Thursday, 6 March 2014
Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013; Second Reading
I welcome this important initiative from Senator Larissa Waters—the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013. It is an opportunity for this parliament to consider the very future of our nation. We go to issues here that are critical to food security and to protecting our water resources, which are obviously central to how we function as a society and to the strength of our economy. The role of our agricultural industries needs to be maintained, and, at the moment, under present federal and state laws, farmers are put in a very difficult situation. I travel extensively in rural New South Wales and have heard stories of people just trying to protect their land, so often not being able to do their farming because they are often in court or at meetings or are writing submissions on issues that should have been worked out long ago. That is why we need to pass this legislation.
This legislation is about protecting the economy from the one-track path that successive governments—sadly, along with the big end of town, where the mining companies come from—have pushed us towards. Wherever the mining industry wants to go, it goes. What we have seen time and time again is that whatever the mining industry wants from governments the mining industry gets. Even when there are wins—and sometimes communities do get wins in the court—you will see governments then amending the legislation to stop those aspects of the laws being used by communities. So endangered habitat, water resources, agricultural land and regional communities are all suffering at the hands of mining companies that are putting their own interests—their profit lines—first and not looking at the immediate needs of our communities or long-term issues. This policy of 'dig it up and sell it off' really does not work. We cannot have the narrow focus which comes with that approach.
Farmers across the country have been struggling for years with the rapid expansion of the mining industry. Even if they are not coerced into agreements—and that certainly happens; I have heard many stories from farmers about how they have been intimidated and left few options by mining companies moving into their area—when the agreements are reached, landholders, if they have not already sold up, are not left many options. Some find that they cannot even sell their land, because by now they are surrounded by mines and it is not attractive for anybody else to buy. The mining companies know that they have bought out most of the land and that they can get away with it. Some of the landowners are then bound by confidentiality and cannot speak about their situation.
There are many moving stories of farmers taking these giant multinational mining companies on, and it is worth sharing some with you. One that I was inspired by, because it was such an extraordinary David-and-Goliath struggle, was the protracted battle of Ian and Robyn Moore, cattle graziers in Jerrys Plains in New South Wales. This really illustrates the need for this legislation. They were forced to allow NuCoal on to their land. Mr Moore is actually legally blind, and his ability to run the farm is dependent on his visual memory. He told of how he was nearly in tears when he discovered the intention of this mining company to explore on his land. These farmers, as well as fellow farmer Bryan Chapman, described the way in which the community was divided, with some people actually spying on their neighbours and threats being made against those who resisted mining. That is one of the saddest aspects I find when I go to these communities—division where you have had very united communities who have had a rich life, often over many generations of farming, and then this is what it comes to. The Moores' story is significant because it is a most blatant example of a government colluding with the mining industry.
The granting of the Doyles Creek mine exploration licence was found by the corruption watchdog ICAC to be corrupt—and, thankfully, five years later it has now been stopped. But imagine the stress that the Moore family and Bryan Chapman have gone through as they have tried to deal with this. The Moores' comments to the Newcastle Herald on this is telling. They said:
We haven't got university degrees; we are just farmers. Why should we have to fight like this to defend our livelihoods?
That was a point that Senator Christine Milne made when she spoke about the direct actions—the courageous, innovative stands that these people are taking—and that they should not have to do that. These people want to get on with their farming or their small businesses in the country town—they want to be able to get on with their daily work—but so often they have to take on these mining companies in what are incredibly challenging battles.
The stories that come out of these communities are from right across the country. I also pay tribute to cattle farmer Wendy Bowman, in the Upper Hunter, from whom I have learnt a great deal in terms of how she has very consistently fought, for more than a decade. In fact, it would go back much longer than that. When the mining companies came to the Upper Hunter they saw the threat that was posed to not just their very livelihood but also to the future of fertile land in this wonderful valley. Wendy's farm is largely surrounded by mines these days but she continues to battle these companies.
This is not always a depressing story in terms of how these struggles are taken on, because the rampant invasion of the mining industry has caused something really extraordinary to happen—and that is reflected in the bill. People from all over the country and from all walks of life are calling on their governments to slow down. They are taking a common-sense approach. It is obvious that something is amiss. You just have to travel through these mining areas and talk to the communities to see that clearly something has to change.
This is where I pay tribute to mining-affected communities and to the Lock the Gate movement, which has grown exponentially by linking up people who have just recently been facing similar problems to those which more experienced farmers have had to face and sharing their knowledge, working out how they can write their submissions and even talking about taking direct action and going to the workshops. It is truly inspiring how this struggle is gathering momentum across the country.
I particularly wanted to mention Liverpool Plains, where both the Pilliga and Maules Creek are under threat from different mining projects. I was in the area recently and the campaign was so impressive, with such a diverse range of people taking action there. Only last weekend 600 people in the town of Narrabri gathered to voice their concerns over the extensive plans that Santos has to produce coal seam gas in the Pilliga.
Then, in February just past, Coonamble farmer Mark Robertson locked himself to the gates of the coal seam gas drill-rig in the Pilliga. Also in the Pilliga, more recently, Coonabarabran farmer Ted Borowski brought a massive line-up of coal seam gas trucks to a halt by locking himself to one of them.
They are courageous actions, and it takes a lot of consideration to take those steps. These people should not be put in this position. It is common sense that we allow farmers to protect their land. They should not have to be fighting against the industrialisation of their landscape.
A number of the members of the Lock the Gate allowance are in the gallery today, and I commend their work. I look forward to meeting with them later today and learning more about the great work they are undertaking. I congratulate my colleague Senator Larissa Waters. This is a bill that should pass this chamber. It is one small way we can help ensure that we protect our farming land and our water resources.