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James Price Point - Bilbies

Rachel Siewert 18 Aug 2011

Senator SIEWERT:  I, and also on behalf of Senator Ludlam, move:
That the Senate— 
   (a)   notes: 
      (i)   sightings of one adult and three baby bilbies at the site of the proposed James Price Point gas hub, Western Australia, in the week beginning 7 August 2011, 
      (ii)   that the pristine Kimberley bushland is prime habitat for the bilby, acknowledged as a vulnerable species by both the Western Australian Government and the Federal Government, 
      (iii)   the need to verify these sightings and establish the significance of the bilby population at James Price Point, 
      (iv)   that the land clearing that has already been undertaken by Woodside Petroleum at this site is considered an uncontrolled action, 
      (v)   that uncontrolled clearing through this area may contravene the Government's own bilby recovery plan, and 
      (vi)   that the decision to locate a gas hub or other heavy industry at James Price Point is still being considered under the Federal Government's strategic assessment process and is yet to be assessed; and 
   (b)   calls for: 
      (i)   an immediate halt to all land clearing at the James Price Point gas hub site until the nature and extent of the bilby colony has been established, and 
      (ii)   the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (Mr Burke) to: 
   (a)   consider this new evidence of bilby colonies at the clearing site, 
   (b)   commission further independent studies into the status and habitat of the bilby population in this area, 
   (c)   take careful note of the information provided through the environment protection and biodiversity conservation process, and 
   (d)   examine the gas hub proposal in light of its impact on the bilby. 

Senator McEWEN (South Australia—Government Whip in the Senate) (12:19):  by leave—The government does not support Senator Siewert's motion as it duplicates work we have already carried out and that we continue to do. For example, I am advised that Woodside has been in contact with the department regarding the clearing of up to 25 hectares of vegetation at James Price Point. I understand 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 and that included assuming the greater bilby was present at the site.  I also understand that the department will be conducting a compliance inspection of James Price Point. That inspection will help to ensure that any activities at the site are meeting the requirements of national environmental law. I understand the compliance inspection will cover works on an access road as well as the clearing of up to 25 hectares for exploratory drilling. I am advised this inspection may be delayed into early next week as I am advised there are reports of a bushfire at the site this week.

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (12:21):  I seek leave to make a very brief statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator CORMANN:  I thank the Senate. This is a very important development for Western Australia and a very important development for Australia. The Greens are trying to do everything and anything they can to stop an important LNG project from being developed in the Browse Basin. This is just the latest attempt. It is quite appropriate for the proper processes of state and federal governments to run their course, but this sort of stunt—trying to stop by a decision of the Senate a very important project for the economic development of Australia—is completely out of order. This is not only an important development for Western Australia and for Australia; it is a very important development for the economic opportunities for Indigenous Australians in the north of Western Australia. For the Greens again to try and prevent Indigenous people in Australia from maximising their opportunities in the context of developments like this is just completely outrageous and shows that they are antidevelopment at all costs. They do not believe in proper process. This is a project that should be assessed through the normal state and federal processes as they currently exist, consistent with the legislation.

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (12:22):  I seek leave to make a short statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator SIEWERT:  The point here is that they have not been following proper process. The government decided that this should be assessed as an uncontrolled action. It should never have been decided to assess it as an uncontrolled action. There are bilbies there. We know there are bilbies there—one adult and three babies. We know they are there, and by refusing to issue a stop-work order the government are saying that it is okay to clear the habitat of a national icon endangered species. That is what the government are saying. They are going ahead and allowing clearing to happen before this project has completed its strategic assessment, before the government have made their decision on heritage listing and before this project has had any environmental assessment. How is that proper procedure, may I ask? It isn't. It is not proper assessment.
There are plenty of alternatives for this project. There are plenty of other places where this project could be put. But no, the government of Western Australia and, it appears, the federal government and Woodside are determined for this project to go on land that has extreme heritage value and high environmental values. This is not carrying out proper process. If the government were concerned about proper process, it would in fact issue a stop-work order, require this area to be assessed and actually assess the information that the community has collected around the existence of bilbies. The government is saying that it is okay to trash the habitat of another endangered species in this country, and the community is saying that is not acceptable.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  Before I put the question, I remind senators of the Procedure Committee report that indicated that this is not the time to be debating. I remind all parties that this is not the time to be making statements; it is the time to determine motions in the manner that we have been doing.

Question put.

The Senate divided. [12:26]
(The Deputy PRESIDENT—Senator Parry)
Ayes ...................... 10
Noes ...................... 40
Majority ................ 30

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