Senate debates

Thursday, 6 March 2014


Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013; Second Reading

11:23 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make some concluding remarks about the Landholders’ Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013. I am really proud of all of my fellow Greens senators for the contributions they have made, speaking on behalf of the communities in their respective states about the rights of those people to clean air, to clean water, to a healthy climate, to strong and united communities and to continue to grow the food that we all rely on into the future

I was saddened that we did not have any contributions from the government, either the Liberals or the Nationals, on this bill, particularly when those folk have been so hasty in the bush to make promises to people. Sadly, they did not see fit today to make a contribution on this issue to say that they support it or oppose it. They have instead chosen to remain silent. I understand that is because they do not support this bill and because they think it is not their problem but the problem of state governments to fix this issue. The state governments are not fixing this issue, and it is about time—in fact, it is well past time—that the federal government stepped in and gave the communities that we are all here to represent the right to protect their land, their water and our climate from these dangerous industries.

With great sadness, I want to particularly mention some of the Labor Party's contributions to this debate. Senator Farrell was talking about the donation made by Santos—one of the big coal seam gas companies in this country—to the National Party. Somewhat perplexingly, he was defending Santos and the donation that they had made to the National Party. He went so far as to describe Santos as a good corporate citizen. He said that he had not heard any complaints from the community about Santos. Senator Farrell perhaps needs to listen a bit more closely to communities who have been tossed aside and bullied by Santos and a number of the other big coal seam gas companies. To be honest, I was horrified to hear the Labor Party defending the rights of coal seam gas companies to buy support from other parties. That is horrific. He then went on to say that this parliament should not put impediments in the way of coal seam gas. We have some folk up in the gallery from Lock the Gate. Are those people impediments? Is their health an impediment? Is a continued fresh water supply an impediment? Is food security an impediment? Is a healthy climate an impediment? Is the integrity of our ecosystems an impediment to Senator Farrell? I was incredibly disappointed. Those things are not impediments; they are fundamental rights that all of us here in this chamber should be defending. The primacy of the private profits of multinational corporations over the rights of communities, the environment and our health is an insidious disease and it seems to have infected all parts of this chamber.

We know from studies done by the Australia Institute that many of the profits of those companies flow offshore. From memory I believe that 86 per cent of mining profits flow offshore, and I include gas mining in that term. That the private profits of overseas multinationals should somehow trump the health of communities, land, water, the climate and the reef, and that those things should merely be an impediment to those private profits, is incredibly disappointing. Sadly, it says to me that the fossil-fuel companies have got their hold on all of the big parties in this place.

One of the other speakers—and, again, there were no government speakers, so I am referring to the Labor speakers, because they at least did make a contribution, albeit to oppose the bill—Senator Furner, talked about the jobs that the coal seam gas industry in particular has provided, as he claims. I would say two things about that. Look at the job figures that were promised by those companies in their environmental impact statements and then look at the reality. You will find a great disparity, and that is not an uncommon occurrence. We routinely see vastly inflated claims about job numbers spruiked in the early approval stages for these big projects; then we see the reality, and the numbers rarely eventuate. The jobs are rarely for locals, they are often fly-in fly-out workers, and rarely does the time frame for those jobs ever provide any meaningful support to those people.

I want to mention another key point. What about the jobs in agriculture? What about the jobs in the tourism industry? Why is it that those jobs are somehow worth less than jobs at coal seam gas companies? I do not understand. We have long-term, sustainable jobs in agriculture and tourism that could last us and could prop up this economy for years to come, and yet somehow they are less important than the short-term jobs for fossil-fuel companies. It does not add up in terms of the time frame for those jobs, and it does not add up in terms of the sheer numbers. At last count—and I acknowledge that my ABS figures are perhaps a year or so out of date—there are about 30,000 people in the mining industry in Australia. We have 63,000 people who need a healthy Great Barrier Reef for their livelihood so, even on a pure numbers parameter, that does not stack up. So I take great umbrage at Senator Furner's ability to sadly parrot back the rhetoric of the coal seam gas companies rather than properly consider the effect that this industry has on agriculture and tourism. Coal seam gas threatens the surface operations of farming and it threatens the groundwater. It cannot coexist with agriculture. It cannot coexist with a thriving tourism industry when there are national landscapes across the country, which have been listed, threatened by coal seam gas and coalmining. Then there is the Great Barrier Reef, our greatest tourism asset, likewise threatened by the export of those commodities. Some jobs are more important than others, it seems.

I again flag my concerns with the 'fan-girling'—if I can use the common term—that we saw from Senator Farrell in relation of Santos. He said that they are good corporate citizens and that we should not be putting impediments in their way. I do not like to get personal but, Senator Farrell, we are all here to represent people and to represent our communities; we are not actually here to represent Santos. They are doing pretty well by themselves.

I would ask all senators to reflect on the fact that we have had a delegation from Lock the Gate in this place this week seeking meetings with each of you, I understand. Certainly some senators and many members have met with that delegation, as they should. We get a lot of lobbyists walking these halls—a lot of big mining companies, a lot of gas companies, a lot of the big end of town. They get ready access to governments, whichever colour they are from. It is not often that the community has their voice heard or reflected. Now is the most crucial time for that to happen. As I say, we still have Lock the Gate folk in the public gallery and they have been here all morning. They will remain be here today. I would urge them, please, to continue to seek meetings with the folk who are from their states that they are here representing.

We have had no speakers from the government. I want to just highlight my disappointment that they say one thing when in the bush and then do another when they are in this chamber. Their election commitment document was very clear. I mentioned it earlier and I would like to mention it again because, as far as the coalition go, it is an okay policy position. It is not as strong as the Greens would like, but they do say that access to prime agricultural land should only be allowed with the farmers' agreement. Tony Abbott made that promise to Debbie Orr in Tara in Queensland, which is where I am from. Nobody should be forced to have a gas well on their property. I welcome those comments. We agree, so please follow through. It is not okay to say one thing and then do the opposite or, worse, stay completely silent when legislation—the genesis of which was your original remarks—is now before the parliament for debate. Silence is not okay.

I acknowledge Senator John Madigan for the contribution he made and for his support for this bill. He made a very considered contribution, I thought, and referred to the science and to the uncertainty of long-term water impacts, which is precisely what the National Water Commission and the CSIRO have been warning this government and the last government about. I acknowledge and welcome that support. I am disappointed that his was a lone voice outside the Greens on this issue. We have had no contributions from the Nationals and nothing from the Liberals. We did not hear, sadly, from Senator Xenophon. We have had two contributions from Labor, who were so full of praise for the coal seam gas companies that one found it hard to not feel physically ill. Once again we see an issue where it is the Greens and a handful of others speaking supporting the community, and the rest are in bed with the mining industry. I think people across the country who are watching this debate will feel really let down. The contrast between the short-term interests of a vested few and the long-term interests of the nation have been brought into stark contrast this morning.

We are in an age of food insecurity and we are in an age of climate change on a continent that is in a permanent age of water constraints. But we are also in an age where we can run our cities and homes with renewable energy. We know that we have the technology. We know that renewable energy production is actually more job intensive than traditional fossil fuel energy sources. We know, of course, that renewable energy does not have the terrible climate impacts that fossil fuel sources do. We know that we should be in an age where people have the right to be represented in this chamber, and where communities should have the right to resist the invasion of their properties by self-interested, profit-hungry, multinational corporations who want to destroy their land and water to make a quick buck and then bugger off and leave them with the remainder of what was once good quality farmland. These corporations rob future generations of the ability to keep farming that land and rob those communities of their heart, their soul and their sustenance.

I am hoping that between now and when this bill comes to a vote, which will be soon, people will have a change of heart. Sadly, with the contributions that we have seen this morning that looks incredibly unlikely. We Greens do not give up and neither does the community. I want to once again pay tribute to the Lock the Gate Alliance members who have been here this week. I want to particularly single out Drew Hutton who is the grandfather of that movement. He has really given people in the community hope, and they do have cause for hope. I have a fundamental belief in the goodness of people in this chamber. Clearly we have incredibly different policy perspectives on this and on a number of other issues, but I do like to think that we are all open to science and that we can act as rational representatives for our communities.

I acknowledge that there are, at least, some senators in the chamber as often, when you give these speeches, there are not. Thank you for being present. I would urge you to listen to the community, to listen to the science and to think long term about the sustainability of the industries that we support in this country. Our water is too precious to lose. Our food security is on a knife edge. Our climate will affect our grandchildren's future and the future of every other single creature and human being that we share this planet with, as well as those to come. I urge your support for this bill.


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