Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Amendment (Support for Infrastructure Financing) Bill 2019; Consideration in Detail
(1) Schedule 1, page 4 (after line 10), after item 4, insert:
4A At the end of section 7
(4) EFIC must not perform a function, or exercise a power, to the extent that the performance of the function or the exercise of the power relates to a project that involves, or would facilitate, the mining and export of thermal coal on a commercial scale.
(5) Without limiting subsection (4), EFIC must not perform a function, or exercise a power, to the extent that the performance of the function or the exercise of the power relates to:
(a) providing insurance or financial services or products in relation to a project that involves, or would facilitate, the mining and export of thermal coal on a commercial scale; or
(b) encouraging banks, or other financial institutions, carrying on business in Australia to finance, or assist in financing, export contracts or eligible export transactions in relation to a project that involves, or would facilitate, the mining and export of thermal coal on a commercial scale; or
(c) providing information or advice to any person regarding insurance or financial arrangements available to support the export of thermal coal on a commercial scale.
The Greens have a number of concerns about the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Amendment (Support for Infrastructure Financing) Bill 2019, and they'll be prosecuted further in the Senate. One thing that is obvious about the purpose of this bill is that it is to lay down guidelines, mandates and powers for how Efic operates with respect to companies here and their activities overseas. In that context, nothing could be more important at the moment, especially when we are on the eve of an election, than to deal with Efic's mandate with respect to coal being mined here and exported overseas. It is especially important to deal with that because we know that this government previously, back in 2017, without seeking advice from the department, changed Efic's mandate so that it could start funding coalmining projects. At the very same time banks were retreating, the then minister, of his own volition—perhaps after receiving some request from coalmining companies and donors; we don't know—changed its mandate. He did it all secretly, and it took freedom of information requests to unearth what the minister had done.
We also know that last year various companies and, indeed, Efic took advantage of that revised mandate and had discussions with companies, including Adani and companies that might supply, be engaged with or be related to Adani, about using Australian taxpayers' money to fund a project at the same time they couldn't get finance. That was, one would argue, very clearly in breach of the purpose of Efic, to the extent that it has a purpose—and the Greens have been arguing for some time that there should be some substantial changes to the law. Even the idea that Australian taxpayers' money would go to support the opening up of the Galilee coal basin so that coal could be exported overseas by a company not owned and run in Australia, but by an overseas company, should have sent alarm bells ringing for many people.
There are a number of reasons why it was wrong: the way the minister went about it; the idea that Australian taxpayers' money would be used to fund something that would ultimately benefit an overseas company; and, fundamentally, from the Greens' perspective, the fact that we would be using taxpayers' money to assist the Adani coalmine. That's all reprehensible.
It is not just the Greens who are saying this, and have been for some time. I understand that other political parties, like the Labor Party, have also said that they oppose taxpayers' money going to support the Adani coalmine. In that context, where we know that there has been a relationship between Efic and Adani and people who might play a role in the Adani project, we are not dealing with a mere theoretical issue of where Australian taxpayers' dollars might go but with a very real issue—one that requires amendment to Efic's charter, if you want to call it that, to prohibit Australian taxpayers' money being used with respect to thermal coal projects, and that includes Adani.
As such, I am moving a simple amendment to Efic's powers and functions. Whatever one might think about the rest of the bill—and the Greens may have a different view—it doesn't touch what the rest of the bill does. To the extent that there's clearly an agreement now between the two parties about reforming Efic's mandate, this wouldn't interfere with that. Unless of course the agreement includes a secret nod and a wink with respect to Adani or some other coal companies, this should not be objectionable. This should not be objectionable to the extent that people think it is wrong that Australian taxpayers' money should go to coal. (Time expired)
I'm deeply saddened but not surprised at this predictable action taken by the member for Melbourne. This bill, with bipartisan support, is on a fairly tight time frame to get through the processes of this House and the Senate so that it can be put in place and we can do the good work that this bill, with the support of the majority of members in this House, is designed to do. The actions taken by the member for Melbourne now are unfortunately going to put another bend in that road, making it more difficult for this legislation to pass both houses of this parliament.
I'm also rather disgusted that he is using this bill, which is designed to improve our engagement with our Pacific neighbours and also help improve their lifestyle and future opportunities, to make a cheap political point. It always amazes me that the member for Melbourne, who represents probably one of the most altered electorates in Australia—if you can find a piece of the natural environment in the member for Melbourne's electorate, I would ask you to do so—wants to work against an industry that supplies direct jobs for 53,000 Australians, all in regional areas. We have a bill which is going to help people in our less-prosperous neighbouring countries to become more prosperous in the future, and the elitist Greens member for the seat of Melbourne, from his ivory tower somewhere up in one of those glass castles, is not only stopping this parliament from doing what the majority of its members want it to do but is also attacking the coal industry—our No. 1 export earner, which probably pays for a lot of the services that are supplied to his constituents in Melbourne.
But the changes in the bill—this monstrous conspiracy theory that he talks about—also can go to fund rare earth mines, cobalt mines and lithium mines—all those things, Member for Melbourne, that the electric cars that you are so fond of need. I might add, Member for Melbourne, that you also need coal to build an electric car. That's the hypocrisy of the member for Melbourne in this place. The party that's supposed to stand up for the downtrodden and the battler is now slowing down a bill that's going to help our neighbours in the Pacific and also attacking an industry that employs 53,000 Australians in regional Australia. I oppose his amendments.
If the government is concerned about time, we've got another day of sitting and so there's plenty of time for this to go through. If you're that concerned about time then don't bring a bill on for debate at 10 to seven in the Federation Chamber. Organise your timetable better. Don't blame people for standing up here and doing what the Australian people elected us to, which is to have a debate and move our amendments. If it's that important to you, if somehow you can't get it through in the next day, even though you have bipartisan support, you have well and truly lost control of this parliament. Don't come in here and blame one person for moving one amendment for your utter failure.
The government mention the Pacific. I'll tell you what: a year and a bit ago I was at the world climate negotiations and I sat down—
Mr Coulton interjecting—
I bet the member who interjects hasn't had that many discussions with people from Kiribati or Tonga. Do you know what the No. 1 issue was that the members of the Pacific islands wanted to talk to the Australian delegation about? It was Adani. That was the No. 1 issue. They came to us. They couldn't get an audience with the minister. He wouldn't meet with them. The No. 1 issue that they wanted to raise was Adani. They were pleading with Australian politicians: 'Please do everything you can to stop the Adani coalmine.' For them, the continued mining of coal, the opening up of the Galilee Basin, poses an existential threat to their countries. So do not come in here and have the gall to talk about the welfare of Pacific islanders because, if you had the courtesy to sit down with people from Kiribati or Tuvalu, you would hear them saying, 'We want the Australian government to act on climate change and we do not want the Australian government opening up more and more coalmines.' And I bet they do not want the Australian government using taxpayers' money to do it as well. This government have the gall to pretend that they are somehow interested in advancing the interests of our nearest Pacific islanders at the same time as they are posing an existential threat to them.
Mr Coulton interjecting—
The fact that the government member laughs at this point recalls when Peter Dutton was Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. Who can forget that hot-mic moment when he was laughing about members of the Pacific islands not turning up to a meeting on time. 'Who cares about time when the ocean's lapping at your doors?' he said. Maybe the government might like to have a look at what the Pacific islanders are asking us to do before they begin moralising.
They talk about jobs. There are nigh on 70,000 jobs that are dependent on a healthy reef. Are they real jobs or not? If they are real jobs—and I say they are real jobs—then we need to do everything we possibly can to ensure that the reef remains healthy. Ask the former Chief Scientist or any respectable scientist in this area—the No. 1 threat to a healthy reef and the nearly 70,000 jobs that depend on it is global warming. And what is the single biggest contribution to that? Certainly from the perspective of what the Australian government does, it is coal. If you oppose this amendment, you are saying you don't care about the 70,000 jobs that are reliant on a healthy reef and you don't care about our Pacific islander neighbours. You're basically saying, 'We want to give a big tick to the Australian government spending money on a coalmine, on Adani.' You're saying that is okay.
As to all the other things that the government said are important about this bill: you can proceed with all of those and have all of those. I may disagree with you, but you can proceed and have them. All that will be added to it is something that deals with a very urgent and very real threat, which is that the Australian government is doing what it can to give money to support coal. We know that they are bending over backwards to try and do that before the election because they know that an incoming government might have a different approach.
I'll say one final thing—a detail thing. The minister gets up and talks about, 'You need coal to make steel.' The government may not be aware of the difference between thermal and coking coal, but there's a difference between thermal and coking coal. And this amendment applies to thermal coal. So get up and make all the arguments you like about how you need steel—
Make all the points you want about how you need steel for electric cars, but maybe you don't understand the difference between thermal and metallurgical coal. This amendment applies to thermal coal. So don't come in here and pretend all of a sudden that you can oppose this on the basis that you care about the Pacific islanders, because the Pacific islanders don't want us to proceed with coal. Don't come in here and pretend this is about jobs in Queensland, because there's near on 70,000 jobs that are threatened by the decline in the reef. And don't come in here and pretend that this is fanciful, because we know that this government, under a veil of secrecy, has changed ethics mandates in the past. And we know that you are busting a gut to write cheques for coal companies before the election. This amendment will stop that.
So I commend this amendment to the House, and I hope that it has the support of enough members of the crossbench, and, indeed, of the opposition, when this comes up, because the rest of your bill will be allowed to sail through but this will stop the government from writing those cheques that we know it wants to write before the federal election.
I thank the member. The question is that the amendment be agreed to. I'm going to put the question. Those of that opinion say aye, against no.
As it is necessary to resolve this question to enable further questions to be considered in relation to the bill, in accordance with standing order 195 the bill will be returned to the House for further consideration.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 18:57