House debates

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading

4:44 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

In addressing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013, let me begin with an acknowledgement of community concern. The coalition recognises community concerns regarding the impact of coal-seam gas and coalmining on water resources. We understand and believe that water is not just a precious resource; it is the indispensable resource, the lifeblood of Australian community, economic and social life. In fact, it was the coalition which introduced the National Water Reform packages in 2007, building on the work we had done over previous years—precisely because we recognise the fundamental role of water as a paramount national resource.

Against that background, as community concerns regarding coal-seam gas emerged—many of them untested, many of them unproven, but legitimate and requiring both acknowledgement and a legitimate approach to test and to find the facts—we supported the implementation of the expert scientific panel. That panel was intended to further research the impact of coal-seam gas development on water, precisely because there is a need to consider genuine community questions and concerns.

Against that background, we have been custodians of safe and sensible practice and management of water in rural Australia, recognising both the long-term needs of the environment but also the practical needs of irrigation communities—and we have stood by those communities in the face of some hostile attacks from the government of the day. In many respects, they finally came to our balancing position on water through the last version of the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.

Having said that, the step forward is that we support the expert scientific panel, we support the role of having a map of the potential impacts and an understanding of the potential impacts, of coal-seam gas on water resources. We also support the fact that we need lower-emission energy sources, we need new sources of development and the gas developments in Queensland have provided a massive boost in terms of jobs, resources for families and the potential for income for the people of Australia, which can be distributed in terms of hospitals, schools, pharmaceutical benefits and the basic goods which are necessary to help those who are least well-off. So this issue is about balance and it is about common sense.

Against that background, only a few months ago we had many government ministers and others talk about the fact that they were against a water trigger for the federal environment act. We had the minister for the environment, when there were similar elements moved to a bill by Senator Heffernan in the Senate, opine that such actions, which were not identical but were comparable to this bill, could potentially have been unconstitutional. So they have ignored previous warnings from the coalition and are now taking steps in defiance of their own previous position.

What is proposed here is that the government is seeking to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, or the EPBC, and to add a ninth matter of national environmental significance. Currently there are eight. The federal minister has responsibility in relation to assessments of national significance regarding World Heritage sites, National Heritage sites, wetlands of international importance—more widely known as Ramsar sites—nationally threatened species, migratory species, Commonwealth marine areas, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and nuclear actions. It is a list that has seen a growth in Commonwealth activity, and our general position has been absolutely clear—that we can maintain standards, we can protect the environment, but we must not engage in a situation where we are now running the clock for multiple years and preventing actions which would otherwise be desirable from occurring or occurring within a timely fashion.

That is why we have proposed a one-stop shop for common assessments through the Commonwealth and the states together. It is a process we think is important and significant. It is a step that has the potential to reduce bureaucracy but maintain standards. The one-stop shop is what we believe is the right way forward for protecting our environment—there are, of course, areas of reservation for the Commonwealth—but, most significantly, we can do things more simply, we can do things more expeditiously and we can do things in a way which arguably will produce a better environmental outcome. Against that background, this change is one to which the government seems to have come to overnight, in defiance of its previous position.

The facts of the bill are these: the amendments will create a new subdivision of the EPBC Act which, if they are passed, will 'put in place environmental impact assessment processes for actions involving coal-seam gas or large coalmining developments that are likely to have a significant impact on water resources.' So it is effectively creating a water trigger for the federal act—and, where there is a failure to refer or to accept federal decisions, there are potentially $1 million-plus fines. So what we see here is a process which has a good intent but which, in many respects, is deeply duplicative of current state processes. In addition, the legislation adds a layer of bureaucratic tape. It increases approval times, and many have warned that it makes Australia a less desirable place in which to invest. So we have to respond to community concerns.

What I have said to the gas explorers and gas producers with whom I have met is that a significant degree of community concern would be addressed if there were a voluntary arrangement where the large companies said that they would not proceed onto individual land without consent and adopted a standard of voluntary consent. A significant degree of the issue, in my judgement, from talking with landholders and communities, is about the belief that they will lose control over their own land. That control over their own land is very important.

The extra element is about a genuine and legitimate concern to ensure that our water quality is maintained. Against that background, looking at this particular mechanism, I will make these points and, in particular, quote the concerns of many of the stakeholders. The energy industry has expressed deep concern that this process has now been politicised, and they have many great reservations. The Minerals Council of Australia said in its release that the legislation:

shows that the Federal Government is more focused on increasing the bureaucratic constraints on the coal sector rather than creating the right regulatory environment to expand the industry; creating more jobs and national income.

In particular, the Minerals Council warns—and I think that they have suffered enough through the carbon tax and the mining tax that they understand what this federal government can do in a damaging way:

The proposed changes will do nothing to enhance Australia's reputation as an investment destination. Project approval times in Australia are already well in excess of the international average and the plan put forward today will simply add to those delays for no environmental gain.

The New South Wales Minerals Council has said the following:

It is extremely disappointing that in an election year the Federal Government and Tony Windsor are seeking to create the impression that the State based assessment process isn't good enough. This is completely wrong. Water is already a fundamental aspect of the assessment process for mining projects in New South Wales.

The National Farmers' Federation has said that it has deep concerns about the potential for this bill to be extended to agriculture in the future. In particular they say:

Water is a critical factor for our farmers, and our strong concern is that this bill could actually have perverse negative outcomes for our agricultural sector. What may, on first glance, look like a win for farmers in the short-term could actually have long-term unintended consequences for our current, and future, farmers.

The Business Council of Australia has warned that the legislation will duplicate state and territory processes whilst adding costs and increasing uncertainty in the sector. The BCA chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, has noted that:

It flies in the face of what makes sense for jobs and the economy, while offering no tangible benefit to the environment.

The Australian Industry Group, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, the Clean Energy Council and the Energy Supply Association of Australia issued a joint statement which concludes that: non-evidence-based policy is which are restricting the development of new energy sources may have significant negative consequences for the broader Australian community. It says:

Knee jerk policies continue to undermine the development of energy projects within this country. This comes at a real cost - and this cost is borne by the Australian community, in jobs, in economic growth and ultimately higher energy bills.

The Australian Coal Association has also said that the burden on Australian industry will be great. In particular, they refer to regressive policy-making and have said expressly:

At a time when we should be sharpening Australia’s competitive edge by improving the efficiency of our regulatory system, the Government has offered a knee-jerk reaction to campaigning by environment groups which adds another layer of green tape without delivering any environmental benefit.

Then, at the level of the states, we have seen very clear, express statements. The Queensland government has said categorically in relation to their own program:

The DNRM is fully committed to sustainable use of Queensland's natural resources. The Queensland Government demands an already high level of compliance obligations which they always evaluate and improve upon. The Federal Labor Government through these missions is making it difficult for the Queensland Government to boost the state's economy and keep strong. The Federal Government are overriding the state's sovereign rights for their own political agenda.

Other states, such as Victoria and New South Wales, have been equally critical.

So, what we see is that, on one hand, the federal government has made noises about cutting green tape. In April 2012, Prime Minister Gillard said:

what we want to work towards here is a streamlined system, so that projects don’t go through two layers of assessment for no real gain. And so the classic examples that are brought by business is where people have gone through sequential assessments, so it’s double the time, things that have been required for the first assessment are required in a slightly modified form for the second assessment, so they don’t even get the benefits of just uplifting the work and re-presenting it, it’s got to be redone.

On 2 November 2012, the minister for the environment at federal level, Mr Burke, said:

This is about lifting the States up to the level of environmental protection provided by the Commonwealth, not letting Commonwealth standards drop. We can keep stringent environmental standards while simplifying an overly complex process - and we are.

But actually they are not simplifying the process. They have made it a more complex process. We supported the federal government and the states when an expert panel on coal-seam gas was introduced in 2012. We did this out of a legitimate concern for community voices and a deep and legitimate concern for protecting water resources and having adequate information. There are questions which have not been answered yet, and they need to be addressed. However, it is absolutely clear that we have seen many projects delayed by the way this government has dealt with assessments, for no good reason.

I want to give an additional example, which was provided to us on the record by BHP. BHP has made it absolutely clear that they express support for robust environmental regulations. They express support for the environment but they believe that we have to minimise the duplication, the cost and the complexity of regulation. In particular, in relation to the direct concern for current projects in place now, which will be subject to this act—projects that have already had approvals will be subject to these new changes for new gateways—BHP has said:

These will be subject to increased regulatory assessment additional to assessment activities already in place. This includes referral of all water related impacts of new projects to the independent expert scientific committee for advice. This duplicates existing state assessment processes and further complicates and extends the assessment of major projects.

So, one of Australia's greatest companies—arguably our greatest—has deep concerns about the impact of the amendments. We have seen the Minerals Council, the various states, the Australian Industry Group and the Clean Energy Council all express their concerns. Against that background we recognise the reality that this legislation will pass. The government has stitched up the numbers.

We also recognise that there are community concerns. The government will bring this legislation in. We will not stand in their way as they do that. But they will wear all of the consequences. Our approach in government is to offer a genuinely simpler way forward—a one-stop-shop approach so that water issues and other issues can be considered together in a single assessment process, to recognise that we can have not just the same standards but better standards if we have more rapid, simpler assessments, because at the moment a 12,000 page document is unlikely to be effectively read by anyone in government. A simpler approach allows a real way forward.

So where does this conclude? It concludes with the recognition that the government has defied what it said about water. The government has defied what it said about duplication. The government has built in an extra layer. They have guaranteed numbers and this bill will pass, so we will not stand in their way. Our approach will be a simpler one. Their approach is a more complex one. We need to recognise the concerns of the community, but this government has made it harder to ensure that safe projects proceed and it has made it harder for them to proceed in a way that allows work to be done, jobs to be created and advantages to be given to the broader community. In the end it is on the government's own head. They have made a rod for their back. There is nothing we can do to stop them, but they will bear the consequences of their actions.

5:03 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I speak in support of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013. My community in Ipswich was built on coalmining. There were dozens of coal mines in Ipswich, and in fact one of the most solemn occasions that I usually go to is the Box Flat commemorative service, which recognises the men who, sadly, died in that terrible accident in the early 1970s. Indeed, the crest of Ipswich contains the words 'Be confident when doing right', in Latin, and symbols of the coalmining industry can be found on the crest. Until recently, there were coalmines at Jeebropilly and New Oakleigh, at Rosewood, in the rural township of Ipswich. New Oakleigh recently closed but Jeebropilly still remains, run by New Hope Coal.

The reality is that coalmines have been very important to the city of Ipswich. Thousands of men and women have worked in the industry. In fact, we have a heritage centre at Redbank Plains. I congratulate the CFMEU, Ian Wilson, and others on the work they have done have restored and remembered Ipswich's long coal mining history.

Back on 23 May 2012 I spoke in this place in relation to legislation dealing with the independent expert scientific committee. I made reference to a meeting I attended in Toogoolawah, in rural Somerset. It is a township with about 900 people on the electoral roll, and about 250 actually turned up on that bitterly cold evening. The meeting was held to talk with a coalmining company about the prospect of coalmining taking place in the mid to upper part of the Somerset region, adjacent to but not too far from Wivenhoe Dam.

In my electorate we have Lockyer Creek, the Bremer River, the Brisbane River, Wivenhoe Dam and Somerset Dam. For South-East Queensland, these are important dams, rivers and creeks. In fact, in my electorate water is a blessing but a bane, with the floods impacting so adversely. In my electorate we know what has happened over the years. The years 1893 and 1974 were all about the floods, as were 2011 and 2013. Water is so critical for life. I often think that the wars that have happened for centuries or millennia in the Middle East are as much about water as they are about religion. Water is crucial. People have fought, bled and died over water.

There have been concerns in my electorate in relation to coalmining—coalmining around Ebenezer, Mt Mort, Mt Walker, rural Ipswich and Rosewood. There have been many protests in relation to these issues. In the speech I referred to in relation to the establishment of the independent expert scientific committee, I spoke about my concern regarding the impact of coalmining and coal-seam-gas mining on water resources in my electorate. I came out pretty strongly in the Somerset newspaper and in the Queensland Times opposed to the idea of coal mining in proximity to the major water resource for the Somerset, Ipswich and Brisbane regions of South-East Queensland, namely, Wivenhoe Dam.

It is very important that we get the best scientific evidence that we can in relation to coal-seam gas and coalmining. That is why I commend the government for providing $150 million to establish an independent expert scientific committee to provide the best scientific evidence on coal-seam gas and large coalmine approvals that are likely to have impacts on our natural environment. We have worked with the states in relation to these types of issues, creating a new national partnership agreement.

I want to make it pretty plain that coal-seam gas and coalmining are under the jurisdiction of state and territory governments. That is from both an environmental approval perspective and a planning perspective. Our involvement at a federal government level arises where mining may impact on something that is protected under what is known as the EPBC Act—for example, if there was a lungfish or koala colony in the area or some wetlands that were of great national environmental significance.

Water resources—the water table, water aquifers, rivers, dams and creeks, which are crucial for towns and cities—have only been tangentially taken into consideration under the EPBC Act. The amendments before this place make sure that that will be front and centre. There is no direct protection for water resources under our national environmental law at the moment and there have been community concerns.

We heard the member for Flinders speaking on this and he reminded me of so many of the LNP candidates who I listened to before the state election in Queensland. They said one thing to the farmers, one thing to the miners and one thing to the environmentalists. The reality is that the coalition has had every position possible on this issue. It matters which room, which meeting and which town they are in. They will say one thing to one and a different thing to another. In fact, it is pretty hard to work out what the coalition position on this matter is. They say that they will not stand in the way of it, but also say that it could be green tape. They say that they share the worries of the local community about the environment. But I wondered for a minute whether the shadow minister for the environment was looking for the member for Groom's job, the way that he was going on about the mining sector and giving bland platitudes about them having no environmental impact in terms of conservation. It really is quite extraordinary for someone to make silly statements like that in this place.

We are trying to make sure not only that community concerns are assuaged but that we have the best scientific evidence in relation to this issue. It is important to note that about 30 per cent of the gas supplied to the eastern states comes from coal-seam gas operations that have been approved by the New South Wales and Queensland governments. We think that this is an important industry. But we also want to make sure that the concerns of farmers and environmentalists are taken into consideration. That is why we need the best scientific evidence. We are going to make sure that the Commonwealth becomes involved when there is an impact on water resources. That is what this legislation is about: putting water resources front and centre.

Those people from farming communities around the country who might be listening should listen to the shadow minister and think about whether he is going to stand up for you if you have concerns about coal-seam gas in your rural community. It is pretty obvious that he will not. It is pretty obvious that if you have an interest in the environment that those opposite will not stand up for you.

In my community, we have had issues in relation to coalmining. I want to mention one thing in particular that is currently happening in the Ipswich area. It is to do with coalmining and a particular town. I note that the New Oakleigh mine has ceased operation. It has been in operation since the early 1900s in the Rosewood area. There will still about 30 workers working there until recently. I commend the ceasing of operations there. I believe, hope and expect that New Hope, which owns the mine, will in fact continue its remediation of the area for the people of Ipswich and the Rosewood region. The Oakleigh Colliery Company began back in 1948 when the Rule family acquired the mine. It was a pick and shovel operation at that stage. New Hope bought the mine back in 1999 from its then owners. The area needs revegetation. It has been mined out. The area needs a lot of work and I hope that they continue to do that work, which they have said that they will.

The closure of the New Oakleigh mine is important for rural Ipswich. We know that between 60 and 120 coal truck movements were going along John Street and other main roads in Rosewood each and every day. That will now cease, which is important. Jeebropilly still remains on foot. I hope that the best environmental practices will continue to operate through New Hope's work there.

The impact on the natural environment and water resourcing has been a big issue in my region—an issue of contention. It has been the subject of litigation as well, particularly in relation to what is known as ML4712 and MDL172. The former was to do with the Ebenezer coalmine and the latter was the Bremer View coal project. I note the community concern in relation to this. If arguments can be put on the environmental and water resourcing impacts of these kinds of projects in the future, I will be very interested to hear them. What we are doing here will go a long way to making sure that people in my region who are concerned will be able to raise those concerns.

I note that back in January 2012 the Somerset Regional Council—and all of the Somerset region is in Blair—passed a moratorium on all exploration, mining and coal-seam gas activities in its council region. I note that the mayor, Graeme Lehmann, was very vocal about this, as were other councillors. This came about very much because of the concerns of the council and the people in the Somerset region about the proximity of potential coalmines to the Wivenhoe Dam.

I was quite astonished to see the Queensland Resources Council criticise the Somerset Regional Council's resolution and call it 'grandstanding'. The regional council is to be commended, I think, for the steps it has undertaken in very difficult circumstances with the flood taking place in 2011 causing $80 million of damage and the flood of 2013 causing $20 million of damage to parks, roads, bridges and causeways all across the Somerset region. The council there is very committed, in my observation, to rebuilding the Somerset region but in an environmentally-friendly way.

I, like a lot of members, have had people who have been active on the environment contact me. Indeed, I met recently with a number of Lock the Gate Alliance members, including Cassie McMahon. Cassie and I always enjoy good and interesting conversations. I talked with her about these types of issues when I last met with her just a few days after this issue was raised in the Queensland Times on 8 March 2013. Cassie and I have always enjoyed robust conversations in a friendly way. I am very committed to making sure I work with local environmental groups in my region to get the best environmental outcomes. But I do recognise the importance of the coal seam gas industry and coalmining not just historically in my region but to the people of Queensland.

I support the legislation that is before the House. It goes hand in glove with our former legislation that passed in getting the best scientific evidence. It puts our water resources front and centre in the approval of coal seam gas and large coalmining developments. For that, I commend the minister. I commend the legislation to the House.

5:16 pm

Photo of Ian MacfarlaneIan Macfarlane (Groom, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

My, how Labor has changed. As I came into this chamber today, I could not believe that the first two government speakers on this bill were from the oldest coalmining areas of Australia. It is the industry that built their cities. So I will be interested to hear what the member for Newcastle has to say, having just had to sit through the member for Blair's contribution.

Let me tell you something that I know about life—that is, if you do not support those who support you then there will be nothing left. I know the Labor Party are in a terrible place at the moment. I know they have lost their way. I know they have no leadership. I know they have no ability to govern this country. But to walk away from the people who built the cities that these two people represent is beyond belief. Let us not try to complicate their defence by saying that this is about the environment. This is not about the environment. Let me assure you that I have stood at this box on a number of occasions—and been accused half-jokingly by those who sit behind me of working too closely with the government—to ensure that good environmental processes were put in place. The Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism and I have worked together. The minister for the environment and I have worked together to ensure that these industries—the coal industry and the coal seam industry—that are so important to our nation's wealth, to the employment of this nation, to the fundamental standards of our economy and to our way of life and standard of living, that supply the energy that lights this building, do not damage the environment. I have worked together with them on that basis.

It might be news to the member for Blair that I spent a long, long time as a farmer. Longer than I have spent here and longer than he has spent here, I led the industry in Queensland and nationally. I shall not be lectured by him, to use the Prime Minister's words, about who is looking after the interests of farmers. He should read the press releases that have been put out on this legislation in the last week by farmers. He should talk to farmers, like I talk to farmers, and hear what they have to say about their concerns of the precedents in this legislation and what it may do to their livelihoods and the way they operate.

As I say, I have stood here and spoken in support of government legislation. I have worked with the minister for the environment to ensure that we have all the knowledge and all the systems that we can possibly put in place to make sure that the coal seam industry and the coal industry develop not only in coexistence with the rural communities in which they are situated but, probably more importantly in terms of long-term issues, in such a way that they do not damage the environment long term. There have been times when we have disagreed but, in the end, we stood on either side of this table and passed legislation that improved the science, covered the gaps, set up the expert panel, ensured that the states were cooperating and ensured the effectiveness of the EPBC Act—and we made sure that in doing that we did not cripple Australia's economy.

I did not come to this place to be negative but unfortunately on this occasion I cannot speak positively about what this government is doing. I cannot in any way suggest that there is any benefit whatsoever to the environment from this legislation. I cannot possibly say anything other than what I believe—and that is that this piece of legislation is totally, absolutely and completely political. It is a political fix. It exists because the member for New England went into the Prime Minister's office, stamped his foot and said, 'I want the Commonwealth to take over complete control of any project that may impact on water in Australia. If you do not give this to me, I am going to walk and I am not going to support your budget.'

This is not about good government. This is not about good legislation. This is not about good process. This is about the self-preservation of the leader who sits in that seat on the other side of the table during question time and is unable to give the Australian people any confidence in the way this government is operating, any confidence that she or her cabinet know what they are doing on a day-to-day basis or any confidence that the legislation she and her ministers bring to this place will make Australia a better country. This legislation, though, does far more damage than merely being a piece of legislation of a political nature.

Let me perhaps go back one step. We need to understand that, over this century, going back to when I was Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, we have worked hand in hand with the environment department and environmentalists and farmers to ensure that industry in Australia continues to develop. How lucky are we that we did that? How lucky are we that, when the Labor Party formed government, the Minister for Resources and Energy took up that challenge and continued to work with the opposition, the farmers and the environmentalists to ensure that the resource industry developed? Where would we be now if we did not have a resource industry in Australia? I would hate to think. The financial incompetence of the government is breathtaking and the only thing that has saved them, in the last three years in particular, has been the resource industry in Australia.

I was just looking at some trade statistics. The top four exporters are all resource industries, of which coal is first. Then there is education and I cannot recall the next one, but the one after that is LNG. Then there is wheat and then we go back to the resource industries. How lucky are we that we have had a government in the past, maybe even in the recent past, that understood how important it was to have a resource industry?

We fast-forward to today and here we are passing a piece of legislation that does nothing. It does not provide any extra science, because the minister for the environment and I set that up last year. We put in place an expert panel to cover the gaps in the science. There is a process already in place through the EPBC Act and the state environmental permitting which sees coal seam projects approved on the basis of 1,500 state conditions and 300 federal conditions, the majority of which revolve around water.

So don't anyone come into this place and lecture us and say, 'You're doing this without due care to the environment,' because I can tell you we are not. I can tell you that, in putting that legislation in place, I in particular had to convince people on my side and people I would call stakeholders, people in the resource industry, that this was good for the long term—because it is. When those 1,500 state conditions and 300 federal conditions were put in place, 8,000 regulations emanated from that. There was a submission for the application which literally stood this high—16½ thousand pages. So don't tell me we need more regulation, more red tape and more green tape because what we have is not working, because I will tell you it is. I have watched it happen. I have seen the money that companies spend in this area. I have seen the importance of these industries to this country. All we are seeing today is that 16½ thousand pages turned into 50,000 pages. All we are seeing today is those applications, which are already taking three to four years, turn into four- to six-year applications.

For those who sit over there and say, 'But we've got to do this or the member for New England will walk,' let me ask you this: what are you going to do when the lights go out? What are you going to do when New South Wales does not have enough gas to run its industries? What are you going to do when people who work in industries that rely on coal and gas, particularly gas, in the electorate of Newcastle lose their jobs? The view—yet to be totally confirmed, but let's watch this space in the next six months—is that this is going to happen in about 2016. But, instead of having a government who are responsible and want to work through and sort out the issues of coexistence in environment and water, we have a government who want to stop that industry dead. They can take the consequences of that. They will be responsible for what happens.

With a bit of luck and a bit of good judgment, there will be a change of government in Australia at the end of this year, and we will do everything we can then to make sure that there is a balance and that, when legislation is brought into this House, it is brought here for a purpose—because, as sure as hell, there is absolutely no purpose for this legislation other than to preserve the existence of the Prime Minister and her tenuous grip on government, which relies heavily on Independents, who take their pound of flesh whenever their political whim calls on that to happen.

We now have a situation where the coal seam gas industry in Queensland will be delayed, and that will have a very real effect on future projects because investors are thoroughly sick and tired of coming to Australia—not to invest $1 million, $100 million or $1 billion; these are $50 billion projects—and having the rules changed by a government that has no interest in securing investment and jobs in the long term, only an interest in hanging on to government. That will be the effect on the projects in Queensland.

In New South Wales there have been some very, very difficult issues—I accept that. Again, I have worked with the minister opposite to try to get around a number of the issues and I have said to the industry, 'Stay out of the highly populated areas and sensitive areas until we can prove up the science. Go out into the areas where you can drill and be confident of the geology.' But we need to be drilling. We need to be producing gas in New South Wales because in 2015-16—and I say this with a slight smile on my face because, in the end, I am a Queenslander—the people in New South Wales are going to hear an enormous sucking noise. That will be the sound of the gas that has been coming down to them from Moomba, from the northern part of South Australia, for the last 20 or 30 years disappearing north into the gas trains to be turned into LNG because the decision to build those trains was made five years ago in the expectation that the coal seam industry in New South Wales would progress as it has.

We have seen 21,000 jobs, now 31,000 jobs, and $50 billion worth of investment in Queensland, but in New South Wales we have seen nothing. This legislation will finish that industry in New South Wales. It will put so much red tape, so many roadblocks, in front of that industry's further development that it will simply stop, unless those people who are more tenacious than most I have ever met proceed in the hope that by 2017-18 they will be able to start drilling again. Too late. By then those who can get gas will be paying high prices. Instead of paying $4, $7, $8 or $9, which will be the east coast market price, they could be paying prices as high as $12.

How many jobs are going to survive in Newcastle? How many industries in New South Wales are going to be left without energy because this government brings weekly into this place legislation that makes it harder for the resource industry? This legislation is a classic example of that. It does nothing. It does not serve any purpose. It does not add anything to that which is already there. It was introduced by the minister for the environment. All the science is able to be done; all the expert panel advice sought; all the permits issued. But, no, it is more important to hang on to power than it is to be a good government.

5:31 pm

Photo of Sharon GriersonSharon Grierson (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013. I am rather pleased to hear the member for Groom say that his advice is to stay out of the built-up areas, go out into the countryside and drill for gas there. Through my speech I want to talk about a built-up area, the built-up area of Newcastle.

These amendments respond to concerns I and many others have raised about having the right environmental protections around the coal seam gas industry in particular. Prior to these amendments the balance was not right, because the EPBC Act precluded the proper consideration of the impact on water of coal seam gas exploration and major coalmining operations. When you go through the act and go through the assessment forms, you will see there is no box you can tick for water. There are boxes for biodiversity, for species—you can tick a box for all sorts of things, but you cannot tick a box for water.

In this great brown land, water is the most precious of commodities. We cannot take chances. We cannot make on-balance decisions with our fingers crossed behind our backs. We have to get this right. Our communities have sent this message loud and clear. They believe that it is the responsibility of governments to act to protect and conserve our precious natural environments and our precious water. They are rightly worried.

The amendments within this bill will provide greater environmental protection for water resources that may be impacted by coal seam gas extraction and very large coalmining developments. They are necessary because there is no current protection for water resources at a national level, which links to some limitations in the Constitution: the federal government does not have the constitutional responsibility for water. Every environment has a water dimension, so not considering these together defies reality.

Water resources are a matter of national environmental significance, and with these changes coal seam gas and large coalmining developments will require federal assessment and approval if they are likely to have a significant impact on water resources.

Prior to these legislative changes, water has largely been a state based issue. With the introduction of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which this bill amends, the federal government was given the authority to intervene only in instances where threatened species of animals and plants may be adversely impacted. The amendments before the House strengthen that act and grant the Commonwealth the authority to intervene when large-scale mining developments and coal seam gas projects may impact upon the long-term health and viability of Australia’s water resources. The amendments will also create a civil penalty and offence provisions for companies whose actions involving coal seam gas or large mining developments have a significant impact upon water resources without prior approval being granted.

These changes only apply to those projects that have not yet commenced environmental assessment and to those that are undergoing assessment but where advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development has not yet been provided to the minister. It will not affect those projects with existing licence approval. What is does mean, however, is that should a current project operating under an exploration licence seek a full operation licence it must go through this new rigorous federal assessment process that has water as a central consideration. It also means that any project that is re-referred to the minister because of any breaches of conditions of approval will also be reconsidered under this amended legislation.

And that is very good news for my electorate. Newcastle is home to the Hunter Estuary Wetlands, an internationally recognised Ramsar wetland, which cover almost 3,000 hectares. There are 65 Ramsar sites in the country. This is a very precious and fragile ecosystem at the mouth of the Hunter River, first listed under the Ramsar Convention in 1984. Within this ecosystem are a range of fragile habitats, including mangrove forests with grey mangrove, samphire saltmarsh, paper-bark and swamp she-oak forests, mudflats and sandy beaches. It is a site that supports a vast number of nationally and internationally listed threatened species, such as the green and golden bell frog, the Australasian bittern and the estuary stingray, as well as 112 species of waterbirds and 45 species of migratory birds, including the great egret and the white-breasted sea-eagle. The Hunter Estuary Wetlands also provides refuge during periods of drought for inland birds such as ducks and herons.

Beneath this site are the Tomago sand beds, an extensive underground water aquifer network which provides 20 per cent of the Lower Hunter’s drinking water supply. Hunter Water Corporation is currently able to access around 60,000 megalitres of water from our aquifer. This water resource plays a significant role for both ongoing and backup water supply for the region and it helped out the Central Coast when its water supply was down to 10 per cent. It has played a remarkable role in our water security and remains a vital water asset to my city and region.

Within this aquifer, and within 500 metres of the Ramsar wetland, two pilot exploration coal seam gas wells have been approved, and one of those has been drilled next to Fullerton Cove by Dart Energy. Whilst not utilising hydraulic fracturing processes, or fracking, this project has caused immense anguish within the Newcastle community. I am on the record as sharing the community’s concern. I have frequently met with and made representations to Minister Burke regarding the approval and monitoring of this project. I have informed him of the community’s distrust around coal seam gas, a distrust that comes from a lack of comprehensive scientific knowledge about CSG extraction and its environmental impact in Australia, as well as its genuine concern about the protection of our unique local environment. I have also met with the CEO of Dart Energy to inform him of those concerns and to discuss with him the rigour I would anticipate they would apply to their project. When we are dealing with a relatively new industry in Australia in such a pristine, fragile ecosystem as Fullerton Cove, we must ensure that the approval process is rigorous and that the conditions and environmental standards are set high.

In April 2012, a subsidiary of Dart Energy was reported to have breached its coal seam gas exploration licence conditions by not properly rehabilitating a drill site at Fullerton Cove. Another licence breach found that a lack of monitoring of surface water and groundwater had taken place. Because of incidents such as these, as well as those that have occurred in places around the world, the community is rightly concerned. Coal seam gas does have a role to play in our nation’s energy needs as we gradually shift our reliance on coal fired power to cleaner and renewable sources, but this can never be done at the expense of our natural environment. The community has called for the protection of water, and this government is acting on that concern.

In 2012 I conveyed to the Fullerton Cove residents that they had my full support in opposing the coal seam gas extraction under the conditions that applied then. I am of the view that the pilot program should not proceed to full operational stage and that any breach in the current approval conditions should be cause to re-refer the proposal for consideration as a controlled action under the EPBC Act, as amended by this legislation. I have also met with the assistant secretary of the Environment Assessment Branch regarding the pilot approval decision made by her under delegated authority. I thank her for that meeting. In that meeting I expressed my opinion that if this project, located as it is in such a sensitive ecosystem—an international Ramsar wetland and an aquifer that is used by the people of Newcastle—gets through, then every project in Australia would get through. Not now, thank goodness, if this legislation is passed.

I also met with the audit and compliance section of the environment assessment branch about the assessment they would use of the hydrology monitoring that is to take place behind the preparation of the hydrology report by Dart Energy. I suppose my message to the department was, 'Get with the program. You cannot shelter in Canberra behind legislation and bureaucratic processes, and not be conscious of public demand for some satisfaction around this area. There has to be some trust and some credibility.' I think they have to show those concerns. Yes, they are public servants, but they serve the public as well. They have to know what the concerns affecting the portfolio are. They have a responsibility to be across all those issues in order to give their minister the best advice, advice based not just on legislation and reports prepared by others but also on actual observation and involvement.

At the time of the approval of the Fullerton Cove coal seam gas project I stated my view that the New South Wales government should commission an independent study into the cumulative effect and impacts of industry on Kooragang Island and adjacent areas. Such a study is vital to inform planning decisions and mining approvals that impact on the quality of life of the people of Newcastle and the natural environment of the lower Hunter. It is our community that lives every day with the impacts of the largest volume of coal on the planet moving through our valley and our city to our port. Currently there is over 120 million tonnes a year moving to the port. That is planned to increase to 200 million tonnes a year within the next 12 months to two years—it is staggering.

It is our city that has also lived too many days with ongoing chemical spills from the Orica ammonium nitrate plant—some as recent as last week. So when our city is also expected to live with coal seam gas exploration 500 metres from our wetlands, within our Tomago aquifer, one kilometre from the Pacific Ocean and five kilometres from Newcastle Harbour, we rightly say: 'Enough is enough.' It is about time the cumulative impact of this industrial activity is properly assessed by the state government. Certainly, each individual development might stack up alone, but let us deal properly with the cumulative impact of one project on top of another project on top of another, on top of the existing industry that we live with right in the heart of our city. I think the exploration is about 10 kilometres from my home; and, of course, there is a big population in Newcastle.

Last Saturday, 1,500 protesters gathered in Newcastle to voice their opposition to an expansion of coal-loading infrastructure in Newcastle. That is a fairly large protest by anyone's criteria. The people in Newcastle have stoically endured the negative repercussions of industry for many years for the common good: for the good of the city, the good of the state and the good of the nation. They have been leaders in industrial activity, they have supported industry and they have supported—through their unions and their workplaces—effective industry in our city. But now they are rightly sceptical of self-regulation. They are looking for greater assurance from governments that the balance will be right between the environment, the amenity of their life and, certainly, the economic needs of the region. Many in my city think we have reached a tipping point. I invite everyone to come and see the extent of these resource based industries and heavy industries in Newcastle.

In Fullerton Cove there is concern about the danger posed by water extracted from the coal seams should it contaminate groundwater aquifers. Whilst local resources industries bring jobs and great benefits to our local economy, the Newcastle community has been let down too many times in the past by the impact of industry on health and the environment. That is why there is such credible and heartfelt opposition to and concern about coal seam gas extraction right in the city and demand for rigorous assessment of major mining projects. The reforms in these amendments have also been welcomed by other groups in my wider region, such as the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association. There is a real issue in this country of competing land uses and how we prioritise different industry undertakings. Currently, no planning laws in this country reflect any considered strategy around this issue. What industries do we wish to sustain when all cannot coexist satisfactorily? How are we prioritising food security for the world? How are we responding to our capacity to underpin that global need for food, as one of the few nations in the world that produces more food than we actually need? How much value do we place on sustaining a wine industry—a historic industry that dates back to our earliest white settlement? How do we nurture the equine industry that now rivals the once extensive Irish equine industry? These are all in the Hunter Valley. Although these amendments do not take on these questions, the issues around competing interests will not go away. So, once more, I call on Barry O’Farrell, the Premier of New South Wales, and his hapless environment minister, Robyn Parker, to introduce environmental assessment and approval processes that take into account the cumulative impact of industrial developments on Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.

At the federal level, these amendments come after our federal Labor government established the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development in 2012 to provide scientific advice on impacts that may arise due to coal seam gas extraction and large coalmining developments. This went with our government’s $200 million commitment to relevant research and assessment work. There is no excuse for the scientists not to do a really thorough job and, under this new protection, I will certainly be looking for that. It is not good enough to say, as they did in the Fullerton Cove case, that they have insufficient data. So it will be interesting for them to develop some data.

I commend the bill to the House. I thank my local community for voicing their concerns regarding coal seam gas extraction. I also thank Minister Burke and his department for listening to my concerns and the concerns of his caucus colleagues and taking seriously the concerns and reservations of our communities. The more complete federal regulatory oversight demanded in these amendments is most welcome because our precious water resources deserve the highest standard of environmental protection. I commend the bill to the House.

5:46 pm

Photo of Bob BaldwinBob Baldwin (Paterson, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013. I am very, very concerned about this bill. I am concerned because in this parliament on 28 May last year I spoke to the need and supported the need to establish an expert scientific group to provide advice to the government. What we are seeing with the introduction of this amendment is a knee-jerk political reaction to save the seats of a few.

This minister is reactionary and is being political. In fact, if he had understood what he was doing, he would have moved this as part of that amendment then rather than now, some 10 months on. I say this to the minister: why now? Now that you have actually approved all of the coal seam gas wells up through the Gloucester region, the people there have no recourse for their concerns about subcutaneous water. It will not save these people. I do note that in the speech by the minister he praised the member for Lyne, who happened to be in the chair at the time, for being a very, very strong advocate on this issue—obviously not a strong enough advocate, because the gas wells in his electorate were approved by this minister only months ago. If this minister had had a thought about making sure that water quality was one of the key tenements to approval, why did he rush in and approve those wells and not listen to the advice of the member for Lyne? Why didn't he hold it up until this legislation had been approved?

On 28 May, I raised my concerns. I talked about the establishment of the expert panel and my concerns about the water aquifers and the damage to downstream water. I pointed out at that time that I was very concerned because I, pretty much like every member in this parliament, am not a geologist or a hydrologist who truly understands the issue. In fact, so many throughout the community do not actually understand the issue of the subcutaneous water of this nation.

This would be a step in the right direction if it were not for the fact that it should be the state governments that are determining this as a response. It is the state governments that control the water in this nation. This provides another trigger with which the federal government can reject an application. If the advice was provided by the expert panel, which should be appointed by now given that the bill went through in May last year, to the minister rather than there being just a social pressure campaign based on emotion rather than fact, then it would be a good idea.

We remember well the amendments to the legislation in relation to the supertrawler. One of those amendments provided that the minister could shut down a fishery based on social concern. To make sure that we do not increase sovereign risk in this nation, things should be based on sound scientific principles and be developed and explored with experts in the field. I get the feeling from this government that it is more a matter of political reaction than sound actions based on science.

I am very concerned for all those people in my electorate, in the adjoining electorate of the member for Lyne and in the area that I represented up until the last parliament around Gloucester, because the number of gas wells approved by the previous state Labor government, in the dying months of that government, has left a terrible legacy upon the community. Not only are these wells going in close to towns, close to houses, but they have also now been signed off by this Labor government. If this Labor government had considered what it was doing back in May, it would have thought about making water part of the amendment then.

How many wells have been processed and approved by this Labor government under the EPBC Act in the intervening time? That is what concerns me. Do I support legislation that wants to further examine any potential damage to our aquifers and rivers? Of course I do. I said so in my speech of 28 May. I watched a lot of documentaries when chemical fracking was the go, and I saw the damage that was doing to the dams and the subcutaneous waters travelling through our nation. It was absolutely terrible. As previous speakers have said, water is one of the most valuable assets we have in this nation. This is a dry nation, which we tend to farm as though it was a wet nation. Perhaps we need to adapt our farming practices and principles to better reflect the geography of this nation. There is not an endless supply of water; it is not a resource that will never run out. We need to manage it properly. I recognise the work my colleague the member for Wentworth did as the minister for the environment, with his drive and his concern about water issues particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin.

When the minister sums up, will he apologise to all those people in the Gloucester region who have suffered because of the stroke of his pen? Can those people in Gloucester, around Stratford, around Allworth, around Stroud, Limeburners Creek and Craven—the whole stretch—seek any recompense now? They felt their local member, the member for Lyne, was advocating in their interests. The minister, in his introduction for this bill, singled out the member for Lyne for his advocacy. I am afraid that advocacy has come too late, because the damage has been done.

Earlier this month—I do not have a date but I received an email on 7 March—a group called the Lock the Gate Alliance fronted up to my office with a petition. I was happy to receive the petition but they rocked up to the doorstep and demanded to see me—the only problem was, being a local member with a rather large electorate and without any forewarning, I was in Forster, over 100 kilometres away, working with my constituents there. I understand their concern. I understand the need for action. I know that they represented a coalition of local groups—the Fullerton Cove Residents Action Group, the Fullerton Cove and Medowie coal seam gas free communities, and EcoNetwork Port Stephens. Like many Australians, they have concerns—they have concerns because the previous state Labor government in New South Wales rushed through applications and approvals for mining leases.

So where do we go from here? I would hate to see this minister make decisions purely on political emotion. All decisions should be made on the basis of sound science. After all, it is this government that has continually pushed the line that climate change is based on sound science, that there is no reason to doubt it or question it, and that everyone who does not believe in climate change and the expert panel of scientists is wrong. Well, that is another debate. But in this case if the minister is not going to rely solely on expert advice, sound science, he is going to apply pure emotion for political purposes. There are a number of members on his side who have kicked up a stink, somewhat belatedly. We are five years into this Labor government. Why was this not done if it was a concern in your electorates five years ago? All of a sudden, with an election approaching, we are seeing this call to arms, this rapid action. This is not a new issue. It is an issue that has been revolving around in our community many times over. But, under the threat of political disposal through lack of action, this has been a call to arms.

I am severely disappointed that this measure was not put into place in May last year when the debate on coal seam gas came to this House and there were measures put in place to make sure that the federal government was well informed and well armed with expert advice. As I say, I feel sorry for and pity those in the Gloucester region who, through the lacklustre efforts of their local member, the member for Lyne, and the belated actions of this minister, will now suffer the consequences of a government who are reactionary rather than proactive in their measures.

5:57 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to rise today to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill. This is a very important bill for the country and, indeed, for my area on the North Coast because for the first time it will allow the federal government to apply the provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to yet-to-be-approved coal seam gas and large coalmine developments that have the potential to impact on our nation's very precious water resources. The activation of the new Matter of Environmental Significance as part of the EPBC Act will enable the federal government to assess developments, to approve or disapprove as the case may be, or to acquire additional information or compliance with additional requirements before approval can be granted. So this really is a major step forward when it comes to environment protection. Indeed, the government has ensured these new requirements are economically responsible, with the addition of appropriate transitional arrangements as well, which is important. It is believed the new arrangements will provide an additional level of protection to local water resources through a very meticulous evaluation process. It is important to remember that currently there are no specific protections for water resources under our national environmental law. With this bill we will be changing that, and it is very important that we are doing that. I would certainly like to commend the minister for this action and for listening to the concerns that many people have raised right across the country in relation to this.

Let us be clear about what the government's amendments to the EPBC Act will do. The amendments apply to coal seam gas and large coal mining developments where an impact on water resources is likely, and will allow the federal government to assess those projects which could potentially affect our water resources. It will also create punitive measures for those companies that may seek to avoid their environmental responsibilities under the act. It is important to note that it does not affect those projects that already have Commonwealth approval and it does not affect those projects that already have state approval, provided that Commonwealth approval is not pending.

The legislation is important as it addresses so many concerns that so many people have raised, particularly in my electorate of Richmond and the North Coast. A lot of these concerns relate to the extraction of coal seam gas, the processes involved in the extraction of that gas, and the potential effects upon our lands and, in particular, water resources and the ongoing effects it can have on the land.

The process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, commonly used in the CSG industry is what is behind many of these concerns. The practice of pumping water under pressure and the assortment of chemicals used for the purpose of fracturing the rock layers to allow the CSG to flow come with so many problems. People have raised concerns about the impacts of the extraction process, including the contamination of water from the various chemicals used. The excessive deposits of salt as a by-product are another concern. Those concerns are very widespread. The impact on agricultural land is another major issue that has been brought up. I have certainly heard the concerns, particularly of New South Wales farmers, in relation to the potential impacts of coal seam gas mining. It is very important that we continue to take on board the concerns that communities raise.

There is no doubt that in my area on the North Coast people have been very vocal. I would like to commend the member for Page, who has raised these concerns on many levels. We continue to work together, as our community is very outspoken about this. Community groups of various backgrounds have voiced their concerns and worries about the impact of coal seam gas mining. The campaign we have on the North Coast is a grassroots, community led campaign which involves diverse sections of our community. The credit for this lies with those many local groups whose tireless campaigns of endless protests, marches and forums and indeed the manning of many picket lines really have to be commended. I would like to list some of those groups here today because it is important that they are recognised for the incredible work they have done.

There are groups like the North Coast Environment Council, which is the peak body for organisations across the North Coast; CSG Free Northern Rivers; the Tweed Lock the Gate Alliance; the Nimbin Environment Centre; the Caldera Environment Centre; Transition Byron Shire; in particular, the Knitting Nannas Against Gas; and the North Coast peak council for local councils, NOROC, which has also given money for research into the effects of CSG on the environment. They have all expressed concern that our water security could be jeopardised if we leave the CSG industry uncontrolled.

Similarly, a vast number of local communities have declared themselves CSG free: Uki, Burringbar, Crabbes Creek, Mooball, Tyalgum, Crystal Creek, Doon Doon, Mount Burrell, Kunghur, Chillingham, Tintenbar, Main Arm, The Channon, Nashua, Teven, Knockrow and Dunoon. That is just to name a few who have declared themselves CSG free. This is in addition to local councils in my electorate, including Tweed Shire Council, Byron Shire Council and Lismore City Council, all declaring themselves as concerned about the potential impact of CSG and expressing their rejection of CSG mining in their local government authorities.

Indeed the strength of concern regarding CSG on the North Coast is really clearly demonstrated by a referendum that was held in Lismore, with 88 per cent of the 15,000 voters saying no to the question, 'Do you support coal seam gas exploration and production in the Lismore City Council area?' It is a massive result. There are also many people who have been very important in putting forward the arguments against coal seam gas mining, individuals including Michael McNamara, Boudicca Cerese, Ian Gaillard and Annie Kia of the Local Lock the Gate Northern Rivers Alliance; Tom Driftwood of the 100% Renewable Campaign; and Sam Dawson of the Caldera Environment Centre. I would like to mention some of our local mayors: Tweed mayor Barry Longland, Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell and Byron mayor Simon Richardson. All have made very important contributions and I thank each and every one of them.

The concerns for these groups and communities are very real on the North Coast. There are currently licences permitting CSG mining activity right across this area. Indeed, in my electorate of Richmond we refer to PEL445, which permits coal seam gas mining activity in an area that extends from Lennox Head in the south to Tyalgum in the north, from Byron Bay in the east to Nimbin in the west. It is a huge area. There is an application for a further licence being considered by the New South Wales state government which would cover Tweed Heads, Murwillumbah and the Tweed coast, which would mean they would also be subject to a licence to permit coal seam gas mining activity. Those areas cover a massive area of my electorate.

It is these real concerns for the protection of our environment, particularly our water resources, which have seen all this action, with around 7,000 people participating in a march against CSG in Lismore. Additionally we had a further 4,000 people march against CSG in Murwillumbah and a day of action against the whole CSG mining industry expansion, called 'Rock the Gate', in October 2012. Many people have continued to protest in many other ways. I recently visited some of those protestors at the Doubtful Creek site, where there was an exploration underway. They were there for many days, making sure their voices were heard. It was great to catch up with them and quite inspirational to hear the extent some people went to to ensure it was kept on the front foot in making the media aware of their concerns. These issues are very real and they are very justified.

One thing I want to be really clear about with CSG is that it is regulated and licensed by the New South Wales state government. So, whilst in this instance the federal government have done what we can, I always want to continue to keep spotlight on the state government. It is important to acknowledge what we have done, particularly through establishing the $150 million commitment to the independent expert scientific committee, which demonstrated our understanding of the concerns people had. Through COAG, the new national partnership involves taking into account the committee's assessments when granting approvals. It was important that we took that action. Of course, it falls within the great Labor tradition of protecting the environment and our long-term commitments to that. We are very proud of what we have done in the past, as well as this latest action in amending the EPBC Act.

It is unfortunate that many people in our area, particularly in the National Party, do not have that commitment. In our area they are committed to the growing expansion of the CSG industry. In fact, the National Party has a five-point plan to roll out coal seam gas mining into local communities. In my area, I see the National Party continuing to be the voice and doing the bidding of the CSG mining industry, much to the disillusion of locals, who are very disheartened by state National Party members who continue to support the industry vigorously—despite those many individuals and community groups who oppose it stridently.

It is really time for the National Party to stop this pro-CSG agenda and to stop CSG mining on the North Coast. That is why the member for Page and I have a petition which calls on the state government to make the following state seats CSG-free: Tweed, Byron, Ballina and Clarence. We have had that petition running for only for a short while and have already received hundreds and hundreds of signatures. Many people are out walking the streets with copies of it because they feel so strongly about it. The member for Page and I are committed to ensuring that we keep it at the forefront. The reality is that those state National Party members could go and see Premier Barry O'Farrell today and tell him: 'This is what we want. We want the CSG-free area on the North Coast.' But they will not do that because they are unwilling or unable to take that action. They are not listening to their constituents. We constantly see how committed they are to CSG mining.

Saturday's edition of the Tweed Daily News carried the headline, 'MP backs government CSG stance'. It reported that Tweed MP, Geoff Provest, 'makes no apology about the government's coal seam gas stance'. Mr Provest said that the New South Wales government had world's best practice in the industry.

Mr Coulton interjecting

I note some comments from across the chamber in relation to some of the information pages I have put out—

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Information pages! Information pages!

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Riverina, please stop interjecting.

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

which really does highlight the fact that the National Party does in fact support the CSG industry. We see that all the time. I make no apologies to anyone at all that I will at every chance highlight the fact that the National Party will continue to do the bidding—and they are doing it now—of CSG companies.

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Who's paying for it? Taxpayers are paying for it.

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am going to ask the member for Riverina to cease interjecting.

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is the National Party that is stopping this happening. As I say, they could do it tomorrow; they could walk in and see Premier Barry O'Farrell and they could make sure that that happens. We will keep raising that at every opportunity that we have.

Whilst I say it is the state that regulates and licenses it, we are very proud, from a federal Labor government level, about what we have done. We have listened to the community and taken action. We have worked very closely to make sure that happens. This new legislation really is an important step. It effectively means that, for an area like the North Coast, coal seam gas mining could potentially be stopped if it is determined to be a risk to our very important water resources. It does allow, for the first time, for the federal government to apply the provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act to water. It really is a major step forward and it is one that people within the community have called upon for a long period of time. We are very pleased to be at this stage, where we can say we have heard the concerns and we have acted.

There were other concerns that many individuals and groups had. One of them is about future proofing into the coming years in terms of what action can be taken. If only we could future proof that the Liberals and Nationals would not get in and tear this up, that would be a good thing. It is our concern that they will do that, that they will change it if this does go through; it will be interesting to see what happens. If we could future proof the Liberal and National parties' environmental vandalism, that would be a great step forward. It certainly is a concern to people in our region when we look at the extent they will go to in terms of our precious environment.

Mr Turnbull interjecting

We see it every day with the actions of the National Party in our area, and we know they are environmental vandals. We look across the board. It is not just when it comes to CSG; we see it in so many other areas in how they are acting in terms of their councils.

Photo of Malcolm TurnbullMalcolm Turnbull (Wentworth, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband) Share this | | Hansard source

Bring back the administrator of Tweed Shire, I say!

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I hear the member for Wentworth referring to Tweed Shire Council. Indeed, the New South Wales state government's actions in calling in their local environmental plans and not letting them properly assess their environmental areas are another concern and another issue where we see the New South Wales Nationals' environmental vandalism. It goes on and on. I do not think there is enough time for us to highlight the extent of it at state level. We see the concerns that they have and we have right across the board.

What is really important with this legislation is that currently there is no direct protection for water resources under our national environmental law, but with this legislation we are going to change that, because we have listened, we understand and we certainly get those concerns that many people have had. We understand how important our water systems are and how they have to be protected.

In closing, I would like to commend this bill to the House and particularly acknowledge the environment minister for the wonderful work that he has done in relation to this and in listening to so many members of this chamber and so many people right across the community that have continued to raise this. It has been the federal Labor government listening to those communities, and it has been the federal Labor government that has acted and continues to listen to this. That is across the board when it comes to protecting our environment, and we have done that. We have taken action on so many levels when it comes to protecting our natural resources and putting a price on carbon—a remarkable achievement that only this federal Labor government has achieved.

Mr McCormack interjecting

We still hear, despite these protests from the National Party here defending their CSG mates again—

Mr McCormack interjecting

I am very proud to be standing up for the concerns of North Coast residents.

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I ask the member for Riverina not to interject.

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In closing, I am very proud to be supporting this bill. Yet again it has been eye-opening, but I am not surprised that we have seen the National Party yet again doing the bidding of the CSG-mining company right here in the chamber, as they do every day on the North Coast of New South Wales.

6:11 pm

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak about the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013. I do not think that I have ever, in my five years in this place, felt more inclined to speak on a bill than I do here tonight. Those people from the North Coast of New South Wales that are listening to this broadcast might be wondering, after the previous member's contribution, how this bill is going to solve the problems that they might have with the coal seam gas industry, because the member for Richmond did not touch on that at all.

Far be it from me to bring facts into this debate, but I will just raise one: the licences—the PELs—that were given to the gas companies on the North Coast of New South Wales were all given by the Labor Party in New South Wales. That is fact 1. Fact 2 is that the only regulation that has ever been put in place to protect the farmers and the environment of New South Wales, including the North Coast, was put in by the New South Wales coalition government.

This bill is all about politics and less about the environment. If you ever wanted an indication of what this is all about, we just saw it from the member for Richmond. The member for Richmond quoted the environmental groups on the North Coast that were concerned about this and were driving this. As she scurries from the chamber, she might like to explain this advertisement from the Byron Shire Echo, issue 27.39, on 12 March 2013: 'Authorised by J Elliot, Tweed Heads'. So I ask: was this paid for by entitlements? Was this paid for by the Australian taxpayers? In it she said:

Nationals Candidate supports harmful Coal Seam Gas Mining … Matthew Fraser just doesn't get it … We can't risk Matthew Fraser and his Pro-CSG fracking, drilling and blasting agenda.

This was paid for by the Australian taxpayers. The member for Richmond is not responding to community action; she is driving it. The reason she is driving this is so that the people of Richmond are not talking about the national economy, about BER or about pink batts in roofs: 'So let's distract them. Let the member for Richmond and the member for Page get together, and we'll have a distraction. We'll scare the pants off the people of the North Coast and tell them that these evil gas companies are coming to get them.' This is a scandal. We are supposed to be in this place representing, supporting, encouraging and helping our constituents so that they can get through these issues. We are not put here to scare the living daylights out of them and create an issue so we can be perceived to solve it.

I might just make one observation. One thing you can say about the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities—and it was the same when he was Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry—is that, when he introduces a bill, mostly he sits at the table and watches the debate. That is one thing I give him great credit for. Where is he today? Is he a tad embarrassed about the scant nature of this legislation?

I am not pro coal seam gas and I am not opposed to it. I support the people of New South Wales, the people of my electorate, being protected. We saw that in a bipartisan way with the environment minister's proposal for an independent scientific committee to look at large-scale mining and coal seam gas projects and look at the issues. I agreed with that. We need to make sure that we get the science right. But this bill does not change anything. Did the member for Richmond explain how this bill is going to protect the people of the North Coast? Did the member for Richmond explain to the people of the North Coast how it is going to help with their access issues and compensation issues? No, she did not. She made a blatantly political speech.

I am on the record about my support for farmers and my support for the environment. I have said time and time again that the farmers in my electorate will be feeding the world in 1,000 or 2,000 years time. They farm soil as fertile as that around the Nile and the Ganges, and they have the methods, the technology and the skills to maintain and improve that soil. We do not want to introduce an industry that is going to destroy that. But we have an issue with coal seam gas and coalmining versus farming. It is an issue that is going to take a great amount of responsible action to deal with.

The Nationals have a position on this. We believe that our water is sacrosanct. We believe that water is the lifeblood of Australia. We believe we need to get the science right. But, unfortunately, the member for Richmond has belled the cat on this, as I suspect the member for Page is about to. The member for New England is involved in this as well. The fact that the NFF, who support farmers at a peak level, have come out and said that this bill is not adequate and does not really change anything is a clear indication of what we are seeing here. The scientific committee already has the ability to look at this. I am not saying that this bill is necessarily going to harm our farmers or people on the coast. It is just not going to help them. It is interesting that this taxpayer-paid advertisement in the Byron Shire Echo is going into an area where there is no CSG industry at this moment. This is an appalling situation.

In the Parkes electorate, we have large areas under exploration licence. It is a concern for the farmers that live in those areas. But I say to those farmers: putting your hands over your ears and shouting at whoever comes nearby and sending emails personally insulting your local member over this will not solve the issue. This is one that needs engagement. If you do not engage with this issue and glean the facts, you will end up with an industry in your neighbourhood over which you have had no say. We need to get this right.

In my electorate, I have some of the best grain-growing areas anywhere in the world. The idea that there would be a grid pattern of coal seam gas wells all across this cultivation land—which is farmed by satellite control; it is precision agriculture, where the best of science is used—is abhorrent to me. I would fight to my last breath to protect the productivity of this land. But not all land in my electorate is of this nature, and not all farmers in my electorate are strongly opposed. They are prepared to look at this.

I do not just come to this place making political points on this. I have spent quite some time studying this industry. I went to Queensland. I went to the seat of my colleague the member for Maranoa. I went to Roma, and I saw where the industry is working side by side with farmers, without conflict, where there was benefit not only to the farmers involved but also to the communities. The wealth in Western Queensland, in towns that were dying 10 years ago, is good to see.

I also went to the Darling Downs, the Cecil Plains and Dalby, and I saw areas there that were under licence where it would be an absolute crime to develop anything but agriculture, an area where the aquifers and the coal seams were close together. But in places like the Pilliga forest and areas around Narrabri there are 700 or 800 metres of impervious rock between the water aquifer that sustains those areas and the aquifer with coal seam gas in it. To not look at that and to not look at the possibilities of exploiting that resource while protecting the farmland would be, I believe, a nonsense.

The farmers in my electorate rely on having a clean, healthy environment. They also rely on energy. They rely on energy for irrigation. They rely on energy for running tractors. They rely on energy to produce nitrogenous fertiliser and farm chemicals. Farming is the industry that is most subject to the cost of energy.

The week before last, the Lock the Gate Alliance and local farmers sticky-taped a list of eight demands to my office window. They picked a time when they knew I was not going to be there. The fact that people had to stand outside my office I found an insult—no-one stands outside my office; no-one gets refused an invitation to come in and talk about whatever issue they want. But they chose to pick a time when I was not there and sticky-tape these eight demands to my window. Some of them I could agree with, but some of them were straight out of the Greens' playbook. The headline was fair enough: 'Mining companies should pay their fair share of tax'. But when you go into the Lock the Gate Alliance website, you find that that means the diesel fuel rebate needs to be removed. That is what they want.

The diesel fuel rebate is worth a lot to the mining industry. But I can tell you what: potentially, and percentage-wise, it is worth a lot more to the farmers. As to those people who are supporting the Lock the Gate Alliance, are they telling their neighbours that they are campaigning to do away with the diesel fuel rebate? One of their demands is that we build no more large-scale ports—are they saying that to the farmers who are looking for diversity in their grain market by getting a second grain terminal in Newcastle? Do they realise that one of the demands of the Lock the Gate Alliance is that there be no more ports? No more government funding to go into railway lines—that is another demand. That is going to be nice, as we try to make sure that we are going to build the railway line from Melbourne to Brisbane to give access to our farmers to greater markets and to ports?

A warning to the people who are driving this issue: this is a serious issue. This needs engagement. We do not need window-dressing. We do not need to be saying, like the member for New England says: 'At least I'm doing something.' 'At least I'm doing something'—that is the defence of the fool who is pouring petrol on a fire. We need to make sure that we get the science right. We need to make sure that we protect our agricultural land. We need to make sure that if this industry is going to develop it does so in a sustainable, sensible fashion. And we need to do it in a common-sense way. We do not need to see stunts like we saw from the member for Richmond where you scare the pants off the people you are supposed to be representing, create an issue, talk to the environment minister, get him to put up a mickey mouse piece of legislation that does not really change anything, and then say, 'Guess what: I fixed your problem.' This does not fix the problem.

To the people of the North Coast: you still have problems with access that you need to deal with and compensation that you need to deal with. This does not do any of that. I give credit to my state colleagues. It has been a very, very difficult issue—a difficult issue that had been left to them by the state government who handed out these things willy-nilly for backhanded payments to corrupt upper house MPs across the state, and now my colleagues in New South Wales are trying to sort this out, and I give them great credit for that. I tell you: in this place we take it seriously. (Time expired)

6:26 pm

Photo of Janelle SaffinJanelle Saffin (Page, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in strong support of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013. It is a bill that is needed to give protection to our water resources. I live in an area—though my seat is called Page—called the Northern Rivers, a part of the North Coast, and that speaks volumes. That is what we are trying to protect. There is prime agricultural land. That is what we are trying to protect. And this bill gives scope to actually do that.

There is all sorts of mining, but we are talking about coal seam gas mining. That is the province of the state, because onshore petroleum resources, constitutionally, reside with the states. There are some environmental powers that we have federally, and it has been a conversation that I and the member for Richmond, and the member for New England, I know, and other members in this place such as the member for Lyne have been having with the minister for the environment for quite some time, to look at ways in which we could add that protection that was not happening through the state based regulatory regime.

One of the things I would like to say in addressing some of the issues that the honourable member for Parkes raised, about the state based scheme, the federal scheme and all that, is: coal seam gas in New South Wales almost snuck up on us. We had a company, Metgasco, come to my area some time ago, and we all thought: 'Great—we are going to have natural gas.' People associate that with cleanness, and they thought, 'This is good. This is a good thing in our community,' where they were going to be, in the Richmond Valley. I said, 'That's great. This will work.'

Then, when we discovered, after some time, that it was not natural gas, and we started to ask questions about it—'Okay, so you're going to do coal seam gas mining; what is that? What impact will that have?'—and we were not getting answers, locals started to get worried. So did local farmers. Some farmers have said yes, but you have very few rights, under the way the state based scheme works, to say no. But some of the farmers did say yes, and now some of them are worried because they are looking at some of the science that is in on coal seam gas mining and unconventional gas mining.

I first became alert to it when I read the National Water Commissio's position statement on coal seam gas mining, which they put out in 2010. It was updated in 2012, when they said that basically what they said in 2010 stands. They articulated 11 principles that should be followed—adhered to—if this coal seam gas mining is going ahead. Not that they said it, but from what I read you would not do it. If you were applying the precautionary principle—which we should to our water and to prime agricultural land—you would not do it.

I then read the CSIRO publication on water, and it addressed different sectors and areas right across Australia. There is a section in there—to memory it is chapter 10—that deals with coal seam gas mining and large coal mining. Again, it states quite clearly that they do not know some of the impacts on water and the aquifers, and that there are other issues. So why would we do it if there are groups like those saying that?

Now I will move to the next part of the story. A lot of locals in my area were starting to get worried. The worry came from farmers, because it was farming land and farms that the coal seam gas companies wanted to go onto. The farmers came to see me and started talking about it. And there were local environmentalists and other locals who were worried about it.

Most of the people in local government in my area have come out saying that they do not want coal seam gas mining. And that is unusual. At the time, I had meetings with locals and I said, 'This has the potential to be the rare earth.' In Lismore, many years ago they wanted to set up a rare-earth plant, and thousands of people took to the street in Lismore and marched against it. There were thousands of local people who said, 'No.' Back in 2010-11 I saw that coal seam gas had the potential to be a 'rare-earth' issue.

I met with the gas companies—I met with them here—and talked with them. You have heard a lot about social licence. That is something I spoke about to the gas companies. I said, 'You have to earn that. Yes, you might have a legal licence to explore. Then if you want to go into production you go through another process to get your approvals to do the exploitation and production. But you also have to live in a community, be in a community and be welcome in that community.' It is clear in my community that those companies are just not welcome. It has been a very fraught issue for a lot of people. All sorts of people have been involved.

The honourable member for Parkes was talking about farmers and saying that they would be the ones who would feed the world. From the evidence—the science and the literature—that I have looked at to date I think that farmers will not be able to. If coal seam gas mining goes ahead on their land they will not be feeding anyone; they will not even be feeding their families, let alone feeding the world. That is just nonsense.

The honourable member for Parkes also talked about the National Farmers' Federation. In essence, he was saying that they were against the bill. I have their media releases; everybody here would have them. Their media release of 12 March said:

While we certainly agree with the intent of the bill—

That is hardly speaking against it—

which is to see greater scrutiny and scientific rigour around coal seam gas and mining developments where they may impact on our water resources, we have significant concerns about the potential for this bill to be extended to agriculture in the future …

The minister said at the time that it was bizarre, and I said, 'That's a bit out there.' I must admit I attributed the quote to Duncan Fraser when I was speaking on the Country Hour. It was actually Jock Laurie, so I will correct that here, on the record, but it was in the NFF statement. In their statement the NFF go on to say a lot about water. They have been consistent in that.

I have here the NSW Farmers media statement of 12 March on the bill we are debating now. The statement says:

Fiona Simson, President NSW Farmers, said: "We have consistently stated strong regulatory frameworks are required to place sensible limits on mining and coal seam gas activities."

"Farmers right across New South Wales have been calling on the NSW Government to deliver a more rigorous assessment process for mining and coal seam gas proposals.

"It is not surprising the federal environment minister has seen a need to step in ...

And the media release goes on. That media release was from NSW Farmers. They are embracing the action that had to happen. So it was good to have both positions put there.

I would like to say a few other things about what has happened at state level. I have said in media interviews on the radio—I have been saying it since 2010; I have been talking about coal seam gas since then and working with my colleague the honourable member for Richmond on this—that it was as if we were caught unawares. We have state based regulatory systems that are predicated around large open-cut or underground mining. And we do not have those systems modernised for mines in our backyards. I call it 'mining in your backyard'. Who wants mining in their backyard? I do not want mining in my backyard. People in my area do not want mining in their backyards. I make no apology about that.

I got asked on Country Hour: 'Is this a NIMBY?' and 'Why are you doing this?' I said, 'I'm representing my local people, who are really worried about this.' Also, I do not want sinkholes in my back yard, due to the effects we have seen of some mining. But my primary concern was always water, given everything I had read about water.

Another issue that has been raised in our area is property values. Real estate agents have told me, right across the Northern Rivers, that when people find out that coal seam gas mining licences have been issued in particular areas, they do not want to know about property there. They go away. It is certainly one of those issues that scares people.

I want to turn to a couple of other issues. I did note comments by the Woodside CEO in the Sydney Morning Herald on 4 March. The CEO, Peter Coleman, was asked a question in response to something that the previous CEO, Don Voelte, had told a business forum. He told a business forum that he wanted his six-year tenure to be remembered for his decision to stay out of CSG. He said:

Come back and check four or five years from now—I think one of the greatest things I will have achieved is not taking my company into coalbed methane.

Asked about the comment, Mr Coleman said:

Don showed wonderful insight.

The article goes on. That is clearly one big company that everybody knows and which has stayed out of that area.

We have another issue and it is to do with health. People are concerned about the impacts on their health. But I come back to water. One of the things that worries people is that a huge amount of water is extracted in the process. If you read the extra work that the National Water Commission did beyond their position statement on CSG, it is well documented. It is a large amount of water. Our systems will not be able to cope with it. That is the way I am reading the science so far.

We have the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and we now have the independent expert scientific committee, which we all agree is a good thing. It would have been great if that had been set up in 1999 when the act came into being. We would have had a lot of baseline studies done that we do not have now. All of this activity is taking place, but we do not have the baseline studies. That is what we are trying to get to. This amendment will give at least some additional protection around our water.

It is a huge debate. It is a debate that we need to have about a modern regulatory framework, particularly at state and territory level and where the federal government is involved around resources. Anyway, we are having the debate incrementally and we are trying to step in where the state has not been able to give that protection.

Another issue that comes up is the impact this will have on gas prices. If you do the research and read up, you will know that gas prices have risen in recent times. In Western Australia, they have gone from $2.50 to approximately $8 per gigajoule, and that is in just a short time. We expect that in eastern Australia it is now rising. One of the things people say is that it is because we are going to stop coal seam gas mining, but the steep rise has very little to do with the increased cost of production or trying to stop coal seam gas mining. It is a consequence of the burgeoning LNG export industry. There are many documents on this. It is to do with the on-selling of the gas for export. A lot of it will be sold and it goes up in price. That is reflected back to us domestically and we end up with a higher price. Even if you read the Prime Minister's manufacturing task force report of the non-government members, you will see it in there.

A whole lot of issues have been raised about this. Issues have been raised with me by people in my community. I say that this is a really good amendment to provide some protection to our water resources. Like a lot of these issues, the work in progress will continue. I commend the minister for the work that he has done on this and for listening to us—listening to my community and listening to the community of the member for Richmond—and making sure that we have this additional layer of protection around our water resources. I commend the bill to the House.

6:41 pm

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013 tonight with a very direct interest and to be the voice of my electorate on this issue. The resource formations in my constituency are the Surat Basin, the Galilee Basin and the Lake Eyre Basin, which has not been referred to tonight. It is often overlooked but is one of the very early formations where gas and oil were extracted, which has benefited much of Australia's energy and resource needs. There is the Moonie oil field as well. In your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker Livermore, there is the Bowen Basin, one of the largest coal reserves and formations in Australia. All of those fields create enormous wealth, as you and I well know, as well as jobs for families and businesses associated with the communities where the extractions take place.

The electorates of Maranoa, Flynn, Capricornia and Dawson in Queensland are four electorates that in my lifetime have seen unprecedented growth with the development of the coal seam methane gas industry and the natural gas industry. I might add that my hometown of Roma is where the very first oil was discovered in Australia. So we have a long history and understanding of resources under the ground in the various formations, where they have been trapped for millions and millions of years.

I support regulation. I was a voice of concern in the early development of coal seam methane gas extraction and treatment, particularly regarding water. I worked with the previous Labor government, for heaven's sake, to improve the legislation. There were great concerns. One of the problems with coal seam methane gas was that some of those who were proving up tenements—we called them cowboys—were really only proving up tenements to on-sell to a larger company. The regulations in the early days were deficient, very deficient. But, progressively, under the former Labor government of Peter Beattie and then of Anna Bligh and now under the Liberal National Party government of Campbell Newman, we have locked in these strict regulations. This is, after all, the constitutional responsibility of state governments. But we have locked in these strict guidelines, guidelines which impose severe penalties for noncompliance on these companies.

I know we have to get it right and I am on the record as a voice of protest on this—but not a voice of opposition. Part of the regulations we put in place allowed for no-go zones—areas where the coal-seam gas industry just cannot go. These included prime agricultural land and some areas where there are key aquifers—the Condamine alluvium in particular. These sorts of areas are very problematic and there are still concerns. We do not know what the impact would be on that Condamine alluvium aquifer across parts of the Darling Downs if the industry were allowed into that area.

I can assure you that I do not need anyone in this place to lecture me about the importance of water. I grew up in western Queensland and the water we received on the property where we lived and grew up was delivered to the overhead tank of the house by a windmill. If the wind blew, you got water off the house. So you really respected the value of water. If there was no wind, there was no water in the tank. There were many days when you all shared the same bathwater—and then the bathwater would go out onto the lawn. So I have enormous respect for the value of water, unlike so many of our urban counterparts who have grown up in an era in which water comes out of a tap.

I also have enormous respect for the water in our underground aquifers and the different formations that exist there. In my own constituency, we have the Springbok sandstone formations, the Mooga sands, the Gubberamunda sands, the Hutton sands, the Precipice sands—these are all formations going down to 4,000 and 5,000 feet below the surface. They all date back to before the Jurassic Period—they are hundreds of millions of years old. They are all separated by various formations of hard rock—some in a coal seam, others with sandstone. But all of them are important. My own home's water supply comes from the Gubberamunda sands—beautiful water. The water of many towns in western Queensland comes from these various aquifers down as deep as 4,000 and 5,000 feet below the surface.

The Great Artesian Basin, which so many people talk so loosely about, is not some great basin of water. It is not one basin. There are aquifers separated by formations of sandstone and the water is of varying quality. The deepest aquifer is the Precipice sandstone formation in my electorate. Its great relief valve is out in the Dalhousie Springs in South Australia. Water has been extracted from it for more than 100 years, much of it out of free-flowing bores across far western New South Wales and into western Queensland. Thankfully we now have a program—and I would like to think we could accelerate that program—to cap the remainder of those free-flowing bores. That is a great conservation measure which shows that we understand the importance of the water—that we cannot just continue to waste water and let it run down as it has for more than 100 years in many parts of western Queensland and western New South Wales. At the time it was of course the cheapest way of providing water for livestock over hundreds and hundreds of kilometres.

The coal-seam methane gas industry in my constituency has been operating for more than 15 years. It did not just turn up last year; it has been operating for 15 years. It now provides 90 per cent of the domestic gas used in Queensland. Some 15 per cent of Queensland's power is now generated from coal-seam gas, and I know that there are three or four more projects for combined cycle generators in the works. These generators will all be using coal-seam gas. They are intended to replace coal fired power stations which would otherwise have been built. They will increase the capacity for power generation in Queensland to be driven by gas from coal-seam gas extraction.

Let us go to the next step of this coal-seam gas industry. Something like 30,000 jobs right now in Queensland depend on four major projects aiming to export LNG from Gladstone, noting that some of the gas extracted will be going into domestic gas supplies—some for heating and cooking and the rest for power generation. The value of those projects is $77 billion. They are probably one-third constructed right now. These projects do not yet have approvals for the full number of wells they will need—bores to provide the gas they need for their LNG projects. They will need further approvals. Some of them are being processed now. This bill will hold that up. These four major projects represent jobs for 30,000 people—nearly all Australians. If these projects are held up because they cannot access sufficient licence agreements to drill the bores they need to feed the gas pipeline being put through to Gladstone to produce LNG, it may mean that these projects do not meet the very critical time line imposed by the forward contracts they have signed to deliver LNG into Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the Asian markets. This is critical. But what we have got with this government is another layer of red tape.

Many of these workers in the 30,000 jobs across my constituency, across Flynn into Capricornia and as far north as into Dawson, live in our coastal areas and in our cities. They have families. They have a stake in this industry because their livelihoods are dependent on these projects continuing to be rolled out and not held up because of more red tape that is going to be imposed on them by this federal government. I have family that are involved in this. I have family that decided they are not prepared to coexist with the coal-seam methane gas wells that would have been on their property. They would have been very near one of the major hubs—that is, where the gas is collected and then pumped through to Gladstone. But they were able to negotiate with the gas company and they have moved to another property. I know for many it has been difficult, but they have a very satisfactory outcome. Their personal and financial arrangements are their business, but I know from my own observation that they have a larger property. They are happy. It was a very big decision for them but they have been able to relocate within the Roma district and were able to negotiate a successful compensation package to move from the land that they had purchased when they first got married and built a new house. They had ties to the land. It was part of their life. They developed it and showed what they had achieved with their own hard work and their own initiative. They have exited that farm and moved elsewhere to a bigger farm. I am quite certain it is not in a coal-seam methane gas area where in the future there could be a tenement granted. So I have personal contacts with people who have had coexistence issues and water issues that people are concerned about.

One of the regulations we put in place with the former Labor government, which was pushed by the LNP when they were in opposition, was to make sure that the water that was extracted as part of the process was made use of. Additional water that would otherwise have been coming out of the overland flows from the Condamine River is providing for the growth of the town of Chinchilla. They are also selling water allocations to farmers, to melon producers. Chinchilla is the melon capital of Australia, as we all know—we should know. I am sure the minister at the table is well aware now. They are getting greater security for water entitlements because the companies must make good with the water that is being extracted as part of the gas extraction process.

Madam Deputy Speaker Livermore, I know you are in the chair and you cannot interject from there but I am sure you are witness to the huge development and the wealth that comes out of the coal industry. I have a number of coalmines in the Surat Basin around Wandoan down through to the Darling Downs that are just sitting there waiting for the Xstrata project to proceed. This Xstrata project would mean there would be a new rail line from Wandoan to Gladstone. I hear today that Xstrata are putting that project on hold. I can only suggest it is because of this legislation. There is too much uncertainty. The other coalmines that would have been developed for export of that coal are going to sit there in limbo because of this legislation.

In conclusion, I was a voice of protest but not a voice of opposition. I realise the benefit of the resource sector, the jobs it has created and the job potential for young people to have a future in western Queensland. I also note that this is just putting— (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.