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Estimates Hearings: Great Barrier Reef, Military Use of Autonomous Drones and Adani Project

On Wednesday 31 July, Michael posed questions to the Director General of the Department of Innovation, Tourism Industry Development and the Commonwealth Games, the Hon. Kate Jones, Minister for Innovation and Tourism Industry Development and Minister for the Commonwealth Games, and the Director-General of the Department of Environment and Science. The points of inquiry concerned Great Barrier Reef protections, autonomous drone use by the Australian Military and source aquifer of the Doongmabulla Springs respectively.

You can read the speech below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard), or watch it HERE.

Great Barrier Reef Protections:

Mr BERKMAN: I would like to start with a question for the DG around Great Barrier Reef tourism, which employs more than 60,000 people, as you would be aware. The science tells us that the reef will be decimated by an average global temperature increase of 1½ degrees, which is almost inevitable at this point, and entirely lost if we hit two degrees. My question, Mr Walker, is: has your department undertaken an economic analysis of how this will affect Queensland’s tourism industry and those people who rely on the survival of the reef for their livelihoods?

Mr Walker: There are numerous pieces of research that have been undertaken with regard to the impact on the tourism industry and the economy generally of Queensland and Australia as a result of climate change and impact to the reef. We are very aware of the importance of the reef to tourism. That is why we continue to work with colleagues in other departments such as the Department of Environment and Science and their very good work in seeking to address some of those critical issues. A lot of our focus has also been to ensure that we have a breadth and depth of tourism offerings within Queensland that go beyond the reef, but we are very, very keen to ensure that everything is done to mitigate some of the existing risk. 

Mr BERKMAN: I have a question, Minister, in relation to the proposals to lease land at Hinchinbrook, Noosa and the Whitsundays. I note that the Australian Walking Company, which is Brett Godfrey’s company, the chair of the tourism Queensland board, has applied for those leases. 

Ms JONES: That is not true. That is not actually accurate. 

Mr BERKMAN: I am sorry, the Australian Walking Company has not applied for those leases? 

Ms JONES: No. I will go through them individually if you like. 

Mr BERKMAN: The question is, Minister: was tourism Queensland involved in discussions or the decision to offer long-term commercial leases of Queensland national parks for private ecotourism activities and accommodation? 

Ms JONES: No. 

Autonomous Drone Use by the Military:


Mr BERKMAN: My question relates to $15 million in state funding for the Defence CRC. There is an international campaign led by an Australian expert in AI calling for a treaty banning lethal autonomous weapons or in other words those drones that can kill without human control. This is proposed alongside existing treaties that ban nuclear weapons proliferation, chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Minister, are you concerned we could end up spending taxpayers’ money on a facility to develop weapons of mass destruction that are ultimately banned under international law? 

CHAIR: Minister, before you answer the question, member for Maiwar you referred to a treaty. For the benefit of the committee and all those present and watching, could you inform us as to which treaty you were specifically referring to in your question? 

Mr BERKMAN: I referred to an international campaign led by an Australian AI expert who is calling for a treaty. 

CHAIR: Thank you for that clarification, member for Maiwar. 

Ms JONES: I have full confidence in the Australian Defence Force and it acting in an ethical way. As we have said on the record and as my ministerial colleague who has appeared before me the Minister for State Development has said, we are backing defence as an industry. It is one of the largest employers in Queensland. 

For many years I represented the Enoggera Army base which was in my electorate. I have had the great privilege of working with a number of key people in that area. We are also backing agriculture, mining, resources and environmental management as key industries where Queensland is seen as world leading and having world-leading technology. To answer your question, I am very confident in the work that the Australian Defence Force is doing as part of the CRC. 

Mr BERKMAN: Can you confirm whether any part of the $15 million of Queensland taxpayers’ money will go towards work to develop autonomous killer drones at the Defence CRC for Trusted Autonomous Systems? 

Ms JONES: My understanding is that the Defence CRC was awarded by the federal government in a competitive process which Queensland won. We will be working very closely with them on the work that the Australian Defence Force prioritises. I am not the Australian defence minister. What I can say to you is that I think this is a great win for Queensland because it creates jobs locally in your community. 

Adani Project - Doongmabulla Springs:

Mr BERKMAN: In approving Adani’s Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems Management Plan, GDEMP, the minister and the department relied heavily on advice from CSIRO and Geosciences Australia that, in turn, adopts findings and recommends measures from the Lake Eyre Basin Springs Assessment, LEBSA. I seek leave to table a short excerpt from that CSIRO/GA advice, if I may.

CHAIR: Is leave granted? Leave is granted. Do you have enough copies for all committee members? 

Mr BERKMAN: I have an abundance of copies, Mr Chair. Dr Merrick, would you like a copy of that? 

Ms ENOCH: We would like to see it, yes. 

CHAIR: We will take time to distribute the copies. 

Mr BERKMAN: For ease of reference, I specifically bring your attention to a highlighted passage on the second page, which is page 6 of the document. 

CHAIR: Member for Maiwar, there are a number of highlighted passages on the page you are referring to. Which one are you specifically referring to? 

Mr BERKMAN: The second one, which states—

"Whether the springs with discharge character at Doongmabulla emanate from a Triassic or Permian aquifer is unresolved without further data. Drilling of new monitoring bores in the vicinity of the springs, and appropriate seismic survey are required."

CHAIR: Member for Maiwar, can you clarify your question? 

 Mr BERKMAN: Indeed. I was just identifying the passage as you asked. Dr Merrick, can you  confirm that the advice from GA and CSIRO, relied on for the approval of Adani’s GDEMP, was that the source aquifer of the Doongmabulla Springs remained unresolved or in plain English it had not been identified? 

Dr Merrick: With the agreement of the minister, we might call forward the project’s executive, environmental services and regulation. While he is coming forward, I point out that the department and the regulator took extensive advice from CSIRO. The report to which you refer was the second piece of work that CSIRO and Geosciences Australia has done. 

In terms of the second piece, we sought very specific questions around the level of certainty one can reasonably expect in terms of underground water. That work was tested in terms of the extent to which the source of the springs was identified. That work very much set out the fact that, certainly in terms of the principal source of the springs complex, that had been identified in the GDEMP. That was tested also in terms of independent legal opinion. 

Mr BERKMAN: You have referred to a principal source there. I would like to go back to this. The minister in estimates last year, you will recall, responded—

"... Adani is required to identify the source of the aquifer at Doongmabulla Springs prior to the approval of that plan."

Dr Merrick, was the Doongmabulla Springs identified before the GDEMP was approved on 13 June?

Dr Merrick: The delegate considered the advice of CSIRO and Geosciences Australia which identified that principal source aquifer had been identified. As the minister’s statement to the House also pointed out, there were additional requirements of Adani and commitments that were made through the approved GDEMP that were very much intended to address any remaining uncertainty around other potential contributory sources to the springs. Yes, in terms of the department’s consistent position around identifying the source springs, the Geosciences Australia and CSIRO report provided the necessary certainty for the delegate to make that decision. 

Mr BERKMAN: Going to the GDEMP itself, the triggers for adaptive management regarding the Doongmabulla Springs are based on assumptions about a single-source aquifer for these springs yet that advice from GA and CSIRO makes it abundantly clear that there may be other or multiple source aquifers. Dr Merrick, if the GDEMP assumptions on a single-source aquifer are not correct, is it the case that the adaptive management measures in the GDEMP will not protect the ancient, unique Doongmabulla Springs?

CHAIR: I am ruling that question out of order, member for Maiwar. It is clearly hypothetical. I call the member for Jordan. 

Mr BERKMAN: Chair, if I might raise a point of order. 

CHAIR: I will hear your point of order, member for Maiwar. 

Mr BERKMAN: It refers to assumptions explicitly identified in the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems Management Plan. 

CHAIR: Member for Maiwar, you have had a good go—

Mr BERKMAN: Allow me to move on to one final question. 

CHAIR: Member for Maiwar, you have had a really good opportunity. I have ruled your question out of order.

Mr BERKMAN: This will be a very brief question. 

CHAIR: You are becoming unruly. I call the member for Jordan.

Mr BERKMAN: Chair, seriously, protection racket extraordinaire. 

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