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Estimates: Environment & Communications Legislation Committee (Shenhua and Adani coal mine approvals)

Senator RHIANNON: I have some questions about the kangaroo data and the release of it. It is with regard to the department's publishing of the collated state-by-state and per species kangaroo population estimate data.

Mr Knudson: If you are talking about something relating to wildlife in particular, that would again be outcome 1.4.

Senator RHIANNON: I was told it would be 1.5, because it is about kangaroo population numbers, but it relates to harvesting of them.

Dr de Brouwer: It is 1.4.

CHAIR: Would you like to put that on notice?

Senator RHIANNON: I do not think I have any choice. But I have some other questions about Shenhua water management plans. After the elusive water management plan that was so lauded by the minister when he approved the Shenhua coal mine on the Liverpool Plains, where is it up to?

Mr Knudson: In terms of the current status, there are two conditions that require that the approval-holder submit a biodiversity management plan and water management plan, respectively, for the minister's approval, prior to the commencement of construction. And the construction must not commence unless the minister has approved those two plans and, to date, the department has not received either of the above plans.

Senator RHIANNON: Last time at estimates, the department said that Shenhua was expecting to commence work in mid-2016. I think that that means that they would need to submit the water management plan before the end of 2015-is that correct?

Mr Tregurtha: Yes, you are correct.

Senator RHIANNON: So they would have had to put it in by the end of 2015 to get it assessed and approved in time?

Mr Tregurtha: The company cannot begin construction until the plan has been approved.

Senator RHIANNON: That did not happen, so it will not be commencing in mid-2016?

Mr Tregurtha: The construction cannot commence until the plan is approved.

Mr Knudson: Just to clarify, what Mr Tregurtha is saying is that while we have not received the plans and therefore have not approved them, and therefore the program cannot begin, if they were able to submit that and we were able to complete our assessment of it, and the minister gave his approval, then that could happen by that time line.

Senator RHIANNON: It could?

Mr Knudson: Yes. It is a hypothetical, I acknowledge that.

Senator RHIANNON: But the time line would allow for that is what you are saying?

Mr Knudson: Hypothetically.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay. Has the water management plan been sent to the IESC?

Mr Tregurtha: The minister has indicated that he has committed to seeking the IESC's advice on the plan when it has been submitted. But the normal course of events would be that the proponent would submit the plan to the minister and then it would be provided to the IESC for consideration.

Senator RHIANNON: So, again, it is waiting on the company; is that what you are saying?

Mr Tregurtha: Correct.

Senator RHIANNON: Will it be made public? At what stage is it made public in terms of going through this process?

Mr Tregurtha: When the plan is approved, the standard course of events with management plans is that there is a requirement for the company to make them public once they have been approved.

Senator RHIANNON: Does the company have to make it public immediately? What is the time line that they are under?

Mr Tregurtha: I would have to take that question on notice as to whether the conditions provided for a specific time line. The conditions may in some cases provide for a specific time line. Generally, there would just be an expectation that, as soon as the minister had approved the plan, within a reasonable period of time the company would provide that on their website for anyone to be able to access it.

Senator RHIANNON: That sounds very open-ended. You have used words like 'expected'. There was nothing conclusive or definite there. Of course this is very open-ended. Is it as vague as you have set out?

Mr Tregurtha: I have just been consulting with my colleague. Our usual expectation would be in the course of a month. So we would usually provide up to a month for a proponent to make an approved plan publicly available and then we would start making inquiries as to why the plan had not been made public.

Senator RHIANNON: What are they required to do?

Mr Tregurtha: I would have to consult the conditions of the specific approval.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you saying that the conditions of consent can vary each time, so there is in fact no process; it depends on the conditions of consent and they can vary each time?

Mr Tregurtha: What I am saying is that, in some cases, conditions may provide for specific timing, but generally the case would be that the department would impose a condition whereby a company is required to make an approved plan public. In the vast majority of cases, our experience is that that would be done very quickly after the minister had approved the plan. Generally speaking, companies want to abide by their conditions and get those conditions complied with as soon as possible to enable further work to proceed.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay. I would like to go to a comparison between the Shenhua approval and the Adani coalmine approval. In Carmichael, the minister considered Adani's OS environmental history and nevertheless found that they were suitable, but the Shenhua Watermark statement of reasons does not include any discussion of Shenhua's Chinese environmental history at all. He did not appear to consider it. Why the difference?

Mr Tregurtha: Just bear with me a second, Senator.

Mr Knudson: I may be able to start off while my colleague is looking for a bit more specificity. It is a provision under the act that the minister may consider whether a person taking an action is a suitable person to be granted an approval. If you look at our responses on the Carmichael case from last time, you will see that we laid out how we did quite an extensive review of the environmental history of the proponent. That is obviously a matter that was before the courts at that time. On the basis of some of the lines of inquiry, it was important that we brought as much clarity to that as possible. I can talk about the Carmichael case. With the Shenhua case, I will turn to my colleague.

Mr Tregurtha: As you are aware, a person's environmental history may be a consideration in granting an approval. In relation to the Shenhua referral, assessment and approval process, there is a statement by the company in relation to their environmental history. They have not been subject to any proceedings under Commonwealth, state or territory law regarding environmental natural resource management. In the circumstances, the department had no reason to expect that the proposed action would not operate in full accordance with the conditions of the approval. What I am saying is that, in relation to the material provided to the department, there was an assessment made that included consideration of the applicant's environmental history. The outcome was that the approval was made with the requisite conditions.


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