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Question to the Environment Minister on Expanding the Water Trigger

Dr Scamps: My question is to the Minister for the Environment and Water. During the last election campaign, the government promised to expand the water trigger in the EPBC Act to include shale gas projects. Following the Pepper inquiry, the Northern Territory government also promised to not approve any shale gas fracking projects until this was completed and implemented. So, with several shale gas fracking projects in the Beetaloo Basin due to be approved in the near future, will the government ensure that an expanded water trigger is in place before any of these projects are given the green light?

Ms Plibersek (Minister for the Environment and Water): I want to thank the member for Mackellar for her question and for her continued interest and advocacy for the environment. She has raised the issue of the water trigger with me a number of times, as has, I have to say, the member for Lingiari, who is raising it with me very often, and other members of parliament as well. Indeed, before the election, we did commit to expanding environmental assessments to cover all forms of non-conventional gas, including shale gas, and it's also part of our Nature Positive Plan that we released last year. Absolutely, we will do that. In the meantime, I have said that the federal government has made available to the Northern Territory government our Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development to assist the Northern Territory government or any other jurisdiction with these decisions. That's the same committee that would assess these projects once the water trigger is expanded.

I want to reassure the member for Mackellar and others who have an interest in this that we absolutely will keep this commitment. In the years since the original water trigger was added to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—at that time, coal seam gas was relatively novel—we've seen other forms of gas come onto the market, and, of course, it's just common sense that we need to cover those types of gas as well. We do need to protect our most precious resource—water—for all its important purposes. Yes, there are industrial purposes, obviously, but first among the important needs that we have as a community is drinking water. And there is not just that, but also the environmental impact of some of these projects is very important. We don't want to see chemical contamination of our waterways, of the environment, around these projects. We absolutely need to make sure that there isn't that sort of impact from the projects.

We also know that the water being used in these large projects can potentially have very significant impacts on fragile ecosystems through dewatering, and that's another thing that obviously the updates to the water trigger will deal with. We will continue to work with the member for Mackellar and with others on the crossbench who've raised this with me—with the member for Lingiari, who doesn't stop on this one, and others with an interest in this—to make sure we keep the commitment.