House debates

Thursday, 21 March 2013


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading

10:46 am

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the legislation that we have before us today in the House. This legislation amends the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to include, as a new matter of national environmental significance, coal seam gas and large coalmine developments which have, or are likely to have, a significant impact on water resources. Where projects trigger the new matter of national environmental significance they would require assessment and approval under the EPBC Act. The new trigger would apply to relevant projects that are currently under assessment, and transitional powers have been designed to minimise the disruption to the assessment of existing projects as far as possible, while also meeting the objectives of the amendments to provide robust assessment of coal seam gas and large coal mining where there will, or where there is a likelihood that there will, be a significant impact on water resources.

This is an issue that is very close to the hearts of a number of constituents that I represent in this place. This is an issue that has caused angst throughout our communities, and it is one that I have a lot of sympathy with. The fact that coal seam gas extraction, or fracking as it is known, can cause environmental damage and can cause water pollution—and water is of vital importance to us not only as a nation but, I think, worldwide—means that there needs to be a robust environmental impact assessment process before coal seam gas, or fracking, is allowed to take place.

This is an issue where there is a lot of uncertainty in the science. I have done considerable reading on this matter and the reading has influenced my approach to coal seam gas extraction. It has shown me that there have been examples of where water has been polluted. It has shown me that we need to adopt a very cautionary approach to this issue. Concerns have been raised not only with me about the impact of coal seam gas and large coal mine developments. I think this issue has also been raised with a number of members across a wide variety of electorates within this parliament. We have an obligation to provide greater environmental protection for water resources and to ensure that water resources are not impacted on by these activities. Water resources are definitely a matter of national significance in relation to coal seam gas extraction and large mining. Coal seam gas and large mining development proposals, under this legislation, will require federal assessment and approval to ensure that there is no significant impact on those water resources. This will allow the impact of coal seam gas extraction and large coal mine developments to be comprehensively assessed at a national level so that we can see the impact that these activities will have on our water supply, because water and a safe, secure water supply are vital to ensure that we have healthy communities. Something that is important to each and every member of this parliament is not only to ensure healthy communities but also to ensure that our agriculture flourishes and that we as people do have access to adequate water supplies.

The government is obviously responding to ensure the long-term health and the viability of water resources and sustainable developments of the coal seam gas industry. It is adopting an approach that, on one hand, is looking after the health and water supply and, on the other hand, is making sure that new applications are assessed in a way where the process of the development and extraction, and the jobs that are created in that industry, are looked at, while ensuring that those jobs and the developments will not be at the expense of our environment. That is something that every Australian would look to ensure. They would want to make sure that any activities that take place in mining or coal seam gas extraction—fracking—do not have a negative impact on our environment, because quite often it is only years down the track that we actually learn of some of the implications of the activities. This is a very proactive approach to examining coal seam gas and large coalmine development.

The government has created the new independent expert scientific committee, which should give members a lot of confidence. That was created last year to provide advice on water related impacts of coal seam gas extraction and large coalmines. The committee will continue to provide advice for coal seam gas and large coalmine projects which will require Commonwealth assessment, including assessment of the impact on water resources. This expert panel is drawn from a number of areas. Those who are on that expert panel have detailed knowledge of the impacts. In a very holistic way, the panel will look at mining and the extraction of coal seam gas.

The consultation in relation to this is very different to the approach taken by the New South Wales government, which has an on-again and off-again moratorium. It tends to just blow with the wind and adopts the approach that it feels will be most beneficial for it. Good government is about looking at an issue and putting in place a process that is going to deliver the best outcome for communities. What we have in this legislation will deliver the best outcome for our communities.

My local community has raised issues about the impact of coal seam gas plants on surrounding aquifers. The extraction of methane from coal seam gas requires the extraction of a large quantity of water. Across the country it may total between 30 and 90 gigalitres of groundwater per year. This has been expressed as a concern. It is broadly well understood that there are likely drawdowns of aquifers and depression of aquifers, and that risks groundwater contamination. There is the risk of subsidence of the ground, and the salt in the water of the coal seam will be brought to the surface—about 1.8 tonnes per year.

The issue of subsidence is very relevant to communities within my electorate. Some of the areas around Chain Valley Bay in particular have suffered mine subsidence in the past. I know from working with residents over a number of years that, once subsidence occurs, it is really difficult to get a resolution to the problem. Those residents have fought very hard against the New South Wales government for a long time to get a final resolution to the problem that they have with subsidence, and I am talking about 20 years. That demonstrates how important it is that we resolve this issue before there is a problem. The expert scientific panel can look at whether there will be water contamination and they can evaluate the proposal before them. They would look at the porousness of the rock, the impact that the injection of chemicals would have through the fracking process and how that will impinge on the natural coal seam.

This is an issue that concerns all Australians. It is about having knowledge and making decisions based on knowledge. It is an issue that revolves around our long-term water security. That is something we are all very keen to ensure. It is also an issue that revolves around environmental protection. Add to that the other side of the equation: jobs, economic activity and ensuring that we do not stop development in that area. It is a balancing act. Whenever you have conflicting issues, you have to come down on the side of the environment. If we do not have a sound and healthy environment, we do not really have anything. We have to have a secure water supply. We have to know that our water supply is not contaminated. That is what I see this legislation doing. Our nation's water resources are amongst our most vital natural resources. It is important that we take reasonable steps to ensure that those resources are protected. The proposed amendment will ensure that projects involving coal seam gas and mines will be assessed and approved under national environmental laws. The federal government do not have a lot of wriggle room in this area, but this amendment gives us the ability to have a say in this particular space.

Currently there is no direct protection of water resources under our national environmental laws, and this legislation will give us that little step towards having a role in ensuring the protection of our water into the future. I have listened to people on both sides of the debate and no matter what I hear I have to always come down on the side of the environment. It is imperative that we as a government support this legislation and make sure that these amendments are put in place. It will give the federal government full regulatory oversight where projects are likely to impact on water resources, ensuring that we continue to have the highest standard of environmental protection. That is what it is all about—having the highest standard of environmental protection.

I implore all members of this House to get together and support this legislation. This is legislation about our future; it is legislation that I know has support within the communities that I represent in this parliament.

11:00 am

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Roads and Regional Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I begin my contribution on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013 by reflecting on the fact that in my community of Gippsland the issue of coal seam gas has become somewhat controversial, as it has in other parts of regional Australia—I think of Queensland, but more particularly throughout New South Wales. I do make the point from the outset that we need to be reasonable, responsible and balanced in the way we approach this issue in our communities. That is not the case when it comes to the Australian Labor Party.

The CSG industry has the potential to secure Australia's energy self-sufficiency. It can certainly boost the national economy; it can create thousands of jobs, and most of those jobs will be in regional Australia. For those opposite—who come in here and pretend to care about the environment, who lecture us on a daily basis about the need to reduce emissions—to turn their back on coal seam gas, which has emissions in the order of 70 per cent lower than coal, is foolhardy, and I suggest it is purely political opportunism that has driven them to their position.

This is an issue that members of the National Party have been very familiar with and have engaged with our communities on for many years. If I were to describe my own position in relation to CSG, I would say I was somewhat of an agnostic. I certainly want environmental safeguards in place, as every member does, but I also want the jobs, the economic prosperity, that the industry can deliver for regional communities. It has already managed to deliver that in Queensland, for in the order of 10 or 15 years.

It is amazing that members have come into this place and basically had the revelation that there is coal seam gas in regional Australia. It is only when it has been of interest to their own communities that they have realised that regional Australia has been discussing these issues for many years. I note the presence of the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government in the chamber, and he is one who has been responsible and reasonable in this debate. Some of his colleagues could certainly learn from the minister in the way they approach this issue.

I urge those opposite to be very careful with their rhetoric. They come into this place and sprout emotional rhetoric that does not stand scrutiny, and certainly it jeopardises the potential for future development in regional communities. That is why there was bipartisan support when the minister introduced his plan to develop a scientific panel. There is concern in the community about issues associated with coal seam gas. The member for Parkes was quite right in his commentary yesterday when he said that this was an issue which needed greater engagement within our communities—it does not need invective, hyperbole and the emotional rhetoric which we have seen from some interest groups right throughout regional Australia in recent months.

In my electorate of Gippsland I have met with anyone who wants to talk about this issue. I have met with people who are opposed to coal seam gas and I have met with industry representative who have plans for exploration across the Gippsland Basin. I have told the industry very bluntly that they have a challenge—a challenge to earn the social licence to continue with these proposals. They need to consult with my community; they need to consult with other parts of regional Australia. They need to provide full disclosure on the environmental issues and provide factual information to our communities to reassure them that they can continue with this work in a responsible manner. My concern is that the bill to amend the EPBC Act has nothing to do with practically engaging with the community; it has nothing to do with improvements to environment safeguards. Frankly, it is all about politics. I fear that this government is not dealing fairly with the industry based on the merits of the issue.

In the speech of the member for Richmond yesterday there was no acknowledgement—not a single mention—of who put the permits in place in her electorate in the first place. There was not a mention of the New South Wales Labor government, which put those exploration permits in place in the first place. There was not a mention that it was the New South Wales Labor Party that created the mess that she referred to and which has been left to the coalition in New South Wales to clean up. There was also no mention that this is primarily a state issue. It is primarily the responsibility of state governments. If we are going to continually override state governments and continue to strip them of their responsibilities, and add layer upon layer of bureaucracy and duplication, how can we reasonably expect industry to invest with any confidence.

There has been a hysterical reaction whipped up by the member for Richmond in her own electorate for her own base political purposes. I believe it is irresponsible for members to be whipping up this campaign in their communities, scaring their communities, for the sole purpose of winning their seat at the next election. The member for Richmond yesterday referred to the Nationals' five-point plan to roll out coal seam gas. She has used it as an attack point for her opposition in the seat of Richmond. She has tried to discredit the Nationals' candidate, Matthew Fraser, who is being very responsible—

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

A shame.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Roads and Regional Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a shame—a shame that we have a candidate out there being very responsible and trying to engage with the community in a responsible manner, and we have the incumbent member, paranoid, terrified about losing her seat, attacking the Nationals' candidate. She referred to that five-point plan as though it were something new. As I said earlier, the Nationals have been engaged in this issue for months and months and months, if not years. In November 2011 the Nationals were the first party to lay down a clear path for dealing with this issue. We took a position on CSG in November 2011, after we met as a party, and our leader Warren Truss said at that time that the coal seam gas industry had the potential to generate an economic boom but if it was poorly managed it could become an environmental and social disaster. We put on the record then that we wanted steps taken to deliver that boom to provide those opportunities for our young people in regional Australia but to avoid potential disaster.

The member for Richmond likes to talk about the five-point plan as if she has discovered some cunning proposal by the Nationals to indulge in deals with industry. As far as I am aware, there has only been one party in New South Wales to indulge in deals with industry and that was the Australian Labor Party. She is promoting this five-point plan as if there is some great scandal. The five-point plan has been out there for 18 months. I do not think there is any member here that disagrees with our five-point plan because the points have been adopted by the Australian Labor Party and by the Liberal Party anyway.

The policy position that we took in November 2011 was quite simply this: we said that no CSG development should proceed where its poses a significant risk to the quality of groundwater or surface water systems or the environment more generally. Funnily enough, that is what we are talking about here today. In November 2011 that was the first point in our five-point plan. It also said: strategic agricultural land must be protected from activities that destroy its capacity to deliver food security. Well, every member in this place has agreed with that position as well. We have made the point for months that we should be taking steps to protect our prime agricultural land.

We also said in November 2011 that landholders are entitled to an appropriate return from the CSG projects in return for access to their land. The issue of access is a fundamental point in this debate. It staggers me that members opposite have only just realised that. We have been saying for months and months that landholders deserve a fair return for providing access to their properties.

We also said 18 months ago that regions deserve a fair share of revenues generated from coal seam gas generated in their communities. Hello, that is the exact policy that the Western Australian Nationals took to the people of Western Australia four years ago. They developed their Royalties for Regions program, which has been universally supported since then. In fact, the Liberal Party and the Labor Party in Western Australia election campaign actually advocated for the Royalties for Regions program. They are all claiming it as their own. Suddenly there is a recognition that returning a fair return of royalties from revenue which has been derived from regional communities is a good deal. Again, that is four points of the nationals plan—this cunning plan the member for Richmond thinks she has revealed—which have been supported by members on both sides of the House.

The last point on our five-point plan from November 2011 was this: coal seam gas development should not occur close to existing residential areas. What is the cunning five-point plan the member for Richmond is talking about? If that is the five-point plan she is talking about, her party agrees with it. These are reasonable, rational points we have made that have been supported by the Minister for the Environment, by the minister for industry and, I would imagine, the minister for regional affairs, who is here with me today, would probably agree as well. We believe that regional communities need to get a fair return and be treated with respect by the industry.

It staggers me that we have had this hysteria by the member for Richmond because it is an honour and a privilege to come to this place and represent our communities. But having that honour and having that privilege also carries a very heavy responsibility. We have to act with integrity in our communities. We have to be reasonable and balanced about issues. This member, the member for Richmond, has done a huge disservice to her community with the way she has inflamed tensions for her own base political motives. This is all about the member for Richmond winning her own seat and nothing about the interests of the people of regional Australia.

In her address yesterday, the member for Richmond described the Nationals as environment vandals. I would urge the member for Richmond to refer to the record of her own minister for the environment when he was the minister for agriculture, because the minister for agriculture at that time, Tony Burke, ripped $11 million out of the forward estimates for Landcare. If you want to talk to me about environmental vandalism, it is taking $11 million out of Landcare, the great practical environmentalist in our nation, because you have struck a bit of budget hard times.

I caution people listening to this debate that the Labor-Greens alliance, which is presenting itself in regional areas as being the friends of farmers and friends of regional communities are not their friends at all. Many of these people are not campaigning against coal seam gas, per se. They are campaigning against fossil fuels. They hate all fossil fuels. This has got nothing to do with coal seam gas for many of these people. It is just another campaign of misinformation and false claims which are designed to destroy any form of fossil fuel development in our nation.

Having said all that, I believe there are legitimate concerns hence I support the Nationals' five-point plan. I think it is reasonable for members in this place to raise their concerns and try to deal with them by working closely with their communities. I think it is essential we have strict environmental protocols in how we develop this industry and I think it is essential that the scientific panel established by the minister for the environment has the support of both sides of the House and they were good moves. But I fear the amendment we are talking about today is just another layer of bureaucracy and duplication. Really, we are talking about an issue which is still primarily a state issue. It is an appalling message to the gas and the mining sectors that we simply do not want your investment. We have created another level of insecurity on development in our regions at a time when the regional economies are already struggling.

I believe this has been more about the members opposite drumming up a scare campaign to distract their constituents from the monumental stuff-ups of the Rudd and Gillard governments. They are saying: look over there at coal seam gas; do not look at the home insulation debacle; look over there at coal seam gas; do not look at our failure to control the borders; look at that coal seam gas; do not look at the carbon tax promise that I will never deliver a carbon tax under a government I lead; do not look at the mining tax farce; do not look at the billions of dollars that were wasted on overpriced school halls.

This is a campaign of distraction to say: look anywhere else but do not look at our record. Members in those seats cannot stand on their records because their records have been appalling. By supporting the Rudd and Gillard governments through the monumental stuff-ups, these members are simply saying: we cannot stand on our record so we will distract you with a scare campaign about coal seam gas; do not look at us fighting amongst ourselves; do not look at us having meetings in the back rooms of parliament all this week talking about whether Kevin should come back, whether Simon should come back or whether Julia should stay until after the budget. Sid Sidebottom, the member for Braddon, would be a tremendous Prime Minister. I think it should be Sid. Certainly the member for Hotham has equal claims to it as the member for Griffith. They are saying: do not look at us; look at some distraction over here; look at the coal seam gas issue and we will try and muddle our way through and get elected in September this year.

The people of the Tweed region deserve better. The people of the Richmond electorate are smarter than their local MP. They will see through this hoax. They will see through this effort to distract them, this smoke and mirrors from the member for Richmond. The people of the electorate of Richmond deserve better than they are getting right now.

Matthew Fraser, the candidate who is being so unfairly vilified by the member for Richmond in her newspaper attacks, is an outstanding candidate. He is a young man who is passionate; he is determined and he wants to make a difference in his community. The great thing about this young man is that he actually has a background in business. Fancy that! Fancy having a candidate with a background in business! There is not one member of the government's cabinet who has a background in business or who actually lives in regional Australia—not one minister lives in regional Australia. How can we expect the Gillard and Rudd cabinets, or maybe a future Crean cabinet, or a Sidebottom cabinet, to represent regional Australia when not one of them actually lives in regional Australia?

The people of Richmond deserve better than they are getting right now. They deserve a strong Nationals candidate. I will be endorsing Matthew Fraser, and I am happy to campaign with him in the interests of his entire community. (Time expired)

11:15 am

Photo of Craig ThomsonCraig Thomson (Dobell, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It is always interesting following the member for Gippsland. He is never troubled by hypocrisy in his speeches. I thought he was actually making some good points—and I will come to some of those good points—but we have to start with the fact that he accuses the member for Richmond of playing politics in relation to her speech and then presents the CV of the Nationals candidate in the electorate, speaking in glowing terms about the person! What that has to do with the bill, I am not quite sure. But we do know that the member for Gippsland does not worry too much about hypocrisy in terms of what he has to say. Come on! Let's be real about these things. If you want to accuse someone of playing politics, don't come in here yourself and do exactly that.

Mr Chester interjecting

I listened with great interest to your contribution—15 minutes, 13 minutes of which was political. So let's get a little bit real.

But there were a couple of good points that the member for Gippsland made, and I think they should be acknowledged. I think the Nationals were right with their five-point plan. That was a good thing that they put forward, and the member for Gippsland should be proud that they took that stand and took it early. His contribution would have been much more believable had he stuck to those sorts of principles rather than being diverted.

He also made the point that the issues relating to mining are largely state issues—and that is right. But the need for legislation comes when the level of government that is meant to be dealing with this fails to do so. In relation to coal-seam gas, and mining generally, look at New South Wales and what has played out there. If you want to look at failure of process, we have certainly seen examples of that writ large in New South Wales. What is abundantly clear with that is that this is not the fault of one party. We have seen the very rapid departure of the former candidate for the state electorate of New England over very similar issues. Again, political points should not be made in relation to those issues in here without acknowledging that there are problems in the way mining more generally has been regulated at a state level.

So it is very legitimate for the Nationals to have their five-point plan and their position. And it is very legitimate for them to come into this place and say the federal parliament needs to look at additional protections because they have concerns with the way the state has dealt with these matters in the past. I think that, if every member acknowledged that in their contributions, rather than playing the politics more generally in relation to legislation, then we would end up with better legislation. But it is an election year, so those wishes are probably fanciful.

I want to talk about a mine in my electorate, because it involves some of the issues that this bill will hopefully deal with—although, can I say in relation to this particular mine, I think there is some more urgent action needed than just the passage of this bill and what happens as a consequence of that.

On the Central Coast we have had, for close to 15 years, applications and proposals to develop, first, gas mines and then coalmines under our water catchment area. The water catchment area is the major source of our water for over 300,000 people on the Central Coast. There is a plan for a mine to be located directly beneath the flood plain at the junction of the main river systems where the major flow goes to the aquifers there. The river systems are primarily aquifer-fed, and damage to the aquifers from subsidence will result in major loss of water to the catchment area.

We are in an area that almost ran out of water—one of the fastest growing areas in New South Wales. New families are being encouraged to move there and commute to Sydney and to Newcastle. Over 300,000 people are living there. And we got down to less than 10 per cent of our water supply. So issues in relation to our water supply, and things that affect our water supply, are things that the people on the Central Coast are very concerned about and they always make sure that their local representatives put those concerns at the forefront of any policy issues they deal with.

That is why, after I was elected in 2007, one of the first things the Labor government did was spend $80.3 million on making sure there was a water pipeline from the lower catchment parts of the Central Coast up to the storage dam—effectively making sure that the Central Coast would be drought-proofed in the future. We have had a lot of rain since then, but our dams have gone from less than 10 per cent to over 57 per cent, which is where they stand now. Locally, there was a celebration only last month, when our dam levels got above 50 per cent. The people of the Central Coast are acutely concerned about their water supply. The proposal for a longwall coalmine under the water catchment area in my electorate has been around for some time, and it is of major concern.

The reason the member for Gippsland is right in saying that this is a state issue but incorrect in saying that that is where we should leave it is that this application in my electorate has been dealt with on a number of occasions by state governments of both colours. Eventually, in the dying days of the Keneally government, Tony Kelly, who was then the planning minister, relented after it had gone through the processes to approve the dam, some of which are being amended through this bill today, and it was going to be approved. But because of the community outrage, the state government set up another committee, headed by Kerry Chikarovski. Again, the community and the businesses came along and said that this was not a good thing. Finally, Tony Kelly said that there was uncertainty around the ability of the project to meet acceptable surface water quality outcomes and that the project was not consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development, including the precautionary principle. For those reasons, in the public interest, a decision was taken that the mine should not go ahead. That was terrific news but, unfortunately, the previous state Labor government was playing politics. It waited till the last moment to do this and say: 'This is our promise going into the election. We have stopped the mine; now vote for us.' What needed to happen, obviously, was to get the coalition—the opposition at that time—to make a similar commitment. Indeed, that actually happened.

The now Premier of New South Wales put in writing that he was committed to stopping this mine and to introducing legislation into the state parliament if necessary. He stood there with local community representatives wearing 'Water not Coal' T-shirts and he waved that banner around and got his photo in all the local papers. He went on to say: 'No ifs, no buts, a guarantee from my government that we will stop this.'

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

A bit like the surplus!

Photo of Craig ThomsonCraig Thomson (Dobell, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I hear the member interjecting, trying to make a political point. If his point is about politicians who make promises leading into an election and then do not keep them, then I agree with him. He would agree with me, I would think, that when a Leader of the Opposition makes a promise, puts it in writing, says, 'I pledge this to my local community, no ifs, no buts,' the community can expect that that undertaking will be honoured. Unfortunately, the Premier of New South Wales was just playing politics. He had the local community handing out Liberal Party how-to-votes because of that undertaking. Here we are down the track, with a failure in those state processes because of political interference—and I have gone through the problems with the previous government on this same decision. We have a proposal for a coalmine under the water catchment area in the Wyong shire that both the coalition and the Labor Party have said should not go ahead, yet the mining company is still out there looking to go ahead with it.

This is so important because the coalmine proponents themselves have said that the effect of this mine would be that 79 million litres of water would be lost from the catchment area a day. More water would be lost through the damage to the aquifers caused by this coalmine than water from the entire rainfall in our area. Experts forecast that it will take 200 years for the aquifers to recover if this mine goes ahead. That is what the coalmine is saying about the effect this mine will have on the Central Coast’s water supply; it is not what the opponents to it are saying. The legislation before us today, which is about protecting areas where there are water supply issues, is most definitely needed, because the state system has been both corrupted and inefficient.

When I asked a question in parliament the other day, this side of the House howled me down. I am sure the other side do not like it when the name 'Obeid' is mentioned. But let us be very frank about these issues. The Obeid influence in relation to mining is not just on that side of the parliament. We have seen the recently resigned candidate for New England be part of that loop. Liberal Party fundraiser Nick di Girolamo, who the ICAC inquiry has shown was lent $3 million by Eddie Obeid, is the lobbyist to the Liberal Party in relation to this mine. So there are issues of process that both parties have allowed to infect the way in which mines are looked at for approval.

Then we have the hangers-on. I need to briefly mention the current mayor of Wyong shire. All previous mayors on the Central Coast have fought against this coalmine, including the current mayor. But, strangely, as he is very heavily aligned with the Liberal Party, suddenly his opposition to this coalmine has evaporated. This is a bloke who, a couple of years ago when he needed votes, was out saying, 'This coalmine needs to be stopped.' Doug Eaton’s absence from this debate is very lamentable. The people of the Central Coast need to hold this mayor to account for not standing up for them in relation to this coalmine.

This legislation is important because it brings into focus water and how it can operate. The kind of example that I have tried to go through today shows what happens if you do not have that sort of legislation and how the state process can be diverted or corrupted or can be the captive of different interests that are outside the interests of the community. We need to make sure that water is at the forefront of consideration when looking at approvals for mines.

In conclusion, I have a private member's bill specifically relating to this mine. For the reasons for which people have spoken today about water being a consideration when looking at environmental issues, for goodness sake support the private member's bill when it comes on. This mine does affect the water supply of the Central Coast. It has been around far too long and has been interfered with by political processes from both sides, and the people of the Central Coast demand more.

11:30 am

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

It is always good to replace the soon to be replaced member for Dobell. He railed against my colleague the member for Gippsland for being far too political in his speech, and yet I have just listened to him for his full 15 minutes and his whole speech was entirely political, entirely anti the coalition. The coalition does have a plan for coal-seam gas, and I have to say that that follows on from the ideas put forward by the National Party way back in 2011. This is important legislation, and I certainly agree with the member for Dobell there. But to go picking on the coalition for its stance and to absolutely rail against the member for Gippsland and say that all of his speech was entirely political, and then to do the same himself, was hypocrisy in the extreme.

Farmers are the original environmentalists. I find it also hypocritical that so many people are talking about the importance of water, yet, when the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was being discussed, very few people were even recognising the fact that water is our most precious resource. Mining is important, but water cannot be replaced. Water is our most precious resource. I take note that the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government is in the chamber. He charged the member for New England with the responsibility of chairing the Regional Australia Committee. The member for New England led an inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. That committee brought down 21 very good, very solid recommendations that would have helped re-plumb the Murray-Darling Basin. If all of them had been adopted—and I am sure the member for New England will agree with me that they have not at this stage all been adopted—it would have been a saviour for many of the irrigators, who still face an uncertain future because of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. I must say that I tried to disallow it in the last sitting week of last year. I note that so many people are now prepared to talk about water but were not prepared to talk about it when that discussion was taking place.

No-one understands more than a farmer the need to protect the environment and to use the land in a manner that safeguards it for the following year's harvest and for future generations. It is because of this that I feel the need to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013.

At the outset, let me say that the coalition does not oppose the bill. This bill seeks to amend the existing Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to add a ninth matter of national environmental significance. This additional matter of national environmental significance pertains to the exploration and extraction of coal-seam gas, and the impact such activity has on our valuable and irreplaceable water sources. The Liberals and Nationals understand and recognise the significant community concerns surrounding coal-seam gas and large coal mining on water resources. Why else would the Country Women's Association members from Wagga Wagga have rallied about this very matter in Macquarie Street in front of the New South Wales parliament in what was seen as an extraordinary move by that wonderful organisation?

As the representative for the electorate of Riverina, a community built around water, I recognise and appreciate that water is our most precious national and natural resource. This point is particularly poignant today, as the adjournment of the parliament the night before last saw the controversial Murray-Darling Basin Plan signed into law.

The bill we are debating today is the focal point of legislation for the protection of the environment we have in place federally in Australia to date. The bill seeks to add developments surrounding coal-seam gas and large-scale coal mining to the existing eight matters of national significant to the environment, which are as follows: world heritage sites; national heritage sites; wetlands of international importance; nationally threatened species and ecological communities; migratory species; Commonwealth marine areas; the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park; and nuclear actions.

At present the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act comes into play when a proposal for development has the potential to have a significant impact upon one of the eight matters of national environmental significance I have just mentioned. If passed, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill will make two main changes to the current process. First, it will require an environment impact assessment to take place when actions involving the exploration or extraction of coal-seam gas or of large-scale coal mining development are set to occur and are likely to have a significant impact upon water resources. Secondly, it creates provisions for civil penalties and offences for such development, exploration or extraction, without first obtaining approval.

While in theory these are good measures, this bill seeks to duplicate the existing powers held by the states. I wonder if the members for Richmond and Page would have been so vocal in their protestations about this bill last night in the parliament if they were not in such trouble in their electorates, with good Nationals candidates running against them.

The coalition is concerned that this bill will create a further layer of bureaucracy and red tape—or perhaps I should say green tape, because everything this government does has a green bent to it. As we know from other bureaucratic initiatives of federal Labor, such a move will increase approval times and make Australia less desirable for investment. The coalition, particularly the Nationals, hear and understand the concerns of people about coal-seam gas exploration and extraction, and this is why we are not opposing the bill.

Mind you, I must say that the member for Maranoa gave an excellent speech last night when he talked about the benefits that coal-seam gas had provided to his Maranoa electorate and, indeed, the investment in coal-seam gas in his electorate has been going on for more than 15 years and has seen a resurgence in some of the towns which would otherwise be ghost towns. We also heard the member for Gippsland say that coal-seam gas actually provided 70 per cent lower emissions than coal itself. So we must take all of these things into consideration. But we know that this government—which is drawn by the nose by the Greens, despite the recent divorce—is anti fossil-fuel development. We know that.

The Nationals have written our own policy document and it was formulated at a meeting at Cooma on 3 November 2011. In that document we have five central tenets of what our policy is and what our beliefs are on this particular issue. I will run through them. The first is that no coal-seam gas development should proceed where it poses a significant impact to the quality of groundwater or surface-water systems. It must be absolutely clear that no coal seam gas development should occur unless it is proven safe for the environment. I do not think anybody in this parliament would disagree with that. Secondly, prime agricultural land is an increasingly important natural asset. It must be protected from activities which destroy its capacity to deliver food security, not only for our nation but for a hungrier world, for generations to come. I do not think anybody in this parliament would disagree with that, either.

Thirdly, coal-seam gas development must not occur close to existing residential areas. People who have bought a home with a reasonable expectation of being away from mining operations must not be thrown into turmoil by coal-seam gas operations springing up on their doorstep. I would like to see if anybody opposed that particular policy initiative. Fourthly, landowners are entitled to appropriate pecuniary returns sourced by reason of access to their land. Remuneration for landowners should not be limited to compensation. Again, I think everybody would be in furious agreement with us on that. Lastly, the regions which deliver much of the wealth from coal-seam gas developments deserve to see a fair share of generated revenues reinvested in their communities. This is an opportunity to grow our nation and encourage a lasting legacy from coal-seam gas developments.

Again, I think that getting the regions to recoup some of the investment that is made in their regions and putting some of the money back into where it came from is a good policy initiative. We have seen Brendon Grylls in Western Australia really push that 'royalties for regions' initiative in Western Australia and how much difference it has made to those country communities in that state.

While this is a policy of the Nationals about which we are very serious, we also understand that the protection of water and water tables is already covered by legislation enacted by the states. So often in this place in recent times we have heard so much from those in federal Labor—who are absolutely bereft of their own policy ideas for doing anything that actually has meaning for and is in the good interests of the nation, and who just want to keep their own seats and keep their government in place—attacking the coalition states, particularly the eastern states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, which, let me tell you, inherited absolute basket cases from their state Labor predecessors.

It is not the wish of the coalition to come into this place and duplicate the laws enacted by our state colleagues simply for the sake of doing so. We are interested in ensuring this policy is done correctly—that it consults appropriately with stakeholders—all stakeholders—and ensures the protection and viability of our precious water assets. In saying that, there are a number of key stakeholders who are concerned about this particular bill.

I speak, for instance, of the National Farmers Federation, an organisation which represents many of my Riverina constituents. It has expressed concern that the provisions spelled out in this bill can be extended to agriculture.

Mr Windsor interjecting

I hear the member for New England calling out—no doubt he fully endorses what I am saying! But I quote from the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association annual report of 2011-12, where the NFF, through Roy Chisholm, its representative, has this to say under the subtitle 'Submissions to government': 'The NFF has released its 2012-13 budget submissions to the federal government for continued investment in agriculture and has identified 10 key areas for this investment.' The first they have listed is coal-seam gas. 'The NFF has called for a budget commitment to the Independent Scientific Expert Committee to conduct research into the impacts of mining and coal seam gas extraction on agricultural and environmental resources. Funding is being sought for the development of guidelines for recompense for landholders for land access under coal-seam projects.' That is important.

Land access is hugely important for farmers; we all know that. And, as I say, farmers are the best environmentalists that this nation has. I should know that—I come from a farm. My father employed good environmental practices for all the years of his life, which is why he ran such a successful farm. The NFF's concerns are concerns I also share.

I mentioned at the outset the fact that farmers are the original environmentalists, and farming itself is an exercise in caring for the land in a way which ensures that farming can continue into the future. They have a big stake in it. Farmers realise they are only custodians of the land and that they must hand that land on to somebody else who is also going to be able to produce food to feed our nation and others.

The NFF continues, to say that, while the provisions expressed within this bill may, 'at first glance look like a win for farmers in the short term, it could actually have long-term unintended consequences for current and future farmers,' and it is hard to disagree with that. The National Farmers Federation, as usual, is dead right.

Mr Windsor interjecting

Again I hear the member for New England in furious agreement with what I am saying! I am sure he is saying, 'Hear, hear'! As with everything the Labor government puts up in place, we must consider what the long-term impact of it can be. Because farming is important now, its longevity and viability in the future is absolutely critical. The Labor Party's own statements on Australia becoming the food bowl of Asia during this Asian century are testament to that, and I give credit to the Prime Minister for her May statement last year when she said that we must be in a position to be the food bowl of Asia. And we must strengthen irrigation to enable that to be so.

We also need to ensure policy coming out of this place makes it easier, not harder, for farmers to produce the food. Labor, as it is great at doing, has given a sympathetic ear to industry and farmers when it comes to reducing red and green tape but, as usually al, these claims are devoid of substance. This legislation we are debating, which seeks to amend the Commonwealth's power to regulate around the exploration and extraction of coal-seam gas, comes after the water minister just six months ago rejected an amendment to do just that. The minister claimed the Commonwealth had no constitutional power to make those changes. It is only through pressure from perhaps the members for Page and Richmond, who are up against very good Nationals candidates, that he has changed his tune.

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

What about New England?

Photo of Tony WindsorTony Windsor (New England, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

What about New England?

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

New England? Absolutely. And, with Senator Barnaby Joyce putting his hand up, I know that the member for New England will be very worried, as he should be. This bill adds further regulation on top of that.

Mr Windsor interjecting

I have named him: Barnaby Joyce, the next member for New England. We do not disagree with the entire tenor of this bill but coal-seam gas is an important issue and it is good that it is being discussed in this chamber today. (Time expired)

11:46 am

Photo of Tony WindsorTony Windsor (New England, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very interested to follow the member for Riverina and the contortionist act that he just performed in relation to the support for the legislative arrangements before the House. It is almost like listening to a three-legged donkey, in the sense that there are so many fences that the member for Riverina was trying to sit on then. I was also interested in his reflections in relation to the National Farmers Federation. He did, to his credit, spend quite a bit of time talking about the importance of water and soil to food production et cetera. He then made the point that he would be supporting the legislation. I assume that means the Liberals as well. The shadow minister in the chair might nod his head if that is the case. No, there is no nod. I was fascinated by the member for Riverina's view on food production and the importance of water and then he talked about the National Farmers Federation. The National Farmers Federation are opposed to this legislation. They have spoken against it. For the life of me, I cannot understand why a national group that is made up of various agricultural organisations, some of which are in favour of this piece of legislation, would argue against it.

The issue goes back quite some time and there are some make political machinations that have been carried out in the past, which I will mention in a moment. There are great concerns about some of the issues, particularly with the migration of extended mining activity, whether it be coal-seam gas or coalmining activity, to the eastern parts of Australia and particularly into areas where there are valuable water and soil resources. The coal-seam gas issue in particular has highlighted the lack of scientific understanding that we as a nation have of some of our groundwater systems and how they actually relate to surface water flows, river systems et cetera.

The member for Riverina was a member of the committee that he talked about, and the minister for regional development, who is in the chair, set up that committee to look at the Murray-Darling issues. One of the issues raised through that debate was the real lack of knowledge about the interconnectivity issues of groundwater and river systems. I note that the minister for the environment has now come to the table, and I welcome him to the debate. It was very clear that there was a severe lack of scientific knowledge. We are embarking on a Murray-Darling Basin Plan where there were going to be end-of-river flows, water quotas in a sense, that would be looked at for the sustainability of the whole system. And there are glaring gaps in terms of the relationship between groundwater and surface water systems.

What this bill does is go to the heart of those issues. The history of this is that last year there was an independent scientific committee set up at the Commonwealth level, and I congratulate the Prime Minister and the minister for doing that. There was $200 million in funding to be associated with that particular scientific committee. That committee has the power to undertake a whole range of scientific endeavours, but the shorthand of that is that they can carry out what are called bioregional assessments. Paralleling this, you have a state based process. I will refer to New South Wales, but essentially a state based process has been in place for many years in relation to these matters. The development application process, the environmental approval process et cetera are essentially based at a state level.

There have been real concerns and real issues about the lack of scientific knowledge and, in some cases, the lack of scientific rigour in terms of the state based approval process. Part of the agreement that I made with the minister was to look at this issue. The Prime Minister has done that and the minister has done that. There was an attempt last year by the minister, in good faith, to negotiate with the states to set up a national partnership agreement where these issues could be dealt with with some degree of Commonwealth involvement but under the auspices of the various state arrangements. That national partnership agreement was signed. New South Wales in particular was going through this odd process of revamping its approval laws after the previous New South Wales state Labor government had run into a whole range of issues in terms of these areas and a lot of licences. We are seeing it played out in the ICAC in New South Wales at the moment—some of the issues that revolve around that particular government.

The coalition government signed the national partnership agreement and had to deliver certain protocols back to the Commonwealth so that the money could be accessed and the agreement could be put in place. New South Wales essentially thumbed its nose at the Commonwealth, in my view, and did not adhere to the spirit of the national partnership agreement. Out of that process we move forward. The member for Riverina says that the minister would not do this six months ago, but there was a process relating to the states that was attempting to do a very similar thing to what this bill actually does. If the states start whingeing about this, they should remember that they had the solution at hand. They had 12 months to put the correct solution in place. New South Wales came in on the back of what was, as I have just said, a flawed state based process.

A lot of people are very concerned about the impact of coal-seam gas on the landscape. They have been very critical of the previous New South Wales Labor government, and rightly so. That government decided to embark on a process of new legislation. A range of things were put in place, one of which was called a gateway process. When you examine the gateway process, you see that the gate is wide open and has only one direction—a drafting gate with one yard, in a sense. It was not an improvement. The words are all right, but in practice it was not an improvement. A legislative arrangement was put in place for a groundwater aquifer that was really only about consumptive use of water, not about risk to water; there was no risk profile associated with it. And there were a number of other pieces of legislation—or pieces of policy, really—to essentially deal with these issues, but they have not. In my view, they have made it slightly worse than what the previous Labor government of New South Wales had in place.

The concern has not gone away—and I congratulate the minister and the Prime Minister on this particular legislation—and at that point it became very clear that if the concerns of many Australians were to be addressed then the Commonwealth, through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, should in fact have a greater role to play, particularly in relation to water and particularly on the back of the groundbreaking agreement that the same minister put in place whereby water across state boundaries was finally broken. This follows in somewhat of a sequence when we look at this water issue and its importance. The bill puts in place a water trigger that allows the Commonwealth to carry out certain activities in conjunction with the independent scientific committee that I mentioned earlier and allows appropriate bio-regional assessments and appropriate scientific work to be done for the Commonwealth minister to assess in relation to certain coal-seam-gas and coalmining projects. This does not destroy things with a backhoe or a dump truck. What it does is put in place a set of protocols that ensure that there is proper scientific rigour going into the processes that will lead to the approval or disapproval of some of these activities. Really, the only way you can do that—and this is why I am encouraged by the scientific committee—is by establishing a process whereby you actually carry out a bio-regional assessment of landscape in catchments so that you can get some idea of the capacity of the landscape to absorb the impacts of certain activities.

This bill goes a long way towards actually doing that. In fact, if you go back to 2007 or 2008, Melanie Stutsel of the Minerals Council of Australia made it plain to a Senate committee that a more appropriate way for the Commonwealth to be involved in these processes would be for a bio-regional assessment process of catchments to be put in place before exploration licences are even granted. There is good sense in that, because it establishes a protocol whereby mining companies do not waste money going into areas where they probably will not be able to mine. Mining does not take place in national parks, for instance—it is very simple. They do not apply for licences because they know they cannot get them because of certain environmental values et cetera. A lot of this is not that dissimilar. It is about putting in place some scientific rigour. The current processes are severely flawed. We need to address that.

I will also be moving an amendment that addresses the issue of the Commonwealth powers and the bilateral arrangements under the EPBC Act, and I am hopeful that there will be support for that. I am particularly encouraged that the National Party is suggesting that they are going to support the bill. I would hope that they would support the amendment as well, because I think it provides good policy for the future, based on scientific assessment and the risk profile of these various areas. People may well arrive at a point—and I hope this is the destination—that we do not stop all mining activity but we have some confidence in the process that allows it. And where there are high risks, or where a bio-regional assessment process identifies real concern, some of these activities will be disallowed. Regrettably, the state based process, over time, has shown that it is a one-way street. I think this process that the minister has introduced goes a long way to addressing some of those issues.

The other bit of history I want to mention in relation to the politics of this is that back in 2008 there was an attempt to amend the Water Act. That amendment actually got through the Senate one night, and this is where the hypocrisy of the National Party in relation to these water issues really kicks in. It got through on the votes of the National Party. The Minerals Council invaded the place at about two o'clock—Mitch Hooke and the boys. The next day—and I think it was the first time in our political history—when the Senate reconvened the National Party and the Liberal Party recanted their vote, after making these glorious speeches the night before about how they were going to save the Liverpool Plains and other very significant agricultural assets. So I think we have to try to overcome the doublespeak. What we need is a clear commitment from both sides of this House as to the future of scientific rigour in determining whether these projects are acceptable in terms of the landscape they are being proposed in. Water is very, very significant, as most speakers have said. Water that starts near Willow Tree in my electorate can actually end up at the Murray mouth. There are massive groundwater systems across the Liverpool Plains, for instance.

With time running out, I particularly recognise Tim Duddy for the work that he has done with the Caroona Coal Action Group and the whole raft of very concerned people in the farming community and the associated communities for their involvement in this. It is a victory for common sense and for scientific rigour and particularly a victory for those people who have expressed concern, not in a political sense of left and right or green and red but with real concern for where they live and reside and the detrimental impacts that some of these activities could deliver.

I recommend the bill and congratulate the minister. I also recommend that all members of the House support the amendment that has been circulated which I will be talking to in the consideration in detail stage.

12:01 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013, which proposes to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, known as the EPBC Act, and commend the member for New England on his contribution. As he succinctly put it, this water trigger is long overdue. I have talked to people on street stalls about environmental issues and a lot of my residents had assumed that the environment minister had such a water trigger, but, sadly, that is not the case, so the proposed amendment provides that water resources will be a matter of national environmental significance in relation to coal seam gas and large coalmining developments. I particularly commend Minister Burke on this timely and important legislative initiative.

The Gillard Labor government, like many Labor governments before it, particularly from the time of Gough Whitlam on, has been focused on appropriately assessing the challenges to ensure that there is protection of our water resources. This amendment will allow the impacts of proposed coal seam gas and large coalmining developments on water resources to be comprehensively assessed at a national level where appropriate. The Australian government is responding to community concern to ensure the long-term health and viability of Australia's water resources and the sustainable development of the coal seam gas and coalmining industries.

The EPBC Act enables the Australian government to join with the states and territories in providing a truly national scheme of environment and heritage protection and biodiversity conservation. The EPBC Act focuses Australian government interests on the protection of matters of national environmental significance. That is what a good government does to address matters of national significance. Then, obviously, the states and territories have responsibility for matters of state and local significance.

We are a federation and it is sometimes a bit of a tussle to get the balance right. I particularly say that as a Queenslander because, in my home state of Queensland, environmental protection and the conservation of biodiversity is exceptionally important to the Moreton community. Just a few weeks back, I met with a delegation led by Brad Smith from Salisbury and some other concerned youngsters who were worried about the effects of coal seam gas mining on our environment. They are a part of the Lock the Gate campaign. We had some heated discussions; we disagree on many things. I certainly do not agree with some of the arguments in the Lock the Gate campaign. I think the Leader of the Opposition even articulated once in an interview with Alan Jones that the ownership of minerals should rest with the farmer, as in the landowner. I believe strongly that the ownership of minerals rests with the Crown, as in the people of Australia, not with the person who is farming on top of it. But I am sympathetic to the intersection of farming interests and mining interests. Every Australian wants to see our economy grow and prosper, but obviously we need to do it in an environmentally sustainable way and not at all at the expense of our environment.

In Queensland, we have a chequered history, I could say, when it comes to environmental protection. I grew up at a time when Joh Bjelke-Petersen was the Premier and was taking action in Cape York against the Indigenous population in Mapoon. Police squads were sent in to move people out in the middle of the night and people were beaten up on the roads around Daintree when they were trying to put roads through. However, there have been some success stories. Fraser Island is one of the great success stories in the area of environmental protection. Historically, we can thank the Premier of Queensland's dad for doing much of the great work in ensuring that Fraser Island was protected, and FIDO, the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation, which stood up to Joh Bjelke-Petersen. At that time, Malcolm Fraser and the Liberal and National parties were able to do something significant nationally for the future of Australia. Sadly, I think things are about to change in Queensland. I also acknowledge Peter Beattie because his legislation on the prevention of tree clearing was actually pivotal in allowing Australia to meet its Kyoto emissions targets. I also commend the Beattie and Bligh governments for the Wild Rivers legislation, which, sadly, the opposition leader and Premier Newman are against.

The Queensland Liberal-National Party Newman government did not make the environment a big issue in the lead-up to the 2012 election, but, sadly, I think the white shoes are back under the desk in George Street in Brisbane. In fact, the day after the election last year, the Deputy Premier, Jeff Seeney, announced that he wanted to make the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park smaller, which was an incredible statement to make the day after the election. Talk about a mandate! It was mentioned not in the lead-up to the election but the day after the election, on the Sunday.

There has been much more. I was reading in the Courier Mail today articles about uranium mining in Queensland. We have learnt that the uranium could be transported through the Great Barrier Reef, despite a report recommending that any new Queensland exports be moved through existing ports in Adelaide and Darwin, especially since, whilst there are some uranium deposits close to Townsville, most of it is to the west. By any logic, if you were trying to protect the green brand of Queensland, you would send uranium up through Darwin or down through Adelaide, not through the Great Barrier Reef.

I am a passionate advocate for keeping safeguards over our reef. I stood up to fight with my local constituents to ensure that a marine park was introduced to help protect the biodiversity and cultural heritage of the reef for our future generations. We now have the most significant connection of marine parks in the world. So I was heartbroken to learn that Queensland's mining minister Andrew Cripps refused to back away from a long-term reef export option after being handed 40 recommendations by the Uranium Mining Implementation Committee, which is looking into cranking up uranium mining in Queensland.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has recently warned that uranium mining in connection with the reef could put it in danger because of an increase in coastal development and shipping. The Beattie and Bligh Labor governments did not allow the mining of uranium in Queensland but now Premier Newman's Liberal and National parties are reversing the ban. Environmental groups and trade unions are working together against the plans to bring uranium mining back to Queensland, claiming that the benefits are small and the risks are high, particularly when it comes to the world-famous icon, the Great Barrier Reef.

Uranium mining uses huge quantities of water. Water is needed for separating the uranium from the ore, for dust control and for covering the radioactive sludge. Olympic Dam in South Australia pumps 33 million litres a day from the Great Artesian Basin and is licensed to use 42 million litres a day. In situ leach mining, such as that used at Beverley mine in South Australia, involves acid being injected into the ore body on site and its contamination of the groundwater is almost inevitable. The water is not recoverable as it is a toxic mixture of uranium, acid, copper and ammonium that is used in the processing.

I am worried about the possibility of uranium mining affecting Queenslanders. Mary Kathleen is already leaking radioactive water. I commend this legislation before the House.

12:09 pm

Photo of Robert OakeshottRobert Oakeshott (Lyne, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I acknowledge that we have a time frame so I will do what I can to keep my speech under five minutes. I certainly acknowledge many who have come from the apology event in the Great Hall this morning, and sincerely hope that today makes a very big difference for many—certainly for a better Australia.

And I sincerely hope that this legislation makes for a better Australia, as well. This is an important reform that has been driven largely by the member for New England, who is next to me, and by many in this chamber, across party lines, who are concerned about the status specifically of water, but more broadly about the place of ecosystems and landscapes in this century, when reforms will be ever more important in some of the great challenges of our time.

If the population around the world does not change we will need to be producing twice as much food on half the landscape with half the environmental damage. That is a very difficult and unanswered equation that this legislation will hopefully play a small part in helping to start to answer, from an Australian perspective. It will allow landscape and ecosystem services to be recognised more in state and federal law. I am disappointed that it has come to the point that the Commonwealth has had to use the fairly blunt instrument of legislation, but state land laws are failing to recognise some of the very real challenges faced at a community level and the importance of water to the overall landscape and community amenity.

I want to raise some issues that are not addressed by this bill. One is population health, which is given a low planning value and does, over time, need to be given a greater value in the planning process in terms of the cost benefit—for example in the cardiovascular impacts of some of the decisions made in planning with regard to large-scale open cut mining.

As well, what is not in this bill, but I hope is addressed over time, is the status of local government planning powers and, by extension, community empowerment. Communities are completely disengaged, disenfranchised and frustrated by the anomalies in our legislation that have approvals of mining and coal seam gas overriding many issues in local government planning law. I have an example in my local community of Gloucester, where an area, through community consultation, has been defined under local government law as an area of scenic protection, yet there is an approval before the state authorities to put in a large open-cut coalmine. That is being done under legislation that overpowers that local government scenic protection determination. That is an anomaly that, over time, I hope is addressed.

Another example relates to recent approvals. The Gloucester Valley, only weeks ago had an approval of 110 gas wells. It has all been very public that at the very same time that one in Western Sydney was removed from planning the Gloucester project was approved. This was done only one month ago. It was done only days before the New South Wales government put in place their two-kilometre exclusion zone. Therefore, quite rightly, the 2,500 people living in Gloucester will see the passage of this legislation as a bitter-sweet moment.

I urge the company involved and the state approval authorities to reconsider some of those recent approvals, when we are still developing the law in this chamber and at a state level—when the energy rush is on, yet the laws are immature and proving to be ad hoc. I urge the state and the company involved in the Gloucester approval to reconsider in light of the new laws of the land, at both a state and federal level. Hopefully, they will reflect on that.

I am not one to go down the path of retrospective legislation and to try and get this House to support that, as difficult and frustrating as that is, with the recent approval on my patch, but I will urge with all my power that the state and the individual company reconsider. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

1. acknowledges:

(a) deep concern in several communities, such as the Gloucester Valley, where approvals have been made in the middle of recent immature and ad hoc planning laws being changed or updated;

(b) the ongoing failure of state planning laws that have forced the Commonwealth to become more involved in land law, and that the Commonwealth minister and this parliament continue to advocate to all states and territories the importance and value or ecosystem and landscape management over the coming century;

(c) the anomalies in various planning laws that disempower communities, particularly the way various provisions in various mining acts override local government planning powers; and

(d) the low planning value currently placed on the cost/benefit of population health.

2. strongly urges companies involved, and governments involved, to reconsider some of these questionable recent approvals based on the four reasons above."

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Tony WindsorTony Windsor (New England, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment.

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We need a seconder who has not spoken, the Clerk informs me. Since the member for New England has spoken in the debate, he is unable to second the amendment. The House is seeking a seconder for the member for Lyne's amendment.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.