Senate debates

Thursday, 6 March 2014


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

10:04 am

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I was waiting to see when we were going to hear whether Labor, after all of that, was going to cave in to the coal seam gas industry and the alternative gas industry. Clearly, we have seen that.

This is a really important piece of legislation. I have had years of working with rural communities around Australia, and they are fed up with the hypocrisy of politicians. I want to start with a quote from the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, who only last week, in terms of drought relief, said:

These are people who are not backed up by a multiple-billion dollar company. They are individuals, they are mums and dads, they are Australian citizens.

This is all about backing farmers until the multinational gas corporations and the coal seam gas industry come along, and then the farmers can just be left off the agenda. It is disgraceful, but it has always been thus.

I started my political career in Tasmania with North Broken Hill, in cahoots with the Liberal government at the time of Robin Gray, wanting to build a pulp mill right in the middle of the Wesley Vale district—where I was brought up—which is very rich farmland. The farmers were shocked at the extent to which both Liberal and Labor in Tasmania abandoned them in favour of the dollars from North Broken Hill, and that has happened every single time. Whenever farmers come up against multinational corporations, governments sell them out, and that is why we need this legislation, which at least gives farmers the right to say no.

It is critical legislation. In the bigger picture, we are living in a climate emergency. We are on track for four degrees of warming and the drought in northern New South Wales is just a part of what is happening around Australia. We should be protecting our farmland, our water systems, our landscape and our ecology, because they are going to come under huge pressure due to global warming. We need to be maximising food production in Australia, exporting what we can, looking after our own food security and contributing to global food security—not trashing agricultural land and water for these fossil fuels. I emphasise that the International Energy Agency has come out and said that fossil fuel reserves have to stay in the ground. That is, coal does not get dug up and coal seam gas does not get pulled out of the ground—and shale gas, in the Tasmanian context. We need to leave it there. Those reserves need to stay in the ground if we have any hope of constraining global warming to less than two degrees.

I point out to the Senate that the biggest increase in greenhouse gas emissions in this last 12 months has been from two things: from deforestation—ripping down biodiversity because beef prices have gone up—and, secondly, from fugitive emissions because of the expansion of coal seam gas. So you have a two-pronged attack here: not only is this industry driving global warming but it is actually destroying our farmland. And because global warming is going to create even more of a food security crisis, we are undermining our own capacity to grow food. It is stupid, what is happening in Australia! And if the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund does as I hope it will do, and divest itself entirely of coal and gas investments, then we will see that what we are doing is not only destroying our farmland and our food capacity but actually leaving us with stranded assets all over the place. It is dumb to be doing it.

I particularly wanted to follow up from my colleague Senator Waters, who has been doing a fantastic job on this, supporting farmers from around the country. I have been out to visit many of these farming areas on the mainland as well and, overwhelmingly, rural communities are opposed to what is going on.

I want talk about Tasmania, in particular. In July last year the company Petrogas lodged an application for a shale, oil and gas exploration licence in an area covering much of Tasmania's southern midlands. Investigations by the community revealed that two similar exploration licences had already been granted for the northern midlands and part of Tasmania's north coast. A fourth application for much of the Huon was proposed and subsequently withdrawn, but that, I presume, is just for now. In total, the shale, oil and gas exploration licences cover 17,000 square kilometres. That is a staggering 25 per cent of Tasmania's total land area.

Earlier this year, that licence for Petrogas covering 3,900 square kilometres in the southern midlands and upper Derwent Valley was granted. It covers the farming communities of Ouse, Westerway, Hamilton and Gretna in the Derwent Valley and knocks right up to the doorstep of the town of New Norfolk. It covers the historic towns of Richmond and Campania and into the Coal River catchment. It covers communities such as Brighton, Elderslie, Broadmarsh, Mangalore, Bagdad, Colebrook, Oatlands, Bothwell and Melton Mowbray in the Southern Midlands. What we have now is horrified rural communities in Tasmania, who feel they have been abandoned as once again Liberal and Labor come out backing the right of the companies to come onto people's land to undermine their way of life. More particularly, what on earth it will do to their water systems? They have had public meetings and they cannot believe that they are being ignored in the way that they are. I am very pleased to say that my state Greens colleague, Tim Morris, represented the concerns of the community when he took a motion to state parliament to give landowners the right to say 'no'. But the Liberal and Labor parties in Tasmania voted in lock step to deny that right.

So we have it happening federally and we have it happening in Tasmania. So please do not get up in this parliament and start talking about how you care about the mums and dads, the small farmers, who are not backed by multibillion-dollar companies, as Barnaby Joyce, the minister, describes them. If you cared about them, you would be giving them the right to say 'no' because of what the impacts are. The impacts are recorded right throughout Australia. You only have to look at what has happened in the United States to see what the impacts are.

I, too, want to add my congratulations to Lock The Gate Alliance. They have been doing a fantastic job around the country. It certainly has made a lot of farmers aware of just how important nonviolent direct action is in bringing these issues to the fore. It should not be necessary. If you had governments looking at future trends and genuinely caring for the environment and the farmers, this would not be necessary. But it is happening because they have no other choice.

People are asking what does all this mean for the Tasmanian Midlands, with nine complex and separate groundwater flow systems all prone to salinity. What on earth does that mean for them? What does it mean for water competition from the new Midlands irrigation scheme? Or the farmers who rely on their water allocation in the Derwent Valley to survive? And, of course, the Midlands is one of Australia's national biodiversity hotspots. Millions of dollars of public money, together with the stewardship of landowners, has gone into that region to protect it for future generations.

It is an extraordinarily important area in terms of biodiversity, and that is why it should be looked after. It is also an area which is rich in plant and animal species, many of which are endemic or endangered, including the 32 nationally threatened species and more than 180 plants and animals that are threatened in Tasmania. That is why every Tasmanian, like every other Australian, must have the right to say 'no' to unconventional gas mining on their land. They cannot trust their governments to protect their farming land, water and natural environment, and until we have a government that abandons the madness of championing the fossil fuels that are driving our planet to destruction by climate change, the only thing they can do is fall back on their natural resilience and fight.

I want to say that the Greens stand with them. We will stand with the farmers, saying they should have the right to say 'no'. We will stand up to these multinational corporations which are jeopardising not only food security but jeopardising rural communities, jeopardising future production and jobs and jeopardising the biodiversity which we all rely for our health and wellbeing.


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