Penola Pulp Mill Authorisation Bill

25 Sep 2007 archivespeech

This speech indicates the Liberal Party's support for the Penola Pulp Mill Authorisation Bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The Hon. Caroline Schaefer has already indicated Liberal Party support for this bill. The matter has been passed through the House of Assembly following the select committee process. Naturally enough, as the environment spokesperson on behalf of the Liberal Party, I was approached by a number of different parties who had concerns with the proposal much earlier on in the piece, and I would like to put a few points on the record and also to raise some questions for response in order to clarify a number of issues as they have been put to me.

It has been commented that the process for this measure has been less than ideal, and some would say that an indenture bill is the process of last resort. I note that in her contribution the member for Ashford described what had taken place as ‘acceptable’, and many Liberal members have shared the concerns of other members of this parliament in both chambers about the probity, lack of environmental impact statement and other matters within the bill. This process in this indenture bill, in fact, works the other way around, as I understand it, in that it sets the standards rather than imposing on the proponents to outline what standards they will implement.

A large number of concerns were expressed by many members in debate in the other place concerning water allocation and, as we understand increasingly, particularly in these ongoing drought conditions, about how important water resources are. As has already been noted, water is either fully or over allocated in the South-East, so the concerns of both the neighbours of the proposed site and other interests within the South-East I think were quite well founded, and we wanted to make sure that those issues were taken into account. I understand that this matter has been addressed through the amendments to the bill.

We live in a new era in terms of understanding that a number of our natural resources are finite and that they cannot be abused, because they might not be there—in which case that is cause for not only an environmental but an economic disaster. We have a process existing under the Natural Resource Management Act and the water allocation plans. One of the key concerns was that the pulp mill was being given a set volume which could be varied upwards, whereas in fact anybody else who had a water licence had a share of a particular resource and, if it was found that the resource was less than it was thought to be, all of those users would have their allocation cut in proportion. I think that that particular issue—where one user was entitled to a fixed resource when all other users, particularly users who are already there, depended on it for their livelihood—has been addressed. I think that is a very important issue and one which I hope will not be repeated in future by either this government or future governments.

As I said, we now have a greater understanding of water issues, particularly with the drought and the crisis we have involving the Murray-Darling Basin system. It might be drawing a rather long bow but it has been put to me that Cubbie Station further up in the Murray-Darling Basin system has actually done nothing illegal, and yet those of us who have seen the pictures of the open channels and flood plains are rightly angry that that application has been legal when the situation in this state, particularly in the lower lakes, does not seem fair.

A number of us were very concerned that that outcome would not take place, particularly as we are all parties to this bill and are able to have input and amend it. We all wanted to have some assurance that that would not take place. A lot of these issues are quite complex and we rely on advice. The decisions we make are only as good as the advice we receive, so we rely very much on the experts, on technical expertise from hydrologists and environmentalists, which is important to us.

The select committee had diverse membership and the latitude to seek whatever information it thought relevant. It ave everybody an opportunity to comment and came up with unanimous report and recommendations. That is significant n that, had there been outstanding concerns by any members, am sure they would have been brought to the fore. I refer to home of the comments within the report. On page 10 in the verview section it states:

Whilst the application would ordinarily be assessed by the DAC, his in the view of the government could lead to another six months of uncertainty and unnecessary cost for the proponent and wasted opportunity for the state and for communities in the South-East. take it that those comments are also endorsed by other members of the committee. On page 15 it says:

Though the bill offers greater certainty for the proponent, the committee concludes there is sufficient planning and environmental checks and balances in the bill. . . The committee considers that the bill is consistent with sustainable environmental, social and economic outcomes.
On page 16 the report states:

Despite concerns about the absence of an environmental impact statement, the bill embodies the EPA benchmarks and standards for this type of development.

That makes fairly clear that the members of the committee were satisfied that those issues would be dealt with. Like a number of members, I have great sympathy for the people who live adjacent to the proposed site. I went down to visit for half a day and was driven around and shown particular sites and had explained to me a number of the issues in relation to energy and the roadworks, and so on, and it was highly beneficial for me to be able to understand the concerns and gain a visual picture of the area. I can understand why the people who live adjacent would not want it there as they have a beautiful environment. A number of them export and to continue their environmental credentials as clean, green producers is very important to them.

I have a number of questions I would like to put on the record. The forest expansion policy has been referred to, and I gather from the Hansard record I have read that it is an assumed policy held within the collective mind of the department. Is it held with the Minister for Environment and Conservation, the Minister for Forestry, or both? Does it exist as a physical document and is it available for public viewing? In the second reading debate in another place we did not have the Minister for Forests available and the Hon. Patrick Conlon stood in. Mr Williams asked:

The minister standing in for him today may not be able to answer the question, but I would like it on the record, whether the answer is given here or an answer is sought between the houses and put on the record in the other place, that the quantum of water, which is reflected in the forestry threshold expansion policy, will remain for the use of forestry and forestry expansion into the future. That level of assurance is the very least that the forestry industry is expecting, and I am sure it will be expecting some sort of definitive statement from the government along those lines.
I repeat that question into the record on his behalf. In relation to water, quite some research was done by the select committee into the aquifers. The member for Mitchell stated that there was inadequate knowledge of aquifers and the interaction between them. I have heard this from a number of stakeholders, so what work is being undertaken to monitor those aquifers and gain a greater understanding of whether there is leakage and transfer between the two aquifers?

I refer also to the commonwealth and its signing off on this project. The committee report provided a chronology of key events and stated that approval for the pulp mill was given under the commonwealth EPBC Act on 3 November 2006. It was not until March 2007 that the capacity of this mill was doubled.Will the minister clarify whether there has been any change in position from the commonwealth? There was a media report in The Australian yesterday, which I am now told misrepresents the commonwealth position, but it is important for this parliament in moving forward on this issue to have an understanding of whether the federal government continues to support this project on the basis of its environmental credentials.

There is an issue of solid waste, and I am advised that the Mount Gambier council does not have the capacity to take an additional 36 500 tonnes of solid waste, so I would like to know what capacity there is to deal with that waste. In the past 48 hours the issue of hydrogen peroxide manufacturing has been raised, and a number of media outlets have been trying to determine what the issue is there. Can the minister confirm whether the hydrogen peroxide plant is part of the project, and what environmental assessment has been done of that?

Going back to the issue of NRM and the water allocation plan, will the minister advise how far away it is, what the sustainable yield is, and what the impact will be on other users? An allegation was made that if those licences had been applied for under today’s conditions they might not have been approved.Will the minister advise whether there is evidence that there has been a reduction in the water table from hydrological reports and whether there are safeguards against spills or other environmental disasters for local producers, particularly given that they export into fastidious and sensitive markets such as dairy to Japan and beef to the EU?

The energy source has been raised in The Advertiser today, so will the minister provide more information about proximity to energy sources and whether it is intended to use gas or another power supply? I understand the location was chosen because of its proximity to rail and road networks. Certainly, when I was driven on those roads it was clear that they were nowhere near ready for the transport of large numbers of heavy trucks, so what are the proposals there? In terms of the water licence and the minister’s powers, the bill replaces the word ‘vary’ with ‘reduce’. So, do we assume that volume would be reduced only on the application of the minister; or is this licence subject to the usual practice where, if there is a reduction in what the NRM considers to be a reasonable use of that water, the mill will automatically be part of that; or is that something that must be done by instrument of government?

My final questions are in relation to the unique flora and fauna in that district. I have it on very good advice that very significant potential habitat of the eastern pygmy possum, also known as Cercartetus nanus, is found 10 kilometres south of Penola, and this is published by Mark Bachmann in South Australian Naturalist, Volume 81, No. 1. Will the minister advise what assessment of the eastern pygmy possum’s habitat has taken place? Two amphibian species are also concerned: the golden bell frog, otherwise known as Litoria raniformus, and Geocrinia laevis, which I do not think has a common name, but I am informed it has pink thighs. The other species is a plant species known as plains joyweed; its proper name is Alteranthera. Does the minister have any information in relation to these species and the possible impact of the mill?

With those comments and subject to the replies I receive I indicate that we will progress this bill. I particularly thank the locals who, as has been mentioned in the debates in the Assembly, were quite hospitable. I have great sympathy for their concerns and can completely understand why they are in the position they are in. I will do my utmost to make sure their interests are protected.