Senator Larissa Waters questions SEWPaC officials regarding the dumping of dredge spoil from Gladstone harbour and the impact of LNG export facilities on the World Heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef.
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Boswell. Senator Waters.
Senator WATERS: What advice did heritage officials give the minister about the impacts of dumping 11 million cubic metres of dredge spoil from Gladstone Harbour into the World Heritage area?
Ms Dripps: The officers who can answer that question are in the Environmental Regulation Section and that is scheduled to start in about half an hour.
Senator WATERS: The World Heritage people do not advise on World Heritage impacts?
Ms Dripps: Can I just continue. The process that is run by the Environment Assessment and Compliance Division is to seek advice from relevant experts across the department and government—
Senator WATERS: Which I am seeking.
Ms Dripps: That is Geoscience Australia, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Heritage Division and others.
Senator WATERS: Okay. I am seeking a copy of the advice provided by the heritage officials to the minister in the course of making the approval decision to dump 11 million cubic metres into the harbour. Could that be supplied?
Ms Dripps: Certainly. As we indicated last night, we would need to check what was in the 20 boxes that were tabled in the Senate late last year. We suspect that it might be among that, but if it is not we will provide it.
Senator WATERS: Thank you. If you could facilitate that, it would be great.
Senator BOSWELL: I would like a copy of that too.
Senator WATERS: I note the World Heritage Committee's extreme concern in June about the impact of the LNG export facility in Gladstone and the fact that it might impact on the World Heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef. They have called for a strategic assessment of all coastal assessments impacting on the reef. What advice will the heritage bods be giving the minister about the need to suspend existing assessments and the need to suspend existing approvals?
Mr Burnett: Did you ask what advice we will be giving?
Senator WATERS: Or have you given.
Mr Burnett: I cannot answer a question about advice we have not yet given.
Senator WATERS: Have you not turned your mind to it yet? It has been a few months.
Mr Burnett: We are preparing a comprehensive response.
Dr Grimes: Senator, I think you are venturing into the realms of seeking policy views from officials.
Senator WATERS: No, I am asking what advice you have or will provide to the minister on the need to suspend the assessment or existing approvals?
Senator Conroy: One of the rules is: you are not allowed to ask what information has been provided. You can ask when, how, but not actually—
Senator WATERS: I am asking: have you already? If so, may I have a copy of the advice?
Senator Conroy: No. The rules are that you are not allowed to ask for or require information that is given as advice to ministers.
Senator WATERS: That is not my understanding of the rules. I have been advised to challenge that and I am so doing.
Senator BOSWELL: I support Senator Waters if it comes to a vote!
Senator WATERS: Thank you, Ron.
Senator Conroy: I have been doing estimates for 15 years. You cannot ask for the information that is provided to ministers.
Senator WATERS: So what is the heritage section of your department doing about the World Heritage Committee's concern about the delisting of the reef? Surely you are doing something. Please tell me you are doing something.
Ms Dripps: The heritage division is preparing a comprehensive response to the recommendation to the World Heritage Committee and some of the other divisions in the department and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority are also contributing to that in relation to their roles.
Senator WATERS: When is that due?
Ms Dripps: That is due on 1 February 2012 and that is when that will be submitted to the World Heritage Committee. In responding to that, the Queensland government and the Australian government have begun work on a comprehensive strategic assessment of Queensland coastal developments.
Senator WATERS: Which I hope entails a pause on existing assessments, if not approvals. That was my question originally. However, I will move on to my final question. Are you tracking—and I certainly hope you are—the cumulative figures of both approved and applied for dredging in the World Heritage area, up and down the coast? It is not just Gladstone Harbour; there are all sorts of new coal ports proposed which entail millions and millions of cubic metres of dredging within the World Heritage area. I am keen to know the exact figures on that—what has been approved; what has been applied for; what is being dumped offshore; and have you notified UNESCO of those applications and approvals as per the requirement to do so?
Ms Dripps: We are certainly aware of the range of different proposals. I suggest that we take on notice the tabling of the specific figures about the volumes. Again, it will come from the environmental assessments and compliance grant.
Senator WATERS: Thank you very much. I have many other questions, but I suspect I will be shut down if I seek to ask them. I can ask another one if I have time.
CHAIR: No—if you are finished, that is great. You cannot ask another one. Thank you very much.