The Rudd Government is risking a lack of public confidence in the process surrounding moves to flood the Lower Lakes with sea water, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
Under national environmental law, the Rann State Government has been required by Federal Minister Garrett to prepare an EIS on its proposal to open the barrage network separating Lake Alexandrina and the Coorong, allowing sea water in.
In releasing Draft Guidelines on the Content of a Draft EIS this week, Mr Garrett has ignored a letter sent to him last month by Senator Birmingham urging him to require independent oversight of its preparation.*
Instead, Mr Garrett’s guidelines leave the preparation of the EIS entirely in the hands of the Rann Government, meaning it will be assessing the impact of its own application.
“Given the importance of this EIS, and the ramifications that will flow from it, its preparation should not be left in the hands of faceless bureaucrats doing the Rann Government’s bidding,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“It is of critical importance that the public has confidence in this process, and therefore that the EIS is prepared in a totally transparent way. The best way for this to occur would have been for an independent panel with credible expertise to oversee its preparation.
“Environment Minister Peter Garrett has the power to ensure this is the case by requiring it under the terms of reference he and his Department set, and it is profoundly disappointing that he has ignored my suggestion to do so. Indeed, he hasn’t even had the courtesy to respond to the suggestion.
“Flooding the Lower Lakes with seawater is a drastic measure, and we must have our eyes open to the consequences and the alternatives, and have faith in the assessment process.”
*text of Senator Birmingham’s letter to Mr Garrett follows.
Text of letter:
The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts
CANBERRA ACT 2600
I write in relation to the South Australian Government’s proposal to transfer sea water from the Coorong to Lake Alexandrina, and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) it will be required to prepare following your Department’s determination that it is a controlled action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Specifically, I write to urge you to require, under the terms of reference to be set by you and your Department, the preparation of the EIS to be overseen by an independent expert panel.
Given the importance of this EIS, and the ramifications that will flow from it, its preparation should not be left in the hands of South Australian departmental officials doing the bidding of the South Australian Government, which is the proponent.
I am sure you will agree that it is of critical importance that the public has confidence in this process. I believe the best way to ensure this is for the EIS to be prepared in a totally transparent way, overseen by an independent panel with credible expertise.
Your assurance that the process will also be required to consider other long term options for protecting the Lower Lakes and preventing their acidification is welcome.
To this end, I urge you also to require the South Australian Government to invite submissions in support of these other options, which should be considered and assessed thoroughly, openly and transparently.
Given evidence presented to the Senate inquiry into this very matter, and public comments from many experts, it seems clear that flooding the Lower Lakes can be avoided through the pursuit of some or all of these other options.
Flooding the Lower Lakes with seawater is a drastic measure, and we must have our eyes open to the consequences and the alternatives, and have faith in the assessment process.
I look forward to your response, and thank you for your consideration of these matters.