Monday, 16 June 2014
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bilateral Agreement Implementation) Bill 2014; Consideration in Detail
This is a piece of choreographed theatre of which Andrew Lloyd Webber would be proud. This is astounding. The government has come in and said the existing national protections that apply at the federal level against things like coal seam gas mining are about to be taken away once and for all. Instead, under the legislation, we are going to allow state or even local governments to approve projects that would normally be assessed against federal standards. Then, in a rearguard action—because the government knows that the community is breathing down its neck about coal seam gas—it comes in and says: 'I'll tell you what we'll do. We won't keep those high levels of protections—we're still going to remove them all, but we'll just add in one little one that takes you about a third of the way to where we were before.'
When you consider this amendment together with the legislation that we are about to pass, what it will mean is this: yes, a state minister has to obtain advice, but it is now going to be the case that that very same state minister gets to determine whether those conditions have been met. It might even be a local government that gets to determine it, and that might even be the case where the state government is the one conducting the proposal—the proponent. In other words, under this amendment and the legislation, when you read the two together, a state government can come along and say: 'We are the proponent for this coal seam gas project, and we are going to determine whether it meets federal standards, and the only obligation on us now is to go and seek some advice. Well, we sought it and we're going to approve it, and there's nothing you can do.'
If you are really concerned about protecting the community against the adverse impacts of coal seam gas, then you would keep the existing legislation and the water trigger that is embodied in it. These amendments, as choreographed as they are, make a bad piece of legislation slightly better, and so they will be supported. But anyone who really cared about protecting the water table and protecting the community from the impact of coal seam gas would be voting against this piece of legislation in the first place. I think everyone knows that these amendments would not be here, were it not for the wide cross-section of Australians from all walks of life who are coming out and saying, 'Hang on, this government we voted for is not representing us when it comes to protecting our farmland and is not representing us when it comes to protecting us against the adverse impact of coal seam gas.' This is a choreographed attempt to hold at bay some of that support, but I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the communities right across this country, who are campaigning to protect their land and their water against the impacts of coal seam gas and unconventional gas, know that this is not good enough and they know that the only reason that this is happening is they are out there day after day fighting to protect their land and their water. The Greens will continue to stand with them and continue to condemn this coalition government for voting to strip away federal protections, including the water trigger, and hand over to state and local governments the power to determine whether coal seam gas and unconventional gas mining can go ahead.