Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Regulations and Determinations

Industry Research and Development (Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program) Instrument 2021; Disallowance

4:11 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution on behalf of Labor in this debate, and I'll make clear at the outset that Labor will not be supporting this disallowance motion. I think it's really important to be clear as to what this motion is about. It seeks to disallow a funding program in its entirety. It seeks to disallow and to effectively abolish the funding that the government has decided to allocate for exploration activities in the Beetaloo basin. This motion is not, as the Greens suggest, about trying to stop a grant to Empire Energy. It goes beyond that. It's not just about Empire Energy; it seeks to abolish the entire funding program from which grants to Empire Energy have been made. Labor do not support disallowing this entire funding program. That's why we will not be supporting this disallowance motion. The motion is not to disallow or to stop grants to Empire Energy. The motion promoted by the Greens is to disallow an entire funding program from which the grants have been made.

The reason we are not supporting the disallowance motion and the reason that we do not support getting rid of this funding program altogether is that our platform, which I have directed people to already, says that we support:

… new gas projects and associated infrastructure, subject to independent approval processes to ensure legitimate community concerns are heard and addressed.

Labor will ensure the industry assesses and manages environmental and other impacts, including on water reserves and co-existence with other agricultural activities, and engages constructively with landholders.

That is the balanced position that Labor came to at our national conference and that is our position on all matters to do with gas. So supporting this disallowance motion would be in conflict with our policy position and that's why we are not supporting it.

We do, however, have serious concerns about the grants that have been made to date from this program. As I outlined yesterday in my contribution on the Senate inquiry report, we have particular concerns about evidence received in the Senate inquiry about the adequacy of consultation with traditional owners and First Nations people generally in relation to proposed gas developments. We also have serious concerns about what have become clear are the close links between certain ministers in the government and the only beneficiaries of this grants program to date. Because of those concerns, we were part of a majority report in the Senate inquiry into this matter and we supported the recommendations of that committee inquiry. It's because of these concerns that, unlike other parties in this chamber, we are in the process of referring this grants program to the Auditor-General. There are serious concerns about conflicts of interest between Liberal Party ministers involved in this program and Liberal Party donors who have benefited from this program. That is the appropriate way to deal with these sorts of concerns about particular grants. It's also because of these concerns that we are moving an order to produce documents seeking further documentation about the latest scandal involving Minister Angus Taylor, and it's why we're pursuing other remedies as well.

This motion doesn't do any of those things that Labor has already put into action. This motion doesn't do anything about trying to tackle the conflicts between Minister Taylor, in particular, and the beneficiary of this grants program, which includes a number of significant Liberal Party donors. Labor has a very strong record of trying to fight this government's rorts. It's why, for some time now, we have consistently called for an anticorruption commission. It's why we led the charge on sports rorts. It's why we led the charge on car park rorts. But I might point out that, while we have taken up big issues and big complaints about sports rorts and car park rorts involving this government, we have never called for those particular funding programs to be abolished. What we did was refer matters to the Auditor-General for investigation, and we have taken up the charge on them ever since. That's the appropriate way to deal with issues involving particular grants that have been made. That's what Labor's doing. But going beyond that and disallowing the funding program in its entirety would be akin to disallowing sports programs, which were rorted by this government. It would be akin to abolishing car parking funding programs, which were rorted by this government. We didn't do that in those cases, and we don't intend to do it now.


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