Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013; In Committee

11:19 am

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Briefly, I rise firstly to support the comments of Senator Macdonald, who spoke so eloquently about the starving cattle in North Queensland and other places in Queensland. And I have spoken about this openly and frequently in Queensland and other places. There is no need for that cattle to be there in the first place. The heavily pregnant cows are about to calve. Their calves from last year should be being prepared now for sale and those from two years ago should have long gone. The important point to be made here is that so many of the national parks, which the graziers and the pastoralists requested be opened and whose request the Queensland state government approved—and I do hope Minister Burke will see the value in the matter—were in fact cattle stations. They are rich in buffel grass and species introduced specifically for cattle-grazing purposes. The perverse irony here is that if they are not opened that buffel grass will dry off and burn, and many of the environmental assets in those parks will be destroyed by the burning.

In the few moments allowed to me, I want to make some points. It is interesting that this amendment debate was gagged by the Greens or they joined in support of the gag in gagging their own amendment, something I find remarkable. I want to place on the record the circumstance of Western Australia, as a Western Australian senator in this. Whilst we recognise, as Senator Joyce said, that the coalition will be supporting the water trigger, the point is that these issues are principally confined to the eastern seaboard, particularly Queensland and New South Wales. Western Australia is not commercially prospective for coal seam gas, but we did view these amendments with concern.

In the lead-up to the introduction of the amendments, the Commonwealth established the independent expert scientific committee to review coal seam gas and large coalmining deposits. Western Australia is not a signatory to the national partnership agreement that established the IESC. Western Australia views this as yet another imposition, another layer of regulatory approvals, over existing, comprehensive state regulatory arrangements in Western Australia. I use this opportunity to refute the comments that were made here by another Western Australian Greens senator, Senator Ludlam, in which he condemned Western Australia and its environmental processes.

It is a relief to us in Western Australia that this amendment has gone down. The IESC and the proposed amendments would only have served to increase delays and uncertainty, to encourage a lack of confidence in state processes in Western Australia and ultimately—and most importantly—to undermine the credentials of the state's Environmental Protection Authority. This is an organisation that I have had a long association with in different aspects of my professional career in Western Australia, and I have always found the EPA to be independent, to be fair and to be very, very serious in its approach. Representations that we made in my time as a chief executive officer of a state instrumentality were often rejected by the EPA. Therefore, we see it as a very severe issue that the Commonwealth would have the capacity to walk in and, for no reason, overrule it.

In the case of Western Australia, it is not coal seam gas but shale oil and shale gas that is very much the area of concern. I want to place on record that the WA government has a strong regulatory framework for commercial gas extraction, from deep shale and so-called tight rock formations, especially where hydraulic fracture stimulation—or fracking, as it is known—is involved. Those listening may be interested to know that fracking has safely been used in the Western Australian mining and extractive industries for some 55 years, since 1958, with no—I repeat: no—adverse effects on the environment, on water sources or indeed on the health of the communities in their vicinity.

I again comment on the statements made by Senator Ludlam yesterday in which he called into question the transparency of information regarding fracking chemicals. I say this, and I say it proudly: in Western Australia, we have the strongest chemical disclosure requirements of any Australian jurisdiction; we have rigorous environmental and safety approval processes; and we have international standards for well design and integrity. It is not acceptable for any senator, let alone one from our own state, to stand up and deny that to be the fact. I would urge that the Western Australian standards be scrutinised nationally to establish that what I have said is the case and, if it is the case, let them become the benchmark for other state jurisdictions.

We have a very robust regulatory regime in Western Australia. We have an independent environmental protection authority. It is for that reason Western Australia coalition senators and, I am pleased to see, their Labor colleagues voted down that particular amendment.

I conclude by reflecting on the potential value of the shale oil industry not only for WA but also for the nation generally. It would appear once again that we have amongst the highest levels of shale gas reserves anywhere in the world. We already see that, in the United States of America, shale oil and shale gas in particular are now being extracted and, most importantly, we see a resurgence of manufacturing in the United States as the Americans bring back onshore, to continental USA, much of the manufacturing that they had outsourced to other countries. How wonderful it is, when their manufacturing industries were suffering so severely, with so much criticism that everything was going offshore, that now, because of cheaper energy, they actually have the capacity to bring their manufacturing back onshore.

Of course, we have all spoken in this debate about environmental safety, community safety and health and wellbeing. But I say again: we have the safeguards in place. I look forward to the extraction of shale gas being the next area in which Western Australia will not only advance as a state but also be able to make its contribution to the national economy.


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