Monday, 18 February 2019
Galilee Basin (Coal Prohibition) Bill 2019; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
Unprecedented bushfires in Tasmania, the slow death of the Murray-Darling river system, the flooding of northern Queensland.
We are in the middle of a climate emergency.
The recent extreme weather events are only the beginning of a disaster of unbelievable scale.
Until we are able to end the release of toxic greenhouse gases and begin to draw them out of the atmosphere, global temperatures will continue to inexorably rise. Year after year, decade after decade.
Cities will flood and burn. Extinctions will accelerate. The survival of humanity as we know it will be threatened.
This is the stark reality we face and why we must do everything we can to avert this catastrophe.
The most important action we can take is to stop burning coal and to do this we need to keep coal in the ground.
That is why today I am introducing this bill.
This bill, the Galilee Basin (Coal Prohibition) Bill 2019, will prohibit the opening up and mining of thermal coal in Queensland's Galilee Basin.
The Galilee Basin is a vast reserve of coal in Central North Queensland.
As many members would know it has been the subject of intense focus because of the proposed controversial Adani coalmine.
One of the reasons the Adani mine is the subject of such a fierce battle is that the development would open the door on one of the last remaining significant and untouched coal reserves in Australia.
It is hoped that closing the door on Adani will close the door on the future of coalmining in Australia.
But it should not be up to the millions of Australians to close the door on coalmining in the Galilee Basin.
As parliamentarians we have a duty to protect all Australians and our way of life.
And this duty requires us to keep coal in the ground, and that is why we should pass this bill.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released in October of last year, once again reiterates we must keep coal in the ground if we're to have any chance of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees. Scarily, this report from last year tells us we may hit this 1.5-degree threshold as soon as 2030, in less than 12 years time.
This bill will prevent the disastrous Adani Carmichael mine from going ahead as well as eight other mega coalmines planned for the Galilee Basin.
The Galilee Basin is a giant carbon bomb.
We know that if the entire Galilee Basin is developed it has the potential to add more than 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year.
Australia's emissions continue to grow, we currently emit around 560 million tonnes of CO2 per year ourselves; emissions from burning coal in the Galilee Basin would be greater than our annual emissions.
If the Galilee Basin were a country, it would be the seventh-highest CO2 emitter in the world, sitting just behind Germany and well above Canada and the UK.
Allowing this basin to be opened up is criminal.
This drastic addition to global emissions has the potential to single-handedly derail efforts to avoid runaway global climate change.
As a country, we haven't opened a new coal basin in 50 years, and we cannot and must not be starting now.
The provisions of this bill are simple and effective.
The bill will have the effect of ensuring Adani's Carmichael coalmine could not proceed, nor could any other coalmine proposed for the Galilee Basin.
It does this by prohibiting constitutional corporations within the meaning of section 51 (xx) of the Constitution from mining for thermal coal within the Galilee Basin.
On some of the technical provisions of the bill, clause 4 of the bill makes it clear that it has a wide application making clear that the proposed law is to have effect irrespective of any other operating law or any permit, title or instrument issued under operating law, but it includes the usual savings clause with respect to section 51 (xxxi) of the Constitution.
Clause 5 makes it clear that we are talking here about thermal coal, which is coal used primarily for generation of electricity. This bill does not—as some have sought to misrepresent—apply to the use of coal, sometimes called metallurgical or coking coal, used in the production of steel. We are talking about coal for electricity, which we know we can now substitute with renewables.
Clause 5 also outlines the relevant boundaries where the prohibition applies to be the Galilee subregion in western Central Queensland, as identified by the Australian government's Bioregional Assessment Program map. That is because we not only need to stop Adani but we need to stop several of the other proposals that are hoping to piggyback on what they hope will be a successful Adani opening up of the basin. If we're going to stop Adani—if you believe in stopping Adani—then the same logic applies to other coalmines in that basin as well.
Clause 6 of the bill imposes penalties for those who would seek to flout the provisions of this new legislation, and the penalty level replicates the provisions in Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 for mining in a Commonwealth reserve.
We saw last week what can happen in this parliament, right here right now, when, on an urgent matter, the opposition, Labor, works with the crossbench on a matter of national importance. We managed to change the law and make a big difference. If we can do that with respect to refugees, we can do it with respect to climate change.
And we need to do it with respect to climate change, because we have a government that comes in here waving lumps of coal around and pretending that climate change is a joke. It's going to be up to us, the rest of the parliament, to hold this government to account.
In respect of that, it is with great disappointment that we see the opposition continue to side with the government on this crucial question of what is going to happen with Adani and the Galilee Basin, because the Labor Party could stop the Adani Carmichael coalmine today, by supporting this bill to end thermal coalmining in the Galilee Basin.
Again, I reiterate: we're not talking about coal for steel; we are talking about coal for electricity, which we can and must do without. We could have the numbers in the parliament to immediately stop Adani and keep all the Galilee coal in the ground, but only if the opposition has the guts to back our bill.
We know the government won't, and that is why this parliament is standing up to the government, but we need Labor's support.
The Leader of the Opposition appears more worried about an attack from coalmining companies and the coalition than protecting the climate and Australians.
And the Labor Party, like the coalition, is hooked on the donations from coalmining and other resource companies.
The Labor, Liberal and National Parties have accepted $3.7 million in donations from the fossil fuel sector since 2013.
The government and Labor could stop Adani by voting for this bill, or by committing now to a review of Adani's Carmichael mine approvals on the basis of new information about the company's conduct and the state of the world's climate that has come about since the approvals were granted.
This is what we saw happen in the Franklin Dam campaign: an opposition stood up in an election campaign and said that they would take an action if they were elected, and, together with a people powered movement, it helped stop an environmental disaster.
We could have the same again, if we have courage from the Labor Party on the question of Adani and on the question of coal.
Governments pass laws all the time that outlaw the mining or production of hazardous materials.
This bill isn't reinventing the wheel. We didn't pay compensation when asbestos was outlawed.
We didn't pay compensation to tobacco companies when we instituted plain packaging.
And we don't need to pay compensation if coalmining in the Galilee Basin is outlawed.
Yes, of the course, we need a just transition for the people and the communities who are affected, but we can do that with will and we have done it before. We would no longer say that we should keep mining asbestos because it provides jobs; we would say that the benefits are outweighed by the detrimental costs. That's what we must start saying about coal as well.
This debate isn't happening in a vacuum. All around the world countries are moving away from coal. The coal that Australia exports is responsible for at least twice as much emissions as the coal that we burn at home.
I want to conclude by paying tribute to Greta Thunberg, a school student from Sweden, whose lone action on striking on a Friday to call for action on climate change from political leaders has led to a global movement of climate strikers around the world, including in Australia. The House will recall that despite our Prime Minister telling the kids to stay in school, they defied him in their thousands. As a result, he is now the subject of ridicule and derision among the children of Australia. On 15 March students from around the world will conduct a global strike, and they are calling on adults to join them. Students and children are sick of the inaction of the world's politicians. As Greta Thunberg recently said:
We all have a choice. We can create transformational action that will safeguard the living conditions for future generations. Or we can continue with our business as usual and fail.
That is up to you and me.
She went on to say:
I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.
It's time for everyone in this place to put out the fire. It is time for everyone to act. I commend this bill to the House. (Time expired)