Thursday, 28 October 2010
Coal Seam Gas Projects
- That the Senate—
- opposes the Santos and British Gas coal seam gas projects approved by the Government;
- calls on the Government to ensure full compensation to farmers and other existing businesses which lose productivity due to these projects; and
- requests the Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to table on or by 16 November 2010 all papers, reports, advice, findings or other documents relating to the Government’s assessments of those projects.
Could we have silence in the chamber. Senator Colbeck sought and was granted leave to move an amendment. The amendment is to remove paragraphs (a) and (b) of the substantive motion. Senator Colbeck now wants to seek leave to make a brief statement and then, Senator Brown, if you are going to seek leave, it might make sense to come after Senator Colbeck.
by leave—The coalition cannot support the motion as it is presented by Senator Bob Brown of the Australian Greens, particularly given that the motion commences by opposing the projects and then goes on to seek information. The coalition are more than happy to support the seeking of information and then the consideration of a decision for support or otherwise of the projects. We think the motion has put the cart before the horse to a certain extent and so we are more than happy to support the Greens in paragraph (c), which is seeking information in relation to the decision that has been made by the government to support these projects, but we cannot support paragraphs (a) and (b), given that they effectively predate what would be a decision-making process.
by leave—I thank Senator Colbeck for that statement. The cart is not before the horse; to some degree, the horse has bolted. The government has made a decision to give these projects the go-ahead. Yes, we are seeking information through this motion as to how the government could have made that decision. I am pleased to hear that the opposition will support paragraph (c). The first paragraph of this motion opposes the Santos and British Gas coal seam gas projects approved by the government because of the impact they do have on farmlands and other businesses in the Darling Downs and in that corridor between there and Gladstone. I would ask the mover of the amendment if he would allow paragraphs (a) and (b) to be considered separately; otherwise, I will move that this amendment be split into two so that the chamber can vote on each.
The second component of this is a call on the government, which has given the go-ahead to ensure full compensation to farmers and other existing businesses which lose productivity due to these projects. That is a quite separate matter to opposing the project. I agree that there are three very different elements in this motion and I would seek the mover of the amendment to simply have (a) and (b) considered separately.
On a point of order, Mr President, I thought that Senator Colbeck’s motion was to remove paragraphs (a) and (b) from the motion. With respect, that is the issue we should be voting on.
With respect and by leave, Mr President, (a) and (b) are inextricably interwoven and your decision in removing them really changes the whole tenor of the debate which we are not having. Senator Colbeck has not agreed with this.
Senator Colbeck, with respect, has understood what I am doing and seems to be agreeing with the way in which I am moving. I am not trying to get stuck into the debate as to how they are interlinked or anything else. I am just doing this as part of the procedure of the Senate.
No, my motion is to remove parts (a) and (b) and my understanding from what you had said—and I did not necessarily have a choice in it—was that you were going to do it in two parts. Senator Brown has made some comments about what his intentions are. My preference would be for my motion, as it stands, to be put to the chamber. But I recognise that you may have the discretion to put it in a form that you decide, and not necessarily with my agreement.
Yes, but I am doing this as a result of the request that has been made by Senator Bob Brown, which he is entitled to do, that the amendment be split. I think that is a reasonable proposition and I will split the amendment and put the removal of part (a) first. Then I will put the removal of part (b).
Mr President, again on a point of order, you have acceded to a request by someone who is not moving the amendment to deal with the amendment in a certain way. It does change the tenor of the whole voting situation. I suggest, with respect, that you should deal with the amendment as the mover of the amendment has sought and not deal with it as someone who has not moved the amendment has sought.
Just before I call you, Senator Faulkner, it does not have to be up to the person involved in either the moving of the motion or the amendment as to whether something is going to be split. That has happened on the request of other senators around the chamber on numerous occasions. I hear what you say but that is not necessarily pertinent.
Mr President, just on Senator Macdonald’s point of order, I think that what you say is correct—and, by the way, I apologise, but Senator Ronaldson is in my seat so I am just doing an impersonation here of Senator Polley, and a very poor one at that.
Honourable senators interjecting—
That is probably because I am speaking from Senator Polley’s desk. In addressing the point of order made by Senator Ian Macdonald: I draw your attention, Mr President, to standing order 84(3), which I believe is the standing order on which you are able to rely as you address this matter. I am no expert on the matter before the chair. I have heard what has been said by senators, but I do note that standing order 84(3)—and standing order 84, of course, relates to the putting of questions—makes clear:
The President may order a complicated question to be divided.
I also note that often in this chamber—and I have certainly done it myself on many occasions—senators can so request that this take place, but at the end of the day these are matters for the President presiding before the full Senate or the Chairman of Committees if the Senate is in committee, where this is more likely to occur. I think we should acknowledge that that is the case—that this is something that more often occurs in the committee stage of debate than when the full Senate is in session. I hope that is of assistance and enables you to have the full support of the standing orders in what you are proposing to do.
Mr President, on a point of order: I suggest to you that, if you had taken Senator Xenophon’s motion and the Senate so decided, that would be one thing, but if you are doing it as an administrative decision it can have, dare I say, a political response, which I know that you as chairman of this gathering would not want to be part of.
That is not a consideration for me. I am dealing with the amendment that is before the chair. I have an amendment from Senator Colbeck which seeks to remove paragraphs (a) and (b) and then Senator Bob Brown has requested that the three paragraphs—(a), (b) and (c)—of the motion be put separately. That is quite well within the standing orders. I am prepared to separate the motion and put the questions separately. That is the state of play at this stage.
The coalition may agree with compensation for landholders but, unless we know what has happened in paragraph (c), we can hardly allow paragraph (b) to go forward. Having these as three separate items, to be honest makes them nonsensical. How do you believe in compensation when you have not actually determined whether they deserve it yet?
Mr President, I have a point of order that might assist. Given that Senator Xenophon proposed a procedural mechanism which you rightly, in my view, ruled he was not able to move because of the question before the chair, I suggest it would nevertheless be perfectly reasonable for you to indicate to the Senate that it would be your intention under standing order 84(3) to put all parts of the motion separately if you wished to do so. I do not know if that assists or not, but it is certainly competent for you as President to do that without the necessity, if you like, of the procedural device that Senator Xenophon proposed. I do not know if that helps or not, but the spirit of my proposing it is to try to assist.
Mr President, on the point of order: in effect that is what you are doing but we are voting on it in reverse. I think your approach is actually doing that. Agreement from me as the mover is another matter. You are effectively doing that anyway but it will just be reflected in the votes on the floor as we go through the process. Let us get on with it.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. In relation to the motion which you have now agreed to be put in three parts, with one part having been knocked out, the second part that we are now going to vote on is nonsensical, because it simply reads that the Senate calls upon the government to ensure full compensation to farmers and other existing businesses which lose productivity due to these projects—and we have no idea what ‘these projects’ means. Therefore, without recommitting to the discussion we had before, we have done the wrong thing by splitting them. So, Mr President, I would ask that you rule part (b) out of contention, simply because it is nonsensical and means nothing.
Mr President, I seek leave to make a brief statement.
On this very issue, I do support compensation for all property owners when they have their rights removed in any way whatsoever. We are very familiar with the Peter Spencer issue and how in New South Wales farmers cannot carry out activities on their land with no compensation whatsoever. I do support it in principle. I will not support part (b) of Senator Brown’s motion because it is too vague, too ambiguous. We need more detail. When the detail comes forward—and, as Senator Macdonald has said, let us find out the detail of part (c)—then that can progress the issue. That is why I will be supporting the amendment.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I just question whether it is possible for the chamber to amend a clause that we are voting to remove. I understand what Senator Brown is trying to do—
I am making a point of order. Is it possible for the Senate to amend a clause that we are voting to remove? That is the motion before the chair as I understand it—to remove clause (b). So is it possible under the standing orders for Senator Brown to amend something that we are voting to remove?
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Macdonald and other opposition senators have now refused leave to have on the record that the matter that relates to these two projects. However, any reader of the Hansard of the Senate knows exactly what the projects are, so it makes no difference. I simply moved that amendment to have the record made clear and sensible, a matter which Senator Macdonald has now prevented. But that is his wish.
Mr President, I seek leave to make a one-minute statement.
I want to make it perfectly clear on the record that the opposition does not oppose appropriate compensation to farmers. I do not want it to be allowed to be put post this process that the opposition opposes appropriate compensation to farmers for any project. This is purely and simply to put that matter on the record so that it cannot be said afterwards that that is what we opposed.
Mr President, I seek leave to make a short statement.
This is complete nonsense and we all know that. This motion calls on the government to ensure full compensation to farmers and other existing businesses as a result of any impact that the projects that the motion is about would have. It is no good the opposition—the Nationals or the Liberals—saying that they are going to vote down this motion for compensation but they do not mean it; they are in support of compensation. You do not vote against something that a motion makes very clear that this Senate would otherwise be supporting. They are absolutely voting against compensation for the farmers and the other businesses under the terms of this motion, and when they cross the floor to vote for this motion that is exactly what they are doing.
Mr President, if I could seek your guidance; given that formality has been denied in relation to Senator Brown to amend this motion, can the Senate seek to suspend standing orders and allow for a vote in relation to that? In other words, can the will of the Senate override that denial of formality?
Senator Xenophon, I thank you for your assistance. I have a question before the chair. I intend to put that question. The other statement that I would like to make, and I will make it now in respect of these formal motions, is that it is becoming far too much the practice that these motions that are meant to be dealt with in the formal sense are being amended and are being subject to statements, and debate is ensuing when this is not the way in which the business of this Senate should be handled for these motions. That is the fundamental problem that we are dealing with with these issues. I would ask all senators to go away and review how they wish this business to be handled, because it makes it very difficult for the chair, no matter who the chair is, when issues of this nature come up and there seems to be no agreement around the chamber as to the handling of the matters. It therefore has seen this issue blow out into a nearly 40-minute debate, mostly on procedure. I do not mind that, but I have rules and guidelines by which I must abide and precedent which has established the way in which these matters should be handled before the Senate over a long period of time. I have abided by the standing orders. I have abided by the precedent that has been set by presidents before me. So I would ask all senators to take that into consideration when we are dealing with matters of formality in the future.
The question before the chair now is that paragraph (b) of the amendment moved by Senator Colbeck for its deletion be agreed to.
That the amendment (Senator Colbeck’s) be agreed to.
The question now is that the motion, as amended, be agreed to.
by leave—I move:
That the words ‘those projects’ be replaced by the words ‘Santos and British Gas coal seam gas projects’.
The question now is that the motion, as amended, be agreed to. There is a bit of confusion. I will put the question again. The motion was amended, by leave, to insert the words ‘Santos and British Gas’ into paragraph (c). That was done by leave. So the question now is that the motion, as amended, which removed (a) and (b) and left simply (c), be agreed to.