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Media Release
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

5 April 2002

EPBC Act Protects the Great Barrier Reef


The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today released for public comment draft guidelines for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a proposal to conduct a seismic survey in the Townsville Trough, about 200 kilometres off the North Queensland coast.

These guidelines will ensure the most stringent examination possible of the likely environmental consequences of the proposal by the company TGS-NOPEC.

When TGS-NOPEC referred their proposal to the Commonwealth under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the then Environment Minister, Senator Hill, had only two options. He could have said the proposal did not require assessment under the Act, in which case it could have proceeded without further Commonwealth scrutiny.

The other option - which Senator Hill exercised - was to determine the proposal might have a significant impact on the Reef and other matters of national environmental significance and therefore could not proceed without full Commonwealth assessment and approval.

"This means the EPBC Act applies and the Great Barrier Reef is afforded full protection under it," Dr Kemp said.

Having decided that full Commonwealth assessment was required, Minister Hill then decided that the potential impacts of the proposal would be assessed at the EIS level.

"An EIS is the most comprehensive assessment report that can be sought from a proponent under the EPBC Act," Dr Kemp said. "It is used only when the issue is complex and requires very detailed analysis."

An EIS is a very comprehensive document that must adequately define all the matters of national environmental significance that may be affected by the proposal. It must identify the significance, risks and consequences of its potential impacts on those matters at a local, regional and national level. In this case, as the action is proposed to be taken in Commonwealth waters, potential impacts on all aspects of the environment must be addressed in the EIS.

The draft guidelines, more than 25 pages in length, are extremely comprehensive and cover all relevant environmental issues. They require the company to identify the significance, risks and consequences of the potential impacts of the proposal at the local, regional and national levels.

Dr Kemp stressed that release of the draft guidelines is merely part of the legally required process under the EPBC Act.

"No decision on the proposal can be legally made until the proper processes have been completed," he said.

Until then, Dr Kemp cannot legally halt the process. He can neither reject the proposal at this stage, nor can he approve it.

Advertisements in tomorrow's editions of The Australian and the Townsville Bulletin newspapers will invite public comment on the draft guidelines, copies of which are available from Environment Australia's Community Information Unit on 1800 803 772 or on the EPBC web-site at: http://www.ea.gov.au/epbc/publicnotices.

Public comments on the draft guidelines are sought until Friday 3 May.

They will then be finalised, taking into account any issues raised from public submissions. It will then be up to TGS-NOPEC to prepare the EIS document in accordance with these guidelines if it wishes to proceed. That draft of the EIS will then be subject to further public consultation for a minimum of four weeks. A final EIS will be prepared addressing all issues raised during that second public consultation process.

Media Contact:
Catherine Job 02 6277 7640 or 0408 648 4000

Commonwealth of Australia