Senator MOORE (Queensland) (10.38 am)-To be part of this committee was a privilege in many ways, and I think the committee did a very good job in terms of giving people an opportunity to come forward and give information to their Senate. However, as the committee report has pointed out, and as I want to put on record again today, I had some deep concerns about expectations of members of the public that our committee could make complete decisions about this project. It came up consistently from all sides of the argument but, in particular, from people who were concerned about the impact of a dam on their community, on their land. Some felt that by coming to this inquiry they would be able to have our committee direct government on decisions about the dam. I found that very disappointing and very saddening. We had to make the process clear so that everybody involved in the process understood what was happening. We asked questions at each hearing about the understanding and awareness people had of the environmental protection act process. People who had the issues in front of them had genuine concerns, as would any community. It is important to understand that, wherever there is a proposal to put major infrastructure into a community, that will have an impact-and there is no question that there will be an impact-and people will be upset. They wanted to have their voices heard, but it is most important, at all levels of government, that there is clarity about responsibility and accountability. Consistently, our committee was in the position of having to inform people about how the committee process operates and, in particular, how any assessment would be made in the future about decisions to build or not to build dams not just in Queensland but across our community. We worked through with people about the operation of the environmental protection act and where any final decision would lie with regard to any environmental impact on the community. And they understood that: these are intelligent, aware and mainly informed people, but I think some unnecessary hope had been put into the process that this committee was going to direct action. What we did, quite rightly, was to listen, to seek answers and to seek information. In some cases we were able to get information about some difficulties in getting clarity up until that time. At the end of our process, after considerable discussion within the committee, we were able to come up with an agreed position. As you well know, Madam Acting Deputy President, the process of committees has a long history. A committee meets, hears evidence and then comes up with recommendations. The full committee came up with two recommendations, to which we all agreed after much discussion. The first recommendation, very straightforwardly, is that the information given to the minister under the EPBC Act would include the evidence received on any potential environmental impact of the Traveston dam on the Mary River and the species of that river. It is something we think is self-evident: any decision must take into account the evidence and the views provided and make full use of the whole process of seeking information and making decisions.
The second agreed recommendation goes to a full range of strategies for the Queensland government to implement ways to best utilise water in our state. It is very straightforward.
Our committee agreed that the Queensland government should continue, not begin, to instigate strategies that will inform, engage and consult with members of affected communities-there is no argument about that-ensure that businesses affected by the proposed dams are adequately compensated and offered appropriate assistance-again, an agreed recommendation-and, where possible, facilitate the timely release of copies of reports and information to members of the community to achieve a transparent and open process-something, I think, through our committee, we were able to agree on and point out.
I think the committee did serve a purpose as our chair, Senator Heffernan, has pointed out. It gave people the opportunity to engage, hear and debate. In particular, I want to put on record my appreciation and thanks to the wide range of people representing the Queensland government who came forward to give evidence under somewhat difficult and sometimes confronting arrangements. The committee chose-and I think quite rightly-to have public hearings in at least one of the communities that was immediately impacted, and that was around the Gympie community.
I want to acknowledge the involvement of the people of Gympie and the welcome they gave us. It was most warm, as I would expect of that wonderful part of Queensland. Although they were deeply affected by what was going on, we were welcomed and overwhelmed with offers of assistance to be engaged in the process. The people of Gympie and around the Traveston should be commended for their involvement in this process. I want to put on record the efforts of the Save the Mary group, who have been working for a long time to make sure that people not only in the local area but across Queensland-and, through this committee process, across the country-know what is going on. I think that is an important aspect.
The people from the Queensland state government and associated bodies were tireless in providing information and communicating with our committee. I think we had evidence from those groups at most hearings. They consistently came back and gave information-as we know they should, because that is an appropriate relationship between state governments and Senate inquiries. There should be an open exchange and agreement that we are working together to come up with a response that will value the whole community and our country, so I want to put that on record.
I particularly want to consider the evidence given about the environmental impact on the lungfish in that area. It is a fish that I have heard about over many years in Queensland. I want to pay particular credit to Professor Jean Joss, an internationally renowned expert in this area, who came forward at one of our committee hearings in Canberra and talked about her role over many years of looking at this wonderful species. She raised, in a very reasonable way, her concerns about the future of this particular fish.
Also, we heard in Gympie from Dr Eve Fesl, an amazing woman who has been involved in community activities in that area and across our country for many years. She is an elder of the Gubbi Gubbi people, and I think she gave the whole community a special insight into the relationship between those people and their fish, the lungfish. We hope that this information will be effectively taken into account through the EPBC Act, and the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport wants all that evidence put forward when the decision is made. It is not our role to make the decision; it is certainly our role to ensure that the debate is wide and transparent.
I also want to thank the secretariat of the committee, who worked so well to ensure that all of the people who wanted to be part of this process could be part of it and were effectively engaged and able to have their voices heard. The secretariat were most helpful in ensuring that members and participating members of this committee were able to get information quickly and be most aware of what was going on. In a quite difficult time they were able to work with the committee to present a reasonable and balanced report which puts forward the issues and ensures that the next appropriate step of the process will be taken with calm, scientific and compassionate awareness of the range of issues that should be taken into account in any government decision.
I am concerned that there may well have been some breach of our well-known practice about the way that evidence to a committee must be kept absolutely private until a committee report is tabled. That breach does not help anyone, and there are strong rules and processes within this Senate to make sure that everybody knows how these processes should be conducted. We look forward to ensuring that future processes will continue with honesty, transparency and clarity.