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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
Senator for Tasmania
Guy Barnett

Press Conference - Launceston, Tasmania
Friday, 19 September 2003

Subject: Decision on Meander Dam

Senator Barnett: Alright, well look, can I welcome you and thank you for being here this afternoon, on a historic day for Tasmania, and specifically welcome the Federal Environment and Heritage Minister Dr David Kemp. He would now like to share an announcement with you.

Dr Kemp: Thank you very much, Guy. Well, it is a historic day. As you know, the matter of the building of Meander Dam has been referred to the Commonwealth, and specifically to myself, for a decision as to whether or not that dam can be constructed in a way that adequately protects two threatened species, the spotted tailed quoll and the Epacris aff. exserta.

In taking my decision on that, I not only have to be convinced that the construction of the dam is compatible with the future survival, security, and future propagation of those two species. But I also have to be convinced that the social and economic factors justify the building of the dam.

I've got to take those into account under the Commonwealth legislation. So the decision that I'm announcing today is a decision which not only provides protection for the threatened species, the spotted tail quoll, and the Epacris, but it also takes into account the social and economic benefits of the dam for the communities where the dam will be built.

The decision that I've taken, after a very sustained and transparent process of community consultation, is that it is appropriate to give approval for the building of the Meander Dam. The Meander Dam can be built with full protection for the threatened species involved. And it is a dam which will bring significant social and economic benefits in its wake.

The approval is an approval with conditions. And this is quite normal under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Approvals are very frequently accompanied by conditions which are designed to ensure that any impact from the proposed development on threatened species is properly dealt with by the proponents of the project.

In this particular case, I've set out very detailed conditions for the protection of both the quoll and the Epacris. And these conditions will have to be observed by the Tasmanian Government. I should make the point that I have taken action to ensure that the Tasmanian Government takes full legal responsibility for the carrying out of the conditions that I've imposed, because some of these conditions couldn't be properly fulfilled by the proponents of the dam.

So the Tasmanian Government is being required to take full legal responsibility, to ensure that the conditions attached to the approval are properly carried out.

These conditions are such that no construction work on the dam can begin until I am satisfied that there is a plan for the future security and care and health of both the Epacris communities and the quolls. So a full plan will have to be developed to ensure that these threatened species are properly protected, and no work on the dam can commence until that plan has been approved.

Should it appear to be the case that as work proceeds the conditions in some way require amendment, or the plan requires amendment - let me put it clearly. Should it proceed, should it be clear that the plan that's been put forward and approved requires further amendment, I can require that amendment to be made.

And beyond that, if the plan is put into place, and is implemented over a period of time, that plan will still have to be independently audited. So in addition to the other protections, there will be independent auditing of the implementation of the plans over time, and if that independent auditing reveals that the plans are not being satisfactorily implemented, then I can take further action.

So there is the fullest possible protection under the conditions that I've imposed for these two threatened species. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the plans that I will approve - the only plans that I will approve - will ensure that the future of Epacris, and the future of the spotted tailed quoll are more secure in the future than they are at present.

That these two threatened species will have greater security for their long-term survival as a result of these conditions governing the building of the dam, than they have at the present time. And I believe that that ought to give comfort to many of those, particularly in the conservation movement who had a great deal of concern expressed over the building of this particular dam.

And I want to make a couple of comments about the consultation process and the input that we've had from conservation groups, and particularly the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. \

The Tasmanian Conservation Trust has, as you know, expressed its concern on environmental grounds but also on economic grounds over the building of this dam. And as you're also well aware, of course, the dam has run into difficulties within Tasmania. The Tribunal was not convinced that the Tasmanian Government had adequately made the case for the construction of the dam.

Now as a result of that, the Commonwealth has gone through an extremely thorough process of analysis on all these grounds. On environmental grounds I particularly want, today, to thank the Tasmanian Conservation Trust for its input into my considerations.

Its submissions have had a significant impact on the nature of the conditions that I've imposed for the building of the dam. And I don't know what their attitude will be, finally. But I do want to say that I have taken into account their submission fully in putting these conditions on the approval.

I also want to say that in terms of the social and economic benefits to come from the dam, that my Department has been in very close consultation with both the Treasury - the Federal Treasury - and the National Competition Council. That we have required the Tasmanian Government to put forward a new independent assessment of the economic benefits flowing from the dam.

And we have then ourselves engaged an independent consultant to review that assessment and advise us whether it is a credible and robust assessment.

In addition to that, I have written to the Treasurer - in this case the Acting Treasurer because the Treasurer's out of the country - to advise me about the attitudes of the Commonwealth Government, Treasury, and the National Competition Council, about the quality of the economic advice that's been provided.

And the response that I've had from the Acting Treasurer, Senator Minchin, is that the National Competition Council considers the economic analysis that has now been provided is robust analysis and makes a robust case for the economic benefits to flow from the dam.

So on all those counts, we've taken into account the best possible scientific and professional advice and economic advice in making this decision. I'm very confident that the decision I'm announcing today is a win-win decision for the environment, and for the people of Tasmania.

It's a decision which is going to have very positive social and economic impacts. But it's also a decision which is going to ensure that two threatened species - two very vulnerable species, one a plant and one an animal - are going to be more secure in the future than they are at the present time.

What this illustrates is that we can have ecologically sustainable development. These are the principles which underlie the environment protection legislation of the Commonwealth and every proponent who puts forward a development proposal has to meet the requirements and principles of ecologically sustainable development.

I'm confident, following the examination that we've had, that the Meander Dam proposal now does meet the principles of ecologically sustainable development. That it is a proposal which is compatible with continuing to protect at very high levels our environment and threatened species and is also a proposal that will deliver very significant and economic benefits.

So that's my initial comment and I'd be very happy to take any questions.

Question: Minister, the TCC today said that they would consider taking legal action [indistinct] the decision. Obviously [indistinct] as a reasonable decision. What do you say to them, of that intention?

Dr Kemp: Well, the first thing I'd say to them is please look carefully at the nature of the conditions. And before reacting too quickly, satisfy yourself about the strength of the conditions that have been imposed on the approval. And also take into account that your own advice to the Commonwealth has had an impact on those conditions.

Also take into account the quality of the economic and social analysis that has now been provided, both by the Tasmanian Government and by an independent consultant to the Commonwealth. It is of course everybody's right to consider what they will do in these circumstances, and I imagine there will be still debate on this issue.

But I believe that what we've put here in this approval should satisfy all those who are genuinely concerned with ecologically sustainable development. Protecting the environment doesn't mean bringing a halt to development. Our communities can live with the environment.

And the decision that's being announced today underlines and underscores that faith. We can have developing communities with growing standards of living and more jobs, and we can also have a sustainable environment. And we all want both. And I believe today's decision confirms that.

Question: [indistinct] then the proposal without your conditions, you would say, therefore, wouldn't have been ecologically sustainable?

Dr Kemp: Well, it's absolutely essential that the environment be protected in order to make the dam ecologically sustainable. And when you look through those conditions that I've imposed in great detail, you will see that every possible step has been taken to ensure that the construction of the dam will not be damaging to the threatened species in question.

Question: Minister, what [indistinct] impact are your commitments likely to have on this proposal?

Dr Kemp: I don't believe these will have a very large financial impact. They will have some financial impact, because the conditions do require that certain lands be set aside and rehabilitated for quoll habitat. The conditions require that certain areas of State Forest be set aside exclusively as quoll habitat.
The conditions require that there be no clearing within 40 metres of the Meander River in areas under the control of the State, so that the Epacris plant can be protected.
So there are implications of these decisions, but I don't believe these conditions will have any significant impact on the economics of the project.

Question: [indistinct] Have you seen the [indistinct] submission, and do you believe that it was [indistinct], and that's why it's at the stage where [indistinct]?

Dr Kemp: Well, naturally the Tribunal decision was one of the factors that I needed to take into account. And of course it was a matter of relevance to my decision that the Tribunal decided the way it did. And consequently my Department sought a greatly improved level of economic analysis to come forward if the ban was going to be justified on those grounds.

What I've had to satisfy myself about is that the economic analysis that has come forward is in fact adequate, and of high enough quality to justify the conclusion that there are benefits from the dam on economic grounds, and the analysis does that.

Question: You said the dam's going to cost more. Do you know how much more it might cost?

Dr Kemp: Well, I don't believe that it will be a significant additional cost, and I don't intend to put a precise figure on that.

Question: Minister, Commonwealth funding for this. What's [indistinct] the Commonwealth Government?

Dr Kemp: The Commonwealth is proposing to put in $2.6 million as its contribution.

Question: When it comes to the economic argument here, [indistinct] is that the same as you have found in your review?

Dr Kemp: Well, we assess through the analysis that we've had at the net - present benefits of the dam that they're of the order of twenty million dollars.

Question: So [indistinct] million dollars?

Dr Kemp: Twenty million dollars. So they're - they're very significant in terms of the local community. Thank you. Guy, would you like to make any comments?

Senator Barnett: Yes, yes I would. I'd personally like to thank the Minister for taking time in a busy schedule to come to Tasmania to make this historic decision. I'm making that comment on behalf of my Tasmanian Liberal Senate team colleagues, Senator Eric Abetz, Richard Colbeck here, and also Paul Calvert and John Watson, to say it's obviously a difficult and challenging decision. The conditions are obviously very strict and strong, but I think it's a balanced decision.

And what it means for Tasmania is - in terms of development - it means a $53 million injection every year into the Tasmanian economy. It means 150 full-time jobs. New jobs created. And that's $5.5 million in wages extra, primarily in northern Tasmania, and specifically in the Meander Valley.

My family farmed on the Meander River for 40 years. I know that in the winter it flooded every year. In the summer the river almost completely dried up, and access to the river for irrigation was nil sometimes during the drought periods and during the summer.

This decision is a good one for the environment, but it's also a good one for the economy. And I'd also like to say that I think it's a huge boost psychologically for Tasmania. It'll have much more impact in terms of the way we see development investment in Tasmania. It'll be a psychological boost that will help in terms of jobs, investment, and the prosperity and the future of Tasmania, and in particular northern Tasmania.

So I just wanted to make those comments and specifically thank the Minister for his time today.


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