Senate debates

Monday, 27 November 2023

Regulations and Determinations

Competition and Consumer (Gas Market Code) Regulations 2023; Disallowance

3:58 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

WATERS (—) (): At the request of Senator McKim, I move:

That the Competition and Consumer (Gas Market Code) Regulations 2023, made under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, be disallowed.

In December, the Greens supported legislation to give the government the power to set caps on the prices of gas and coal—not caps on rents, unfortunately, but we'll come back to that on another day. This regulation is a result of that.

From the outset, I want to make it clear that the Greens support cracking down on the unscrupulous conduct of the gas cartel. This gas code does have many important features that we support. We support shifting negotiating power away from the gas cartel and supporting large industrial users who have been screwed over by gas exporters since the east coast was opened up for exports in 2015. We support the transparency changes so that we can better see what's happening in what is otherwise a very murky gas market. We also support using the code to divert gas destined for export to be used here while we transition off gas. But what we cannot and will not vote for is using this gas code to encourage the opening up of new gas fields that are cooking our planet; we cannot support throwing more petrol on that fire. When the government announced this gas code on 14 June, they said in their media release:

The Gas Code will ensure that Australian gas is available for Australian users at reasonable prices, give producers the certainty that they need to invest in supply …

In the same week that the climate minister will announce how they're falling just short of their 2030 target—expected to be announced on Friday, and which I know is aligned more to two degrees of warming than it is to 1½, which would be catastrophic for the planet—the Albanese government are again going to vote to support new gas fields. What part of 'no new coal and gas' does this government not understand?

We are conscious that there's a gas shortfall hitting the east coast market from 2027 onwards, and that something needs to be done about it. There are three things that the government could do in the four years that we have to prepare for that. They could increase supply through new toxic gas fields. They could reduce demand by electrifying homes, businesses and industry. They could divert existing gas supplies away from the LNG industry, which is the biggest user of gas in this country, and fill the supply gap that way. But it seems like the government is putting all of its energy into simply opening up new gas fields and is completely neglecting the importance of getting Australia off gas and lowering energy bills as a result of doing so.

We do have the time. Germany, for example, reduced their gas use by 18 per cent in one year, when Russia invaded Ukraine. They did this through installing heat pumps and through energy efficiency. We've got four years to do what they managed to do in one year, but what we don't have, seemingly, is the political will. The government could also go harder in making sure that Australian gas stays here while we transition off it. Take, for example, the GLNG terminal in Gladstone which is owned by Santos, a well-known donor to the government and also to the opposition, I might add. Santos are currently buying up to 22 petajoules out of the domestic market to meet their own contractual shortfalls. They jumped the shark on their own contract promises and now they're chewing up uncontracted gas to meet their own overblown commitments, and everybody else is suffering. Santos screwed up their own contracts and now they're sucking gas out of our market to export overseas. It's very nice for them, not so great for Australians.

It's not a sovereign risk to let Santos deal with the mess of their own making. That is not sovereign risk. If we let them keep taking our gas, then it's the Australian people's mess to clean up and they'll be the ones paying higher prices. But because taking action would disadvantage Santos—well, it's a bridge too far for this government. They're going to bend over backwards for Santos and leave the mess for the Australian people to deal with.

The government has a number of options. It could also tighten the baselines of LNG terminals under the safeguard mechanism. If they electrified the compressors they use to convert gas to LNG—to liquefied natural gas—it could free up a staggering 92 petajoules a year. There are many options. This government needs to focus their minds on how we use less gas. Yet, it seems like all they want to do is open up new gas fields. They've drafted a code of conduct that applies a price cap that says: 'You don't have to meet the price cap if you open up new supply.'

Farmers around the country are pulling their hair out. First Nations owners around the country are pulling their hair out. They've seen the damage that coal seam gas and other unconventional gas has already done to farmland, our groundwater, the climate, agricultural productivity and culturally sensitive areas. They've seen that damage and they don't want new gas fields. They don't want what's left of the beautiful farmland in the Darling Downs, for example, where I was a couple of days ago, wrecked by more coal seam gas. I'm yet to find a supporter of this proposal, that there's a gas cap that you can avoid if you open up a new gas field—except, of course, Santos. They would love this. As big donors to the government, perhaps they've written this gas code, like they've written previous bits of regulation.

I was in Toowoomba on Thursday, and I want to commend the Toowoomba Regional Council for being the sixth council in Queensland to declare a moratorium on new coal seam gas operations. It's some of our best soil, in that area. In the 13 years that I've been representing the state of Queensland, I've been out there many times and I've observed the beauty and productivity of that black soil. I think we've even had folk from other political parties take an interest in this issue as well, which is great. Finally, the council have said the farmers don't want this. They don't want new coal seam gas wrecking their farmland and poisoning or dewatering their aquifers, particularly when there is still no legal right for landholders, traditional owners or councils to say 'no' to coal seam gas or coal on their land. I've had a private senator's bill to do that since 2011. It has been voted down more times than I can remember—at least five—even though it's actually in the LNP's platform, or was at some point. They kept voting against their own policy.

Farmers and traditional owners do not have the ability to actually say, 'No, I'd rather use my land for productive agriculture,' or, 'I'd rather simply continue to exist in this beautiful agricultural area than have Santos'—or whichever multinational gas company it is that's eating up the land, poisoning the water and polluting the climate—'come in and ride roughshod.' They don't have that legal right to say 'no'. So I want to take the opportunity to thank the Toowoomba Regional Council for, belatedly but really in a well-done fashion, finally representing the interests of their constituents. As the sixth council that's now done so, it sends a really strong message, both to the state government—who are also in cahoots with the gas industry—and to the federal government.

Councils don't want this. They don't want new gas fields. Farming communities don't want new gas fields. Traditional owners don't want new gas fields. Nobody wants the land wrecked and the water poisoned, or the climate polluted, just for the sake of the private profits of Santos and their other gas mates. What kind of a dodgy outcome is that? What are we meant to be here for? Who are we meant to be representing? I know some of the people in the government used to work for Santos, but you're not meant to work for them now. You're meant to be in here representing the people.


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