Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I support the legislation. It is part of streamlining these processes as much as possible. I appreciate the Q and A material that has been prepared. A lot of work went into that, and it addresses a number of the areas about which I had questions. I will raise some matters during the bill's Committee stage because it will be more appropriate to address individual parts of the legislation then.
Will the Leader consider tabling the questionnaire so that it can be incorporated into the public record? A lot of work has been done on this and incorporating it may save time in getting this information onto the record. Perhaps the Leader might address that in her reply.
A lot of work goes into these things. It is a shame that we do not actually make it available because it is all relevant to the legislation. I note that there was significant reform of legislation in this area in 2007. Many of us were here during that process and commented on it at the time. In reading the Q and A provided, I note from the Government's comments that the reforms proposed in this bill are the third tranche of reforms to the dam works approval process, which reflects ongoing improvement based on experience. It is always important to try and test legislation. Flaws or unintended hiccups or delays in legislation are only really discovered in the application and use of legislation, so it is an appropriate process.
The Q and A goes on to say -
Notwithstanding the 2007 streamlining of the dam works approval process, farmers remain concerned that it is too complex, costly and time-consuming, and the Government's concern is that it is potentially a barrier to further dam construction.
I reiterate the points made by the member for Western Tiers. I will not repeat them of course, but are we actually making it simpler or are we adding a different complexity that may result in an unintended consequence of a slower and perhaps more costly process through the EPBC Act? I will be interested to hear the Leader's response to the member for Western Tier's questions about that.
As the Leader said in the second reading speech, it is important that these matters are considered and the construction of dams is appropriate and safe. They do form part of the landscape once they are constructed, and generally they are there forever so it is important that it is done well, safely and appropriately.
As the Q and A says, construction of dams together with other water infrastructure development is crucial to growing agriculture in Tasmania. Accordingly, the bill simplifies further streamlining of the dam work approval process and, as part of this, abolishes the Assessment Committee for Dam Construction.
This legislation is important. We have such a fantastic water asset in this state - Tasmania has 2 per cent of the Australian land mass and 12 per cent of Australia's water. We have the capacity to use this really effectively in translating water into crops and cash, and economic development for the state.
I was concerned, as the member for Western Tiers also alluded to, that the abolition of the ACDC could lose some of the skills and some of the process there that is effective. I did note Q and A number 4, 'In the absence of the Assessment Committee for Dam Construction, how will the minister ensure expertise for engineering and other matters is available?', and this is a concern for farmers. They do not necessarily have access to all that expertise.
The answer there does provide some information on that, saying that in regard to engineering the department employs a dam safety engineer who currently provides advice to the assessment committee as part of the dam works approval process. Under the new process, the department's dam safety engineer will continue to provide advice and recommendations regarding engineering and dam safety matters. It says:
In regard to other matters such as the environment, expertise across the rest of the department is available to provide advice to the assessment committee under the current process. Under the new process this same expertise will be available to provide advice on dam works permit applications as necessary. If necessary, external expertise can always be sought by the department on an as-needs basis to address the complex engineering dam safety and other matters.
The question is, would that cost be passed on to the builder of the dam, which is generally the farmer, as we have already established?
There are some questions there that need a bit more information, but overall it is a very positive step. As we know, there are many dams that do not impact on anyone directly other than the farmers themselves. The question was raised what is a watercourse, and any depression can be part of a watercourse potentially if you have a flood. In general terms there are many dams on farms that are not part of a watercourse that provides water downstream to other users, or even provides environmental flows, for example. There are times when I think it is appropriate that the level of scrutiny and requirements to proceed with that dam would be less than those we are seeing at the moment.
I did think the conditional approval for a dam works permit application was a very good move. The honourable Leader said in her second reading speech that in some situations applicants may be asked for further information or to undertake some work prior to the application being decided, where it is clear that once the information is provided or work undertaken, approval will follow. Conditional approval is a means by which an applicant can be given relative certainty -notwithstanding that it is not binding on the minister, which is important - that they will obtain a dam works permit application subject to including what is required.
I hope this will work in the way it appears it is intended, and that we are not going to see more shifting of the goalposts where a proponent has a conditional application which says if you do this and that, or meet this requirement, then the approval will be granted, but then once the proponent does that, they say they actually now need this and that; they need a bit more information. That has been the case not just in dam construction but in other planning permits and things like that for a range of constructions, for homes as well as dams.
I am seeking to ensure that is how it is intended to work and that is how it will work: once the conditions are set on a conditional approval, that is it. There is no more shifting the goalposts, no more saying, 'Actually, we need a bit more now'. If that is how it works, it will be a very good thing. I commend the Government on including that because I think it is entirely appropriate.
Mr President, I also have some questions about some matters raised by the member for Western Tiers and I look forward to the Leader's response to those. The other matters are more in relation to specifics of the individual clauses, which I will pursue in the Committee stage.
I commend the Government on progressing this reduction in red tape. I hope that is what it is but only time will tell. I will have further questions during the Committee stage.
[5.44 p.m.]Go Back