The Hon. R.L. BROKENSHIRE ( 14:57 :13 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Manufacturing, in his capacity as the now lead minister appointed by the Premier to fix the fly ash problem in Port Augusta, a question regarding fly ash affecting residents at Port Augusta since the closure of the base load power station.
The Hon. R.L. BROKENSHIRE: As the minister would be aware, residents in Port Augusta have been overwhelmed by the presence of toxic ash since the closure of its Northern power station last May, and I am sure many members, including our party, have had representation and concern.
In early January this year, Senator Nick Xenophon appeared in the media at Port Augusta with representatives from Australian-based company Nu-Rock, who claimed they could use the ash commercially to make bricks, blocks and pavers. In the media interview, Senator Xenophon made the claim that any government that didn't back this proposal was as 'thick as a brick'.
I have done some further research into these claims and have been advised that the project would take an investment of at least $20 million and that the material stockpiled by Flinders Operations has been compromised and, I am advised, may not be suitable for such an application, never mind being an economically viable solution. My questions to the minister therefore are:
Does the minister agree with Senator Xenophon that they are (that is, your government) as thick as bricks for not supporting this proposal?
Has the minister been advised that this proposal is viable and the material suitable, or, alternatively, has the minister been advised that this proposal may not be viable and the material may not be suitable?
What is the government doing to ensure Alinta works harder to rehabilitate the area, as I would understand is ultimately their responsibility, and fix this problem as a matter of urgency?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Employment, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation, Minister for Automotive Transformation, Minister for Science and Information Economy) ( 14:59 :27 ): I thank the honourable member for his number of questions on this matter. On his first question as to people being as thick as bricks: I think there is a danger in overspruiking things that aren't properly thought through or viable. With this particular proposal I think there is a danger that it is overspruiked to the people of Port Augusta that there is this possible saviour when in fact it might not be.
I do agree with the honourable member that things ought to be thought through a bit more before people go out saying that this may be the saviour and the great thing that might provide hundreds of jobs and millions and millions of dollars in revenue without the evidence to back it up. I think that's dangerous. I agree with the honourable member. In terms of whether or not I have been advised if it is viable or if the bottom ash in the ash dam is suitable, no, I haven't been advised that that is the case.
As I said in an answer to a question yesterday, the initial proposal was put up on a pro forma form to the unsolicited bids team and it didn't progress. It didn't meet the criteria that they need to look at to be a proposal to go to the next stage. In terms of the suitability of the bottom ash, I am not aware of any independent testing that has been done on that bottom ash to see if it's suitable or not so, no, I am not aware that there has been any testing as to its suitability.
In terms of Alinta and the ash dam itself, I can't remember the exact date when I last visited. I spent most of the day with the Mayor of Port Augusta. It was some time in January and Flinders Power, as they now are, were reapplying the gel temporary sealant to the ash dam, and I am informed that that temporary sealing was finalised later on the day that I was up there in January.
At the same time, Flinders Power are getting on with the longer term solution to sealing the ash dam, which is covering it with soil and vegetating that soil. Certainly, when I saw it with the Mayor of Port Augusta in January, they had made significant progress, putting big, very wide mounds of soil right out into the ash dam, and from there they will spread it and they will continue to do that. I don't have an exact date, but my latest update was last week from Flinders Power and they expected, I think it is about April, that they would have the ash dam sealed with soil and start the vegetation process to try to ensure that vegetation is growing over the winter months.
The Hon. R.L. BROKENSHIRE ( 15:02 :17 ): Supplementary question: will the minister check with the offices to establish and then advise the house whether there are concerns with the composition of the fly ash and that it may well not be suitable for standards required to use in bricks?
The Hon. I.K. Hunter: It's not fly ash.
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Employment, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation, Minister for Automotive Transformation, Minister for Science and Information Economy) ( 15:02 :35 ): I'm happy to check and, as the Hon. Minister Hunter interjects, it's not fly ash, that's what comes out the top of the power station, this is bottom ash which is from the bottom of the power station, but taking that into account, the bottom ash in ash dam. I will check if there has been any independent testing of it, but it's usually not the government's or the company's or Flinders Power's or Alinta's role to test ash to see if it is suitable for a commercial application. It is generally the case that if there is a company who wishes to use that resource, they get it independently tested. I'm not aware that they've done that, but I will check to see if they or anyone else has.
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 15:03 ): Supplementary: is the minister aware of the fact that Nu-Rock Technology is being engaged by an American state to provide exactly the same service that they submitted to the South Australian government?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Employment, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation, Minister for Automotive Transformation, Minister for Science and Information Economy) ( 15:03 ): I thank the honourable member for his question. I understand that Nu-Rock, when they went up to Port Augusta to provide a PowerPoint display, represented that they do things in the US. I am not aware of the exact nature if they do that. The initial inquiries about some of their operations in New South Wales indicated that they are in the pre-commercial phase of their testing of their products in New South Wales. That is what I was advised, but I will double-check that.