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Estimates: Questions about protecting the Lake Eyre Basin/ Channel Country

During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Friday 4 August 2023, I asked the Director-General and Deputy Director-General of the Department of Environment and Science, and Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, about oil and gas in the Lake Eyre Basin/ Channel Country, and environmental compliance. 

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).

Mr BERKMAN: I want to return to the consultation RIS for the Lake Eyre Basin and specifically an indication on page 40 of that document that there have been no onsite compliance visits within the basin since 2019. My question to the DG is: can you confirm whether that is still the case and, if so, can you inform the committee why no compliance visits have occurred for four years or potentially more?

Mr Merrick: I thank the member for the question. In terms of the specifics of that question, I invite the Deputy Director-General of Environmental Services and Regulation to come to the table with the minister’s agreement.

Mr Lawrence: I thank the member for the question. We have a compliance program that focuses on where the highest risks are. Generally speaking, we licence in the order of 9,000 different activities across the state. We do not aim to get to all those activities in a particular time frame; we aim to look at where the risks are. Where there are issues, we respond to those actively. That might mean that activities do not have a regular annual inspection. With 9,000 approvals it is not possible to go to all of them, so we use those resources that we have. We use intelligence to look through where the risks are and that is where we direct each of our compliance activities.

Mr BERKMAN: A quick follow-up to the DG: the consultation RIS contemplates potential expansion of conventional and unconventional extraction of gas in the Lake Ayr Basin. How does the department intend to ensure effective compliance and enforcement of any gas industry expansion when it is not able to conduct compliance visits for existing activities in the basin?

Mr Merrick: To add to what the deputy director-general said, in the last year we undertook over 1,700 inspections in 2022-23. We would have to check to give you a definitive answer as to whether we have conducted inspections in terms of those locations. We are happy to come back to the member, if the minister is okay with that. That may take some time beyond this session given the volume of inspections that we do. I am confident we have a robust and prioritisation approach, as the deputy director-general said, to ensure compliance with the conditions of the environmental authorities.

[the Director-General returned later in the session]

Mr Merrick: In response to Mr Berkman’s question about how many inspections, we conducted seven major inspections of petroleum and gas facilities in the Lake Eyre Basin in the last year.

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