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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment

Strict conditions set for Walla Weir proposal

18 October 1996

Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill has recommended that strict environmental conditions be set for the Walla Weir proposal on the Burnett River, near Bundaberg in Queensland.

The Walla Weir proposal is one of eleven projects considered for joint funding from the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments under the Sugar Industry Infrastructure Package. The weir is needed to supplement water supplies to cane growers, and other users, in the lower Burnett River.

The Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 requires Primary Industry Minister John Anderson, who is responsible for the project's Commonwealth funding, to take into account advice and recommendations from the Environment Minister.

Senator Hill has written to Mr Anderson indicating that Commonwealth funding for the proposal should be subject to the Queensland Government agreeing to strict environmental conditions.

The conditions will provide for protection of the environment and will include further monitoring and studies into the lungfish and the Elseya tortoise in the Burnett River.

Senator Hill's recommendations include:

Senator Hill's decision and the recommendations have been based on an independent scientific review which concluded that the proposed Walla Weir would not impact significantly on the long term survival of the lungfish and would only affect a relatively small part of the tortoise's habitat.

The Walla Weir proposal was subject to environmental impact assessment (EIA) by the Queensland Department of Environment and the Federal Environment Protection Agency (EPA). On the basis of the EIA, the Queensland Government concluded that the proposal could proceed, subject to conditions. Commonwealth advisers reached different conclusions on the same evidence.

Faced with these differences, Senator Hill sought a further scientific review. This was carried out by Dr Keith Boardman, former Chief Executive of the CSIRO.

Dr Boardman concluded that

"based on the limited base of scientific information, I do not consider that the proposed Walla Weir would impact significantly on the long term survival of the lungfish."

In relation to the Elseya tortoise Dr Boardman said

"The proportion of the habitat of the tortoise particularly affected by the Walla Weir proposal is likely to be relatively small."

Senator Hill says he is concerned about the cumulative impacts of existing and any future dams and weirs on the Burnett River.

"As part of my agreement to funding, I have insisted on further studies to help develop management strategies for the long term protection of the lungfish and other important species.

"I will consider further cooperation with the Queensland Government to achieve this goal."

Senator Hill says the Government is committed to ensuring that all development proposals take into account the public's desire for environmental protection.

For further information contact:

Matt Brown, Minister's office, 06 277 7640

Jim Cannon, Environment Department, 06 274 1076

Commonwealth of Australia