During Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Human Services, representing the Minister for Environment and Water, about a misleading Environment Protection Agency (EPA) advertisement.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Earlier this year, there was a great deal of controversy over a proposal by Flinders Ports to widen a seven-kilometre stretch of the shipping channel at Outer Harbor in order to accommodate larger vessels. The controversy was largely triggered by the fact that the last time such a dredging operation took place, back in 2005-06, the resulting turbidity destroyed 1,600 hectares of valuable seagrass meadow. That was the conclusion of the EPA's aerial photography investigation at the time.
Another aspect of the controversy this year was the failure by both the State Planning Commission and the EPA to release the EPA's assessment of the current dredging proposal. In fact, it was only as a result of pressure from the Greens that the document was finally released. However, it was only released after the planning commission hearing, which meant that none of the representors, especially the fishing industry and conservation groups, had the chance to respond to it at the hearing.
This history of secrecy and disrespect for public input is why it was doubly concerning to see today the EPA publish an advertisement in The Advertiser concerning an application by Flinders Ports for an EPA licence for the dredging and dumping of 1½ million cubic metres of material. This advertisement is buried in the public notices on page 52 of the paper. In the advertisement, the EPA erroneously claims that it is legally obliged to issue the licence and the only matters up for discussion are details of licence conditions. This is wrong in law and, if not corrected, it will have the effect of the EPA improperly and unlawfully rejecting valid submissions. If not corrected, any representors who find their submissions disregarded would have a solid case for judicial review. My questions of the minister are:
1. Was the minister aware that the EPA had misled the public over the Flinders Ports licence application advertisement in The Advertiser this morning?
2. Will the minister now ask the EPA to readvertise for public submissions in a way that does not attempt to illegally constrain the subject matter of submissions?
3. Will the minister ask the EPA to amend its website, which includes the same misleading information?
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): I thank the honourable member for those questions. I will take those on notice, seek a response from the responsible minister in another place and bring back a reply.
Response provided on November 29, 2018
Hon. MICHELLE LENSINK MLC: The Department for Environment and Water has advised that:
1. No. The Minister for Environment and Water was not aware of the content of the notification placed by the EPA in The Advertiser and Portside Messenger on 7 November 2018. The EPA has since advised that it made an administrative error and in no way attempted to mislead the community in regards to the nature of the EPA's consultation on this important proposal.
2. The EPA published an amended notification in both The Advertiser and Portside Messenger on 14 November 2018. The EPA is committed to engaging with the community for the entirety of the project. Submissions on all aspects of the proposal and the licence application close on 30 November 2018. If a licence is subsequently drafted, the EPA will seek further public comment.
3. The EPA has updated the information published on its website, consistent with the amended notifications.