Senate debates

Thursday, 13 May 2021


Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading

10:43 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund is already a failed slush fund. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021 is only going to make it worse. It's such a pity. Infrastructure is so critical, and appropriate development of northern Australia is so critical. There are such opportunities for ecologically appropriate, socially appropriate, economically appropriate development to occur in northern Australia. In a better world with a better government we would be able to set up processes to facilitate, encourage and support that type of ecologically, socially and economically appropriate development. But the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund is not the vehicle to do that. It has already been shown to be a failure. It is already not directing investment to where it should be directed, and it is clear, from the amendments to the act that are being put forward in this bill, that it is only going to get worse. Rather than having a facility that ensures that investment goes to appropriate developments, this is going to set it up as a slush fund for the government to fund their mates, to invest in the most inappropriate developments.

Essentially, the government are climate denialists. We are in a climate crisis. The world is in a climate crisis. The No. 1 global priority needs to be to work out how we, as a global community, shift out of burning polluting coal, gas and oil. Governments all around the world are tackling this big problem. Governments all around the world are committing themselves to working in the interests of the globe by urgently slashing carbon pollution to zero as quickly as possible—but not this government. This government, in this bill today, is saying that it wants to provide 'flexibility' to deliver for the Northern Territory and northern Australia. But, translated, what this means is that this government wants to deliver for its mates, the big fossil fuel companies.

This isn't just something that the Greens have thought up. It's very clear, from the statements that the minister has already made, what he wants to see the NAIF being used for. Keith Pitt, the resources minister, as we know, is a climate denialist; he does not understand, support and accept the reality of climate change and climate change science. He wants to see the NAIF doing things like opening up more opportunities for the Beetaloo infrastructure financing. That is just going to be a total carbon bomb, as well as destroying huge amounts of wonderful Northern Territory landscape. The amount of carbon that fracking the Beetaloo basin will release is, on its own, going to significantly increase carbon pollution globally. This is exactly the sort of development that should not be going ahead. It's exactly the sort of development, though, that this government wants to see funded under the NAIF. With infrastructure, as I said, we really have the opportunity to support the transition to a zero carbon, ecologically sustainable, socially sustainable economy, and that's what the NAIF could be, but it's what the NAIF is not.

I want to go through some of the problems with this bill. There are four, basically. The first of the problems is that it's actually going against everything that this place is saying needs to happen, in terms of facilities like this: to maintain the independence and the ability of an organisation like the NAIF to make decisions on the basis of good information from the people who are advising them. Requiring the secretary of the department to be a member of the NAIF board is actually going to increase ministerial influence.

We've already seen that this minister has got form in terms of influence. We have had, in recent times, the minister, extraordinarily, exercising his ministerial veto to stop a project that the NAIF board had recommended. The NAIF board had recommended, in fact, the sort of project of which we, as Greens, say, 'Yes—this is the sort of infrastructure that government should have a role in, to help our transition to a zero carbon economy.' It was a wind farm that was going to be supported by a battery. It was going to create 250 jobs. It was exactly the sort of infrastructure that we need to be seeing here. There are massive opportunities in Australia for this sort of renewable energy infrastructure. Why did the minister exercise his ability to block this project? The only way you could see for the minister to decide to do this was on sheer ideological stubbornness, really, because here you had the board recommending this investment in a wind farm with a battery, and the minister, when asked about it, could not even bring himself to say the word 'battery'. He could not even accept that batteries actually might be the way of the future. We keep on hearing from the government side of politics: 'There are problems with the renewables. What happens when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow?' There are actually answers to that, and batteries are a huge part of the answer to that. You invest in a wind farm and a battery—

Senator Canavan interjecting—

Coal—exactly! Senator Canavan, I will take the interjection, because Senator Canavan has only just walked in the chamber and has actually missed the beginning of my speech when I have been talking about the need to transition to a zero carbon economy. And, sadly, maybe Senator Canavan doesn't realise that coal is carbon. Maybe he doesn't realise that the mining, the burning and the export of coal results in carbon emissions going up into the atmosphere. It's actually the sort of thing that we need to be avoiding. It's the sort of thing where around the world countries are saying, 'Sorry, Australia, we're not going to want your coal in the future, because of the amount of carbon pollution.' Other countries are recognising that the world is on a precipice, that we are facing an existential crisis because of our climate crisis, because of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Yet we have this government that is ideologically committed to delivering for their mates, to delivering for billionaires, to delivering for the big mining companies and not just continuing but expanding the burning of fossil fuels, expanding the burning of coal, expanding the fracking of our country and the burning of gas. That's exactly the direction that we just cannot afford to be heading in.

Going back to the problems with this bill, the first one is removing the independence, but the second one is removing the veto right of states and territories. Again, we're in a situation where the only way our carbon pollution is not worse than it is at the moment in Australia is because some of our states and territories are actually recognising that we need to cut our carbon pollution. Some of our states and territories are getting on board with that, and they have got far more ambitious targets for cutting carbon pollution than the federal government has, so in fact there is the potential for the governments of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland to actually be listening to the science, listening to their communities and saying: 'We don't want these fossil fuel projects. We don't want the Adani coalmine, because it's going to be a carbon bomb. We don't want the fracking of the Beetaloo Basin, because it's going to be a carbon bomb.' This is what state governments should have the ability to say in the interests of their community and of their state or territory and in the interests of the world, to say that these fossil fuel projects should not go ahead. But no. This government is saying, 'We're going to remove the right of states and territories to actually have that say, that these projects shouldn't be going ahead.'

The third thing that this bill does which is a problem is it expands the funding mechanisms to get into riskier developments, and that's important, because we know that if you look at the risk of investing in fossil fuel projects they are incredibly risky, they are likely to be stranded assets in the future—so actually investing in investments that are not only problematic climate-wise but also problematic economically. But these measures in this bill would say: 'Forget about that. We're going to allow you to invest in riskier investments.' Again, it's in order to suit their ideological position, in order to suit the business interests of their mates, in order to suit the business interests of the big mining billionaires.

The fourth problem of this bill is of course it extends the NAIF for another five years, which means that all of these things can just go on for longer. Rather than coming to an end and rethinking what sort of investment mechanism you should have for investing in clean, green, economically and socially appropriate infrastructure—no!—we're going to get another five years of this climate-denialist, carbon-polluting, big-business-supporting approach.

What do we do about it? We've got a number of amendments that the Greens are putting up, and I know there are a number of amendments that the Labor Party is putting up as well, that are basically saying, 'Well, you could have a NAIF that would work better, that we could shift to be actually delivering appropriately.' So I foreshadow that I am going to move a second reading amendment, which I really hope will get the support of the Senate, that says:

At the end of the motion, add: ", but the Senate is of the view that no public money should be invested in coal, gas or oil projects".

Given that the world's in a climate crisis, given that we know we must slash our carbon pollution and given that we know the science is saying we need to have at least a 75 per cent reduction in our carbon pollution by 2030 to have a hope of tackling the existential threat of the climate crisis, I think that's a reasonable measure. It's not saying, 'Close down every fossil fuel project in the country'; it's just saying: 'Don't invest in any more. Don't add to the problem.' We've already got a massive problem here in Australia with the amount of coal, gas and oil that we are mining, burning and exporting. This second reading amendment basically says, 'Just don't make the problem worse.'

We need to cut our carbon pollution. I will keep on saying it because it is an existential threat that the world is under. Look at the Black Summer fires. Fires like that will become more frequent, more intense, more extreme and more widespread. Look at sea-level rises. A massive proportion of Australia's population lives within a couple of metres of the sea. A sea-level rise of one, two or three metres—tens of metres potentially, depending on how quickly the ice sheets melt—will have huge impacts on us. Look at the number of people who die in heatwaves. Look at the area of our country that is going to be unlivable. Look at the area of our country in which we're not going to be able to grow food. By the end of the century, we will not be able to grow wheat in virtually all of our wheat-growing areas. These are the realities of the climate crisis that this place needs to come to terms with.

The community have come to terms with it. The Australian community know that we should not be investing in fossil fuels, that we need to get out of coal, gas and oil as quickly as possible. But the government are just doubling down. Why? It's because of their billionaire mates, their big mining company mates, the people who have so much power in our society. They're not listening to the community, to the vast majority of Australians who want some leadership from government. The community want government to lead by saying: 'Yes, we know we have to get out of fossil fuels and this is how we're going to do it. We're going to have a transition and we're going to invest in infrastructure that helps that transition. We're going to invest in wind farms with batteries. We're going to invest in solar farms. We're going to invest in electric vehicles.' But, no, we've got this ideological denialism that insists we go backwards as a country. We are the pariahs of the world, the absolute laggards. Everyone else is getting on with it, even conservative governments. Why aren't we emulating the UK government's carbon targets? We've got far more potential renewable energy than the UK. But, no, we've got this commitment, which is expressed through this NAIF bill and has been expressed through the budget this week, to saying: 'We are just going to keep on keeping on. We're going to keep on digging up and burning coal. We're going to keep on digging up and burning gas. We're going to keep on with our dirty internal combustion engines.' It is such a travesty, such a backward way in which this government is operating, and it needs to change.


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