Back to All News

Senate Estimates: Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee: Finance Portfolio (Department of Finance)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 4 Nov 2016

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I have questions about the Ginninderra agricultural and horticultural testing station in the ACT. Can you provide an update on the proposal to develop housing on that site?

Ms Hall: Questions in relation to the detail of the development proposal are best directed to the CSIRO. They own the site and are responsible for that proposal. At a broad level, the National Capital Plan was recently amended. Those amendments came into effect on 5 May and provided for that site to be designated as urban, so it is available for future housing development.

Senator RHIANNON: Isn't in that capacity, considering that change was made, that you are able to answer questions about the site?

Ms Hall: I may not have the level of detail you are looking for, but we can certainly have a go.

Senator RHIANNON: What consideration has been given to the possible toxic contamination of the site?

Ms Hall: I am not going to be able to answer anything in relation to the condition of the site. Those questions are best directed to CSIRO, who are responsible for the management and maintenance of the site.

Senator RHIANNON: Even at this period, when it is in transition to urban development? They are responsible right through?

Ms Hall: Yes, Senator.

Senator RHIANNON: So does that mean, therefore, if they are responsible there is no oversight? Because there are a lot of very nasty chemicals on this site as a result of the experiments that were carried out, going right down to dioxin and carcinogenic chemicals that were used in a range of fungicides and herbicides as the experiments were carried out. So when you say it is all up to CSIRO, isn't there any oversight of what CSIRO decides to do?

Ms Hall: CSIRO would be subject to all of the relevant environmental protection legislation, and the senior responsible officers in that organisation would have responsibility for the oversight of these matters.

Senator RHIANNON: You say 'environmental oversight', but there will not be an environmental impact statement will there? That is my understanding.

Ms Hall: CSIRO are subject to the provisions of the Commonwealth EPBC Act, so the provisions of that legislation would apply in these circumstances.

Senator RHIANNON: There is no EIS available, so can you clarify how that works? That is partly why I am asking the questions. Yes, I understand about CSIRO's key position, but I am trying to understand what oversight there is considering the status of the soil and the level of contamination?

Mr Edge: As my colleague advised, really these are questions for CSIRO, to the extent that it is relevant for the environment department. They are not questions that we can answer here.

Senator RHIANNON: But how could NCA rezone this land without such environmental studies about the levels of contamination?

Senator Cormann: It is a very interesting question, but it is not a question for us. As the officers have very politely indicated to you, these are questions that are appropriately directed to the CSIRO, which I believe will appear here on Thursday in the economics committee.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for clarifying that, Minister. Could you explain what oversight there is of what CSIRO does with the land considering there is no EIS? I am just trying to penetrate and understand the process.

Senator Cormann: And the question is a question for the CSIRO. It is not a question for us.

Senator RHIANNON: So by answering it in that way, it suggests it is all up to CSIRO, that there is nobody else looking over what is potentially quite serious with the level of contamination.

Senator Cormann: The CSIRO obviously is expected and required to comply with all of the relevant laws. To the extent that you have questions about the matters that you are raising, I would strongly encourage you to pursue those matters with the CSIRO, who I expect will provide you with satisfactory answers.

Senator RHIANNON: So you would expect, but am I accurate in taking from your answer that it is all up to CSIRO and there is no oversight or there is no other way of having some checks and balances here?

Senator Cormann: Well there is a check and balance here: there is a regulatory framework, there is a legal framework, and there is a requirement for CSIRO to comply with the law and a requirement for them to follow all of the relevant processes required by laws at various levels of government. Obviously that is the way this process works. If you are asking whether Finance is the policeman to ensure that CSIRO complies with the laws of the land, then, no, Finance is not the policeman to ensure CSIRO complies with the laws of the land. But I am sure that you will be able to ask probing questions in the Senate economics committee when the CSIRO appears, and I encourage you to do so.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Minister. I will just try and come at it by considering—you have made the comment that they will be following the relevant processes, but there is no EIS that is available and a comprehensive register of all the works conducted on the site since 1958 is not available for public scrutiny.

Senator Cormann: You can go through all of that detail for as long as you want—

Senator RHIANNON: And get another knockback.

Senator Cormann: but this has got no relevance to the finance portfolio.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay, that is informative in itself, getting knockbacks when one is just trying to find out how public safety is addressed.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, I think it is that your questions are just not directed to the right agency here.

Back to All News