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Response to Premier’s Statement

Extract from Hansard – Thursday, 17 February 2011

MS A.S. CARLES (Fremantle) [12.20 pm]: I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate and to respond to the Premier’s Statement. On Tuesday, when the Premier made his statement, the Premier spoke a lot about our economy. Although it is easy to be seduced by the political allure of billion-dollar resource deals, there is a price to pay, socially and environmentally, in the pursuit of an ever-expanding economy. It can be immensely difficult to govern in an ecologically sustainable manner when our economic growth is beholden to industries that have a high degree of environmental impact, such as mining.

The Premier spoke about the benefits of the proposed onshore gas processing precinct at James Price Point. I believe that the environmental and social impacts of this proposal warrant significantly greater attention in this place. Although much is said about the golden economic opportunity that this gas hub will provide, scant attention has been paid to the dark side of this proposal. I wonder whether members are aware that the gas hub, if completed, will be the single highest point source of toxic air pollution in the entire country—not just the Kimberley, not just Western Australia, but throughout Australia. That is quite a legacy that we will be leaving for generations to come. When the projected emissions of benzene, which is a class A carcinogen, and volatile organic compounds, are compared with all the other compounds listed in the national pollution inventory of the federal government, it is clear that the gas hub will outstrip any other emitter of air toxics in this country. To put this in perspective, the amount of cancer-causing benzene emitted will be up to 40 times the amount released from the entire Kwinana industrial strip. The total amount of toluene, xylene and ethyl benzene—all dangerous pollutants—released will be up to five times the amount released from the entire Kwinana industrial strip. These estimates are based on calculations from environmental consultant David Munut, a scientist who has worked as a senior chemist in Western Australia.

But the environmental problems do not stop there. According to the Conservation Council of Western Australia, this project will increase Western Australia’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent, with the release of up to 39 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere once in full production. The Conservation Council of Western Australia also cites the 2 700 shipping tanker movements a year and the impact this will have on humpback whales with young calves. We also need to consider the dredging works that will be needed to create this huge facility. Coral reefs will be blasted, and seagrass will be lost, destroying dugong habitat. We also need to consider the water needed for this plant, and what the impact will be on the groundwater of the aquifers of the Dampier Peninsula.

I visited Broome several months ago so that I could hear first hand, from the people who live there, how they feel about the gas hub. The Shire of Broome told me that it generally supports the gas hub; it can appreciate the economic benefits. However, many residents of Broome do not support it. They fear the environmental and social consequences for their town. They do not want Broome to be turned into another Port Hedland. They fear the cycle of boom and bust.

Last year, the government started the process of compulsory acquisition to remove any native title interests that may exist at James Price Point. This was an extraordinary tactic for the government to use to get its way. After all, Aboriginal people have waited for nearly 200 years after European settlement, after the 10-year Eddie Mabo case, to have their native title rights recognised by our legal system. These hard-won native title rights recognise the unique spiritual traditional link that Aboriginal people have to their country. This government’s cavalier attempt to remove those rights shows a lack of respect for Aboriginal people. I support the call of the Kimberley Land Council for this draconian process to be abandoned immediately, as it is an insult to Aboriginal people. I spoke to members of the KLC when I was in Broome, and they took me to tour the James Price Point site. I support, of course, their right to negotiate as traditional owners. Some of the traditional owners told me that it was with very heavy hearts that they have agreed to negotiate. They do so because they want the financial benefits for their people. It is very sad that they feel compelled to give up their country in return for a promise of prosperity that non-Indigenous people take for granted. I certainly understand their dilemma and support their call for an equal seat at the negotiating table, without the threat of compulsory acquisition hanging over them.

However, in this debate we need to be mindful that there are other Aboriginal people in the Kimberley who do not support the KLC line, and their views are valid, too. Some are scared to speak out for fear of retribution. There is no one-size-fits all to this. I am concerned that the gas proposal is tearing Aboriginal families apart. The tight deadlines, and the winner-takes-all mentality, is creating divisions and perceptions of winners and losers.

Joseph Roe, the Goolarabooloo law boss, has been referred to by the Premier this week as a “spoiler” element for not supporting the gas hub. The “spoiler” tag shows a lack of understanding about the Aboriginal meaning of “country”. I know it is hard for us to understand that for some Indigenous people, property is not for sale. That is because we live in a consumer culture in which everything is for sale if the price is right. For Mr Roe, the Kimberley has no price tag. His country has no price.

Mr C.J. Barnett interjected.

Ms A.S. CARLES: Despite the urban myths that are spread about Mr Roe—I have heard many of them, Premier—he is not a one-man band, and he has hundreds of people supporting him in the Kimberley. I met with Mr Roe, and during my extensive conversation with him he told me about his traditional link to the land. He told me about how he was the youngest male to have gone through the traditional law, and he was the only male to have gone through the traditional law twice—through the law of both the northern and the southern divisions. This marks him as a special law boss in the Kimberley. We should remember that Mr Roe made the original Goolarabooloo native title application in 1994, and that the Jabirr Jabirr people joined his claim in 1995 through the Kimberley Land Council. Back then, the two groups agreed to work cooperatively to have all native title right recognised. Of course the relationship has now since soured, with a difference of opinion over the gas hub.

The latest federal court decision handed down this week found that the claim group meeting of 3 August 2010, which removed Mr Roe as applicant, was held lawfully. It is important to note that the court did not make a determination on native title. It did not remove Mr Roe’s native title rights. The judge spoke about Mr Roe and said that he remains a member of the native title claim group and as such has a voice in its affairs. Mr Roe said to me when I went to Broome, when he was talking about his stand for his country, “It’s a big responsibility, a very, very big responsibility. I’m not doing it because I hate development. I’m doing it because I want to save my culture, my law; that’s the only thing we’ve got that belongs to us. That’s the thing I want to keep.” This morning I spoke to Mr Roe on the phone about the federal court decision, and this is what he said to me, “They can beat me on a piece of paper, but they will never stop me fighting for my country, my law and my culture.”

Another Aboriginal man I spoke to when I was in Broome is Neil McKenzie. He is a Jabirr Jabirr traditional owner who has split from the KLC over the gas hub proposal. The gas hub has split his family, with his father staying with the KLC. It is a very sad story. Neil McKenzie told me that the gas hub is too painful for them to talk about. They do not talk gas in their family. Like Joseph Roe, Neil McKenzie spoke of his connection to
country, saying it was not for sale.

I share these stories today without passing judgement and without taking sides, but in the hope that members of Parliament will get an understanding of what is at stake here for Aboriginal people. Compulsory acquisition rubs salt in the wound. What is required is respectful negotiation and discussion, and it cannot be rushed.

Another aspect of the Western Australian environment that requires urgent attention is our native forests. We continue to plunder this precious asset by allowing unsustainable logging, to prop up an industry that is clearly failing. The state government has failed to recognise the value of our forests in the face of climate change, and their ability to sequester carbon. To the forestry minister, and, indeed, to all members, I recommend they read the 2008 Australian National University report “Green Carbon: The Role of Natural Forests in Carbon Storage” to understand the unique role that our native forests play in storing carbon. Until we understand this link, we will continue to undervalue our precious forests.

I turn now to my electorate of Fremantle. I have raised the issue of the export of lead carbonate through the port of Fremantle in this place before, and I will continue to do so until the government bans these shipments through Fremantle permanently. Magellan Metals is a company that has betrayed the trust of Western Australians. It is well known that it contaminated the town of Esperance with toxic lead carbonate due to its poor management and control of this poisonous product. We know that more than 9 000 birds fell from the sky, soil and water was contaminated, and children now have to live with the legacy of elevated lead levels. Banned from operating from Esperance, Magellan amazingly managed to convince the government to allow it to export lead through Fremantle. The tired old rhetoric of world’s best practice has now been demonstrated to have failed in Fremantle.

No amount of spin can salvage the fact that Magellan’s powdered lead carbonate cannot be contained under the current shipping arrangements. This has been confirmed by the Department of Environment and Conservation in its technical report of 18 January 2011. Members may recall that the former Minister for Environment, Hon Donna Faragher, assured the people of Fremantle that the shipments of lead carbonate would be contained in double-lined bulka bags, which would be locked in shipping containers to prevent any release. Indeed, on 13 August 2009, she said that all transport of lead concentrate would cease should Magellan’s lead be detected.

On 15 December 2010, this supposedly strict regime began to unravel when a representative of Magellan Metals walked into the Office of the Environmental Protection Authority and presented a page of monitoring data. At face value, the data indicated that Magellan’s monitoring of the air inside the shipping containers revealed a number of breaches of the allowable lead levels that may have occurred for many months since the shipments commenced in September 2009. On 11 January 2011, Magellan Metals held a media conference and claimed that it had all been a big mistake and that the National Association of Testing Authorities accredited laboratory had made numerous errors in its air sampling analysis. Magellan also stated emphatically that the Department of Environment and Conservation testing revealed that no lead carbonate had been detected outside its shipping containers at Fremantle port. On the very same day, the Minister for Environment, Hon Bill Marmion, released a statement confirming that lead carbonate from Magellan had indeed been detected on the exterior surface of the shipping containers at Fremantle port, and this was confirmed by isotopic analysis. Whatever credibility Magellan may have had in the eyes of the government should have evaporated at that point. It misled the media, the residents of Fremantle and the citizens of Western Australia, and it should stand condemned.

For those members of this place who have not read the DEC report, I will briefly summarise the findings. The DEC tested the internal and external surfaces of the shipping containers, including the wooden floor and the surface of the bulka bags. Lead carbonate from Magellan was detected on all surfaces tested. The air vents of some of the containers were also tested for lead carbonate, and isotopic testing confirmed that Magellan’s lead was detected in the vents, an obvious escape route for contamination. This raises the obvious question that has not been answered: if lead carbonate could still be detected on the exterior of containers in Fremantle after a 1 000 kilometre journey from Wiluna, how much lead carbonate blew off the containers along the way through the 22 suburbs of Perth? The DEC report also revealed that lead carbonate from Magellan Metals was confirmed as having been detected at Fremantle port on the hardstand surfaces, in soil near the containers and even in the puddles of rainwater on the ground.

Many other breaches have come to light since the exports through Fremantle commenced in September 2009. These include the failure to ensure that the air monitors inside the containers actually work; the failure to report breaches of airborne lead limits in the containers for up to 18 months; deliberately trying to disguise from inspectors overloaded bulka bags, which sharply increased the risk of bag rupture; contaminating bulka bags by storing them in the pure lead carbonate stockpile at Wiluna; failing to prevent bags with visible lead dust on their surfaces from leaving the mine site; failing to report the container air testing results to the government for a period of more than 15 months; the failure to implement a container wash-down facility at the mine site that could remove lead from container surfaces; and, finally, failing to prevent lead carbonate from contaminating the Fremantle port storage site.

After all this, we are now at the crossroads, and it is time for this government to decide what to do. The lead shipments have been halted temporarily, and I congratulate the Minister for Environment for taking that strong line. But I know that the government is under immense pressure from Magellan and mining lobbyists to lift the ban and resume exports. I call on this government to stand its ground, take a hard line on this and not cave in to the vested interests of Magellan. My constituents do not want to be part of this lead carbonate experiment any longer. We want a permanent ban on the export of powdered lead carbonate through Fremantle, and we want this put in place now. There are of course alternatives. The lead can be safely exported in lead blocks, as was in the original approval given in 2004, thereby value-adding to the product.

I look forward to working with the government this year on getting a wind farm at the port in Fremantle. The Fremantle port could become the first Australian port to be powered solely by renewable energy, thereby becoming a green port. Preliminary discussions have been held with all the stakeholders and there is overwhelming support for this. We need to invest in renewable energy now; there is plenty of it and that is where public funds should be directed. As community leaders, it is our role and responsibility to make this happen and to face our responsibilities as the threat of climate change looms large.

The time is ripe for a renaissance for Fremantle. Later this year, only one week after the Council of Australian Governments meeting, Fremantle will host the ISAF World Sailing Championships, which we understand will be bigger than the America’s Cup. More than 1 400 sailors from 80 nations, as well as thousands of spectators, are expected to visit Western Australia, and Fremantle in particular, for this two-week regatta. This is Fremantle’s opportunity to showcase itself to the world, but Fremantle needs a boost. Cuts to the arts community have led to the loss of the Fremantle History Museum, the Fremantle Light and Sound Discovery Centre and the World of Energy museum. Port cities such as Liverpool have paved their way to success and revitalisation through a heavy emphasis on the arts and culture and, in particular, on museums. Our local Fremantle theatre companies struggle to find a secure base to rehearse, and performance space is tight—I have raised this issue in the house previously—despite the ever-increasing potential audiences from domestic and overseas tourists. I call on the state government to address this inequity and to restore funding for the arts sector in Fremantle.

I fear that our health services in Fremantle are also deteriorating. The Hospital General Practice Fremantle, which is one of the only bulk-billing practices left in the state, is under threat of closure.

[Member’s time extended.]

Ms A.S. CARLES: I have sought an injection of funds from the Minister for Health to keep this much-used practice open. Allowing it to close does not make sense, as patients from the emergency department are referred there; hence reducing pressure on the emergency department at Fremantle Hospital. I fear that when Fiona Stanley Hospital opens in 2014, my constituents will be placed at risk if we lose the emergency department at Fremantle Hospital, as is currently planned. This decision would mean that if someone had a heart attack in Fremantle, they may die because of the time taken to get to Fiona Stanley Hospital. I urge the government to rethink its policy on the Fremantle emergency department.

Traffic congestion and pollution in Fremantle are increasing, as more trucks laden with containers from the port fill our roads. I call on the state government to move quickly to get the High Street upgrade underway. The Fremantle traffic bridge is unsafe and needs urgent repair or replacement very soon before an accident takes place. Fremantle would be an ideal urban location to demonstrate the effectiveness and efficiency of a pilot light rail network, with a willing community and supportive local government. I have developed a light rail plan for Fremantle, and I look forward to working with the state government on this.

Fremantle could be an ecologically sustainable city powered by renewable energy and a hub for cultural activity, acting as a magnet for tourism and history lovers and providing a showcase for urban renewal. I ask members to share my vision for a renaissance for Fremantle.

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