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Macquarie Point remediation and Copping c-cell

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 29 October 2015

Tags: Legislation, Macquarie Point

Ms WOODRUFF (Franklin) - As the member for Denison said, we have a number of questions but in principle we will be supporting this bill.  I foreshadow I will be proposing an amendment on aspects relating to remediation.  We know there is a legacy waste issue with Macquarie Point.  The question we need to tease out is what is going to happen to the waste, and where it is going.  We do not have the details of the specifics of the redevelopment that is proposed and that would make a difference on what is going to happen to the waste, whether it can be ostensibly remediated on site or whether it would need to be shipped elsewhere.  We also do not have the details on how the soil at Macquarie Point is contaminated.  I understand it is principally hydrocarbons but there may be a number of other metals or toxic components that would need to be managed.

I understand a Pitt & Sherry report produced in 2008 found it would be economically and environmentally sensible to undertake on‑site remediation for this area.  I believe Labor and Lara Giddings supported that report and approach.  We know this is entirely possible.  As the Pitt & Sherry report demonstrated through its finding, it is not only environmentally sensible but economically sensible to do that.  The reasons for this are fairly obvious.  Soil is heavy and moving soil is extremely expensive.  The Sydney Olympics made a name for itself by setting up on a highly toxic site and they did an amazing job of remediating that in situ.  That involves sealing the gases as they are extracted.  I believe they do it with a type of heating, like a big vacuum cleaner that runs over the site, which has an ability to heat the soil and trap the hydrocarbons as they are released.  This is possible but I am purely speculating here because we do not know what is proposed.  The detail of this bill is about the environmental management of the contamination we know to exist.

We need to move away ultimately from thinking about waste as waste and instead think about it as a resource.  The so-called waste at Macquarie Point has been used by Southern Waste Solutions as a main plank in their argument as to why this state needs to have a C-cell.  Since Southern Waste Solutions established itself as a company and went looking for commercial backing to support its proposal for a C-cell, a number of things have changed on the landscape in Tasmania.  Their argument and that of the councils who formed Southern Waste Solutions was that this state has legacy waste that has to be locked up and it is our responsibility to do that in Tasmania and the only environmentally sound and, indeed, ethically sound approach is to take responsibility for it in Tasmania and create a C-cell.  This has been intensely discussed in the community and needs to be noted here today because we are talking about Macquarie Point, which was one of the two legacy waste parts of the state that formed the basis of the Southern Waste Solutions argument. 

The other one was Nyrstar, which has jarosite legacy waste estimated to be about 200 000 tonnes.  Since Southern Waste Solutions started looking for a business case to support their proposal for a C-cell that legacy waste from Nyrstar has been locked up with a grant from the Commonwealth Government and is now sitting there securely.  That is a large component.  The rest was from Macquarie Point but we know it can be remediated on site.  There is also a small amount of waste from the Australian Antarctic Division which formed part of their argument but that is estimated to be between 5 000 and 10 000 tonnes of material which, relatively speaking, is a very small amount.

With that and a number of other medical and other possible agricultural contamination points around the state we are still talking a very small amount of material, so the argument for a C-cell which the legacy waste from Macquarie Point formed a very large part of is looking to my mind and many other people's minds now increasingly tenuous.  It is a question I would be interested to hear about from the minister because I know Southern Waste Solutions has approached him.  I believe some pressure is being brought to bear on the state Government to fund the development of a C-cell because they are having so much trouble getting commercial backers.  There is not enough waste in Tasmania anymore to make a commercially viable argument for a C-cell.  

Not only that, there is no argument any longer to have a C-cell dump because we have now moved on technologically and in our understanding about how we deal with what we used to call waste.  Sweden and Germany have both banned landfill sites.  There are no landfill sites in those countries anymore.  That is an extraordinary thing because we are so used to having landfill and dumping material that we have just run out of ideas for what we are going to do with it.  There is a real prospect now that we can dispense with the idea of landfill and increasingly challenge ourselves to look for the solutions we need to move past a waste mentality and move into reusing and recycling materials. 

We do not know what the possibilities are with the contaminated soil at Macquarie Point so I look forward to the minister giving us a little more information about that.  I also look forward to hearing the minister's views at some point about the $10 waste-to-landfill levy proposal which has been sitting on his desk now for well over a year, since before the last state election.  This waste-to-landfill levy has been supported by every single council in Tasmania.  There is absolutely no relationship between a waste levy and dumping.  If there was ever any basis for that, it has now been put to bed because Tasmania, relative to other states, has a high illegal dumping rate and yet we do not have a waste-to-landfill levy.  Other states have a high waste-to-landfill levy, like New South Wales which has, in some parts, up to $110 levy per tonne.  These states have a very much lower dumping rate.  We have to start changing our attitude to waste in Tasmania.  If we adopted the $10 waste-to-landfill levy, which all the councils in Tasmania want to bring in, we would be looking at raising money to deal with reusing materials and reducing the problems that all councils have with running out of space.  We are running out of space to dump the materials which we are misusing and it is an incredible resource.

The minister might expand on some of the things I have mentioned in relation to the role of EPA, the role of the Environmental, Management and Pollution Control Act, in determining the actions of the environmental auditor and the relationship between the environmental auditor and the director.  It seems too much to be outsourcing and holding out the hand and saying, 'Over there is an environmental auditor, so off you go'.  

I realise there is a raft of other acts that will come into play.  No doubt environmental auditors are bound by their profession to adhere to a whole range of other acts.  I do not have that information and I would like the minister to walk us through that process and give us some more information about what the pollutants are, what the contamination is on the site and whether it is going to be remediated in situ or whether it is going to leave the site.  If it is going to leave the site, what are the expected costs and is there any role for Government to bear those costs?  I will ask the rest of my questions in Committee.

Mr GROOM - Madam Speaker, before lunch I was addressing some of the comments made by Ms O'Connor.  She raised an issue about the time line, suggesting that the process had dragged on in some way.  I have to say that I do not think there is any substance in that point at all.  The timing of the EOI for Macquarie Point is set out clearly in the Government's 365-day plan.  It has been scheduled for the end of this year and we are on track for the launch of the EOI in December.  I might also note that between May to October there will be a process for undertaking requests for proposals.  In November of 2016 there will be a process where there is a short list of preferred bidders and negotiation will take place.  Then those arrangements will be finalised and the corporation advises me that construction is scheduled to commence at the end of 2017.  That is the time frame that has been set out by the corporation and we are completely on track in that context.

I want to repeat the point that I made before about the master plan.  Ms O'Connor questioned the purpose of the master plan.  The intent of the master plan is not to deliver a final outcome in terms of what the site might look like but rather to make it clear to potential bidders what the expectation is of mixed uses for the site, and also making clear the intent with respect to public places.

There were a number of questions raised by Ms O'Connor about a covenant and what its intent was.  She asked for examples and I think I have addressed those questions.

There was a question about the circumstances in which it might be appropriate to extinguish a covenant.  The intent of this is not to be prescriptive; it is designed to provide a mechanism by which certain undertakings or agreements can be reached between the corporation, a potential developer and, in some instances, the state itself.  There is a potential range of circumstances that might emerge.  In that context it may well be appropriate to have a circumstance where a certain undertaking or agreement is extinguished and the act simply provides for that mechanism to take place.

I have just been handed a note with some further details about the time line.  Construction is scheduled to commence in December 2017, as I indicated, and that will be with respect to public places in the development.  It is anticipated that private development will commence in the following year.

Ms Woodruff made some very positive comments about the importance of this opportunity but was also clearly interested in the remediation side of it.  I will come to some of those comments in a moment.  There were some broader comments made in the context of dealing with the waste issue in Tasmania and C-cell.  I was a little bit confused as to the position that Ms Woodruff had on a C‑cell, compared to the member for Denison. 

Ms O'Connor - Would you like to articulate both our positions with clarity?

Mr GROOM - I thought the member for Denison was speaking in support of a C-cell.

Ms O'Connor - No, I certainly did not in my contribution today.  I said we need a waste strategy and we need to deal with the hazardous waste much more effectively.

Mr GROOM - Okay.  I was a little confused as to what the relative position was.  I think I was clear about the position taken by the member for Franklin.

Ms Woodruff - If the position is changing it is because the ability to manage these sites to remediate them in situ is changing.

Mr GROOM - The best advice I have received on this is that it is still a necessary thing for Tasmania to have some form of C-cell facility. 

Ms O'Connor - Do you think Copping is the right place for it?  It is right next to a watercourse.

Mr GROOM - As the members would know, there is an application before the Government at the moment in relation to that project at Copping and the Government is giving careful consideration to that. 

I will acknowledge the point made by Ms Woodruff, which was that the circumstances that had previously been identified in the delivery of waste have changed.  There is no doubt about that.  Macquarie Point have now indicated that they are less likely to have the need for large-scale removal of contaminated materials from the site to that facility.  Also, I think you know Nyrstar has adopted a different position from the one it previously had.  Both of those parties have also made public statements acknowledging the importance of a C-cell facility.  I beg to differ with Ms Woodruff on that point.

I am going on the advice I have been provided.  There has been a careful review of the contaminated materials that exist at the site.  That contamination is largely associated with hydrocarbons from train refuelling operations and storage of industrial and maritime fuels and oils.  There is also some tar from the gasworks and other municipal industrial waste which dates back to the pre-1900s.  A comprehensive review has been undertaken of the different remediation technologies that are appropriate, based on various criteria, including technical and financial feasibility.  The corporation has adopted a strategy which will see the site remediated to an accepted standard for the purpose of the redevelopment, based on advice.

The most significant contamination identified is under the cold store.  The source is the old tar tanks from the gasworks.  The technical solution identified here is to keep that material in situ which is a process of solidification - locking the contamination into concrete.

There is another type of contamination that has been identified associated with refuelling near the former round house.  This is largely diesel and will be sucked out and moved to an appropriate facility. 

Ms Woodruff - Liquid fuel?

Mr GROOM - Yes.  That will be removed to an appropriate facility but it does not require C‑cell level.  There is also an area near the former SeaRoad shed and that is very similar - diesel.  The remainder of the site has very low levels, described as insignificant contamination.  A variety of approaches will be used, based on advice. 

To repeat, the most significant contamination identified is under the cold store.  The source is the old tar tanks from the gasworks.  The technical solution identified, based on advice, is to maintain that contaminated material in situ through a process of solidification.  That is basically locking the contamination into concrete.

Ms Woodruff - Is there any idea of how much we're talking about?

Mr GROOM - We will probably have to take that on notice but we are happy to provide that advice.  We will get it as soon as we can and make it available to you.