Thursday, 13 May 2021
Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise today to speak in relation to this piece of legislation, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill. I must say I find it pretty bad practice for the Senate to be debating this today without first sending it to a Senate inquiry. This bill and its ramifications on our climate, our environment and our communities should be being inquired into. It seems pretty clear that the government is desperate to rush this through as quickly as they can. 'Why?' you may say, Madam Acting Deputy President. It's pretty easy—because the minister in charge has made a promise to his mates in the fossil fuel industry that they can get their claws into some of this money, the $5 billion that's going to be extended to allow the fossil fuel industry to get another handout from the taxpayer, to prop up what is a polluting and incredibly damaging industry for our climate, our environment and our children's future.
It is exactly the wrong way to go: to spend taxpayers' money opening up new gas fields, building new gas pipelines and propping up the coal industry when, in fact, we know the science is very clear. The rest of the world is begging Australia to get on board and to transition our economy from one that is fuelled by dirty fossil fuels to one that embraces the clean, green technologies that are going to power the world into the future, if we're going to deal with dangerous climate change. We've been encouraged over and over and over again by countries that we often compare ourselves to—the US, Canada, Germany and the UK. We've been told by the IMF, the UN and various economic think tanks around the world that, as we grapple with the economic recovery from COVID-19, we should be investing in the transformation to a clean, green economy, yet this bill and the changes that this bill makes, coupled with the billions of dollars handed out to the fossil fuel industry under Tuesday night's budget, is the exact opposite to investing in a clean recovery. In the United States, President Biden is spending $2 trillion in an infrastructure fund designed to invest in clean, green transformation of the economy. That is a good use of stimulus funding and an infrastructure fund—the exact opposite of what we are confronted with here today.
Billions of dollars are going towards gas and coal—dirty fossil fuels that are going to continue to pollute our environment and our planet. Germany is spending $47 billion on a green recovery. Canada is spending $36 billion on a green recovery. If we were debating today billions of dollars going towards an infrastructure fund that was going to transform our economy to where we need to go, we would be backing it, but that is not what we're confronted with today. We're confronted with outdated, old thinking that puts public money into the hands of the dirty fossil fuel industry. It's not reading between the lines of this bill that proves that that is what is going on; the minister responsible has boasted about it. The minister responsible has no qualms about saying he wants to open up more opportunities for the Beetaloo infrastructure financing—public money being spent on dirty fossil fuels. I always think the irony here from the conservative side of the parliament is that they're all okay for social spending when it comes to money for the fossil fuel industry and subsidies to the coal and gas industry, but oh, no, we couldn't possibly give some money to the unemployed or to environmental restoration. The hypocrisy in this place is rank, and this bill says it all.
Not only has Minister Pitt bragged and boasted that this extension of the NAIF scheme and this piece of legislation will deliver for his mates in the coal and gas industry but he's then used his veto powers to stop projects that are actually good for climate action and good for transforming the economy. He vetoed a wind farm that had battery back-up. This is exactly the type of project that we should be seeing infrastructure spending going towards. This is an industry that should be supported by this government. This minister has stood for stopping jobs. That project in Kaban, near Cairns, in Queensland, was going to create 250 jobs. Minister Pitt is a job-killer and a planet-killer and is handing out cash from taxpayers to his mates in the fossil fuel industry. That's what this bill is about. It's going to cost jobs, it's going to cost our environment and it ultimately costs the budget.
When the rest of the world is transitioning, in our trade negotiations with other countries we're starting to be frowned upon by not looking towards a transition out of fossil fuels. We're getting marked down for that. In our negotiations with the EU they're starting to say, 'Hang on a minute, we're not going to keep negotiating with a country like Australia if all you are doing is continuing to prop up polluting industries.' It's starting to cost us around the world not just in reputation but in terms of our negotiations and ultimately our future economy.
So this piece of legislation is a false economy. This is denial in the extreme: $5 billion for the rules to be rewritten so that it can just be handed over by the minister, by the fund. By the way, this bill stops the NAIF board from having any sense of independence by putting the department secretary on it. This is the Liberal National Party's slush fund for the coal and gas industry.
The Greens have been concerned about this fund from day dot. We raised serious concerns at the beginning, and now we're seeing the rules changed even more to make it easier for the slush fund. It beggars belief, to be honest, that the Labor Party is not standing stronger against this, because at the end of the day this is a slush fund for the LNP in Queensland, and that's all it is: $5 billion of public money so that they can keep their mates in the coal and gas industry happy.
Meanwhile, we have everyday Australians who are struggling with zero wage growth, hundreds of thousands of Australians who are struggling to find permanent work and hundreds of thousands of Australians who are underemployed. Australians can't get to the dentist to get their teeth fixed, because the government won't fund proper dental care. But the government are more than happy to put $5 billion of public money on the table for their mates in the dirty fossil fuel industry.
I will be moving an amendment to this piece of legislation. I know Senator Waters is moving a series of amendments which would stop this money going towards those projects that would make our climate worse. We should stop putting public money behind fossil fuels, which are making our climate worse. You can't take seriously anyone from this government on climate action while, under the table, they're propping up the industry that's making things worse. Senator Waters' amendment will make it clear that this $5 billion should be going towards projects that are good for the planet, that help transition our economy to put us in line with the countries that we always like to compare ourselves with around the world—Canada, the US, the UK and Europe.
We have to stop making climate change worse. We have a lot of work to do to try to stop it from becoming dangerous and to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees, but it's near impossible to do that while, at the same time, we're continuing to let the fossil fuel industry pollute and pollute and pollute. One step forward, two steps back; it's a false strategy and it is deeply buried in denialism and vested interest.
So I hope there is support for Senator Waters' amendments. I'll be moving an amendment that says at the very least we shouldn't be spending $5 billion of taxpayers' money on projects that trash the environment, that run through conservation protected areas. I know this government's obsessed with spending public money on fossil fuels, but could we at least think about the rest of the environment—our national parks, our protected conservation areas, the farmland and agricultural areas that have been earmarked by their owners as being looked after for conservation? There are lots of parts of Australia that will be impacted by a number of these projects that the government wants to push on through with taxpayers' money, and some of them at this point are listed to run right through or dig up some of Australia's most unique environments and areas of nature, putting at risk bushland and unique desert areas and threatening our native species.
If you can't come at stopping this money going to polluting fossil fuel industries then at least do something about protecting the environment in which these projects are being mooted to be housed. Let's think about the fact that we need to protect our precious Australian outback. Our native animals that live in some of these places are found nowhere else on earth. Once you've devastated their homes and they've become endangered and extinct, they'll never, ever come back. We need to be thinking more long term about the impacts of these types of projects on the climate, on our nature, on our wildlife, on our precious places, on our bushland, on our grasslands, on our forests and on our unique desert. Handing out money to projects that degrade Australia's environment should be a no-go zone. We've already lost so much of what makes our environment so precious and unique. We've got to stop ruining the little that is left. It's important for the long-term survival of our wildlife and our native species, but it's important for us as a community too.