Environment Protection (Access To Information) Amendment Bill

19 Oct 2011 archivespeech

This speech is in relation to the Environment Protection (Access To Information) Amendment Bill and to express that the Liberal Party look forward to further developments on this matter and other initiatives that may come before parliament.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (22:25): I rise to make some remarks in relation to this bill, which I have considerable sympathy for. I understand where the honourable member is coming from in terms of trying to hasten the EPA to do what it said it would do. I am grateful for the assistance he has provided me in understanding the various aspects of the bill. It retrieves some matters which are already required to be recorded in a public register from section 109 of the act as well as items from the regulations, plus a few he has added himself, and requires that these items should be provided electronically by the EPA on a website, they must be provided for free, and they must be published within seven days rather than the current period, which is three months.

I note the EPA has been criticised for many years for failing to publicly disclose knowledge, particularly in relation to contamination, and failing to do so in a timely fashion. In order to access that information, people are required to attend the EPA in person, use its computers to access the information at $100 an hour, and then pay, in some instances, a small fortune to photocopy those reports. We are all very familiar with the instances at Edwardstown, Clovelly Park and Port Pirie.

The issue of the EPA's contamination notification protocols and related matters is an active term of reference before the Statutory Authorities Review Committee. I am advised that, while the EPA has appeared before SARC, the additional matters which are raised in this bill have not been fully canvassed. Following the contribution from the government by the Hon. Ian Hunter, who no doubt has a speech which was provided to him by the minister's office outlining all the things that the EPA intends to do, I do believe the EPA has been slower than it should have been and is dragging its feet.

The environment minister wrote to all MPs, I think—he certainly wrote to me—in April this year to advise that an index of groundwater notifications would be available from 14 April 2011, to be updated on a monthly basis, 'with more information relating to site contamination and EPA licences later in the year'. On examination of this site, it currently contains: environmental authorisations, that is, licences; you can do a search by suburb, and those are available for download as a PDF; development authorisation referrals, which are not available electronically; enforcement actions, and there is a summary as a schedule; and site contamination, which is a search by suburb which provides the street address and the type of potentially contaminating activity.

Of the full list that is in the honourable member's bill there is a very slim number of items which have been actioned and are available electronically. However, I am concerned about the aspect that reduces the timing within which this information has to be published from three months to seven days, and I also would be interested to know what the cost implications are for implementing publication of such a large number of reports.

Given that the SARC inquiry is still ongoing, the Liberal Party will not be supporting this bill at this stage, but we do have great sympathy for it, particularly in relation to what the honourable member has referred to in the Newport Quays Dock One development. We look forward to further developments on this matter and other initiatives that may come before parliament.