Stand up for the Burrup

questions-without-notice

My question is to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell. I refer to the minister's deliberation on how to protect the heritage values of the Burrup Peninsula. Is the minister aware of other appropriate sites for development in the Pilbara region? Does the minister believe that the best way to promote development and return to the heritage values on the Burrup is for heavy industry to be encouraged to alternative sites such as Onslow or Maitland or the joint venture site on the Burrup?
If so, is the federal government willing to support measures encouraging industry to set up in alternative locations?

Answer

Senator IAN CAMPBELL -I thank Senator Siewert for the question, which relates to an incredibly important part of Western Australia and, of course, Australia-that is, the Burrup Peninsula. A number of companies are proposing expansions of operations in this area. It is the home of a multibillion-dollar export business around liquefied natural gas-a business that obviously creates massive employment for Australians and underpins a lot of our gross domestic product.

Very importantly-and this has been missed by a lot of commentators-it also makes a fantastic contribution to lowering the world's greenhouse gas emissions. A lot of the gas that comes from the North West Shelf and will come from the proposed expansions of the LNG facilities at the Burrup will go to China and hopefully North America. I think we need to remember that, whenever you substitute good, clean north-west Australian LNG for coal or oil, you get an immediate benefit in the order of a 40 per cent to 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere which will, of course, help us to address the significant global challenge of climate change.

Here on the Burrup, alongside that phenomenal environmental and economic benefit, you also have some quite historic and incredibly important Aboriginal rock art, known to the experts as petroglyphs, going back up to 10,000 years. These operation expansion proposals-for example, for the Pluto project-are looking at a footprint area of around 20 hectares. I remind the Senate that I think this does need to be put into context, because I happen to believe very passionately and firmly that you can balance the economic development interests of Australia with what I am currently considering for the National Heritage List-and which on the face of it looks like incredibly important heritage-in that unique part of Western Australia.

To put it into context, the Burrup Peninsula itself is an area 27 kilometres long and four kilometres wide; so just the Burrup Peninsula, which is only one part of the precinct, is 108 square kilometres. I go back to the Woodside expansion proposals, which have a footprint of disturbance of around 20 hectares- that is, 20 hectares as part of 108 square kilometres. One of the National Heritage List areas proposed by the traditional owners comprises an area of 220,000 hectares. Again, I say that this is a 20-hectare area of potential disturbance of rock art that is spread out over an area in excess of 220,000 hectares. The area of the Dampier Archipelago, which comprises 42 islands, islets and rocks ranging from two hectares up to 3,290 hectares in size, covers an area of something like 4,000 square kilometres. The rock art, I remind all senators through you, Mr President, is spread across this area. It ranges from 7,000 to 10,000 years old. It is incredibly important archaeology. That is why the government has spent so much on it. Senator Siewert asked about alternative-

Senator Bob Brown -Mr President, I raise a point of order. Senator Siewert did indeed ask about Maitland, Onslow and alternatives where there is no rock art. The minister should have addressed that question, and he has failed to do so. He should get on with answering the question before his time runs out.

The PRESIDENT -The minister has 25 seconds to complete his answer.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL -Before I was so rudely interrupted, I was about to talk about the alternative question that Senator Siewert asked, which was about the alternative sites. Maitland, Senator Brown seems to think, has no rock art involved. I am sure that, when Senator Siewert asks her supplementary question, it will give me the opportunity to go into some detail about the impact of the development of Maitland on rock art.

Supplementary Question

Senator SIEWERT -Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to the minister's comment in this morning's Australian Financial Review.

He said, 'No-one in their right mind would propose saving every single last bit of heritage on the peninsula unless they want to close down the economic development of Australia.'

Does the minister actually believe that locating industry at alternative sites, as BHP has done at Onslow, will really close down economic development in Australia? If so, what process will the minister be following to decide what proportion of Australia's heritage is expendable?

Supplementary Answer

Senator IAN CAMPBELL -Unlike the Australian Greens, you do need to be very honest and frank about this and you need to put it into context. The context is that Senator Bob Brown, Senator Siewert's colleague, was on the radio this morning saying that you could relocate to Maitland.

The reality about the Maitland site, for example, is that you would need to develop a new port if you were to put industrial development on the Maitland estate. The site for the new port is on West Intercourse Island, which is a site that has petroglyphs all over it. Wherever you move in this area, you will have an impact on Aboriginal rock art. There is no simple solution.

The Greens solution is to have no development and not to have the environmental benefits of exporting Australian greenhouse-reducing natural gas into China. We want to export gas into China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the world and create a multibilliondollar industry. We want to do it by minimising the impact on the rock art and we want to do it through a good management process.

Take Note of Answer

Senator SIEWERT (3.30 pm) - I move: That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage (Senator Ian Campbell) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to a rock art site at the Burrup Peninsula, Western Australia.

It looks like the minister has adopted the Western Australian government's approach to the Burrup, which is to say that unless we develop the Burrup the Australian economy is going to collapse. I wonder if Woodside knows that it is sustaining the whole of the Australian economy through its project-of course, that is utter nonsense.

This area is an extremely important cultural site in Australia and in the world. It is up to 20,000 years old, with a million petroglyphs. From the minister responsible for heritage protection, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, we are hearing that we in Australia need to compromise our cultural heritage at this extremely important site. This is the minister whose job it is to look after our heritage and yet, before the National Heritage List is even considered, he is talking about compromise.

He is talking about compromise when there are a number of alternative sites for this proposal. It is nonsense to say that if this site on the Burrup does not go ahead then the Australian economy will collapse. The gas is not going to go away. It is interesting to note that BHP Billiton are undertaking feasibility studies for the Scarborough gas development in the north-west. BHP have run a pretty good site selection process, and they have decided that the Burrup is not the place for their development; they are going up to look at Onslow.

And guess what? So far there is no sign of any economic collapse because they are moving from the Burrup to Onslow. The minister also ran the fallacious argument that if the development goes down to Maitland then it will compromise other rock art. Well, he is right.

West Intercourse Island is an extremely important island for rock art. But the minister need not think that the state government is not going to develop that; it just has it further down the line. However, there have been surveys undertaken for the Shire of Roebourne, by a company called Astron Engineering, that have identified other port sites that can be used by a development at Maitland. So to run the argument that if we do not go to Burrup and instead go to Maitland we are going to trash other rock art is absolute nonsense. I wish the minister would actually look at some of the information that is readily available. And to argue that the Burrup is just 20 hectares is, again, a load of nonsense.

The minister knows full well that there are sites, for example, that have already been developed on the Burrup, and that there have already been up to 10,000 petroglyphs lost. That is a guesstimate. No-one has done a full, proper survey of the Bur rup and of what has been lost, so we do not know what has been lost. The minister knows those sites have already been lost-or he should know that, being the minister for heritage. To argue that the Burrup is only 20 hectares and that nobody is ever going to go there is, again, nonsense. This will be, as it has been in the past, development by creep. The minister cannot guarantee, unless he takes action, that the other heritage values will be protected. The minister has been up to the Burrup. He has stood on the Burrup and acknowledged that there is something special there that should not be auctioned off a bit at a time when there are perfectly acceptable development sites nearby.

And then there is this whole concept that it is okay to take a bit. This is death by a thousand cuts. Is it all right to take one of the pyramids for road making? Is it all right to take half of Stonehenge for road making? Did we not express outrage when the Taliban destroyed priceless cultural heritage sites? Yes, we did, but of course that was overseas. Australia appears to still have a cultural cringe. It is all right to look after other cultures and lands, but not when it comes to our own culture, which has a unique, and one of the best, heritages in the world-our Aboriginal heritage.

The Burrup rock art, at 20,000 years old, is five times as old as the pyramids. It is okay for us to try to get the international community to protect the pyramids but not our own culture. And now we come to the old argument, which is always being used nowadays-that is, greenhouse benefits. It is argued that it is okay, that we have to trash the Burrup because we have done nothing about climate change for years and years-that now we have discovered it is a problem we will, yet again, use the straw man that we have to have gas to deal with climate change to explain away the need to develop the Burrup.

What an unsavoury argument it is to say, 'We have to sacrifice 20,000-year-old rock art so that we can have a development on the Burrup.' It ignores the fact that there are at least three other easily identifiable sites where the gas facility could be built. The minister has some of the most important decisions to make on some of the most culturally important heritage in the world.