Thursday, 15 June 2017
Environment and Infrastructure Legislation Amendment (Stop Adani) Bill 2017
The Labor Party notes that the Environment and Infrastructure Legislation Amendment (Stop Adani) Bill 2017 proposes to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Act to expand the suitable persons test in the EBPC Act to make it mandatory rather than discretionary and to introduce similar tests in the NAIF Act. However, it is Labor's view that these are not the solutions to the problems within the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.
There are, indeed, significant problems with NAIF that need to be addressed. I note the good work done by Senator Watt at estimates. He discovered that NAIF board member Karla Way-McPhail is indeed a personal friend of the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, that the minister put her forward for a position on the board and that Ms Way-McPhail regularly attends LNP fundraisers and is a donor to the LNP. She is also the CEO of two companies and the director of a third that could benefit directly or indirectly from NAIF board decisions.
This is of great concern to the ALP. It is a clear conflict of interest, about which the minister was questioned in estimates. We asked the minister whether Ms Way-McPhail had excused herself from discussions involving projects in which she had a conflict of interest and, sadly, we did not get any answers. The minister went as far as making a public interest claim. So the question before us is: what public interest is served by the minister refusing to answer questions about how decisions are being made on $5 billion worth of taxpayers' money?
We heard during consideration in detail in the House just yesterday the shadow minister ask the minister representing the minister for northern Australia if he would answer the questions that Senator Canavan, unfortunately, refused to—again, nothing. In Labor's view this bill before us today does not address the governance and transparency issues that have been uncovered in relation to NAIF. The board of NAIF has been paid $600,000 and was established some two years ago. We find that not a single job-generating infrastructure project for northern Australia has been funded—not a single one.
This bill will not improve NAIF's assessment processes so that they are able to start providing the funds that will allow us to capture the great opportunities that exist in northern Australia right across the country, but indeed they do need to be improved. That is why the Labor opposition want to take a constructive and deep look at NAIF through this Senate inquiry process. There are big opportunities in northern Australia, but NAIF as it currently stands is not helping to deliver on them. We want to know why and how it is possible to improve NAIF so that the community can have confidence in its governance processes and we can get on with the big task before us of developing economic opportunities in northern Australia. As a senator for Western Australia I find that the lack of attention and discussion around our opportunities, for example, in the Kimberley to be highly problematic.
This bill also completely unnecessarily expands, in Labor's view, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. I note that the bill introduces a new suitable persons test; however, the EPBC Act as it currently stands sets out considerations that the minister must take into account when deciding whether or not to grant an approval under the EPBC Act and what conditions to attach to such an approval. Section 136(4) of the EPBC Act currently provides the minister with the discretion to consider a person's or a company's environmental history. I note that the bill before us seeks to make that test mandatory.
The test would be applied by the minister in relation to decisions on projects undertaken under the EPBC Act and by the board of NAIF in relation to decisions regarding financing of projects by the facility. I note that there is already a range of state and territory legislation that contain an analogous fit-and-proper-person test. In environmental legislation across the country this often includes consideration of a person's or a company's environmental record; however, unlike the EPBC Act and the proposed bill, some of this legislation provides further guidance and criteria, which should be the case.
It is also worth noting that ministerial decisions under the EPBC Act are subject to judicial review under Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act, including by conservation organisations under the extended standing provisions of section 487 of the EPBC Act. I note that the bill amends the EPBC Act to cause the secretary of the department of the environment to review decisions on the Carmichael mine—that is, the Adani project—with regard to such a suitable persons test. These decisions related to Adani's projects: the Carmichael coal mine and rail project, the Abbot Point coal terminal and the north Galilee Basin rail project. Indeed, what you see from this in relation to how this bill is constructed, and indeed named, is that it is not about transparent reform of the EPBC Act; it is simply singling out one project—that is, the Adani project. Reviewing projects of one company, in Labor's view, has no policy basis and would raise retrospective sovereign risk issues that could have a negative impact on business investment in our country.
I note that no such suitable persons test currently exists for other Commonwealth government financing facilities, such as the CEFC or Efic; therefore, it is of concern to the Labor Party that this bill seems to be about a single project—that is, Adani. It is about the Greens' unrelenting opposition to Adani without consideration for broader issues like job creation in our nation. It is yet another demonstration of the Greens using Adani as a football to further their own agenda. They have used Adani as a political tool, as we have recently seen in the native title bill that we have just been debating in this place, turning a debate about land rights and self-determination for Indigenous people into one about mining rights simply because it suits their own political agenda. And I note Marcia Langton, who is a leader in our Indigenous communities and on native title, last week spoke of the Greens and other anti-Adani protest groups, saying that they had used 'deception' and 'deliberately thwarted' the aspirations of a 'majority of Indigenous people'. It is of concern that they are again doing that with this bill.
It is important in this place that we have clear in our minds the relationship between Indigenous self-determination, native title, environmental regulation and jobs. We cannot and should not combine together the accountability that we must have in each of those areas to suit just an environmental objective. It is not the proper thing to do. But, again, that appears to be what the Greens are doing with this bill.
It is time for this place to have a discussion about jobs. We need a facility such as the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, but it must be properly and transparently managed, because we know people in our regions and across the country are telling us they are worried about jobs. Right now they are worried about jobs and their children's future. I know that this is the case in northern Queensland. It is certainly the case in my home state of WA. We can make sure we are creating jobs of the future without compromising our environment, and we have a long history of acting to protect our nation's environment. It was Labor who initiated the protection of the Great Barrier Reef during the Whitlam government. It was the Hawke-Keating governments that protected the Franklin and the Daintree, Antarctica and extended Kakadu. The most recent Labor government ended 30 years of conflict over Tasmania's forests, 120 years of disagreement over the Murray-Darling Basin, and put in place the world's largest network of marine reserves. So Labor takes its environmental responsibility seriously and will continue to act. We will not back down on protecting our environment, but we also recognise that conventional fuels will be part of our energy mix into the future. But, importantly, renewable energy will have a growing share of the total energy mix given it is now the cheapest form of new generation.
Our transition to clean energy is already happening, and we want to encourage and support this transition through our commitment to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. As we did in government, Labor will ensure that any proposed mining projects meet the highest environmental standards, so we will be closely monitoring whether conditions are being met in relation to those standards. We note that the Adani project received Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—EPBC Act—approval by the Abbott-Turnbull government back in 2015 and that the conditions of approval are still being addressed by the company.
We also note that, despite claims by the Greens that Labor's position on these matters has not been clear, we have been absolutely clear in saying time and time again that we are very concerned about the prospect of taxpayers' money being spent on the Adani project. Taxpayers should not be expected to pay $1 billion for a project. We have said very clearly that the project should only go ahead if it stacks up environmentally and commercially; if it does then those jobs are most welcome in Central Queensland. We are concerned that this bill is a stunt by the Greens aimed at a single project and not a genuine attempt at improving the way the system operates. Labor support jobs for Central and North Queensland, but we have always said the Adani project has to stack up both commercially and environmentally.
We have serious concerns about the operation of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, which is yet another example of Malcolm Turnbull's incompetent leadership. Indeed, it is yet another example of a dysfunctional government. Despite the NAIF being set up months ago, not a single cent has been spent on better infrastructure for Northern Australia. It shows how out of touch the government is in not understanding these issues. The government needs to get on with it and start investing in Northern Australia, in Western Australia and in other regions right across the country to build infrastructure and create the jobs that our regions desperately need. We would be very concerned if the federal government were considering spending a fifth of the NAIF fund on just one project, taking money away from other important job-generating projects. Labor does not think Australian taxpayers should be coughing up $1 billion for a single project. We believe that most Australians would rightly be scratching their heads, wondering why they have to give a mining billionaire $1 billion of taxpayer's money, particularly if such subsidies then go on to displace the viability of existing projects and jobs in other regions around the country. This bill does not have our support, because it does not fix any of the problems with NAIF. It is about time the government and the Greens stopped talking about this single project and started talking seriously about jobs right around the country.