Opinion | Nature is Australia’s top asset

Melissa PricePilbara News
Trees at Yule River in the Pilbara.
Camera IconTrees at Yule River in the Pilbara. Credit: Pilbara News

Anyone who lives in WA knows we have the greatest natural resource in the world, and it’s not iron ore or gold deposits.

That resource is the WA environment. We have eight of the 15 national biodiversity hotspots in this country, and my electorate of Durack takes in most of them.

As assistant Minister for the Environment, I am uniquely placed to see these assets protected for all West Australians.

That’s why I am loving my new role and sharing what our State has to offer the world, and the incredible work being done by our scientists, environmental researchers, field officers and rangers to protect these assets on the ground.

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Rarely do we celebrate, or hear about, approvals which are given for significant job-creating projects, which also balance the needs of the environment.

We have some brilliant examples of such balance in WA, where there can be harmonious, sustainable development, mixed with real job-creating opportunities.

We are developing new ways of managing threatened species, with a real focus on relocation.

At Mt Gibson, the Australian Government is working with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the National Environmental Research Program to establish a sanctuary for threatened species in the Northern Agricultural Region.

Conditional approval has been granted for the first stage of Project Sea Dragon, one of the most ambitious aquaculture projects ever undertaken in Australia. The project involves growing Australian tiger prawns on land-based tanks in the Northern Territory, processing them in Kununurra and exporting them through Wyndham.

This provides an opportunity for aquaculture jobs and economic growth in the State’s north.

Out in the Western Desert, the Government has partnered with the traditional owners to conserve threatened species like the desert parrot, the bilby, and the desert skink.

We’re also reducing the bushfire risk by adopting traditional Aboriginal burning techniques, referred to as “mosaic” burning.

Then there’s the big ticket items like Bremer Canyon. Bremer is quickly becoming a mecca for wildlife watchers and divers, and growing our tourism industry at the same time.

For those who don’t know, this is a group of canyons located some 70km south-east of Bremer Bay off southern WA.

Above the canyons, wildlife gather in huge numbers, including whales, giant squid, and seabirds.

Seasonal orca (killer whale) concentrations here are unprecedented in Australia, with more than 100 individuals in the local population, many of which are regularly sighted.

These are all examples of how the Department of Environment and Energy can work to establish industries like tourism, and work with those industries to develop them.

Given our beautiful State is also rich in mineral resources there is an obvious intersection between the Department of Environment and Energy and the mining sector.

Often, the Department of Environment is accused of “standing on the hose”; preventing industry from project development.

As a resources lawyer in my previous life, I have some sympathy with that view.

Environmental approvals take time, and time is money for mining projects, but to get the balance right, due process is necessary.

An excellent example is BHP’s Iron Ore Strategic Assessment Program, an agreement between the Department of Environment and Energy and BHP which allows BHP to essentially bundle their Federal environmental approvals for the next 100 years.

By doing so, we can guarantee BHP and its workers certainty and job security moving forward, and in exchange, BHP will now be held to the strongest environmental standards for all their new iron ore mining operations in the Pilbara.

The agreement requires BHP to report on their environmental performance, invest in threatened species management, while still being subject to regulatory oversight from the Department of Environment and Energy.

Protection of our environment is critically important, however I believe in a resources-rich State like WA, it is imperative that we maintain the project and job pipeline in an environmentally consistent and sustainable way.

I look forward to playing my part.

Melissa Price, Durack MHR

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