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James Price Point

Question
Rachel Siewert 17 Aug 2011

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (14:17):  My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Senator Conroy. I ask about the recent sightings of one adult and three baby bilbies at the site of the proposed James Price Point gas hub, which is prime habitat for the bilby. Bilbies are acknowledged as a vulnerable species by both the WA and federal governments, yet Woodside has begun clearing on this site. Does the uncontrolled clearing through this area contravene the government's own bilby recovery plan, and has the minister asked his department to consider this evidence in light of that recovery plan and the EPBC approvals process?

Senator CONROY (Victoria—Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:19):  I thank Senator Siewert for her question. As you would be aware, we are working with the Western Australian government on a strategic assessment of this proposal. The strategic assessment process requires all potential environmental heritage and social impacts to be fully assessed. The proposal will proceed only if approved by both the Western Australian government and Minister Burke. Minister Burke visited the Kimberley earlier this month and in November last year.
Public comments on the strategic assessment closed on 28 March 2011. Recent reports have noted that a majority of traditional owners agree to support a liquefied natural gas precinct at James Price Point. The proposal is still subject to a strategic assessment under national environmental law. The government will be in a position to make a decision on the plan to develop the precinct once all matters required by the terms of the strategic assessment have been appropriately investigated.
Minister Burke has been advised that there have been two referrals in relation to a road to James Price Point. The first was a four metre wide track. Minister Burke has also been advised that in November last year a Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities delegate determined that the proposal was not a controlled action. The depart-ment has determined that the access track was unlikely to have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance. The second proposal from the Western Australian government for a 45-kilometre sealed road is also being determined. This proposal was not a controlled action.
Minister Burke has been advised that Woodside has been in contact with the department regarding the clearing of up to 25 hectares of vegetation at James Price Point. Minister Burke is aware that departmental officers have reviewed the proposal and have concluded that significant impacts on matters of national environmental significance are unlikely. In its consideration of the proposal, the department took a precautionary approach. This included assuming the greater bilby— (Time expired) 
Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT:  When there is silence, we will proceed.

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (14:17):  I notice that the minister did not get around to talking about the bilbies, which was the object of my question. I knew all the rest of it already. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I want to know: has the government taken any action around the sightings of bilbies, which Woodside had not found? They are clearing the habitat now. What is the government doing about it? It is fairly simple.

Senator CONROY (Victoria—Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:21):  As I was saying, in considera-tion of the proposal the department took a precautionary approach. This included assuming the greater bilby was present at the site. The department will be conducting a compliance inspection of James Price Point. The inspection will help to ensure that any activities at the site are meeting the requirements of national environmental law. Minister Burke understands that the compliance inspection will cover work on an access road as well as the clearing of up to 25 hectares for exploratory drilling. Minister Burke has been advised that this inspection is likely to take place this week, although that may be delayed until early next week as apparently there are reports of a bushfire at the site. On the issue of the Kimberley heritage assessments under the EPBC Act, the James Price Point strategic assessment process is separate from the broader Kimberley heritage assessment. Minister Burke has extended the deadline for a decision on the heritage assessment until the end of August.

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (14:22):  Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that sightings have now been confirmed at the site where the clearing is occurring, will the government put a stop-work order on and now properly assess this clearing, given that they originally did not assess it?

Senator CONROY (Victoria—Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:23):  As I mentioned in my earlier answer, the department assumed the greater bilby was present at the site and we will be conducting a compliance inspection. This inspection will help to ensure that any activities at the site are meeting the requirements of national environmental law.

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