Monday, 10 September 2012
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development) Bill 2012; In Committee
With respect, Minister, it is not going to be terribly effective legislation. It is a great shame because this was an opportunity for the federal government to step in and caretake what is an incredibly precious national natural resource, groundwater, which so many of our rural communities and productive economies depend on—let alone our natural environment. It is very dismaying that we see pure politics operating here. Of course, that operates a lot of the time—but there seems to be no other motive for this bill because it is deliberately drafted to have as little impact as possible. It is such a shame. It really lets down all those communities which are seriously worried about the future of their land and are basing those fears on advice from CSIRO and the water commission which are both saying, 'The science isn't sufficiently advanced that we know what the long-term impacts of this industry will be; yes, it could have irreversible, long-term impacts.'
Why are you flying in the face of that expert advice? Why are you flouting those communities' concerns when you have an opportunity to do something to fix these issues? It is not that hard. There are just a few small amendments that would strengthen this. It needs to go much further, and I have two other bills before this place to deal with the broader issues of coal seam gas. One is to give farmers the right to say no to coal seam gas on their land while there is this uncertainty about its long-term impacts. If the government needed that land there are always compulsory acquisition powers at both the state and federal level, so there is no concern about inhibiting the necessary functions of government if government deems it necessary.
The other bill is to give the federal environment minister some water power, otherwise it is really making a mockery. You made mention in your earlier statement of the fact that there were already some conditions about water imposed on those Queensland CSG approvals. Yes, there were but that is only because there was a groundwater dependent threatened species that was going to be significantly affected by those coal seam gas activities. But there will not always be a groundwater dependent species that is on the threatened species list and lives in the same place as coal seam gas activities want to mine. So I am afraid it is not logical to say that the minister can act, because he can only act in those particular circumstances and those circumstances will not always be replicated.
It is so important that this chamber and the government—and the opposition for that matter, although there are certain individuals in the opposition who are very strong on this issue—take this opportunity to act to protect our water. We have got one chance and this bill is just such an insult to all of the people who really care about our groundwater, our land, our food productivity—and our climate for that matter and also our reef for that matter because of all of the massive dredging that is going on to build new ports to export all of this coal seam gas once it has been liquefied, which in itself is an energy intensive process. So I think it is a great shame given there is a chance here to set up a body that might do more than just provide advice and that might actually enable the federal minister to act, if he gave himself the powers to act rather than instead weakening the laws, as he is proposing in some other legislation that is due to come to us shortly, and also weakening it all, by the COAG process, by handing off half his powers to the states. It makes no sense that you should dabble in coal seam gas in a completely ineffective manner. You might as well not have pursued this bill at all. It will not actually help much. It is a tiny step in the right direction but so much more is needed and it could have been made so much stronger. Unfortunately, we have had no support for these amendments.
I am pleased to see that some of the Nats are in the chamber now on this important debate because they do talk the talk on coal seam gas. I have to give them credit for that but I really am disappointed when they do not always come into the chamber to vote in accordance with what they say. Senators, you were not here earlier. I am glad you are here now. I really hope that you will be voting in support of this amendment for a moratorium when I move it. Shake your head you might but we do the same, as do the communities who feel ripped off, frankly, by your lack of support when it comes to the actual numbers.
Senator Conroy interjecting—