House rejects CSG ministerial powers

The House of Representatives has rejected Senate amendments to legislation to set up an independent scientific committee to investigate coal seam gas (CSG) and coal mining projects.

The 13 amendments proposed by the Senate would have given Environment Minister Tony Burke wide-ranging powers over CSG projects.

The lower house on Monday rejected 11 of the amendments, which would have granted the minister authority over nearly all land-use decisions involving CSG and coal projects.

The amendments were the result of a “rather surprising” agreement between coalition Senators Bill Heffernan and Fiona Nash and the Australian Greens, Mr Burke said.

He said the proposed expansion of powers would have enraged the states and invited strong legal challenges.

“But I want to make clear that while I appreciate the compliment … we really don’t think it’s an appropriate policy to go down the path,” Mr Burke told parliament.

He said the proposed powers would have created uncertainty around land use anywhere there was potential for coal seam gas mining.

They would also “blow up” the national partnership agreement federal Labor had forged with some states over large coal mining and CSG development proposals that are likely to have a significant impact on water resources.

Greens MP Adam Bandt said his party had been partly motivated to make the changes in the Senate by worries about salinity and CSG projects.

“We were concerned that that issue was not something that was going to be able to be considered by a committee,” Mr Bandt said.

Mr Burke moved some alternative changes to the legislation to clarify that the minister could refer concerns about salinity to the scientific committee.

They passed the lower house unanimously.

The house passed two of the Senate’s amendments, to change the start date of the legislation.

It was to have begun on July 1, but the Senate did not pass the legislation until September 10.

The further changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development) Bill 2012 will now be returned to the Senate for its agreement.

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