Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (15:52): I move: That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (Senator Conroy) to a question without notice asked by me today relating to bilbies.
I find it intriguing that the government, or the minister for the environment, decided that the clearing of this area should be an uncontrolled action despite the fact that they thought bilbies might be there. That is essentially what Minister Conroy said. He said 'bearing in mind the greater bilby'. What he said, in effect, is that they have approved clearing while knowing that it could be bilby habitat. It appears that it is okay for Woodside to keep clearing bilby habitat. Bilbies are a vulnerable species in Western Australia and an endangered species in Queensland—I understand a lot of people do not understand the distinction, but both classifications mean that a species is at risk.
The government now know that bilbies, including baby bilbies, are on the site that they have said, without even carrying out an assessment, it is okay to clear. An uncontrolled action means that an assessment was not carried out and it is full steam ahead for Woodside. I beg the government to reconsider that decision and to look at the evidence that the local community has now collected on two separate occasions. They have evidence of an adult bilby and now of three babies. It means of course that bilbies are breeding in that area. This is important bilby habitat—the local community said all along that it was. The government did not do their job and Woodside did not do their job, because they did not find evidence of bilbies. Yet again the local community are the people properly protecting the environment.
The government should do the right thing here. They should immediately stop any further clearing of the site, review the evidence and carry out a proper environmental assessment of the road clearing for this proposal—clearing which we know pre-empts the strategic assessment of the proposal, pre-empts heritage listing, which is due by 31 August, and pre-empts any environmental assessment of this $30 billion gas hub. This proposal is a divisive one. It is causing division within the Aboriginal community, within the broader Broome community and, in fact, across Australia. I know very well that the government have been getting messages from the broader community
expressing their extreme concern about locating this gas hub at James Price Point, a pristine stretch of the pristine Kimberley coast.
I beg the government to order a stop to any further clearing of this site and to carry out a full environmental assessment to ensure that bilbies are not being harmed. We know their habitat is being cleared, we know that is inappropriate and we know that we do not want to hurt bilbies. So why is the government putting its hands in front of its eyes like the three blind monkeys—we cannot see and we are not going to look, so we do not know? It is all very well to go up and do a compliance audit in a week or two—after the fact. Stop it now and then go and look. Do not go and look after the damage has been done and say, 'Oh, yes, we have destroyed bilby habitat.'
We know those animals are vulnerable in WA. We know we should be protecting that habitat. And if there are bilbies there, what else has Woodside missed in its evaluation process? What else is being destroyed? What else is being lost? We know the site has valuable vine thickets, for example. Broader development of this area will also destroy those threatened, vulnerable and endangered vine tickets, which are found nowhere else. Those particular thickets and the ecosystem they support are found nowhere else. The government needs to have a rethink about how it is handling this area and move to protect those vulnerable bilbies and stop work immediately.
Question agreed to.