHAIR: Is the Alligator Rivers a World Heritage listing?
Mr Hughes : Kakadu National Park is. Kakadu National Park comprises approximately two-thirds of the Alligator Rivers region. The other one-third extends into western Arnhem Land, which is Aboriginal land.
CHAIR: So what obligations do any mines or any industrial developments have? What obligations do they have if they are not actually in the heritage area but their impact might affect the heritage area?
Mr Hughes : As you have observed, the mines have never actually been part of the heritage area, so they are windows, if you like, within Kakadu and within the World Heritage area.
CHAIR: So would it be proper to say that there is a buffer of legislative requirements around the World Heritage site?
Mr Hughes : I am not sure what you mean by that. But the nature of the leases or the holes in the park and the World Heritage area are such that the mines are not situated immediately on the boundary. However, I think it was the intent of the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act to ensure that there were no adverse impacts on World Heritage as a result of mining operations.
CHAIR: Therefore, there was legislation for the protection of the World Heritage area, and that legislation applied to areas outside the World Heritage site.
Mr Hughes : That is correct. It was applied to the Alligator Rivers region. At the time, there was no World Heritage listing. The Alligator Rivers region was recognised as being an environmentally important area. Subsequently, there has been a declaration of World Heritage within that.
CHAIR: So those protections went in even before it was World Heritage?
Mr Hughes : That is correct.
CHAIR: Were there any existing facilities or mines or activities within the World Heritage area before the proclamation of World Heritage?
Mr Hughes : There were pastoral activities within the area which is in Kakadu, which is now within the World Heritage area.
CHAIR: Do you have any responsibility for the pastoral activities?
Mr Hughes : No.
CHAIR: So they are considered to be benign?
Mr Hughes : The pastoral activities have since ceased. There are no longer pastoral activities in there.
CHAIR: So you have, basically, obligations to make sure that anything that happens in the mines does not have a spillover effect on the World Heritage areas. Would that be, crudely, how it works?
Mr Hughes : Yes. That is correct.
CHAIR: So there are specific obligations on mines outside the heritage area to comply with certain legislative requirements?
Dr Dripps : That is right, Senator. We can undertake to provide a summary of the objectives of the Alligator Rivers act on notice.
CHAIR: You know where I am going with this?
Dr Dripps : Yes, I know where you are going.
CHAIR: I am wondering out loud whether the Supervising Scientist approach is a good design for the protection of other World Heritage areas. Has that ever been considered?
Senator Conroy: You are probably asking for a bit of an opinion, Senator Cameron.
CHAIR: I am just asking specifically about the legislative process that put in place the Supervising Scientist. It is not seeking an opinion to ask whether that approach has been considered for any other World Heritage area. That is what I meant to put.
Dr Dripps : I think it is fair to say that the Fox inquiry and the subsequent creation of the Office of the Supervising Scientist did specifically relate to the fact that the substance mined at Ranger is uranium. As such, the long-term impacts persist within the environment for a considerably longer time, potentially, than some other substances. So that might be borne in mind in deliberating as you are.
CHAIR: Sure. Uranium has a long life-but so has zinc. Mr Hughes, do you deal with zinc?
Mr Hughes : No. The mineralisation within the Alligator Rivers region, on the mines that we are looking at and have looked at, have not contained any significant quantities of base metals at all, just uranium.
CHAIR: Just uranium, nothing else?
Mr Hughes : That is right.
CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Ludlam.
Senator LUDLAM: Mr Hughes, you started with the Fox inquiry, and I guess that is an appropriate place to start. One of the findings of the Fox inquiry was, in the end, about whether to form the conclusion that opposition should not be allowed to prevail. This is a mine that was established against the express wishes of the traditional owners of the area. They have had to live with the impacts. I want to start with probably the most obvious place to start. The construction of the Ranger 3 Deeps decline commenced, I understand, on 1 May. Can you give us an update and tell us the current status of that project.
Mr Hughes : The construction did indeed commence on 1 May. Essentially, it will be undertaken in two stages. There is the box cut, which will be in the weathered zone near the surface. That will probably extend through to about October or November. At that stage, the company should be in a position and ready to commence the actual decline proper.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you maybe fill us in on what the role of your office will be in reviewing and monitoring that project and the associated works.
Mr Hughes : Our role there will be the role that is applied to any other developments on the site-that is, we will be assessing any potential impacts on the environment as a result of the activities. What they will actually be doing during that construction phase is moving what, on that side, are actually relatively small tonnages of earth materials, so there will not be any major impacts anticipated. But we will be keeping an eye on that through the normal processes.
Senator LUDLAM: I imagine that some of what they will be dragging out of the tunnel will be mineralised. So you would not expect the box cut to be mineralised if that is in a weathered zone. But what about once they actually get into the decline proper?
Mr Hughes : The decline was designed, as I understand it, in an endeavour to avoid any mineralisation. So it is not intended to intersect any mineralisation. I guess there is always the potential that it might intersect some that is unknown.
Senator LUDLAM: I will come back to that in a tick. In relation to the environmental assessment for Ranger 3 Deeps, could you identify for us what conditions would dictate the need for a PER rather than an EIS being conducted to assess the project. At the moment, we have what the company is calling an exploration decline, which is a bit cute because it will be a production shaft if they proceed. What conditions would dictate it requiring that higher level of environmental impact assessment?
Dr Dripps : Senator, we are unfortunately running into the issue that we occasionally do with Mr Hughes regarding the role. The assessment and decisions made about the question that you ask are undertaken by the Environmental Assessment and Compliance Division, not by Mr Hughes. So, if we can pick that up again after morning tea, that would be much appreciated.
Senator LUDLAM: That is fair enough. I think that demarcation is fair enough. I wonder whether-we could potentially come back to this later-Mr Hughes, your work would inform that threshold question of what level of assessment would be required. Or would you just rather I put that to the other group?
Dr Dripps : The level of assessment will relate to the environmental risk of the proposed activity and the degree of analysis required. My staff from the EACD can answer that question in more detail after morning tea.
Senator LUDLAM: I understand the company either is conducting or may already have commenced or concluded a pre-feasibility study for taking R3D into full production. Are you aware of whether or not that is the case?
Mr Hughes : There was a pre-feasibility study undertaken in order to construct the decline.
Senator LUDLAM: No, not for the decline but for commercial mining, for actual production. At the moment, on my understanding, the only reason the company was able to avoid the environmental impact assessment is that they said, 'This is purely an exploration drive; this is not a production shaft.' Have they conducted or are they conducting a pre-feasibility study for full-blown mining down there?
Mr Hughes : I am not sure of the exact stage they are at in that process, but naturally there will be a pre-feasibility study and a feasibility study before the decision to mine or to propose mining would occur.
Senator LUDLAM: Has pre-feasibility work begun?
Dr Dripps : I think Mr Hughes has indicated that he is not sure-as he is not an official of ERA-precisely which stage they are up to.
Senator LUDLAM: I think probably the way that I put the question to Mr Hughes initially was a bit woolly, so I am trying to ask a more specific question. Are you aware or not whether pre-feasibility studies have started for production mining out of R3D?
Mr Hughes : No. I cannot answer that question. I do not know the answer to that question.
Senator LUDLAM: You are not aware?
Mr Hughes : I am not aware of the exact stage that they are at.
Senator LUDLAM: Do you have an idea of what such pre-feasibility work would incorporate and what would be examined by the company? Maybe that would be called a pre-pre-feasibility study!
Mr Hughes : The answer to that is no. It is not my business to know that. If I knew where you were heading with this, I might be able to actually answer whatever question it is that you really want answered.
Senator Conroy: You are being coy. Ask him.
Senator LUDLAM: I am not being coy. I am trying to work out what engagement and involvement your office will have when such work commences. Presumably you would know if it had because you would be advising and you would be involved in part of that work, I would hope.
Mr Hughes : The description of the stage of activities that ERA are undertaking when they are doing those sorts of things is not really germane to our work. Our work is really about the potential impacts on the environment, and it does not really matter to us what they call it.
Senator LUDLAM: That is fair enough. Could you undertake for us, Mr Hughes, on notice, when you get back to the office, to ring the company and asked if they have commenced pre-feasibility work? Wouldn't that be something relevant to the work of your office on a full-scale operation like this?
Mr Hughes : Again, I will give you the same answer: I am not sure why it would be relevant to our office as to how they define that, whether it is defined as pre-feasibility or something else.
CHAIR: Mr Hughes, you say that your job is to assess potential impacts on the environment.
Dr Dripps : There is a delineation between the environmental assessment of future actions to be undertaken by the company and the operation of the Ranger mine. Mr Hughes's role is primarily focused on ensuring that the operation of the mine, which has been approved previously, is undertaken in such a manner that it does not impact on the Alligator Rivers region.
CHAIR: Which are potential impacts?
Dr Dripps : Yes.
CHAIR: That is what I thought you said.
Dr Dripps : But, getting back to the issue of pre-feasibility and whether they are this or that, I guess what I am trying to say is that from the perspective of the department's engagement with ERA-
CHAIR: Why can't Mr Hughes tell me what his job is, Dr Dripps?
Dr Dripps : Of course he can.
CHAIR: That would be good; thanks.
Mr Hughes : Going back to the role of the Supervising Scientist, it is defined clearly in the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act.
CHAIR: Can you tell me about your job in relation to potential impacts?
Mr Hughes : The job of the Supervising Scientist is to ensure that there are no detrimental impacts on the environment of the Alligator Rivers region as a result of uranium mining.
CHAIR: And uranium mining would not just be uranium or radioactive pollution, would it? It is all aspects of mining. It would be sewage-
Mr Hughes : No detrimental environmental impacts as a result of mining activities associated with uranium mining. But it does-
CHAIR: So it is a pretty wide ranging brief, is it not, in terms of impact?
Mr Hughes : Yes.
CHAIR: And you can assess whether there is a potential impact. Is that correct?
Mr Hughes : We try to head off any potential impacts.
Senator LUDLAM: I want to change tack for a second. I have questions about the retention ponds that the company is putting on site. Can you confirm for us whether or not ERA are using four-millimetre low permeability lining on those retention ponds?
Mr Hughes : Sorry, I would have to take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: I know it is a pretty specific question. I wonder whether OSS is aware of products that are now on the market that claim to be 100 per cent impermeable rather than having low permeability, which ERA are not using. There is a Queensland company that I am aware of called Rhino that has impermeable linings that are at minimum five millimetres thick. If you are not specifically aware of what kind of lining they are installing on those ponds, could you undertake for us on notice to investigate whether they are using the best technology that exists or whether there is some cost-cutting going on?
Mr Hughes : No, I am not aware of the details of the construction of the ponds at this stage.
Senator LUDLAM: Is there any reason why not, or is there any documentation that you want to check while we are discussing this?
Mr Hughes : I would not have that documentation with me as to the design of the ponds.
Senator LUDLAM: I have spent a couple of years in discussions with you about the leakage of contaminated water into the water mound beneath the tailings structures, and now we have these retention ponds being installed. So the specifics of my question are: is the company using low-permeability linings when they could in fact be using zero-permeability linings? If that is the decision that they have made and that you have allowed, I would be very interested to know why.
Mr Hughes : The retention ponds that you are talking about that are planned for construction are not intended for the storage of processed water. They are intended for the storage of pond water, which is of a much higher quality than the processed water, which is stored in the tailings dam.
Senator LUDLAM: So it does not matter if there is some seepage?
Mr Hughes : There will not be any detrimental impacts as a result of any seepage from those ponds.
Senator LUDLAM: If you are able to investigate for us, in any event, what technology the company has chosen to install, I would appreciate that. Has any new climate change modelling been incorporated into the design of the mine expansion, that you are aware of?
Mr Hughes : Sorry, has there been any climate change modelling?
Senator LUDLAM: Incorporated into the design of the mine expansion. You are obviously intimately aware of the near miss that the company suffered last year, where they came very close to overtopping the tailings dam. They have had a series of unusually heavy wet seasons up there. They had to shut production down. That was how close they got to overtopping those dams. What kind of climate change modelling do you use or does the company use to try to project what kinds of rainfall events they are going to be coping with in future?
Mr Hughes : What we try to do is to anticipate extreme events. Climate change would fall within the envelope of any extreme events that might occur.
Senator LUDLAM: I guess climate change, particularly in the Top End, is potentially redefining what the company would understand to be 'extreme'. Some things we would have contemplated as extreme when the mine was designed are now not extreme.
Mr Hughes : I suppose we have seen another 30 years of climate information in that time and we are better informed as a result of that.
Senator LUDLAM: But the mine was not designed for the kinds of rainfall events that they have been experiencing, which is why they are in such trouble with their tailings structures. So what I am asking you now is, with the benefit of that hindsight-that the mine has experienced much, much more water inflows and had to impound a lot more water than they anticipated when they designed the mine, and now they are contemplating an expansion of underground mining-what are they anticipating and projecting the future rainfall patterns are going to be? What kind of climate modelling are they doing?
Mr Hughes : The likely impacts of extreme rainfall events are likely to be increased volumes of water in the tailings dam and retention ponds. ERA, as you know, is scheduled to finish the current mining program at the end of this year and prepare pit 3 as a receptacle for tailings. At that stage, the content of the tailings dam will be lowered, so that would account for any potential extreme event.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not want to drift off into hypotheticals here, because I am sure the minister will put a stop to that kind of behaviour. Can you provide us with any information about the future rainfall projections the company is relying on? Has any recent work been done by CSIRO, for example, or the department of climate change? What is the company relying on, or what is your office relying on?
Mr Hughes : As I said to you before, what we rely on is not so much climate change, which is an incremental thing, but the ability to contain a major extreme event. The Minesite Technical Committee, of which we are a member, has asked the company to be more conservative in its allowances in that regard. So a higher level of conservatism has been imposed on the operating levels in the tailings dam to accommodate that.
Senator LUDLAM: So we would not be anticipating that they would need to lift the tailings dam again, for example, if R3 comes on stream, because by then the company will be filling up pit 3?
Mr Hughes : No, this is a hypothetical situation in the event that ERA were to mine Ranger 3 Deeps. But pit 3 would be capable of holding the tailings for that.
Senator LUDLAM: That goes to mine planning that probably has not happened yet. What does the OSS know of the independent water study that was announced in a joint press statement with Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation in March this year? I have a copy here if you need it. It is a statement dated 1 March, put out-here is an unusual thing-on the joint letterhead of Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation and ERA. It is not often you see those two logos on a piece of paper. At paragraph 3 they talk about an independent Ranger surface water study. Can you tell us what is happening there?
Mr Hughes : We have been invited to participate in the working group that oversees that study. I or a member of my staff will be participating in that work. An independent facilitator has been engaged who has been drafting up terms of reference for the group. The first meeting of the group is scheduled to be held towards the end of June.
Senator LUDLAM: Thanks for that. Can you tell us who the facilitator is?
Mr Hughes : Professor Barry Hart.
Senator LUDLAM: Where is he based?
Mr Hughes : He is based in Victoria.
Senator LUDLAM: It might come after the session for ECB. He is in the process of drafting terms of reference for that. Is there a formal working group as such that has been set up?
Mr Hughes : The working group will comprise us and members of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, ERA and the Northern Land Council.
Senator LUDLAM: Nobody from the NT department of mines?
Mr Hughes : No.
Senator LUDLAM: Were they not invited?
Mr Hughes : No, they were invited and declined to participate.
Senator LUDLAM: Did they really? That is interesting. I wish we could get them in here to estimates sometimes. Are you aware of the time frame for the study and what its work plan is likely to be?
Mr Hughes : That has not been determined. I think it is within the terms of reference.
Senator LUDLAM: Do you know when the TOR are intended to be finalised and put to the group?
Mr Hughes : Ahead of the meeting.
Senator LUDLAM: I come back to where we started, with the material that will come out of the Ranger 3 Deeps decline. Where is the company proposing to stockpile any mineralised ore that comes out of there? What is the contingency if they intersect mineralised ore on the way out?
Mr Hughes : If they intersect mineralised ore, I believe it will go to an appropriate stockpile.
Senator LUDLAM: You have not seen anything on a map, or any contingency planning as to where it would go?
Mr Hughes : No.
Senator LUDLAM: So there is no contingency. Is there anything underway, for example, to construct a new stockpile pad for the material coming out of that decline?
Mr Hughes : Not to my knowledge.
Senator LUDLAM: That is interesting. That wipes out a whole heap of questions that I would have had about that. But you do not think the company has done any contingency planning for if they come out with mineralised ore?
Mr Hughes : The company may well have undertaken some contingency planning for that, but I am not aware of it.
Senator LUDLAM: Would it not be quite important that you knew?
Mr Hughes : As long as the mineralised material is managed in an environmentally sensible fashion, it is fine by me.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you tell me whether you have provided or will be providing advice to ERA regarding the approvals needed to progress from exploration to mining at R3D? I am not trying to trespass on the questions that I will put to your officers later in the session. Are you or will you be providing advice to ERA on the approvals that they will need to apply for?
Mr Hughes : I think that was the question that Dr Dripps said the subsequent group would-
Senator LUDLAM: I am putting it much more coherently now than I was before. Will your office be providing advice to the company, not the departmental officers, regarding those approvals?
Mr Hughes : No.
Senator LUDLAM: Is it your understanding-feel free to dispute this if I am wrong-that because this is an exploration shaft, if the company encounters mineralised ore on their way down the tunnel, which is quite extensive, they would not be licensed or approved to mill any mineralised ore that comes out of there?
Mr Hughes : I do not believe they would be licensed to process that ore, no.
Senator LUDLAM: Me either. Could you just confirm that for us. You sound like you are not quite locked in on that one. You can phone a friend if you want, but I am interested in getting confirmation of what will happen-whether their licence conditions for this exploration activity, as the company has put it, would preclude milling anything that comes out of the tunnel.
Dr Dripps : We will have to take that question on notice, Senator.
Senator LUDLAM: No trouble. Can you provide us with an update on the rehab and reveg work at Nabarlek and whether any relevant knowledge has been collected from there that would be used in the forthcoming rehab at Ranger?
Mr Hughes : I am not aware of what work has been undertaken by Uranium Equities Ltd over the last wet season on the Nabarlek site. I know they had intended to do some more vegetation planting. The rehabilitation work that was undertaken in the past 12 months has included restoration of drill sites.
CHAIR: Senator Ludlam, I want to interrupt you for a minute. Senator Abetz has questions.
Senator LUDLAM: When do you want to finish this section, Chair?
CHAIR: This session finishes at 10.45 am. Senator Abetz has five minutes. I propose that at an appropriate and convenient time we will let Senator Abetz in so he can get on with the rest of his work, and I will come back to you.
Senator LUDLAM: No trouble.
Senator ABETZ: In fairness, I do not mind if Senator Ludlam continues.
Senator LUDLAM: I will go for another five, if that is convenient, Senator Abetz, and then I will yield. I will shift to Jabiluka. What is the status of the Jabiluka pond and the site works that remain on the surface there?
Mr Hughes : The Jabiluka pond is essentially the only infrastructure that is on the Jabiluka site. There has been a proposal to actually decommission that pond and remove it, but I think that has been deferred to next year now.
Senator LUDLAM: Were you asked to provide advice or did you seek to provide advice to assist with the realisation of that commitment?
Mr Hughes : I personally was not. There may have been some discussion about that at Minesite Technical Committee meetings while I was recently absent-
Senator LUDLAM: And it is nice to see you back.
Mr Hughes : But, while I say that, nothing formal has come across. So I have not been made aware of anything formally about that.
Senator LUDLAM: Informally, you have been made aware that the company might have bumped that commitment into next year, into the next dry season?
Mr Hughes : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: So that is the only time line that we are aware of. Just to wrap up, are you aware of concerns or do you perhaps have concerns yourself over the staffing capacity of the uranium division of the NT Department of Resources?
Mr Hughes : I think that the people in the NT Department of Resources are actually not too bad. They have just gone through a recruiting program and are about to hire somebody to be the designated uranium projects officer.
Senator LUDLAM: So they do not have one at the moment?
Mr Hughes : They do not have one at the moment. But they do have a more senior person there who is very experienced who was previously with the Office of the Supervising Scientist and has worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency for some years.
Senator LUDLAM: Do you know how many-you can take this on notice if you like-dedicated officers that unit has to monitor uranium exploration and operations in the Alligator Rivers region?
Mr Hughes : I cannot tell you the exact number, but I will tell you a little about it. They do not have totally dedicated officers in their monitoring programs. They have a group in their environmental monitoring unit that undertakes monitoring activities at all mines in the Northern Territory. So some of the time there are a larger number of people there doing that work and sometimes they are elsewhere doing other things.
Senator LUDLAM: You will be well aware that the reason I am a bit obsessed about uranium is that, unlike other forms of mining, it is leaving carcinogenic residues in the landscape. So I am interested specifically. My understanding is that there have been a lot of vacancies and reduced capacity right through 2012. You have said they are in the process of recruiting for a dedicated position.
Mr Hughes : That is the uranium project officer position.
Senator LUDLAM: I know this is not your department, so you have been quite generous in your answers. Is there any idea when they expect to have that position filled?
Mr Hughes : I have been told that they expect to have the position filled soon. That is probably as much as they are likely to let me know.
Senator LUDLAM: Has that had a material impact on the work of your office, the fact that they are down on capacity in there?
Mr Hughes : No, not really. We still undertake the work that we would normally do.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you aware of the extent of capacity being devoted to NT mineral promotions rather than monitoring through the NT's Ore-struck program? Maybe you could put side by side the capacity dedicated to that program compared to what you are aware of in the department on the regulation side.
Mr Hughes : No. I think that is outside the scope of my need to know.
Senator LUDLAM: Sometimes it is worth pushing my luck. Do you have a view on the weighting of resources being devoted to monitoring the regulation and oversight as opposed to those devoted to industry promotion? You do not come here promoting the industry; you are there to clean up after it and monitor it, so I am well aware of the camp you sit in. As far as the work of your office is concerned, do you think the NT government has the balance right?
Mr Hughes : Sorry, I really did not catch the question.
Senator LUDLAM: By balance, I mean staffing, resourcing prioritisation within the NT Department of Resources devoted to monitoring, regulation and making sure the industry cleans up after itself compared to that devoted to promotion of the mining industry?
Mr Hughes : No. I do not have a view on the NT's activities in terms of promotion of the mining industry.
Senator LUDLAM: I will leave it there.
Senator ABETZ: Can you confirm that the tailings dam is so designed that it can be increased in its capacity from time to time?
Mr Hughes : Yes. That has been shown because the tailings dam has reached capacity from time to time.
Senator ABETZ: Are you aware of further plans to increase it yet again?
Mr Hughes : We have heard but not seen any formal proposal to increase the capacity of the dam further.
Senator ABETZ: Senator Ludlam raised the issue of the heavy rains that were experienced when mining was halted. The tailings dam at all times remained within the designated water level?
Mr Hughes : It did.
Senator ABETZ: So, despite the unseasonal heavy rain and unexpected rains et cetera, the level within the tailings dam was always within the designated level?
Mr Hughes : Yes. As I mentioned last year, ERA took the unprecedented step of ceasing production in order to ensure that that occurred, which meant that they did it voluntarily before they had to be asked to do it by any regulatory authority.
Senator ABETZ: And that is what, I suppose, one would expect a responsible company to do in monitoring its activities and given the responsibilities it has in that area.
Mr Hughes : I would concur with that.
Senator ABETZ: You talked about revegetation earlier. I understand some test sites have been revegetated. Are you able to advise us as to how that revegetation has been going? Has it been successful or patchy? How would you describe it?
Mr Hughes : Are you talking about Ranger?
Senator ABETZ: No. Revegetation, sorry.
Mr Hughes : Revegetation at Ranger site or elsewhere?
Senator ABETZ: Yes. Two test areas are being revegetated, I understand, to check how quickly the revegetation might occur.
Mr Hughes : There have been a number of tests. There is an eight-hectare trial landform which was constructed by ERA on the site some years ago now-three years, I think it was-and it has had a number of different surface treatments and subsurface make-up in order to determine what is the most successful way for rehabilitation into the future. In addition to that, there have been different trial plantings on various of those plots. Those trial plantings have revealed that planting of tube stock is more successful than just planting seeds. So that work goes on. Concomitantly with that revegetation work, we have also been undertaking a number of research programs on erosion studies and things like that. So we have been doing that jointly with ERA on that site.
Senator ABETZ: And the revegetation tests are being done in anticipation of when the site is finally rehabilitated?
Mr Hughes : Yes. I guess the idea there is to hit the ground running with the most successful strategy to get the best bang for your buck when it is time to rehabilitate it.
Senator ABETZ: So it is worthwhile to find these things out now rather than when the rehabilitation task begins in earnest-find out by your mistakes then. It is a lot better to find out earlier, and that is what ERA is doing?
Mr Hughes : Certainly.
Senator ABETZ: Thanks, Chair.
CHAIR: I have a couple of issues. I have just gone on your website to see what I could find out in relation to environmental problems. You have what is called the Supervising Scientist's internal reports.
Mr Hughes : Correct.
CHAIR: You have publicly available internal reports. When you click on the publicly available internal reports, it gives you a list of those reports.
Mr Hughes : Right.
CHAIR: Can you then go somewhere else on your website and actually look at those reports, or do we have to contact you to get those internal reports?
Mr Hughes : There have been some recent changes to the website. The intent was that you should be able to get PDF files of those reports.
CHAIR: Because it is a PDF file that comes up and there are no links from it to those reports. But I have just had a quick look at it.
Mr Hughes : There may be a bug in the redesign of the website, which is currently a work in progress.
CHAIR: That is fine.
Mr Hughes : The intent is that those reports will be available off the website.
CHAIR: What determines a publicly available internal report and a not publicly available internal report?
Mr Hughes : Usually the reason would be that some work that we have undertaken may have been commercial-in-confidence.
CHAIR: A whole range of other publications are on there. There are costs. If someone is looking at them, it is $35 or $40 to access some reports.
Mr Hughes : I do not think they are our reports, are they?
CHAIR: They are on your website, so they are obviously linked in some way to what is happening.
Mr Hughes : But we do not charge people for reports.
CHAIR: You do not charge for your reports. So you just put these other reports up there that people can pick up for a payment?
Mr Hughes : If there is a cost involved, it is not a cost from us.
CHAIR: That goes directly to the other people.
Senator LUDLAM: I have one final question. I cannot let the opportunity pass. You mentioned to Senator Abetz on his first question that you have heard-I forget exactly how you put it-that ERA are contemplating another tailings dam lift. Could you just fill in some details around that?
Mr Hughes : Again, this is one of those things where I have not seen any formal proposal. Anecdotally, there has been some discussion that ERA is contemplating a further two-metre lift of the tailings dam.
Senator LUDLAM: What was the height of the last one?
Mr Hughes : The crest of the dam is currently 58 metres.
Senator LUDLAM: I beg your pardon. What was the height of the last raise? Was it three or four metres?
Mr Hughes : Three metres.
Senator LUDLAM: They are contemplating potentially another two?
Mr Hughes : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: What would that be consequent on? You would have to assume that would be consequent on 3 Deeps being fully developed?
Mr Hughes : No.
Senator LUDLAM: I will leave it there. Thanks, Chair.
CHAIR: I think that might be an appropriate time to break for morning tea. Before I do so, I thank Mr Hughes for coming down again. I seek to table a letter. It is some correspondence from Senator Birmingham and Senator Fisher in relation to the NBN. It is a document dated 14 May which we received on 21 May. This document outlines a whole range of questions specific to the NBN. I can see that Mr Quigley is going to be busy dealing with these questions. I will table it.
Senator FISHER: As he should be. Perhaps he can bring some colleagues to help him.
CHAIR: Senator Fisher, just settle down. I resolve that we table this document.
Senator LUDLAM: I want to clarify. That letter has been provided by coalition senators to you as Chair?
CHAIR: To me. And to Senator Conroy, Senator Wong, the secretary of the department and the chair of NBN.
Senator FISHER: It is actually a letter to Mr Quigley, so it has been copied.
CHAIR: So copies will be here.