Some important questions for the Queensland Environment Minister
the Ministers Answers

We wrote to the new Qld Environment Minister on August 3 1998 seeking some information about his views on a range of issues. The Minister replied on the 16th of September. We have reproduced our questions along with his answers to compile the following document.

Q 1. Natural Resource Strategy SEQ

As a result of discussions during the drafting of this strategy it has become apparent that the extractives industry is labouring under the impression that inventory or identification of an extractive resources is equal to allocation of that resources. BREC has pointed out in a number of forums that sand and gravel deposits and hard rock reserves also play vital functions in the ecology of SEQ. Such functions as aquifers for base-flows, important habitat for freshwater organisms and the flow of these materials is important in the protection of offshore ecosystems. Does either department have any strategies or policies regarding the environmental allocation of these resources? Currently the RFGM maps indicate that environmentally important areas such as Flinders Peak/White Rock area and both Bribie and Stradbroke Islands are targeted for extractive industries. We believe that we need an extractive EPP as well as review of DNR assessment and allocation of these resources.

The Ministers Answer

Workshops on the SEQ Natural Resource Strategy are to be held in the near future. I note your concerns regarding the management of extractive industries and I am moving to resolve these arrangements between my two departments and the Department of Minerals and Energy as to the appropriate management of this industry. I am not sure whether an extractive industry Environmental Protection Policy is necessary but I am happy to consider this in the context of resolving issues about how the industry will be regulated.

Q 2. Delegations for on the spot fines under EPP's

BREC believes that the government should release the review of the three month delegation trial and move towards making this feature a permanent one on our environmental regulatory structure.

The Ministers Answer

The delegations for on-the-spot fines under the Environmental Protection Act were a most successful exercise and I have recently approved the extension of the program to other local governments as well as Brisbane City Council.

Q 3. Ministerial Advisory Committee

BREC believes that the you need the advice, input and support of stakeholders in the restructuring of the DEH and to continue progress in the refinement and development of legislation and policies concerning the environment and natural resources. The previous government tried to implement programs by stealth with little consultation and has left a distasteful legacy of bad policies and legislation. We urge you to establish such committees immediately.

The Ministers Answer

As indicated at the recent Conservation Groups Forum, I do intend to establish some form of Ministerial Advisory Body once the structural reforms to establish the EPA are finalised. I will be in touch with you and other members of the environment movement once we are in a position to set up appropriate advisory forums.

Q 4. Waste EPP and Waste tracking.

When will the results of the public consultation and the new Waste EPP be made available? Also we are interested in the results of the Waste Tracking program and the new disposal facilities. The previous government was opaque in these matters and allowed considerable private sector developments in this area with little or no public scrutiny.

The Ministers Answer

The Waste EPP is in its final stages of drafting. I am making some adjustments to the direction the previous government was heading and I may even wish to circulate the final draft for further comment. However, I recognise the urgency in establishing a waste tracking system and I am certainly taking this into consideration in finalising the EPP.

Q 5. Gateway Ports

The gateway ports project was "signed off on" by the previous cabinet. While we accept that employment and wealth creation are important. The public consultation on this project revealed that there was inadequate consideration of environmental matters in this plan including air and water pollution, flooding impacts and the disturbance of acid sulfate soils. These deficiencies will mean that the industrial development will not be either world class or environmental best practice. Are your departments going to correct these deficiencies and review the plans for this project?

The Ministers Answer

I have yet to finalise the full extent of my department's involvement in the development of the Gateway Ports project. I share your view that air quality is a major issue in the development of that region and I have already floated with other relevant Ministers, the possibility of emphazing a high technology/environmental technology approach to the Gateway Ports. I will be continuing to encourage this approach to avoid the problems of increasing pollution of the Brisbane airshed.

Q 6. Brisbane Airport

The BACL is saying that the federal Airports Bill 1996 exempts it from having to address air and water pollution caused by planes and ancillary facilities. Given that this pollution including kerosene and cadmium from the tires will enter sate waters, what arrangements is there between the state government and Air Services Australia to treat and monitor this pollution?

The Ministers Answer

As you are probably aware, the Federal Government, in the context of the Federal Election, has rejected the master plan for the Brisbane Airport. I note your concerns about the exemptions provided by the Airport's Bill in the Federal Parliament and I will certainly take these matters up with our Federal counterparts as soon as the Federal election is out of the way.

Q 7. Regional Ecosystem protection

Will the DEH act to ensure a) that there is legislative protection for ecosystem both at a state and regional level and b) revise the mapping and assessment of regional ecosystem to reflects their distribution at the province level? The second point alludes the problem of saltmarsh communities that, among others, are listed as being of no concern in the SEQ region which extends to Maryborough , the DEH acknowledges that they are virtually extinct south of Noosa.

The Ministers Answer

Additional funding is being sought in the state budget to expand the mapping and assessment of ecosystems both within the Brisbane Region and elsewhere. You have no doubt seen the Biodiversity Policy launched prior to the election giving a commitment to align our state legislation with legislation in other states and nationally to ensure adequate protection for rare and endangered ecosystems and species.

Q 8. Environmental Protection Agency

I think it vital for the success of this "new" agency if there is transparency in its formulation and implementation. The experience from other sates has shown that just calling something an Environmental Protection Agency doesn't ensure that the environment is protected. The agency must have the resources and legislative head of powers to carry out its duties. BREC believes that instead of rebadging an existing department the government must ensure that all departments carry out their regulatory functions and are careful, diligent and prudent in their own environmentally relevant activities. To this end, we suggest one reform would be to establish an environmental auditor general with power to audit both regulatory functions and government ERA's. The existing Audit Legislation Amendment Act 1993 provides a workable and easily adapted piece of legislation.

The Ministers Answer

The "whole of government" role of the Environmental Protection Agency will evolve over time. As an initial first step the new agency will predominantly perform the functions already perfonned by the Environment Division of the Department of Environment and Heritage. To some extent, the department already acts as an auditor of the operations of other government departments and I will be moving to strengthen this role once the EPA is established. I note your suggestion that the audit legislation may provide a suitable model.

Q 9. ERAs on land development and construction.

The last amendments to the EP Act regulations lists these two ERA's as coming into force, finally, in January 1999. Is the government committed to this timetable and will it set in train a process to work on the implementation of these ERA in a way that involves key stakeholders ?

The Ministers Answer

I remain committed to the ERA's for land development and the construction industry taking effect as soon as the regulations allow. I'm not sure what "process" you envisage with respect to the implementation of these ERA's but I would be happy to discuss it with you further.

Q 10. Friendly Societies and the Wallis reforms.

While not directly your portfolio concerns you should be aware that we have been informed by the State Government that as part of Wallis reforms friendly societies will cease to be. The ANA Friendly Society which I am a director of, has been involved in a number of environmental initiatives such as our Ethical Bond, Eco Fund and Business Eco-Fund. We believe that the friendly society tradition is important and cannot be replaced by either a company or association but sits astride these two structures. Friendly Societies lie at the base of cooperatives, credit unions, building societies and trade unions and have had a five hundred year record of providing mutual aid to ordinary people in times of distress. The fact that without any consultation of any sort, we are to abolished and replaced by a dodgy unenforceable company structure is outrageous and we ask you to raise our concerns with your cabinet colleagues.

The Ministers Answer

I note your comments regarding the friendly societies and the impact of the Wallis reforms. I recall you may have previously provided me with information about ethical bonds and eco- funds. I am happy raise your concerns with Cabinet colleagues but it strikes me that using alternative mechanisms such as credit unions or co-opera:ive societies may be an appropriate vehicle to fulfil the goals envisaged by the previous friendly spcieties.

Q 11. State Environmental Outcomes

What are your departments doing to provide clear guidance to local councils about State desired environmental outcomes with regard to the Integrated Planning Act 1997 ?

The Ministers Answer

Achieving the better dissemination of clear guidelines both to local government and to regional offices of my department is a priority for me in the coming months. This is important, as you note, for the effective implementation of the Integrated Planning Act and in due course I would envisage the EPA assisting in the formulation of guidelines for development proponents as well. These guidelines will provide certainty to industry and give a clear indication of the standards to be expected for licensing und

Q 12. Classification of ERAs

The last government did a risk assessment and reclassification of ERA's. This risk assessment was flawed and left a number of high risk, such as ports, ERAs as Level 2 Authorities. Is the current government going to revisit this risk assessment and reclassification's ?

The Ministers Answer

The previous governments reclassification of ERA's was obviously dodgy and failed to reflect a proper risk assessment. I am concerned not to establish a climate of continually "shifting goal posts" but many Councils have already raised with me their concerns about the reclassification undertaken by the previous government and I intend to invite submissions from councils as to appropriate adjustments in due course. My provisional view is that the entire system of classifications should be simplified as much as possible.
I trust this information will clarify some of these issues for you. Naturally we will maintain contact in the coming months and I encourage you to keep in touch with my advisors should you have queries about any specific issues Erom time to time.