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Shoalwater coal mine and port

Senator MILNE (2.31 p.m.)-My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Senator Wong, and relates to the proposed Waratah coalmine pipeline railway and port facility in the Alpha and Shoalwater Bay areas of Queensland. Given, firstly, that the mine will generate exports of more than 50 million tonnes of coal per year increasing to upwards of 100 million tonnes with consequent greenhouse gases and in the absence of carbon capture and storage and, secondly, that the port will be wholly located in Ramsar wetlands and will impact on the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef and endangered species like dugongs and loggerhead turtles, will the minister inform us whether the minister for the environment will use his powers under the EPBC Act to declare the project clearly unacceptable right now and so stop any further assessment and approval of this project?


Senator WONG-I thank Senator Milne for her question and acknowledge she has a longstanding interest in EPBC issues. The advice which I have been provided with is this, Senator Milne: that a referral was received on 31 July from Waratah Coal Inc. for the proposed coal development under the act, and the minister has yet to make a determination on this proposal. Obviously some of the issues you raise may be amongst those the minister will have to consider in the context of that EPBC consideration. I am advised that the proposal will be closely examined for potential impacts in areas such as Commonwealth Defence land, the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area, the Shoalwater and Corio Bays Ramsar sites-I think two of those were mentioned in the senator's question-and on habitats for listed threatened and migratory species. I am also advised that the public were invited to comment on the referral for a period of 10 business days which ended on 14 August. It is the case that the government and this minister are committed to proper and transparent administration of the EPBC Act and, because of her interest in these issues, the senator will no doubt be aware that the minister's decision is within the context of a statutory framework and he has to have regard to issues under the act accordingly.

Supplementary Question

Senator MILNE-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the government promised a greenhouse gas trigger in the EPBC Act and given that such a trigger would automatically see this process assessed and would be clearly unacceptable within any climate change context, when is the first possible date that the minister can make his decision that this is clearly an unacceptable project and therefore save the community from what will be a long and difficult assessment process which ought not to be entered into because this is such a clearly unacceptable project?

Supplementary Answer

Senator WONG-There are a number of aspects there that Senator Milne has asked, and I am not sure which aspect she wants me to address. I have given her the information I have been provided with in relation to this referral. I think she asserted in her question something like that the act said there would be an automatic rejection. I make the point that in the context of statutory discretion there is no such thing as an automatic rejection, and I am sure the senator would be aware of that. I am not sure I can assist the senator much further in relation to this issue. I have provided the information that I have.

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