SPEECH: Southern Launch Space development

Today Mark gave a Matters of Interest speech on the proposed development by Southerm Launch Space.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Today, I want to talk about rockets. Whether it is rockets sending cars to Mars or rockets sending satellites into space most people are fascinated by rockets, so when developers come along and offer us our own piece of rocket action by building a new launch facility in our state, people get very excited. However, there is one rocket project that also has some people very concerned, and that is the proposed development by Southern Launch.Space Pty Ltd.

The proponent seeks to construct an orbital launch complex on leased freehold land located at the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula at Whalers Way, Sleaford. According to the proponents, the complex will facilitate the launch of domestic and international vehicles for the purpose of polar and sun synchronous orbit satellite insertion. The proposal specifically consists of a change in land use to accommodate an aerospace facility and the construction of buildings and infrastructure to support the launch site.

Back in 2019, it was declared a major development and it has since been determined that an EIS will need to be prepared. EIS is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it is the only pathway for a formal environmental impact assessment but, on the other, the government gets to make the final decision, it is not bound by the zoning of the land, and decisions are not subject to any legal challenge or appeal.

One person who has written to me with concerns about this project is prominent South Australian environmentalist Andrew Black OAM. Andrew is an honorary research associate at the SA Museum, he is a past president of the Nature Conservation Society of South Australia, a past president of the SA Ornithological Association, and a former member of the Native Vegetation Council. Andrew Black wrote a submission to the environment minister last September, which he has shared with others in the conservation movement. He wrote, in part:

Dear Minister,

Please make certain that the proposed rocket site at Whalers Way does not proceed.

It is completely incomprehensible that such an idea could be countenanced.

We have some very special places and some very special biodiversity in [South Australia] and they must be protected against damaging exploitation. They are our heritage and our children's inheritance, our capital resources. This State has a proud history but it is at risk from needlessly damaging developments. Amongst our resources is a world renowned rocket range at Woomera. Why should we contemplate another in such a fragile environment as southern Eyre Peninsula? In my own field of expertise, I raise the plight of several conservation dependent birds at Whalers Way which demand that their status must not be further threatened.

The Southern Emu-wren occurs in three disjunct populations in [South Australia], each a separate subspecies. The Mount Lofty Ranges subspecies is endangered and perilously so. Its future depends on continuing conservation effort. The Eyre Peninsula subspecies is also endangered but its future is a little more secure, providing that its habitat is not further reduced or degraded. That means that Whalers Way must be protected.

Andrew Black then goes on to talk about the white-bellied whipbird which occurs only in South Australia. Apparently it is extinct in Victoria and very possibly it is extinct in Ngarkat Conservation Park, and there are only very small populations remaining.

He talks also about the white-bellied sea eagle and the osprey that occur in small, ecologically distinct endangered and demonstrably declining populations in South Australia. He says that Southern Eyre Peninsula is critical to maintaining the presence of both these magnificent raptors in our state.

I have also received similar concerns from Ann Prescott, the famous South Australian botanist, and I have also had communications with a number of conservation groups such as the Nature Conservation Society and Birds SA.

According to the guidelines that were produced for the environmental impact statement, the proponent has to prepare a number of specialist reports, including a fauna and flora assessment and management plan which, in turn, would include a native vegetation clearance data report. But, interestingly, when you go through the documentation it tells us that the land is subject to a native vegetation heritage agreement, so this land is supposed to be protected by a legally-binding covenant between the owner and the government that ensures the land is protected in perpetuity and that the vegetation is not cleared. It is noted on the certificate of title, that is how important this is.

I also noted that the land is zoned for coastal conservation and that should also provide a barrier to vegetation clearance. In conclusion, the question for this generation is whether or not we are prepared to let species or subspecies go extinct because we are unable to stop or reverse the insatiable appetite of developers to clear what little remains of our remnant native vegetation. If it is a choice between launching rockets or protecting biodiversity, I vote for biodiversity.