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Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation
 Amendment Bill 2013

The Water Trigger


19 June 2013 - WATER has finally been given the status it deserves in the assessment of coal-seam gas and coal mining developments with the so-called ‘water trigger’ amendment to national environmental law passing the Senate today.

The amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act means water becomes a new matter of national environmental significance, making it a requirement of law that the federal Environment Minister assess CSG and coal mining developments that could have an impact on water resources.

Independent Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott has welcomed the bill passing its final hurdle – the Senate, despite the delaying tactics of the National Party.
“The ‘water trigger’ is now law. It’s been a long time coming, and I thank my community, Gloucester and Taree in particular, for lobbying for this important change,” Mr Oakeshott said.

“I also thank New England MP Tony Windsor and Caroona Coal Action Group’s Tim Duddy for their work, and the BGSP Alliance and GRiP in Gloucester, the Manning Clean Water Action Group and the Manning Alliance for their support.

“Today, rural and regional communities can celebrate a hard-fought win, which has taken many years, despite the best efforts of vested interests and the major political parties.”

The new law extends federal powers to the CSG and coal mining approval process. Until now, the states have had jurisdiction over planning approvals, unless a development had the potential to impact on nationally listed threatened species or heritage.

The change to the Act means in a new matter of national environmental significance has been added to the list – CSG and large coal mining development which has, or is likely to have, a significant impact on a water resource.

“The amendment to national environment law, along with the scientific research and bioregional studies being undertaken by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee, give our farmers and rural communities their best protection yet against the potential damage to waterways and farm lands from CSG and coal mining activities,” Mr Oakeshott said.


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation
 Amendment Bill 2013

21 March 2013 - Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (12:09): I acknowledge that we have a time frame so I will do what I can to keep my speech under five minutes.

I certainly acknowledge many who have come from the apology event in the Great Hall this morning, and sincerely hope that today makes a very big difference for many—certainly for a better Australia.

And I sincerely hope that this legislation makes for a better Australia, as well.

This is an important reform that has been driven largely by the member for New England, who is next to me, and by many in this chamber, across party lines, who are concerned about the status specifically of water, but more broadly about the place of ecosystems and landscapes in this century, when reforms will be ever more important in some of the great challenges of our time.

If the population around the world does not change we will need to be producing twice as much food on half the landscape with half the environmental damage.

That is a very difficult and unanswered equation that this legislation will hopefully play a small part in helping to start to answer, from an Australian perspective.

It will allow landscape and ecosystem services to be recognised more in state and federal law.

I am disappointed that it has come to the point that the Commonwealth has had to use the fairly blunt instrument of legislation, but state land laws are failing to recognise some of the very real challenges faced at a community level and the importance of water to the overall landscape and community amenity.

I want to raise some issues that are not addressed by this bill.

One is population health, which is given a low planning value and does, over time, need to be given a greater value in the planning process in terms of the cost benefit—for example in the cardiovascular impacts of some of the decisions made in planning with regard to large-scale open cut mining.

As well, what is not in this bill, but I hope is addressed over time, is the status of local government planning powers and, by extension, community empowerment.

Communities are completely disengaged, disenfranchised and frustrated by the anomalies in our legislation that have approvals of mining and coal seam gas overriding many issues in local government planning law.

I have an example in my local community of Gloucester, where an area, through community consultation, has been defined under local government law as an area of scenic protection, yet there is an approval before the state authorities to put in a large open-cut coalmine.

That is being done under legislation that overpowers that local government scenic protection determination. That is an anomaly that, over time, I hope is addressed.

Another example relates to recent approvals. The Gloucester Valley, only weeks ago had an approval of 110 gas wells. It has all been very public that at the very same time that one in Western Sydney was removed from planning the Gloucester project was approved.

This was done only one month ago. It was done only days before the New South Wales government put in place their two-kilometre exclusion zone. Therefore, quite rightly, the 2,500 people living in Gloucester will see the passage of this legislation as a bitter-sweet moment.

I urge the company involved and the state approval authorities to reconsider some of those recent approvals, when we are still developing the law in this chamber and at a state level—when the energy rush is on, yet the laws are immature and proving to be ad hoc.

I urge the state and the company involved in the Gloucester approval to reconsider in light of the new laws of the land, at both a state and federal level. Hopefully, they will reflect on that.

I am not one to go down the path of retrospective legislation and to try and get this House to support that, as difficult and frustrating as that is, with the recent approval on my patch, but I will urge with all my power that the state and the individual company reconsider.

I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

1. acknowledges:

(a) deep concern in several communities, such as the Gloucester Valley, where approvals have been made in the middle of recent immature and ad hoc planning laws being changed or updated;

(b) the ongoing failure of state planning laws that have forced the Commonwealth to become more involved in land law, and that the Commonwealth Minister and this Parliament continue to advocate to all states and territories the importance and value or ecosystem and landscape management over the coming century;

(c) the anomalies in various planning laws that disempower communities, particularly the way various provisions in various mining acts override local government planning powers; and

(d) the low planning value currently placed on the cost/benefit of population health.

2. strongly urges companies involved, and Governments involved, to reconsider some of these questionable recent approvals based on the four reasons above."

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Leigh ): Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Windsor: I second the amendment.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: We need a seconder who has not spoken, the Clerk informs me. Since the member for New England has spoken in the debate, he is unable to second the amendment. The House is seeking a seconder for the member for Lyne's amendment.

Mr Wilkie: I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Debate interrupted

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation
 Amendment Bill 2013 (PDF)


26 March 2013 - CHANGES to federal environment laws that aim to protect water resources from coal-seam gas and coal mining activities have passed the House of Representatives.

Independent Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott said the amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act would make coal seam gas (CSG) and large coal mining developments which “have, or are likely to have, a significant impact on a water resource” a new matter of national environmental significance.

The legislation, should it pass through the Senate, will not affect stage one of AGL’s coal-seam gas project in Gloucester, however, it will apply to stages two to five.

“I’m bitterly disappointed NSW and the Commonwealth failed to reach an agreement on CSG protocols before the first stage of the AGL project was approved,” Mr Oakeshott said.

“It may have spared Gloucester and the Manning a lot of anguish.
“However, I am optimistic this piece of legislation will do what NSW has refused to do and that is stop CSG projects if the science shows it will have a significant impact on water resources.”

Mr Oakeshott thanked the Gloucester community in particular for their strong advocacy on behalf of the entire valley.

“This critical reform in an antiquated and out-of-touch approvals process wouldn’t have happened without the informed advocacy of community groups such as the Barrington-Gloucester-Stroud Preservation Alliance, GRiP, Manning Clean Water Action Group and the Manning Alliance,” Mr Oakeshott said.



12 March 2013 - INDEPENDENT Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott says he is pleased water will be recognised in law as a trigger for federal government assessment of coal-seam gas and large coal mine developments.

The proposed change to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill includes water resources as a new matter of national environmental significance.

“It’s a bitter-sweet moment for my own community of Gloucester, where AGL’s 110-gas well project was approved by the federal minister just a month ago because, under the existing Act, his consideration was limited to threatened species,” Mr Oakeshott said.

“If there is good news for Gloucester it’s that stages two to five of the project, another 220 wells, will have to be referred to the federal environment minister for consideration.

“The federal minister will also need to consider the advice of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee.

“I am pleased we are now seeing formal progress on a legislative trigger for water resources in the EPBC Act that will in the future have greater regard for the potential impact of CSG and coal mine developments on water.

“It’s a significant legislative step, but also a significant win for farmers and for rural and regional Australians who have been fighting to have their voice heard above that of vested interests.

“On Sunday night I attended a public meeting in Gloucester that was called at short notice and was attended by more than 200 locals.

“CSG is already having an impact on communities such as Gloucester and none of it is positive.

“I’m confident this latest amendment to the Act will deliver the safeguards that farmers and communities such as mine have been looking for,” Mr Oakeshott said.

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development) Bill 2012

29 May 2012 - Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (17:34): I support this Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development) Bill 2012. I do no support it for plain-English reasons.

I support it for making a substantial contribution to better outcomes in natural resource management—productive land protection and establishing science at the centre of planning processes for land use.

I acknowledge Minister Burke in the chair and the work that he has done, along with the member for New England, in getting this bill before the House. This is one of the key agreements to come out of a pretty brutal debate around mineral resource rent taxes and their worth or otherwise.

Three agreements between me, the member for New England and government came out of those negotiations. This was one of them, alongside the establishment of a cabinet food, soil and water committee.

It considers, through the GST distribution review, mining royalties and how they relate to and talk to tax reform generally and looks at the relationship between the Commonwealth and the state.

We are still waiting for the supplementary papers from the GST distribution committee to see progress on that one.

Of the three agreements, this one is the first. This one is very important and talks to the heart of many communities. They are very vocal at the moment and are deeply concerned.

They have fears, real or perceived, about the energy gold rush and its impact, both short and long term, on communities as a consequence of that. In my local electorate I have one particular community, the Gloucester Basin, which is being challenged by both coal seam gas and large-scale mining.

Mining has been in Gloucester for some time on a relatively small scale. Gloucester has mainly been a farming community. It is a community that is at the head of the Manning River. It has about 300 tributaries in and around the beautiful Gloucester Basin that is at the bottom of the Barrington Range and the Barrington Tops. For environmental, lifestyle and food production reasons many people choose Gloucester as their home.

They are deeply challenged, therefore, by proposals with regard to coal seam gas in the area. In the last couple of years, 110 wells have been proposed, with more to come. Of greater concern is a large-scale coalmine, 1½ kilometres from the centre of town. For local council planning purposes, the location of this particular mine is, on local council papers, for local environmental planning purposes.

So there is a clash between state government land use planning of extracting a resource if it is there as the basic principle of state based land use planning and a council planning document that says, 'We're going to have a bit of development here, but here is an environmentally protected area.'

The situation with completely opposite outcomes proposed by the council and the state is unsatisfactory and has the community deeply concerned.

The Gloucester community probably has about 2½ thousand people in it and nearly half the community turned out on a very cold evening to express their concerns about the New South Wales 'strategic' land use planning changes.

A very strong view was expressed that even the new changes under the new government are completely missing the point and are really just embedding the problems that were experienced under the old regime in New South Wales, where, at the heart of planning was the view, as I said before, that if there is a resource it is the obligation of the Crown to extract it.

For many communities, that is not what is at the heart of community and, for the long-term economic interests of Australia, that is not sensible nor strategic policy. Many are now seeing that with an expected nine billion people by 2050 there are threats around the world with regard to food security but for Australia enormous opportunities in food production.

Whilst there is a recognition of this energy gold rush of the moment, the long-term story for Australia will, quite rightly, see a very strong rebirth of agriculture as an important contribution to the region around us and an important contribution to our standard of living through national economic outcomes.

So we cannot 'cook' those productive lands to achieve a short-term benefit and do ourselves damage in the long term—that is the broad principle and starting point.

That is not to deny that there may be locations where mining expansion, coal seam gas, may have a place, but that is where the Commonwealth kicks in, that is where this particular bill kicks in, in making sure that those decisions are not made by vested interests, not made by political interests and not made by a state government of any political persuasion that has the mentality of, 'If there's a resource, we must extract it.'

It is all about science, the best possible science we can find, and making decisions with regard to impacts on some pretty sensitive regions, not only the water but also the landscape and also—I am pleased about what we will see over time—issues of public health.

All these things need to be taken into real and material consideration in making decisions about how we deal with this very sensitive clash between productive lands and the rush for energy.

I am very pleased that we are now seeing an independent scientific expert panel being put at the heart of decision making. I am also pleased to see the very sensible engagement with the states, and a key part of this is the development of national partnership agreements with the state.

As we all know, from a Commonwealth perspective, land use and land use planning has predominantly been state based.

They are effectively the owners of the land but the underlying principle of extracted oil costs, regardless of the long-term benefits of potentially not extracting in particular locations, is one that was not being heard.

I think, therefore, the role of the Commonwealth in coordinating and enticing state governments to consider food security, water security and the protection of productive lands alongside considerations around energy and the extractive industries is an important step forward.

I am not sure whether we are there yet with all the states but we are pretty close. I am pleased that New South Wales have signed up.

I do not see their logic at all, and I suspect they would not be seeing their logic in hindsight, in signing up to what is a pretty simple but effective approach to putting science at the heart of this process yet, within 24 hours, trying to release some other strategic land use planning process that they themselves have tried to establish and control, which, if you have seen any of the protests out the front of the New South Wales parliament, you will know has caused enormous community uproar.

My message to New South Wales once this bill is passed is to keep it simple: just use this. Make this the heart of your policy and the way out of the position you have put yourself in in trying to be, in my view, too clever by half.

The protests that I and others have attended outside the New South Wales parliament were extraordinary. To see a coming together of farmers and environmentalists—a whole range of representatives of community interests—expressing deep concern at the loss of community as a consequence of getting this wrong should be a very loud and instructive message for us all.

There is a way through and it is this bill. It is making sure that not only New South Wales but all states work very closely in cooperation and in collaboration with what is being attempted at a Commonwealth level.

To have the Country Women's Association standing outside the New South Wales parliament for the first time ever in its 90-odd year history should say it all—that New South Wales has got it wrong. This bill has got it right. It is a difficult issue. It is one that has to navigate a path of cooperation through conflict and I congratulate the drafters in pretty well striking the balance.

I would also like to thank the many local organisations in my area who have been involved—the likes of the Manning Alliance, the Manning Clean Water Action Group, the Barrington-Gloucester-Stroud Preservation Alliance, the Gloucester Residents in Partnership and the Camden Haven Anti-fracking Group.

It is arguably even more important to acknowledge the many individuals who are not aligned with any particular organisation, who have had signs up on their fences, who have been emailing—the very ordinary ones who do not want to protest and who do not normally want to engage in politics.

These very ordinary people have done an extraordinary job in making sure this message is heard loud and clear around the country and have made it a priority issue on the agenda of all parliaments.

This bill reflects the concerns of farmers, homeowners, environmentalists, landholders and many others and, hopefully, now starts to get some sensible public policy. It should not act in isolation. I think public policy has a lot of things to consider deeply.

For example, food security and the sort of strategy Australia takes—whether we should chase the idea of trying to feed all or start to shake the top end market of the Asia-Pacific and become a specialist in food security. There are opportunities in our strategy, but we need to think about it a lot.

Likewise, I do not think we have nailed water security and the issues around water yet. The Murray-Darling Basin issue is still up in the air. There are still issues being put up by the National Water Commission which are falling on deaf ears in government. There is more work to be done. The issue of soil protection is one that has not had its place on the public policy landscape as much as it could—probably because soil is a pretty, pardon the pun, dirty topic—but it needs its place.

Our loss of topsoils globally is an issue of our time. It is an issue that this parliament needs to start taking seriously and needs to start contributing to not only domestically, but also internationally as we grapple with the loss of topsoil around the world. If science is to be believed and is to be trusted, this is an issue for the next hundred years if we do not deal with it. It is right before us; it is a complementary issue to water and food security.

I am pleased we have got to this point. Now it is about locking all the states into the national partnership agreement and getting these bioregional assessments up and running. Now it is about securing the place of the independent science at the heart of any development processes from here.

And now it is about really trying to get the states—in my case New South Wales—to see the worth of this, to use it for their own benefit and to make this the heart of public policy on this difficult but important issue for the states, including New South Wales, moving forward. I congratulate the minister at the table, Minister Burke, and hopefully now we can get some sensible direction on some challenging policy.


14 September 2011 - AUSTRALIA’S food security is at the heart of a Private Member’s Bill that will protect our nation’s water resources from the unprecedented enthusiasm of the extractive industries, says Independent Member for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott.

Independent New England MP Tony Windsor introduced the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Mining, Petroleum and Water Resources) Bill 2011 this week, which was seconded by Mr Oakeshott.
“The Bill isn’t an attempt to wrestle planning powers away from the states. It is, however, a genuine attempt to protect our nation’s water resources by giving the Commonwealth the means to intervene if mining ambitions represent a threat to water quality,” Mr Oakeshott said.

“We are witnessing a period of unprecedented investment, exploration and extraction of finite resources in this country, and yet we have no national approach to protecting our most precious resource – water.
“Communities, such as mine, are feeling the frustration as state laws fail to address the potential damage mining activities could cause to underground and surface water resources.

“This issue is too important to be left to community groups, such as Lock the Gate Alliance, the Camden Haven Anti-fracking Group, the Manning Clean Water Action Group and Gloucester Preservation Alliance, to take up on our behalf.

“Food security will be one of the most serious issues facing Australia in the decades ahead. If we are serious about protecting our most productive lands, then we must get serious about protecting our water resources,” Mr Oakeshott said.

“And to do that, we need nationally consistent standards.

“The bill will allow the Commonwealth to become involved in mining and coal-seam gas exploration applications if the development has, will have or is likely to have a significant impact on the water quality, structural integrity or hydraulic balance of the water resource.

“We currently have a situation where little or no account is taken of the potential off-site impact a mining operation might have on groundwater resources or rivers, creeks and wetlands.

“On the driest inhabited continent on Earth, that simply isn’t good enough,” Mr Oakeshott said.

Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott are hoping for the support of the parliament when further consideration of the Bill occurs.

Mr Oakeshott also confirmed today that he had made a submission to the NSW inquiry into coal-seam gas. The views of more than 1450 people who have contacted Mr Oakeshott about coal-seam gas mining were represented in the submission.

The upper house inquiry has so far attracted more than 350 submissions.



17 August 2011 - FOLLOWING concerns raised at last week’s community forums in Port Macquarie, Laurieton, Wauchope, Harrington, Taree and Gloucester, Independent Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott will help introduce legislation that protects Australia’s water resources from mining interests.
Fellow Independent MP Tony Windsor will introduce the legislation which Mr Oakeshott has agreed to second.

The Bill will provide heavy penalties for any mining action that has, will have, or is likely to have a significant impact on the water quality, structural integrity or hydraulic balance of a water resource.

“This is an issue that has been raised by all communities across the electorate, particularly the fracking processes involved in coal seam gas mining,” Mr Oakeshott said.

“It elevates, and underlines, the importance of water quality to our community and long-term planning in the areas of better water, better soils and more productive farmlands,” Mr Oakeshott said.

The proposed legislation amends the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to require companies to seek a licence before undertaking any mining activity in a region that has water resources.

“The Bill will not affect responsible mining practices that have no impact on our water resources, but it will help protect surface water and underground aquifers,” Mr Oakeshott said.

“This is long overdue protection for our most precious resource given that Australia is the driest populated continent on earth, and the science is not clear in the way underground water in communities such as the Gloucester and Lorne basins interrelate,” Mr Oakeshott said.

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Rob Oakeshott's Parliamentary speeches are here.

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