Please note: This is an extract from Hansard only. Hansard extracts are reproduced with permission from the Parliament of Tasmania.
MOUNT LYELL ACID DRAINAGE REDUCTION BILL 2003 (No. 59)
Mr GREEN (Braddon - Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment - 2R) - Mr Speaker, I move -
That the bill be now read the second time.
Mr Deputy Speaker, when the Government closely looked at the possibility that there could be a substantial improvement in the west coast environment from a partnership with the private sector as a result of successful treatment of acid drainage from historic mining practices at Mount Lyell, there were five main preconditions.
The first was that the company be able to demonstrate that its processing technology had a very good chance of working. In this regard, as I indicated when introducing this bill, the State Government has had a specialist third party consultant with considerable expertise in this rather narrow area, assess the technical aspects of the proposal and he has reported favourably.
The second precondition to moving forward was that broad agreement could be reached with the private sector on the terms of an agreement which could enable a robust proposal to be put in place.
Whilst there has not yet been agreement on the terms of contracts, there have been extensive discussions and there is confidence that an agreement can be reached.
The third precondition was that agreement could be reached with the company, Copper Mines of Tasmania, about how to move forward. This was considered to be very important as CMT is the mining company operating the Mount Lyell copper mine and pollution-reduction activities would need to be undertaken with its cooperation.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am pleased to advise the House that CMT has been very cooperative and it recognises the local and broader benefits that will accrue from a reduction in the pollution from the Mount Lyell site.
I must clearly put on the record that the acid drainage which is leaving the site is not in any way as a result of the activities of CMT.
The Government has found CMT to be very active in ensuring the strict pollution control requirements which are in place covering its current mining operations are carefully complied with.
In short, agreement has been reached with CMT about having another private sector company, using new technology, extract and sell minerals extracted as a result of treating the acid drainage.
The fourth precondition was that an appropriate legislative framework was put in place to facilitate acid drainage reduction activities.
This bill before the House today provides this framework. I will say more about this framework shortly.
The fifth and perhaps the most important precondition was the availability of funds from the Natural Heritage Trust.
Turning now to the reason for this bill. In the view of the private sector company we have been talking to, there is a need to provide it with some security about the framework of the acid drainage reduction initiative as some millions of dollars will need to be invested by it. Put simply, the company advised that it would be impossible to raise funds for this type of investment without some clear signal from the Parliament that it was behind such a project and that there was a commitment to the project for a significant length of time.
Other issues which required resolution included assurances that the company would not incur any legal liability for production of the acid drainage in the first place or in relation to returning polluted, albeit much less polluted, waters into the environment after processing.
The Government believes that these are very reasonable requests if it means that the private sector will invest millions of dollars into a processing facility which will result in a substantial reduction in the pollution caused by the acid drainage.
I would also want members to clearly understand that there will still be a robust regime of environmental controls that any company undertaking processing of acid drainage will need to comply with. These controls will however recognise that the activity is directed at reducing the level of pollution already flowing into the environment.
Put simply, this bill will facilitate a private sector company establishing and operating a processing plant to extract copper and other metals from the acid drainage emanating from the Mount Lyell site and at the same time reduce the acidity of the acid drainage. Specific details of the project are still to be finalised but it is expected that the total project could involve the investment of over $15 million. There are many steps to be finalised but having a legislative framework in place is now on the critical path and hence the reason for the introduction of this bill at this time.
Mr Deputy Speaker, there are a few principles underlying this legislation which I will now point out. The first is that nothing be done which would interrupt the mining activities of CMT. The second is that the need to comply with the provisions of the planning legislation and the environmental control legislation remain unchanged apart from the very specific and limited exemptions contained in the bill. The third is that everything reasonable is done to make this project operationally viable, particularly because assessments of previously available pollution reduction technologies indicated that such a treatment of acid drainage from Mount Lyell using those technologies was not affordable. The fourth is that there is a strict compliance regime on any company processing acid drainage. The fifth is that the framework established can apply for years into the future and accommodate changes in the companies and circumstances. That is to say the framework is not specific to any individual company. These principles are embodied in this bill.
But, Mr Deputy Speaker, they all must be considered alongside the requirement to make progress in addressing the pollution at Queenstown from Mount Lyell. It is common ground that the continuing pollution from historic mining activities at Mount Lyell is an environmental tragedy of world scale. The pollution problem at Mount Lyell is a result of decades of activity and it could well take nearly as long to begin to mitigate the effects as it took to create the problem. It is acknowledged that action is already being taken by CMT in ensuring that the current mining activities are undertaken with due regard for the environmental impacts.
It is plain, however, that there cannot be any recovery of the currently impacted King and Queen river systems without action being taken to prevent ongoing ecological harm caused by the effects of acid drainage. The Government is firmly of the belief that there is a need to make a positive start in redressing the long-term environmental impact of historic acid drainage. The passage of this bill will provide the legislative basis for that start.
I commend the bill to the House.
Mr ROCKLIFF (Braddon) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to give the Opposition's support to this bill and I have to commend the minister on bringing forward this piece of legislation to allow remediation works on the King and Queen rivers and related waterways. I would have to say that, while I acknowledge that it is not this minister's fault, it has been long overdue and it is true that successive governments have ignored for years what is arguably Tasmania's greatest ecological disaster.
In more than 100 years of almost continuous operation, Mount Lyell has produced incredible wealth for Tasmania and indeed Australia, along with overseas investors. The original Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company built, at considerable expense and with the loss of a number of lives, the unique Abt Railway, now becoming one of Tasmania's world-class tourism assets. In its early days, profits flowing from Mount Lyell were used to fund many a new office building in the corporate world in Melbourne and mainland Australia. At one time the smelting town of Queenstown and the mining town of Gormanston - the latter now inhabited, I am reliably told, by more rabbits than there were ever people - were among the most populated centres in Tasmania.
In my own electorate of Braddon there are many people who remember fondly their time living on the west coast and the men working in the mine or the smelters or on the railway. While its best days are long since past, even now the mine continues to provide direct and indirect employment for hundreds of Tasmanians. However, as they say, nothing is ever for free and for all this there has been a tremendous cost.
Every day we hear argument, much of it emotive and some devoid of fact, about the state of our forests but there is no doubt the pollution caused over years of mining operations at Mount Lyell is quite frankly a national disgrace. Queenstown's moonscape landscape is infamous, albeit a problem that nature appears to slowly be correcting as trees do return to the bare hills. The real scar on the environment caused by mining operations at Mount Lyell has always been the acid mine drainage pollution of the Queen and King rivers and related waterways. You only have to look at these rivers to know they are devoid of life.
Successive governments have for many years failed to address this problem and that is certainly true, however I must commend the minister for now taking action that will allow us a State to move forward and set this right. I note back in 1998 the so-named Clean up the King Project was approved for Commonwealth funding to the tune of $7.5 million under the Tasmanian Strategic and National Heritage Program. I am informed that in March of this year the Natural Heritage Trust ministerial board wrote to the minister seeking alternative proposals should it not be possible to expend the funds by June 2004. Fortunately the State Government appears now able to move forward with a concrete proposal for acid mine drainage reduction works at Mount Lyell.
I note that a study of the feasibility of remediating Mount Lyell acid mine drainage was completed and handed over to the Government in December 2001. This comprehensive report presented three options for treatment: full neutralisation, partial neutralisation and copper recovery through solvent extraction - with varying start-up and ongoing operational costs. A subsequent community consultation study found that the overwhelming majority of respondents were in favour of the full neutralisation. I do agree that full neutralisation at this time would be prohibitively expensive and would require a comprehensive and long-term funding agreement between the State and the Commonwealth Government. For this reason, I see a great deal of merit in the Government's policy of using the technology that is now available to treat acid mine drainage as best we can.
I wish to thank the minister for the briefing that was provided to me and my colleagues, Sue Napier and Rene Hidding, on the method of treatment that the Government intends to pursue. It was certainly a thorough briefing and I would appreciate an opportunity to see this technology in action in the near future.
Mr Speaker, I do not have any issues necessarily with the bill itself. I do have some concerns, however, and wish to seek answers from the minister. The first relates to the risk analysis identified by the Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment study. This states that there is uncertainty as to how long Mount Lyell will continue to operate, and that mine closure would reduce copper loads and change flows in such a way as to put any expenditure on an extraction plant and water diversion works at risk. I would be interested in whether this observation applies to the technology that the Government is seeking to use, or whether the proposed treatment process would not be subject to this particular risk.
My other major concern is that the proposed treatment process does not provide a total solution to the pollution associated with the acid mine drainage at Mount Lyell. I must say the minister has not said that it will, but clearly we need a long-term comprehensive strategy to address this world-scale problem. Therefore my question to the minister is whether your department does indeed have such a long-term strategy. I would certainly hope the Government will not satisfy itself with what is being proposed here today, or regard what the minister has mentioned in his second reading speech as sufficient, however it would appear to be a very good start.
That said, I again commend the Government and the minister for bringing this bill before the House and, more importantly, on progressing in a meaningful way the treatment of acid mine drainage on the west coast. As I said, it is a major ecological disaster for Tasmania and has caused some considerable concern amongst some of the tourism operators. I know it will be a long time before we can see any direct improvements, but this is a very good start, Minister, and I certainly support the bill.
Ms PUTT (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, Tasmania has the most appalling legacy in mining pollution from I think over 250 mines around the State. In particular, Mount Lyell would be the most outstanding, if you want to use that word, example of this appalling legacy. It is known around the world for the magnitude of the acid mine drainage problems that we suffer from. This appalling legacy is something that the Greens have sort to have addressed over many years in this Parliament. When you read back through the Hansard you can find contributions about this from Norm Sanders when he was first elected, and following that from Dr Bob Brown, and then more recently from previous Greens Leader, Christine Milne. Again and again when governments of Liberal or Labor persuasion brought to this Parliament special assistance packages for Mount Lyell, the Greens entreated and pleaded that governments would pay attention to the legacy that we were storing up for the future and the need to do something about it. It is most unfortunate that rather than those warnings being heeded the people giving them were vilified and labelled 'antimining'. What we were trying to do all the way through was draw attention to the fact that this was going to cost Tasmania and Tasmania's environment dearly into the future and that we needed to start making provision for that early and to ensure that we have safeguards in place that would have polluters pay or at least help to remediate the damage that they caused.
It is to Tasmania's everlasting shame I believe that we find ourselves in the situation that we are in today and that neither political party had the will or the wisdom to do something about it much earlier. We had the subsidisation of this pollution through the assistance packages which effectively tore up good tax payers money and threw it down the shafts of the mine and never got back anything in the way of a bond or a guarantee to at least go some way towards assisting with remediation once the mine left the hands of that original operator. We all can agree now that that ought to have happened but the Greens still feel very strongly and very bitterly that nobody would listen at the time and they put a lot of energy into vilifying us as antimining. Now everybody wrings their hands and carries on as if it was most unfortunate, when in actual fact it is the two other parties that are sitting in this House that are in many ways responsible.
There was also of course the ongoing subsidisation of this particular operation, not only by government assistance packages but by the waiving of mineral royalty payments. Furthermore, there were the explicit ministerial exemptions from pollution control legislation that were granted over the years in return for putting further money into State coffers. We have to acknowledge that is what when on in the past; it was really crook. It was something that should not have been happening. Ministerial exemptions continued way past when people realised that we need pollution control laws. I am not talking about something that happened in the 1950s; we are talking about a system that only finished in 1995! It is extraordinary to contemplate now how long that went on for and how deaf legislators were to the fact that we were going to have these enormous problems that would last potentially for hundreds of years that we needed to have the wherewithal to cope with.
We all understand that in the early days of the mine there was very little in the form of pollution control anywhere in the world and Tasmania was no exception. The combination of the removal of vegetation to fire the boilers and the acid rain that came down as a result of the processing meant that the hills of Queenstown were denuded. That assisted the penetration of water through the mine onto the exposed rock faces and of course that has lead to this terrible problem that we have with acid mine drainage. I am not trying to say that there never would have been a problem if governments had acted earlier, but we could have done a lot towards getting it under control a lot earlier than we now find ourselves doing.
There is a sense in which we feel very strongly about the lack of earlier government action. I might say that we feel we are seeing it all repeated again as we warn about what is coming down the line with the destruction of our high conservation value and old-growth forests and even more generally with the abject failure of Tasmania compared even to the rest of Australia let alone the rest of the world to get a handle on land clearing. Do not just carry on as if we want to stop industry. We are trying to warn about very real problems that are coming down the line that cost us as a society, that cost our environment and that will have astounding adverse and far-reaching ramifications.
It is a case of not learning from history. I do hope that Tasmanians and other Tasmanian political parties do not turn out to be such incredibly slow learners as they have been in relation to the problems that we have been warning about for so many years in relation to the pollution problems from the way our mining industry has been administered.
The essence of the problem is that we cannot get out of the mindset where we treat the environment as some sort of free service that will just soak up whatever we do to it, and that the business of making profits fails to incorporate the impacts that happen to the environment. We still have a mindset in this State where the costs of environmental impact are not factored in to the costs of a commercial operation. It is seen as being an additional impost that must be borne elsewhere by the environment and then by the community.
We still say that if an industry wants to make profits out of exploiting our environment then they also have a responsibility to deal with the environmental impacts that they cause on behalf of the greater community. It is quite wrong to externalise those costs onto future generations.
I do hope that as members consider this bill and the fact that we are now trying to set in place something that will alleviate to some degree those impacts that we still know are coming down the line for many generations, that members will think about it and recognise that this is not a one-off situation. This is a product of a way of thinking that we should get out of and then move on. We need to think much more holistically as decision makers about what we are allowing to occur and who is going to bear the cost.
It is not good enough to say that because a profit can be made now we will think later about how we pay for everything else. We have to think at the same time about how we pay for everything else and we have to make sure that the people who make the profit do not get away scot-free without helping to also pay for damage that comes down the line. It is simply wrong. We have to understand that one of the costs of undertaking activity that impacts the environment is the cost of ameliorating or remedying that activity. Of course, the people who make the money out of it have to take their fair responsibility in also paying their way in terms of those impacts. We still have not managed to change that thought process in Tasmania and Tasmanian decision-making.
I do hope that in today's debate people reflect seriously about that and perhaps think seriously about some of the things we have been saying in respect of other industries, not mining, where we are saying that you have to integrate into your decision-making the impacts on bio-diversity and on availability of choices for future generations. This is not simply some verbiage that the Greens come out with as an excuse to attack an industry - it is not. We are seriously warning about something. We were never antimining and we are not antiforestry but we are saying that the way these things have traditionally been done in Tasmania is no longer acceptable in the modern world, that we have to find different ways of doing them that will not inflict all these appalling costs onto our environment and onto our own and future generations.
We all know about the dead rivers - the Queen and the King rivers - and they are shamefully on display now when you travel on the Abt railway. When the Abt first starting operating I went along one day and got on the train with a whole bunch of tourists and they were absolutely appalled by what they saw and they could not understand how they could go through this beautiful rainforest and at the same time be going alongside a river that was totally dead. When you get out at Double Barrel and have a good chance to look at the impacts on that waterway, it is something that really gives you pause for thought. It is very difficult nowadays for people to understand that we could somehow have allowed that to happen and that people just look at the river and say, 'Oh yes, it's dead. Never mind. That's how the Queen and King rivers are'. That was the impression that people had that day on the train. I was deeply embarrassed and quite pleased they did not know I was the Leader of the Greens, to be honest, because perhaps they would have thought that we had somehow not tried hard enough to do something about it.
There are the heavy metals in the harbour as well, there are the impacts on aquaculture, the effects on the World Heritage area and the values of the World Heritage area. Clearly, we need to deal with those.
I thank the minister for the briefing we have had. We have had a good think about this legislation. We understand that we are in a situation now where we cannot blame anybody who walks into the site to do something and make them take responsibility for the past pollution. We understood that when the Copper Mines of Tasmania Bill went through and a further bill subsequent to the first one; we understood it in relation to Savage River, and it is more or less the same principle that we now have in relation to this legislation. We are in a situation where the technology that is proposed to be applied on site will remove some of the metals from the acid mine drainage and that bit by bit we can hopefully reduce the acid nature of the waters that flow off the mine site and that by so doing, eventually life will be able to return to those rivers. We cannot say 'no' to that; it is better than leaving things as they are.
I have looked at the preconditions and seen that the first one is that the company has to be able to demonstrate that its processing technology has a very good chance of working. We have a curious situation where the Commonwealth has apparently applied some gag to the State Government and to themselves in respect of talking about this process. This seems bizarre to me given that no-one in this Parliament would ever go to the level of detail of a proprietary technology if they were indeed capable of understanding all the finer points in such way as would, I think, compromise the company in the marketplace - which I presume is the reason for that prohibition. At any rate, from the briefing that we have had, we understand that it looks as if the processing technology has a good chance of working, so that is good.
There needs to be a broad agreement that will allow the private sector to bring forward a robust proposal. We know there have been extensive discussions and there has not yet been the exchange of contracts. Then there is the precondition that agreement could be reached with CMT about how to move forward. Clearly that is very important when you already have someone else operating on the site and you want to bring in a second operator on site to do something different to what Copper Mines of Tasmania is already doing. I think it is particularly important because it may be that at the moment, until we pass this legislation, theoretically Copper Mines of Tasmania could own the dissolved metals that flow through their workings, although clearly it is difficult to disaggregate what would be dissolved metals as a result of the previous operation from those that resulted from what Copper Mines of Tasmania was doing. So I am glad that there is an agreement with Copper Mines of Tasmania about getting someone else onto the site, or at least that there is that sort of cooperation.
The fourth precondition you named, Minister, was the appropriate legislative framework being put in place to facilitate acid drainage reduction activities. In the past we have had difficulty with governments coming in here with a done deal and simply asking the Parliament to tick off on it. This time round the company you have been talking to wants some sort of security in terms of the Parliament broadly approving that such an activity would take place on the site and that we would fix up matters in respect of who owns the acid mine drainage and which pollution exemptions would apply, simply as a result of the company trying to make pollution less bad, but not necessarily bringing the water up to the level that one would expect under our pollution control laws were you starting a new operation.
We understand that this company cannot be expected to suddenly produce effluent out of the end their operation that has no pollution contained within it because, after all, it is part of a clean-up of some really bad pollution and it is working step-wise towards making it better. So we understand that. We think it is better that we endorse in advance that general framework rather than be suddenly confronted with a done deal that we just have to tick off on, no matter what. I think we give the Government the room to negotiate the best possible deal by doing it this way.
Your fifth precondition, which you said was possibly the most important, was the availability of funds from the Natural Heritage Trust. Indeed, Tasmania simply cannot afford by itself to fix this problem. There is no way that the State and the people of this State can possibly have the money to do it. It is, as I say, shameful that we are in this fix but that is the fix that we are in and we should be happy sometimes that we do have a Federal system and that every now and then the Commonwealth coughs up when we really want them to. I think we should all make sure that we thank the Federal Government for the money that we get for this. It might encourage them in the future too, might it not?
Mr Gutwein - Hear, hear.
Mr Llewellyn - They were not very happy with giving it; it was part of the Harradine money.
Ms PUTT - I think it was part of the Harradine money, that is right. But you know, in a way we have ourselves to blame too, because we did not put in place the sort of safeguards that we should have done earlier. So why would the Commonwealth help us out of that pickle? I mean, there is another side to the argument. That is what I was talking about at some length earlier and I will not repeat that now, but we are lucky in many ways that the Commonwealth has come up with this money, otherwise things would be a lot worse.
Mr Hidding - It wouldn't have happened if you and I were here back then.
Mr Morris - I do not know about you, Rene.
Ms PUTT - But seriously, you read that Hansard and see how those men, who were trying to warn about something very real that we are now dealing with, were vilified in the most horrible way in this Parliament. It was the sort of behaviour that I hope that we never witness again. It was very, very nasty and it was quite uncalled for. They were ascribed all sorts of motives that were not the motives that they had at all. They were trying to actually do something for the betterment of Tasmania but that was never recognised. Indeed, it is still difficult sometimes.
Mr Green - Norm's back in town, they tell me.
Ms PUTT - He was back in town at the weekend but I think he may have gone again now, I do not know.
Mr Llewellyn - He was trying to get Greens seats, wasn't he?
Mr Green - Yes, he was trying to slip the carpet out from under you, I thought.
Ms PUTT - You might be aware that he was speaking about the Franklin River and if you read the Examiner on Saturday what he said was, 'We saved the Franklin but lost Tasmania because Tasmanian politicians still will not listen generally about the destruction of our environment and in particular about the forests' - exactly the point that I have been making here today, so maybe take that on board.
Mr Hidding - Further down he said it was the Democrats who saved the Franklin, not the Greens.
Mr Llewellyn - I heard him going crook about the Greens trying to take Democrats' seats.
Mr Hidding - He said, 'We the Democrats saved the Franklin'.
Ms PUTT - Well, I do not think that that is the major point at issue.
I understand that -
Mr Hidding - I can't believe you're not a broad enough church to actually have the demos in your own team.
Mr Gutwein - The Green Democrats.
Ms PUTT - It sounds like a sort of an apple does not it, the Green Democrats? I have picked red democrats in the past.
Members laughing .
Ms PUTT - Clearly this process to extract copper and later other metals from acid drainage emanating from the Mount Lyell site, while at the same time reducing the acidity of the acid drainage, will be a good thing and hopefully it will make enough returns to help at least in part to finance the clean-up.
I understand that it will make some commercial returns. I do not know that it may even pay for itself at all but at least this is some way of trying to move forward and recover waste materials where we can, which is always a good thing, and make a bit of money out of them to at least help keep on having that waste recovery occurring.
You then went on, Minister, to say that there are some principles underlying the legislation that you would point out. The first was that nothing would interrupt the mining activities of CMT. The second was the need to comply with the provisions of planning legislation and environmental control legislation, which were unchanged apart from the very specific and limited exemptions contained in the bill. I have to stress that for the Greens it is very important that that be the case, so we are not talking about a blanket exemption; that is really important.
Your third point is that everything reasonable is done to make this project operationally viable, particularly because assessments of previously available pollution reduction technologies indicated that such a treatment of acid drainage from Mount Lyell using those technologies was not affordable. We have to at this moment take it on trust, I guess, that everything reasonable will be done flowing from this legislation and an agreement pursuant to it and operations subsequent to that.
The Greens would like to see a report to the Parliament on that. We find it difficult to simply accept that everything reasonable will be done so we would like to have evidence on an annual basis as to what is going on. We hope to move an amendment to insert a new clause so that there will be an annual report on the operation of the processing technology pursuant to the legislation so that we can understand how things are working. We do not want to know all the ins and outs of the commercial situation, we do not need to know all about the proprietary technology, but we do need to know generally how things are going, what is being done, why that is everything reasonable.
We also see that your fourth point here was that there is a strict compliance regime on any company processing acid drainage and again we would like to see that reported upon. Yet another reason is your fifth point, that the framework established can apply for years into the future and accommodate changes in companies and circumstances. Again, we want an annual report that would tell us about changes in companies and circumstances should they occur so that the Parliament can be up-to-date pursuant to this bill with what is occurring in relation to these matters. It is simply a safeguard so we do not have to take it on faith because if something is happening out there we never really quite know what it is or whether these benchmarks that you have set in this second reading speech are being met. That is the one thing that the Greens would like to try and do to improve this bill.
We agree with the Government that there is a need to make a positive start in redressing the long-term environmental impact of historic acid drainage. It is very important if we can get something in place on this site.
There is one other thing that I wanted to raise. Unfortunately I had to leave the briefing early so I was not able to discuss this myself with the people that you kindly made available to brief us, but I know that in relation to the Savage River mine there is a community advisory committee which meets and liaises with Australian Bulk Minerals and that that has been a very advantageous arrangement. It is good because the community can feed in its concerns to the company and it is good for the company because it gets to learn about those things and to act on them early, rather than just having ill feeling out there that culminates in some sort of adverse public reaction. It seems to work very nicely all round, so I wanted to speak in favour of such an arrangement in relation to this operation as well.
I think that is very pertinent given that there are some prominent people on the west coast, shall we say, who from time to time pop up and make criticisms about what is or is not happening about the treatment of acid mine drainage. To get people like that who are concerned in the loop and involved in a community reference-type committee like this, I think is a very positive way of going about it. So I would simply recommend that something like that is formalised, if indeed it has not already been thought of, as something that will be pursued in some sort of arrangement.
Mr SPEAKER - Are you taking this to Committee?
Ms PUTT - Yes, we will need to because we want to introduce this new clause. I might say I am still in the process of trying to draft the actual wording of that clause but we would like to make sure, as I said, that an annual report on the operation of the processing technology pursuant to this legislation is laid on the Table of each House of Parliament, so that we can understand whether or not all reasonable things are being done to make the project operation viable, that there is strict compliance from the company and, under the framework established, whether or not there have been changes in companies and circumstances. I would envisage that that annual report would probably come from the department rather than the company and they would simply update us on where we are. It is also important, I think, because we know that we are in a situation where there is changing technology and rapid development of technologies to deal with acid mine drainage developing around the world.
We have, unfortunately, one of the best cases or worst cases - whatever you want to call it - one of the most outstanding cases of acid mine drainage, but people are working on this in many countries around the world. For example, it has been a huge problem in Britain with the closure of the coal mines and the acid mine drainage there and any other number of circumstances that you could name. We know that this is an area that is moving rapidly, which is another reason why I think we need to keep on having that annual reporting of where we are up to with this operation and where things might be starting to go.
I am hopeful that the Government will take that particular plea on board but I will finish my contribution now and say that the Greens will support this legislation because we recognise that we have to do something to further the clean-up. I will also add that we are pleased about the diversion of clean waters going through the mine sites so that we do not have such a volume of polluted water coming out as well. We just hope that as time goes on, we can progress the technological solutions and perhaps we can see remediation happen faster than we can possibly imagine at this point in time. Let us hope.
Mr KEN BACON (Lyons) - Mr Speaker, I did not have a briefing on this but I just want to say a few brief words as the member for Lyons who services the west coast the most, I think. I would like to support the bill and the minister's comments and agree with the comments made by Mr Rockliff and some of the comments made by Ms Putt. This issue is very dear to my heart because as I said it is in the heartland of my electorate. It is a significant part of my electorate and it is most important to the people who live on the west coast, particularly in Queenstown and Strahan.
I know the degradation that has occurred over many years as a result of the mining of Mount Lyell and the surrounding areas. I guess it has been a tourist attraction in itself and the rugged country and the moon-like appearance is spoken about world-wide. I have often been overseas prior to coming to Parliament and have heard people comment on Queenstown in Tasmania and about the ruggedness of it and the degradation that occurred there but how beautiful it was - all in one sentence, which surprised me. That was probably strangely enough a big plus for Queenstown in relation to tourism, with the rugged hills, the bare rock formations, the changing colour and it is a little bit like going, I suppose, over Cradle Mountain. If you go across or down there two or three days in a row it is never the same for two days, it changes constantly, the colour in the hills and all that. I used to wonder in amazement at it. But then I was door-knocking the area when I started in Parliament -
Mr Hidding - What, Cradle Mountain?
Mr KEN BACON - No, Queenstown, and I started to see the pollution first-hand and it shocked me as I walked around those houses and tried to scramble across that creek, getting away from wild dogs down there and God knows what else and falling in it, too, and ruining suits and things like that. But I really, first-hand, saw the pollution that had occurred in the river there.
Mr Hidding - I want to thank you for dropping my cards off, too, while you were out there.
Mr KEN BACON - That is fine - and I picked Mr Polley's up often when went down there, dried them out and put them in the letterbox the next day.
Members laughing .
Mr KEN BACON - But apart from the environmental aspects which of course are all important to Queenstown and us, as a government we are now moving into, I guess, a different era on the north-west coast. Through the efforts of many, we now have world-class tourist attractions, such as those that exist at Strahan and particularly now the Abt railway and I think Ms Putt mentioned coming out of the beautiful wilderness -
Mr Hidding - Uh-uh - the West Coast Wilderness Railway.
Mr KEN BACON - Well, West Coast Wilderness Railway; I am an ex-west coaster and to me it is the Abt.
Mr Green - She was down there in a hat and dark sunglasses given that she never supported it.
Mr KEN BACON - Yes, travelling incognito. But given the comment she made about coming out of the wilderness and seeing that ruggedness and the pollution in the river, it must have been horrendous for some of those tourists, or they may have liked it. But I think it needs to be cleaned up and I think that is the view of the people on the west coast.
We have put a lot effort into Strahan and Queenstown and the West Coast Wilderness Railway as a government through the partnership agreement with the West Coast Council, particularly in the infrastructure area and sewerage at Strahan. So if people are going to put all this much money into it then I think the area deserves to be cleaned up and it deserves to be a world-class tourist attraction. The people will go away and they will talk about it and that is what will bring them back and send their friends back.
The people of the north-west coast who have spoken through their mayor, Darryl Gerrity, are quite correct in saying that the pollution of the Queen and King rivers and acid drainage now needs to be addressed, not just talked about as has happened over the many years prior. I think Darryl Gerrity and the people of Queenstown and Strahan and the other people on the west coast ought to be congratulated for their persistence and the way in which they have stuck to this issue and their commitment to see it through and the way they have lobbied the Government and others to try to get this matter rectified.
The bill recognises the many years of research and rigorous process that has been carried out to find a cost-effective way to address the damage that has occurred through acid drainage on the Queenstown and Macquarie Harbour environments. I believe the minister also should be congratulated for the effort and efficiency which his department has put into finding possible solutions to reduce the impact this historic drainage has had on the environment. I think CMT ought to be congratulated, too, for their cooperation. It is most welcome to our Government, as it is to the people of the west coast, to see them cooperating so well.
The safety nets put in place and agreed to by the Government I think are a reasonable request made by the AMI company which will be involved in the activity of extracting the metals from the Mount Lyell site which are causing the problems, such as the copper, iron and aluminium. The recovery and restitution will take a long time, as the minister has said, however the recovery project is now to commence, thanks to the initiatives of this minister and this Government and the funding from the National Heritage Trust.
Mr Speaker, I give total support to the replacement of the old bill with this new bill introduced today.
Mr MORRIS (Lyons) - Mr Speaker, I would just like to add a few words to the debate today. It is also my electorate and I have taken some interest in this matter for the past 25 years, firstly as a casual but shocked observer of the state of the hills around Queenstown and the sludge that ran through the town. To see the changes over that time as the vegetation has slowly clawed its way back onto the mountains is to see a change from what has been the most shocking environmental disaster to one that is slowly being repaired by nature. What we know from that is that the acid mine drainage, which is not highly visible, is also extremely persistent and will, at a minimum, continue without intervention at the same level for at least the next 70 years, if not significantly longer, and would then only reduce slowly.
So I am indeed pleased to see this legislation in because it does indicate that there is a chance to actually intervene in the system using the technology that is being developed to try to effectively speed up the remediation. That is wonderful news for the west coast and for Tasmania and, Minister, you are to be congratulated for pursuing this, and your department obviously who have put in an enormous amount of work.
One thing that has not really received mention today, but I know most of us are aware of, is the horrendous legacy that has ended up in Macquarie Harbour in the sediments and in the water, that has meant that effectively Macquarie Harbour in substantive part has been dead for a long time, although it does have some limited commercial fishing activity in the cleaner parts of the harbour, but that is still somewhat fraught with problems. We hope this will lessen those problems, which is why indeed we have discussed and suggested the amendment that would provide a report back to this Parliament so that we here in Hobart and in this Parliament can understand how effective the improvements that are being proposed are actually going to be.
I would also like to thank CMT for the time they have taken to show me around the site and to help me understand and have a look at where the problems were, where the opportunities for remediation were and also to give their perspective on all of this, as well as the open invitation they have given me for coming back to the mine site and freely asking questions and having a look around at any time if I wish to.
I would also like to touch on the fact that this process is largely new technology with new developments and although it offers some significant hope for the Queenstown area, the Queen and King rivers and the Macquarie Harbour area, unfortunately it probably will not apply to any other sites within Tasmania due to the sheer magnitude of the problem that makes this process viable in the one location in Tasmania. It is, of course, all our hope that maybe this technology can be developed to a point where it might be useful in other sites, although that looks very unlikely.
More likely, though, is the possibility that what happens here, the development of the technology and the processes here may well be exported to other places around the globe where there are equally, or very close to equally, the same sorts of problems. What I would love to see is Tasmania having a reputation for not any longer having just about the worst environmental disaster in the world but indeed putting significant effort into work on technologies and processes that allow for the possible clean-up of extremely degraded sites right across the globe.
There is some very good news in this and that is very much appreciated. So we will be watching this very closely and, of course, as my Leader of the Greens has said, there are some direct parallels between mining and forestry. What we have been trying to warn about for many years is that, as with these mining problems, there is also a big disaster that has both occurred and is continuing to occur within our forests. The loss of soils, the loss of biodiversity is almost as equally invisible as the acid mine drainage. The water going down the Queen River looks remarkably clear at the moment but that is masking to our eyes the horrendous problem that is going down that riverway. In fact I do not think it really should be called a river.
We will continue to push and we will encourage the Government and the industry to listen to us and say we are not antiforestry; no matter how many times the Premier and Deputy Premier paint us as antiforest, we are not. We will persist in this place to try to get that message across to the Government and the community. We want solutions to this problem that we have out there. It is a problem, it is a problem of the magnitude of Queenstown - it is that sort of problem.
We can have the employment outcomes that governments so desperately want, we can have the fibre production that the world is so hungry for, we can have the boards, the sawmills whatever you want, but we can have it without the negatives continuing. We have major problems within the forest sector that we do have to clean up over time, or we can just ignore them and hope that they disappear out of sight and, of course, they are not going to be as obvious from the roads as the Queenstown disaster.
In conclusion, ultimately the repair job at Queenstown will not be complete until the hills are completely revegetated and back to being rainforests and that the water ceases to flow from the mine or the rocks have sufficiently sealed over that they no longer leech the heavy metals into the rivers and into our harbours. But that day, sadly, is a long way away and effectively we have no resources financially set aside to do that remediation.
That is a problem that we have inherited from past governments who were not prepared to demand that the companies put aside the finance before profits to fix up the mess they were making. I am sure this applies - perhaps not to the same extent but it certainly applies - on a lesser level to some 250 sites across the State, where we have inherited the legacy and we will have to start finding ways to clean this mess up or Tasmania will not reach the potential that it otherwise might.
Mr GREEN (Braddon - Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment) - The first thing I want to say is thank you to both oppositions; I thank them for their support and the words of encouragement to the Government for bringing this legislation in at this time, which is basically legislation to facilitate the reduction in acid mine drainage into the Queen River for the various reasons that have been set out by a number of the speakers. It is designed to facilitate this company that we are talking to at the moment, but also other companies into the future just in case. In other words, it is a very important first step to facilitate those changes.
Ms Putt never lets the opportunity go to have a bit of a dig at the Government about various issues, trying to make out that we -
Ms Putt - Past governments.
Mr GREEN - I thought we were talking about copper here; I am not aware of any copper trees. You went on ad nauseam about land clearance and all those other things that of course the Government is having an impact on. I think we have highlighted that on a number of occasions. If it was not the case, why would I have gone to all the trouble to make sure that the bilateral agreement that we have just signed with the Commonwealth in regard to land clearance matters had the profile that it has had and why would I have been out there consulting with the farming community to make sure that we are in a position to deliver those changes? It is all right to get up here and start talking about these facts as if the Government has been doing nothing, when that could not be further from the truth. We are doing an enormous amount. Of course times change and the way that we approach the environment and the activities that have taken place in a whole range of industries in this State have changed over time.
I remember we were talking about vistas and landscapes when the member for Franklin, Mr McKim, was in here going crook at me about Droughty Point, 'We have to keep the vistas the same'. Well, why has it got no trees on it? Because it was cleared to facilitate rendering down whale oil. Things have changed and of course it has changed in the mining industry.
We recognise and give recognition for the fact that, as a responsible Government, of course we have to look to the opportunities that are available to us to have a mitigating effect on the mistakes of the past. That is why this legislation is so important from the point of view of giving us the opportunity to do something about that. I am really pleased and quite proud to be the minister responsible at this time, even though I know an enormous amount of work has gone into developing the strategies that are in place now to work towards the new technologies that will allow us to have a genuine impact on that. I know the previous minister was responsible for that and, as indicated by the member for Braddon, Mr Rockliff, quite an amount of money has been expended on looking at ensuring that we come up with the right strategies for the future to ensure that we have an effect not only on the Queen and King rivers, but Macquarie Harbour itself. The mayor of the west coast, Darryl Gerrity, has been a very strong advocate for Macquarie Harbour and ensuring that as a government we take the responsibilities that are applied to us in a very stringent way, and that is exactly what we are doing. I must say that I have been very pleased with the mayor's support and the general community support from the west coast with regard to this project.
Ms Putt talked about the fact that she was incognito on the Abt railway and many of the tourists were going crook about the fact that the river was dead.
Mr Hidding - She only thought she was incognito.
Mr GREEN - Oh, she was seen, was she?
Mr Hidding - I was in Queenstown at the same time. I couldn't afford to stay in the salubrious accommodation she was staying in, mind you.
Ms Putt - I didn't say in salubrious accommodation; I stayed at the youth hostel.
Members laughing .
Ms Putt - I went and had a meal at the Franklin Manor. That's how you afford to have meals at the Franklin Manor.
Mr Booth - He's following Peg around to try to find out where she gets her information.
Mr GREEN - Yes, but at least I had the guts to say I did not like it.
Mr Booth - In fact I went there the next night and it was extraordinary - great meal.
Mr GREEN - What did you think of the cuisine at Franklin Manor?
Ms Putt - I had read a review and had never actually had that sort of meal before, and I thought I'd go and try it once. I really enjoyed it.
Mr GREEN - Mm, good.
Mr Hidding - I knew the minister wouldn't go much on it.
Members laughing .
Ms Putt - Well, there you go. It was eight tiny little courses but it was fascinating. I wouldn't do it every night.
Mr GREEN - I am working my way towards being able to enjoy a meal like that, but I am not quite there yet, Mr Speaker. I must admit the effort that went into each of the various serves was quite amazing.
Ms Putt - Yes. I'd spent half the day picking leeches off tourists on the train because they were too scared of the leeches to touch them.
Mr GREEN - Yes, well you can imagine how those early pioneers had to get on. When you go through that Abt railway to Queenstown and remind yourself of how those early pioneers must have coped with that landscape, it is just quite amazing. I just finished reading the book about Alexander Pierce and his escape from there. My God, unbelievable. We go crook about the conditions that we live under at times these days and how we have the weight of the world on our shoulders, but the fact is that compared to how those people lived in those days and what they were prepared to put up with to win the riches of the land is just quite amazing. The engineering feats that they were able to pull off in themselves were almost impossible, as Mr Brownscombe and others know, for us to recreate even today with all the technology that we have in place. So it really is quite amazing.
Mr Hidding - Mr Brownscombe lives a bit rough.
Mr GREEN - We will not go into that because poor Mr Brownscombe cannot have the opportunity to say anything because he is not allowed to speak from the adviser's box there.
Mr Hidding - And a good thing too.
Members laughing .
Mr Llewellyn - You'll have him say something in a minute.
Mr GREEN - Nevertheless, Mr Speaker, we are in a position that we have this legislation before us now and it is all revolving around assisting us in our negotiations with both the Commonwealth and the company.
The member for Braddon, Mr Rockliff, mentioned the fact that the mine closure could have an effect, and it is true that that would have an effect on the metal concentrations, but the project itself has taken that into account. Of course the additional new technology means that metal removal can still occur, and of course there is implied in what we are doing here our view that we have to look towards long-term strategies. As the member for Lyons, Mr Bacon, mentioned, we are not just talking about copper here, we are talking about other metals that we would work towards extracting from the water - iron and aluminium in particular - as time goes on.
Ms Putt has proposed an amendment, in fact she has brought that amendment around. I am going to recommend that we oppose the amendment, but I am prepared to put on the record right now that of course we will have the department report on the progress. Having said that, I hope that that will assure Ms Putt that we are very serious about ensuring that we progress these matters to the point where all of the various criteria that we put in place as a result of the agreement are fulfilled. Of course the obligation on that basis would be to ensure that the department, who will be working hand-in-glove as part of the establishment of this new processing facility, will be in a position to report to me and thereby allow me to report to the Parliament the various progresses and milestones that are met as we move through the process. It is my hope that the Greens will accept, just having put that on the Hansard today, that we are very serious about it and I will ensure that the department reports on the progress that we are making.
Once again I want to say to the House that I genuinely appreciate their support for this legislation. I am of the view that this is groundbreaking legislation from the point of view of bringing in enabling legislation before a project has been completed. I take on board what Ms Putt said about us bringing this in prior to the project getting up and here it is. We are all very open and accountable in the House in this day and age and there is nothing to hide here; this is important legislation. It has already claimed one victim: Mr Dell, concentrating on other things while working on his roof fell off his ladder and now he looks like Inspector Gadget up there. He has more metal hanging out of him than one could ever imagine; perhaps if we were able to extract that amount in a day we would be very pleased with ourselves. There has been an enormous amount of work going into this project and I am acutely aware of the importance that the department is placing on this and the effort that has gone into ensuring that we bring this project to fruition. This includes the work that had been done to have a look at the earlier technologies that just were not economically viable, and the fact that an enormous amount of work has gone in with this company and the Commonwealth to reassure them about the seriousness that the Government has with regard to this project. We are deadly serious about bringing this whole project together. It is not easy and nobody has pretended that it is because we are talking about new technologies, large volumes of water and other things. So I do want to thank everybody who has been involved in working on the project up to this point and bringing this legislation to the House. I want to also thank the House for allowing me to introduce the legislation in an amended form. You are aware, because I made it very specific, why I had introduced the legislation in the first place. It would have been ridiculous for us to go through and make so many relatively minor changes without my being able t o bring in a new bill, so I thank you for enabling me to do that as well.
Bill read the second time.