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Senate Estimates: Economics Legislation Committee: Industry, Innovation and Science Portfolio (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 2 Nov 2016

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I want to move on to another issue. Can you provide an update on the proposal for housing at the Ginninderra agricultural and horticultural testing station in the ACT.

Ms Bennett: Yes. On 19 August last year CSIRO announced its request for the National Capital Authority to designate the Ginninderra site as urban area, as the site is much greater than our research needs. We have undertaken extensive public consultation regarding our intention to divest the site. We have commenced a process to identify a suitable development partner to progress with the next steps in the planning for the development of the site. In May 2016 we released a request for expression of interest to the market for potential development partners to identify themselves. The responses have been evaluated, and our next step will be to move to a formal request for proposal from the market.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. What consideration is being given to the potential toxic chemical contamination in the area? Reading their list, there are quite a lot of nasties there. I understand some of them are carcinogenic—DDT, malathion and dioxin.

Ms Bennett: We have undertaken extensive environmental reviews so far on the site. Observations, including from external experts, have indicated that over 99 per cent of the site is absolutely suitable for proposed residential redevelopment. There are a few areas that are being identified as needing potential remediation, and these include some asbestos, a small amount of hydrocarbons in the vicinity of former underground storage tanks and some hydrocarbons and pesticides in the vicinity of a former herbicide shed. We have employed an external, suitably qualified environmental consultant and have voluntarily appointed an EPA-approved auditor to assist us in determining and presenting a final report at this point in time. That report will be due—we expect to receive comments by the end of October.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you supply a list of what the toxic chemicals that have been found on the site are, please—not just the word 'hydrocarbons', but what they actually are, please.

Ms Bennett: I can certainly tell you what we know, but I would stress that at the moment the reports coming back to CSIRO are not identifying, to use your words, a large degree of 'toxic chemicals' on the site. But I can certainly take it on notice and provide you with the information we have at the current time.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Has an environmental impact statement been made?

Ms Bennett: As I have indicated, at the stage we are at: we have undertaken over the last two years voluntarily various environmental studies, including a stage 1 environmental assessment in February 2014; a stage 2 environmental assessment in May 2015; a targeted environmental site assessment, which was completed in February 2016; and a site-wide environmental investigation, which is being undertaken, as I have indicated. We will not be required to do what I think you are referring to as an impact statement until later in the process.

Senator RHIANNON: Are the reports that you have just mentioned publicly available?

Ms Bennett: I would have to take that on notice as to whether they are. If I may come back to the comment you made about some of the chemicals: the only herbicides and pesticides found were applied to research trials. They are for the general management of weeds and insect pests. They are commercially available products. At no time have we undertaken research in the development, formulation or testing of any new or experimental herbicides. No experiments specifically involving dioxin are recorded as having been carried out at the site. The environmental consultants are testing for a broad suite of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in the soil, surface water and sediment. The initial report is that it has not found any concentration at elevated levels. Dioxin has not been specifically tested for as it has not been indicated to be a contaminant of concern at the moment.

Senator RHIANNON: How long has the CSIRO had the site? Was it since 1958?

Ms Bennett: I am not sure I have that date. Yes, you are correct—since 1958.

Senator RHIANNON: What I am trying to understand—and you could take this on notice—is the comprehensive register of works that have been carried out on the site since then. I note that you said that you have not tested for dioxin, but there are reports around that there is dioxin in the soil. So I am just trying to resolve that in terms of what your material says, which you would hope would be comprehensive and thorough, and what is out in the public domain at the moment, because there is growing concern.

Ms Bennett: Let me clarify: the reason, at the moment, that dioxin has not been specifically tested for is through the work of the environmental consultants. It has not been indicated as being a contaminant of concern. So it is an informed decision based on the advice of the external consultants. Senator, I will try and get you the information that you are asking for to the best of our ability.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it the case that the field station site has been classified as 'urban' without the proper engagement of ACT planning authorities?

Ms Bennett: No. We are engaging very closely with the ACT government and appropriate officers in the government.

Senator RHIANNON: So it is following what any other developer would have to do? There are no exceptions for you?

Ms Bennett: We absolutely are going through the procedures of appropriate rezoning under the National Capital Authority, and we are closely engaging with the ACT government regarding the planning frameworks that, as the development continues, we will be needing to follow.

Senator RHIANNON: Is the approach to be to provide the entire area for development without first identifying the significant natural areas to be set aside?

Ms Bennett: No. We are, in parallel with environmental assessments, looking at ecological and heritage assessments, and appropriate areas are being identified.

Senator RHIANNON: I asked the question about the EIS, and you said that you have not got to that yet. Are there any exemptions for you, or will you have to do an EIS and will it be public?

Ms Bennett: We will be required, at the appropriate time, to do a full environmental impact statement.

Senator RHIANNON: Right. So it will be public in the usual way?

Ms Bennett: I would imagine, yes. I see no reason why not.

Senator RHIANNON: Going back to the comprehensive register of the works conducted on the site: at the moment that is not on the public record. Is there any reason for that, and will it be on the public record?

Ms Bennett: I will have to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator Rhiannon. Senator Carr, any more questions?

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