Monday, 17 June 2013
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013; In Committee
He deserves a medal. He really does. I move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 7375:
(1) Schedule 1, page 8 (after line 4), after item 6, insert:
6A After section 131AB
131AC Minister must be satisfied that owners and occupiers of land have consented etc.
(1) This section applies to the taking of an action if a provision of Subdivision FB of Division 1 of Part 3 is a controlling provision for the action.
(2) The Minister must not approve, for the purposes of the controlling provision, the taking of the action, unless the Minister is satisfied that any owner, and any occupier, of land that would be likely to be affected by the taking of the action:
(a) has obtained independent legal advice; and
(b) has obtained independent advice in relation to the likely impacts of the taking of the action; and
(c) has freely given informed consent in relation to the taking of the action.
on sheet 7375.
This amendment goes to whether or not landholders have the right to say no to coal seam gas on their land—a matter which has often occupied the opposition's minds, although, sadly, it appears that they like to change it more than they like to keep it. This amendment once and for all will give both sides of the chamber the chance to put on record their actual views on this matter, though not of course Senator Joyce, who I note has a pair to attend Q&A rather than talk about coal seam gas, which folk are no doubt very interested to know.
For the benefit of folk in the chamber this amendment would give landholders the right to say no. Earlier I questioned the minister about its constitutionality and was unsurprised to have it confirmed that, yes, indeed, it is a constitutional amendment. Effectively this would preclude the minister from approving coal seam gas unless a landholder had both obtained legal and scientific advice and had then freely given consent to the coal seam gas or coalmining occurring on his or her land.
This is not only a means of better empowering communities with appropriate information as to the genuine risks to their land from coal seam gas and coalmining, but it also then empowers them to say no to coal seam gas. Importantly, this does not change the ownership of the resource, as the opposition likes to go on and on about. It is very clear that this amendment does not affect the ownership of the resource. Should any government, be it Commonwealth or state, wish to acquire the land to access the resource, they can do that using standard acquisition powers. That has been a bit of a red herring in the debate that I am happy to put to bed—to mix metaphors in a most inappropriate way.
Moving on, the amendment is clearly constitutional. Clearly it does not change the ownership of the minerals. I also want to note that the landholder rights requirement does not reduce any of the other requirements for environmental assessment of coal and coal seam gas. This certainly does not lower the bar. In fact, it basically gives landholders a bit more bargaining power. What we know is happening is that coal seam gas companies are essentially coming in, acting like cowboys, offering landholders a variety of money—either not much at all or an awful lot to shut them up, and the offer you get depends on your bargaining power. The confidentiality clauses that go along with those agreements mean that neighbours cannot talk about whether they are getting a good deal or a dodgy deal. So, nobody knows what a good price is.
And what price do you put on water supply? We have the National Water Commission and CSIRO both saying, 'We don't understand the long-term impacts.' I am afraid you cannot drink gas and you cannot eat coal. I suspect landholders, once they are in receipt of this scientific information and legal advice, will exercise that right to say no.
I want to put on record my thanks to all of the communities who have locked the gate against coal and coal seam gas and who have demonstrated that when communities stand together they can actually resist and protect their land and water. I think that is a great credit to them and gives me hope that community sentiment can win out despite the might of these big mining companies. Wouldn't it be nice if those people did not have to break the law to do so. Hence the genesis of this amendment.
I also want to take the unusual step of thanking Tony Abbott for the original idea for this amendment. He made a statement in August 2011, which he has occasionally repeated and many times back-flipped on, that landholders should be able to say no to mining companies. We welcome that. We would like him to go back to that very sensible original position, but, sadly, it seems that he is not able to hold that position for longer than 12 hours. No doubt, the folk who are in the members' dining room tonight— (Time expired)