Senate debates

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Bills

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

10:39 am

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Democratic Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013 is one of those common-sense bills. The bill challenges the idea of corporations being able to enter a private landholder's agricultural land without the permission of the owner for the purpose of exploring for coal or gas and for mining or producing gas or coal. The bill is not just a toothless tiger; it has simple and effective measures to ensure that corporations take this legislation seriously—as they should.

Often I hear stories from constituents who have had corporations barge into their land as if they own the place and start sizing up what rewards they can reap. When we talk about the coal seam gas aspect of this bill, we can see that Senator Waters, who has proposed this bill, has to a large extent been very measured and could certainly be calling for much more. The DLP believes that there should be an immediate moratorium on all coal seam gas mining until independent, transparent and scientific research overseen by federal government representatives, along with the proponents and the opponents, can irrefutably prove it is entirely safe and harmless to the human population and to our water resources. To that end, it also should conclude that there is no risk of contamination to our groundwater aquifers and it is entirely safe for the land and environment.

In my first speech I said that, if we are not making decisions that make the lives of Australians better, then we should at least make sure that we do not make them any worse. The great economies of the world do not survive by simply digging holes in the ground, turning their country into a quarry and educating their competitors on how to bury them. The science of coal seam gas extraction is not settled—not by a long shot. Currently, the technology presents an unacceptable threat to the watertable and we cannot let this go within cooee of our prime agricultural land.

At the invitation of the Lock the Gate Alliance yesterday, I had the privilege of co-hosting a cross-party briefing about the impacts of coal seam gas fracking. We heard from the national director, Phil Laird, as well as delegates from communities from the Coonawarra to the Kimberleys who are all gravely concerned about the impacts of coal seam gas fracking. Australians do care about this issue. After reading an article in this morning's HeraldSunby the editor of The Weekly Times, Ed Gannon—I do believe they have a right to feel concerned. Indeed, we could accept the advice of a Mr John Fenton from Wyoming in the US, who has 24 gas wells on his property:

Yes we make some money from it, but then came the smell and the odours and people getting sick. Then the neighbour's water turned black. All the things they said wouldn't happen were happening.

Mining companies are getting wealthier while water is turning black and people are getting sick. Mr Fenton does not believe that $48,000 a year is enough compensation for that, and rightly so.

Successive governments of all persuasions have done the bidding of foreign corporations, in many cases at the expense of Australians. But we need to be proactive now and not reactive later. How many of you know that the Murray-Darling Basin is now down to 54 per cent of its capacity? How many of you care? Are these coal seam gas companies going to care as they frack the life force out of Asia's potential food bowl? What do we as a nation want to be? Where is the independent, eminent Australian research that tells us that we have got it right?

Much like there is a need to undertake wind-farm health research, we must undertake urgent research, with an agreed testing methodology and all results available to all parties, in order to ascertain whether the science behind CSG initiatives is safe. Until safety can be proven under these conditions, there can be no such assurances and a moratorium should be placed on CSG developments.

This bill means a lot to a lot of Australians. It provides some certainty in an area where people's livelihoods and communities are seen to be a hurdle which, at best, might need to be negotiated with. The bill sets in stone some rights for Australians who want to go about living their lives without being harassed or made to feel insecure about what they are entitled to. It is for these reasons and many others that I will be supporting this bill. Lastly, we are ultimately custodians of Australia for a very short period of time in the overall framework of things. If we do not hand it on any better, we should not hand it on any worse.

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