The Rann Government must appoint an independent expert panel to oversee the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on its proposal to flood the Lower Lakes with seawater, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
It follows a determination by the Department of Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts that the proposal is a controlled action under national environment law and therefore subject to assessment and consultation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
“The Rann Government is now required to develop an EIS for assessment and public comment which is possibly the most important environmental document it will ever prepare,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“Given the importance of this EIS, and the ramifications that will flow from it, its preparation simply cannot be left in the hands of faceless bureaucrats doing the Rann Government’s bidding.
“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 be for an independent panel with credible expertise to oversee its preparation.
“It is worth noting Environment Minister Peter Garrett’s statement that the process will also be required to consider other long term options for protecting the Lower Lakes and preventing their acidification.
“Given evidence presented to a Senate inquiry into this very matter, and public comments from many experts, it seems clear that flooding the Lower Lakes is an absolute last resort that can be avoided through the pursuit of other options.
“The Rann Government should invite submissions in support of these other options, which must be considered and assessed thoroughly, openly and transparently.
“Among measures that could avert the need to flood the Lower Lakes with seawater is the Rudd Government unfreezing $5.8 billion earmarked for water infrastructure spending investment that would reap real returns of flows to the Murray-Darling Basin.
“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.”