Senate debates

Thursday, 22 March 2012


Landholders' Right to Refuse (Coal Seam Gas) Bill 2011; Second Reading

4:32 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Landholders' Right to Refuse (Coal Seam Gas) Bill 2011 was last debated on 21 September 2011. All parties, except for the Greens, spoke in this chamber of their intention to vote against it. The ALP dodged the issue by saying states are responsible for coal seam gas rather than the federal government, the Liberal Party said that they have no problems with the status of the rights of farmers and the Nationals basically made something up. They said that we were hypocrites because we stop farmers from chopping down trees, so they just dodged the issue entirely.

This bill allows farmers to say no when coal seam gas explorers come onto their farmland. The bill requires coal seam gas corporations to gain the written authorisation of farmers to enter their land to conduct coal seam gas activities. This will have double value. Firstly, they will have to make the case to farming communities that particular gas wells or leases will not be harmful. It reverses the burden of proof and will require advance work to happen that will no doubt be beneficial to farming families. That, in itself, is already a benefit even in the event that the farmers concerned then say: 'Yes, we appreciate you have done your homework. We appreciate you think there is no risk here. You have proven that to our satisfaction. You are welcome on our land.' The companies will have been forced to do some of their due diligence in advance.

But the real key to this is farmers having the ability to say no. Let us cut to the chase. The system as it is at the moment is fundamentally broken and needs improve­ment, so I congratulate Senator Waters for bringing this bill forward. It obviously does not deal with the environmental impacts, it does not deal with the salt that comes to the surface, it does not deal with the fugitive emissions of greenhouse gases and it does not deal with the fact that the Greens were voted down this morning when we put a proposal for a moratorium on projects such as this. There is strong support in some of Australia's regional areas for such a moratorium. This bill does not go to those larger issues. The bill goes simply to questions of consent. The reason we are having this debate today is to have the opportunity to provide consent rights to farmers. They then become the primary defenders of the land that they have in production.

Tightening the regulations on a case-by-case basis is important, but it does not address the question of whether the short-term benefits of mining on productive farmland outweigh the long-term costs of compromised land, damaged aquifers and reduced food security. It is extraordinary that the debate has even come to this in the driest inhabited continent on earth when coal seam gas companies propose to damage regional aquifers. They have no idea what to do with millions, and then tens of millions, of tonnes of hypersaline water or salt that they will be bringing to the surface. The evidence around the greenhouse gas emissions, once the full life cycle of these projects is taken into account, is ambiguous at best and some of this farmland will have to be taken out of production if these projects go ahead on the scale proposed. We believe that leaving the determination of these issues to environ­mental impact statements undertaken by state governments is manifestly unsustainable.

I had the good fortune a year or two ago to visit the Darling Downs and southern Queensland around what is now the ghost town of Acland out the back of Toowoomba, a town with a resident population of one because of encroaching coalmines. I visited a Santos gas well where they were doing some early exploration work. They could not tell us what would become of the salt that a full-scale production well would bring to the surface. It is incredibly sad to see good farming country on our dry continent overrun by industrial development of this scale, particularly when they are fossil fuel developments. Sooner or later, the old parties are going to have to come to grips with the idea that some of Australia's fossil reserves will have to stay in the ground. There are no two ways about it.

On matters of national environmental significance, in the case of irreversible damage to water resources or to destruction of prime farmland, everybody has a responsibility. The Commonwealth, state governments and individual farmers have a duty of care to keep land in production. The bill helps protect land that has produced food at any time in the last 10 years. It does not alter the ownership of minerals or underlying titles to various things; they remain vested in states. If the states and the Commonwealth fail to protect food production, this bill gives farmers the right to step in and protect their land.

The Senate inquiry into this matter revealed that companies had treated farmers very poorly in relation to access—not all companies but some. Some companies are quite clearly giving the rest of the industry a bad name. This is not an issue that is being undertaken in the abstract, and this bill would fix that problem.

We believe that we should also amend the Water Act 2007 to prohibit the licensing of mining and extractive industries where they will have adverse impacts on groundwater resources and the environment. This bill does not address directly those issues, but what we need in the short term is to hold the line, because once this damage is done it cannot be undone. The proposition about amend­ments to the Water Act was something that I proposed when I was a member of the Senate Environment and Communications Arts Committee that visited some of the communities that are under such enormous stress from industrial encroachment. We were met on the road outside town by farming families who were wearing green T-shirts and carrying bright yellow triangular placards—they had really turned everything on for the committee. It was almost a festival-like atmosphere except when they told us what it was that they were confronting and where various things would go in the landscape. They are really up against it and they need the support of this parliament. It is not going to be good enough to hear the dismissive comment: 'While we support this in principle, we are going to vote against the bill.' I hope that there has been a change of heart since the last time this matter was debated. Coal seam gas directly threatens these farms and Australia's food bowl where our precious groundwater is concealed beneath the surface.

The upstream consequences of permanent­ly ruining the hydrogeology with coal seam gas extraction and the downstream consequences of filtering inland Australia's drinking water through coal mining projects are potentially devastating. We know that state governments are hopelessly compro­mised by mining royalties and they are not really prepared to face the reality that a large fraction of the coal seam gas in this fertile country will probably need to remain right where it is.

The Commonwealth seems unwilling to break the coal and coal seam gas hypnosis, and I think that was the reason we saw the chamber vote the way it did this morning on our proposal for a moratorium. We must protect the nation's food bowl. We are a net food exporter, and, in an age with the kind of challenges that the world is moving towards in the 21st century, that is a precious thing. That is a service that we provide to people around the world who do not have good quality farming country. They must be scratching their heads wondering how it is that, for a short-term fossil hit ,we would compromise these precious groundwater resources in country that we cannot get back once we have ruined it.

We support the actions of farmers to lock their own gates. They know the land. It was something that I was pleased to be able to do, because at that stage it was one of the first actions of locking the gate. A community had locked out BHP and they had maintained a blockade on their country for a very long period of time. They were eventually successful. We know that collectively we are extremely powerful. But people are tired, communities are stretched and they have got a lot of other challenges on their plates. The last thing they need is unregulated and unrestrained expansion of this particular industry on their farming country. We should be listening a lot more closely to what they tell us. They know their land and they know the way the groundwater behaves in those areas.

As a nation, we are fortunate that these farming families have stepped up into the regulatory void to say that enough is enough. I believe their voice should be amplified, and that is what we are seeking to do this afternoon. It is time to choose between coal seam gas and food, and I know on which side I will be voting when this one is put to the vote.

4:41 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to continue my remarks on the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Coal Seam Gas) Bill 2011.

Leave granted.

When we look at an area of public policy such as the use of prime agricultural land, with people expressing concerns about what is unfolding in some parts of our country, it is not a great surprise that the Greens are there to rush forward with an easy solution, a quick fix. Solutions are quick and easy in areas which have defied wiser, more sober heads. In those areas the Greens seem to be able to come up with solutions relatively quickly. Addressing an issue as complex as this with a simple solution—might I say a simplistic solution—is something that the Senate deserves to give close attention to, and that opportunity is presented by this bill.

This bill represents a far-too-ready solution to a problem which is in fact complex, which deserves case-by-case consideration in many instances and which is one that state governments are generally grappling with. As I said in the beginning of my contribution on 22 September 2011, when we last debated this bill, this is ultimately a matter for state governments. It is a state responsibility. Here in the Senate we are the states house and we should be standing up for the rights of the states to take proper control and responsibility for the affairs that are in their areas of constitutional responsibility. The use of land is a primary responsibility of our states and territories, and for the Greens to enter into this place with a simplistic solution again calls into question their commitment—a commitment that has been restated many times in this place—that they have a strong regard for the rights of states and territories to legislate within their own areas of responsibility. This was exhibited only recently in this very place—but I will come back to that issue in a moment.

The coalition does not see any merit in this bill. As I said, this is an issue for state governments, who have accountability to their electors to issue licences for exploration and subsequent exploitation of resources. The fact is that resource companies cannot enter a landowner's property to exploit the minerals and resources on that property without a negotiated or, in the worst case, a land court arbitrated agreement with that landowner. The coalition, and particularly the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, have made it perfectly clear that within that framework the federal opposition's view is that prime agricultural land must be protected. We will work with state governments to ensure that that objective is reached. There is clear evidence in Queensland, for example, that many landholders are able to come together sensibly to reach mutually satisfactory arrangements for the future use of their land and that the coexistence of agriculture and resource industry activities is not only possible but is also the norm. The Premier of New South Wales, Barry O'Farrell, and the man who I think is widely expected to be the next Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, have addressed this issue very directly. They are both fully seized of the importance of protecting prime agricultural land and have committed to the objective of ensuring that there is a strong and direct response to the concerns raised by landholders about their land being properly used and its present owners being properly consulted about the way in which that occurs.

At the federal level, the coalition supports the expansion of the coal seam gas industry where that is in harmony with the rights of landholders and the protection of prime agricultural land for food production. I emphasise again that we are not talking about a one-or-the-other response. We are not saying that we either exploit the resources or exploit the land for its food production capability. It is possible to deliver a balanced approach, acknowledging the importance of the mining industry to Australia's future economic sustainability while also acknowledging that Australia has a tremendous asset in its agricultural land. The quality of farm products in Australia is enormously important to Australia's reputation as an exporter and it is critical that we acknowledge and respect the rights of farmers.

The federal opposition supports the work of its state colleagues in delivering a more balanced approach than the approach offered by state Labor governments in recent years. In fact, it needs to be acknowledged directly that the characterisation of this debate as an all-out war between farmers and miners grossly understates the extent of cooperation which has been occurring for a long time in regional and rural Australia. Mining companies, by and large, are well apprised of the values of the communities in which they work. They seek to add value as much as possible to those communities. There are exceptions, of course, and it is important that the potential for agreement making in these areas be enhanced by creating opportunities for those agreements without imposing blanket decisions on parties by legislation introduced in the federal parliament. Canberra is a long way away from many of these communities. The mining industry and the farming community have worked together in Australia in many areas, and both sectors are prospering as a result. There are long-established systems in place which allow miners and farmers to negotiate land access, and there are very few cases where disagreements end up in court.

The Liberal Party and the National Party have a much better understanding of what goes on in rural and regional Australia. We have worked in those communities. We have represented those communities for decades. We understand the pressures they are under and we are working at both the federal and state levels to solve problems in a realistic fashion. I suspect there are many communities around Australia that will not thank the Greens for rushing forward to advise them on how they can solve their problems when the Greens have, as a party, very little connection with those parts of Australia—except when it comes to marching into the local forest to chain themselves to trees to prevent logging or to protest in some other way about activities going on in a rural industry of some sort of another. The Greens are always there to stop economic development, to stop economic opportunity and to stop people making a living but, quite frankly, they are never there when it comes to actually delivering sensible, realistic, sustainable solutions that provide a proper balance between taking a responsible approach to the environment while also pursuing legitimate and appropriate opportunities for economic development for the benefit of all.

As I said, there are numerous examples of farmers and mining companies working cooperatively and negotiating mutually beneficial outcomes. Development of the coal seam gas industry is not some kind of rampant, uncontrolled exercise which is resulting in the destruction of rural communities; it is a process which is highly regulated. In Queensland, for example, the industry is subject to more than 1,500 state and territory conditions. In fact, the coal seam gas industry is more regulated than the uranium industry. Coal seam gas companies operating in Queensland—and I include among those the Queensland Gas Company and Santos—have shown that they are willing to work with local communities and to carry out the process of exploring and exploiting mineral and gas deposits in good faith. By way of an example, all of the Queensland Gas Company's work on private properties has been done with the express permission of landholders. That might not be a fact that suits the case put forward by the Greens but it is true. It is a fact.

Senator Waters interjecting

I hear a bit of noise from the crossbenchers—because the Greens cannot handle the fact. In fact, Queensland Gas Company, for example, prefers voluntary agreements and now has more than 800 agreements following negotiations on land access with about 1,000 landholders across that particular state.

The coalition believes that there are some sections of productive land that are of such significance that they should be given additional safeguards. We acknowledge that it is sometimes a necessary step to take but we also acknowledge that, under our federal arrangements, state governments are responsible for both land use and mining. Therefore, we believe, it is a matter for each state government to determine which areas are considered prime agricultural land and for each state to put in place protective measures, where appropriate, in consultation with farmers, rural communities and resource companies. We urge those parties to deal effectively with the issue of the protection of prime agricultural land and to do so as a matter of urgency.

I think it is fair to say that this is an area in which activity is happening in the right direction. We can see it both in Queensland and in New South Wales. The state govern­ment in New South Wales is conscious of the need to take steps that make clearer the respective responsibilities and rights of parties on both sides of this debate. The O'Farrell government has certainly taken steps to balance the needs of mining and agriculture in that state. The government there has put in place a moratorium and there are strategic land-use plans to identify and protect productive farmland. Those plans involve communities in local decision making to ensure a sustainable and healthy mining industry and to encourage industry best practice. Obviously the O'Farrell government's arrangements have not been in place for very long, and I think it is quite unreasonable for the Greens to march forward and attempt to overturn the balance that has been struck there by virtue of the legislation that is here before the Senate today. I might also add that the O'Farrell government is developing at the present time a system of stringent groundwater regulation. They are reviewing fracking standards and they are reviewing access arrangements. This is very much a matter under close consideration by governments such as the New South Wales government and, I believe, after Saturday, the incoming Queensland government.

I mentioned before that the Liberal-National Party in Queensland has also taken steps to show that it is addressing this issue, even though it is not yet in government. It has published a discussion paper that notes the importance of gas to the Queensland economy and raises a number of issues that have not been addressed by the Bligh Labor government, including the depletion of underground water, the issue of land access, the location of coal seam gas infrastructure close to dwellings and the increasing pres­sure on inadequate existing regional infrast­ructure. With steps such as that the Liberal-National Party in Queensland is very well placed to provide the people of Queensland with a better and more balanced approach than that achieved by the knee-jerk reactions to this problem of the Bligh government.

I have been in this place for just five years but I have already heard many lectures in that short time from the Greens about the need to play close attention to what committees in this place do, and to listen to what the committees say before making decisions, yet on this occasion it does not appear that the Greens are prepared to follow their own advice. On 13 November last year, the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee issued an interim report on the impact of mining coal seam gas on the management of the Murray-Darling Basin. It made 18 recommendations reflecting the deep complexity of the issues surrounding the extraction of coal seam gas. It also, very properly, recognised that the great majority of the issues are within the province of the states and, to the extent that national solutions may be indicated, the complexity of jurisdictional interests and responsibilities that will arise. There was no recommendation whatsoever for the hijacking of unilateral and, frankly, simpleminded legislation such as this bill proposed by the Greens.

I also take exception to the characteris­ation by the Greens of coal seam gas itself. At various stages some Greens have referred to it as a 'dirty energy' when, in fact, coal seam gas is significantly cleaner in terms of greenhouse emissions than many other alternative fossil fuels. Senator Furner in his contribution last year referred to it as being 70 per cent less productive of emissions than other forms of fossil fuels. I have no reason to doubt the statistics that he used in his contribution to the debate.

I am about to run out of time, but let me conclude by saying that the Senate should soundly reject this half-baked proposal from the Greens today and allow other processes to deal with these complex but important issues.

4:55 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I oppose the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Coal Seam Gas) Bill 2011. Whilst I do not dispute the environmental concerns held by the Greens or others, the veracity of those concerns or, indeed, the passion in which they are held, I believe that this bill is an unreasonable use of this parliament's powers. It is clearly enunciated in section 51 of our Constitution that encroaching on land-use powers, in the area of law-making, is ordinarily the domain of state governments. The Commonwealth, consistent with its powers enunciated in the Constitution, has a sensible and reasonable environmental protection regime that ensures stringent environmental impact assessment processes, appropriate natural protection safeguards and disallowance measures to ensure that coal seam gas cannot be extracted in circumstances which would produce environmentally damaging outcomes.

Coal seam gas is a longstanding source of energy in Australia. In the eastern states, approximately 33 per cent of gas production is through coal seam gas. For Queensland, 90 per cent of gas produced is through coal seam gas extraction. My view is that, as we move to a clean energy future, coal seam gas plays an important role as a transition fuel to that clean energy future. I accept the view that, in the long term, coal seam gas should not be our aim for the production of energy in this country. In the longer term, renewables must be our aim. That is the focus of the government's clean energy future. But, in the interim, coal seam gas plays an important role as a transition fuel to get us to that renewable energy future.

The facts are that coal seam gas is a damn sight cleaner than burning fossil fuels, particularly coal, and it is the only alternative fuel source at the moment that is capable of powering a baseload power station in Australia or, for that matter, a peaking plant. This issue highlights the fact quite clearly that the Labor government 'gets it' in terms of a transition to a clean energy future. We support a transition that ensures our economy and our jobs continue to grow and that, at the same time, we make the transition to a clean energy future. We believe that coal seam gas plays a part in that transition. In our view, this bill would make that transition a hell of a lot harder and, importantly, more costly, not only for businesses but also for Australian households. We believe that we can make a transition to a clean energy future and that we can grow our economy, grow jobs and grow investment, but that will take time. It is not going to happen overnight. To ensure a smooth transition and to iron out the bumps in the road to a clean energy future, we believe that coal seam gas plays an important part. To agree with this bill would send the wrong message to an economy in transition, to business in transition and to households in transition when it comes to jobs and promoting growth in our economy as we move down that path to a clean energy future.

It would make it harder to explore, invest and extract a fuel that will get us to the ultimate path of a renewable energy future in this country. Importantly, were Labor to support this bill it would be inconsistent with the approach that we have taken to this very important public policy issue. We have consistently said that we will move to a clean energy future whilst at the same time growing our economy, growing jobs and providing support for businesses and households to make that transition. An important element of our economy in making that transition is support for continuing this industry.

In terms of the environmental issues, I believe that the focus of the bill exemplifies its faults. Under this bill the Commonwealth would have the power to apply penalties to any constitutional corporation if it undertakes any activity to explore for or produce coal seam gas on food-producing land without prior written authorisation of anyone who has an ownership interest in the land. I understand the importance of food-producing land for this country, and the focus of Commonwealth laws should be on the protection of the environment through appropriate safeguards and approvals consistent with our Constitution. But, importantly, this applies on any land—not simply food-producing land—which is the ambit of this legislation.

Under the current federal environment protection regime that is exactly what occurs. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the Commonwealth has the power, consistent with the Constitution, to assess these projects and to assess environmental concerns. Proposals that have been assessed by the Commonwealth have only been allowed to proceed after careful consideration of the potential groundwater impacts. The Minister for Sustainability, the Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Minister Burke, has approved three coal seam gas projects.

In his decisions, the minister imposed around 300 conditions on each project to protect the environment and water resources while providing for the continued development of this industry. This act and its decisions build on the 1,200 conditions that were imposed by the Queensland government in respect of the three projects that were approved under the EPBC Act. Collectively, they were aimed at addressing the cumulative impacts of multiple projects in terms of community sustainability, regional development and environmental outcomes.

The approval process for coal seam gas projects requires the projects to undertake detailed planning and monitoring to ensure the potential impacts on springs, ecological communities or groundwater resources are detected long before they exceed critical thresholds; to develop a timetable for the submission of management plans for aquifers, groundwater and surface water approval; to maintain groundwater pressure in aquifers above a conservative threshold; and to have plans for measures to re-establish pressure if it falls below these thresholds. They have to develop pilots for aquifer reinjection and water treatment programs to ensure that any water to be reinjected is of suitable quality. There are protections in place to ensure that under appropriate Commonwealth laws these projects undertake proper assessment and proceed with stringent environmental protections in place.

Also, the Commonwealth has recognised that there is a degree of concern within the community regarding this issue. It has become a hot topic. In that respect, the Commonwealth has established a land access working group. Although the Commonwealth does not have the power to regulate when it comes to land use management issues, the Standing Council on Resources and Energy and the minister have been working with state governments to facilitate a discussion regarding a uniform approach to the regulation of the industry.

That is the appropriate approach to take, in my view, regarding this issue. It is the domain of the states, and it is appropriate for the Commonwealth, recognising the concerns of the community, to work with those states on a uniform planning and assessment regime at the state level. So the claims that the government has ignored the concerns of the community on this issue are wrong. The government has acted within its ambit enshrined in the Constitution to ensure that it is working with the states, who have the appropriate control and law-making powers when it comes to this issue. This is a measured, appropriate approach which recognises our constitutional constraints but which complements the processes of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.

Coal seam gas extraction has been occurring for decades. It is an important industry for our economy. One of the issues associated with this is the fact that the state governments, which do have control and powers when it comes to law-making in this area, have reacted and enacted regimes which ensure appropriate controls are in place. The Queensland government has acted and the New South Wales government has acted. They have put in place a series of control measures to ensure appropriate development.

Queensland has introduced a strategic cropping land policy framework which aims to provide a balance between protecting prime agricultural land while allowing for the development of a coal seam gas industry. The Queensland Premier has also announced that coal seam gas and mining activities will not be permitted within two kilometres of population centres of over 1,000 people. The Queensland government has also developed a code of conduct for the industry which focuses on managing any impacts on land and water resources and landholders' activities. In addition, the Queensland government has formed a coal seam gas enforcement unit made up of environmental and groundwater experts, petroleum and gas safety specialists and staff specialising in land access issues. The unit is, importantly, based in local communities and acts as a centre point for contact for safety, land access and environmental concerns. That is what the Queensland government is doing.

In New South Wales, the New South Wales Liberal government has announced new policies to provide for the effective regulation of the coal seam gas industry. They include: a ban on the use of BTEX chemicals; requiring proponents to hold a water access licence if they extract more than three megalitres per year from groundwater; a ban on the use of evaporation ponds relating to coal seam gas; and requiring all new applications for mining or petroleum projects to submit an agriculture impact statement and a strategic regional land use policy. This policy and this approach by the Liberal government in New South Wales will provide greater certainty for the development of the coal seam gas industry in New South Wales. I note that the New South Wales upper house is also holding a parliamentary inquiry into the issue in New South Wales to examine the sustainability of the coal seam gas industry. In my view that is an entirely appropriate approach because it is within the remit of the states, who have the power to make laws with respect to land use management, to make these reforms. It is not, in my view, within the remit of the Commonwealth, which does not have the power under our Constitution to make laws with respect to land use management, to be encroaching on this area traditionally undertaken by the states. I have never been a big states'-righter, I must say, but on this particular issue I believe that it is appropriate—

Senator Farrell interjecting

I certainly do represent them, but I suppose I take a pragmatic approach, Senator Farrell, when it comes to these issues, and I believe that on this particular issue in this particular area of policy it is entirely appropriate for the states to make the laws with respect to land use management and for the Commonwealth's remit to be associated with environmental issues and the EPBC Act.

The debate concerning this issue has produced some unusual ironies. Some of the coalitions that have been formed in respect of this issue and the debate that has been occurring in the wider community are somewhat ironic. To see the Greens hand in hand with the farming community and the likes of Alan Jones and Bob Katter is incredibly ironic, particularly given the fact that Bob Katter, as a former mines minister under the Ahern government, in 1989 brought into the parliament the actual laws that are now being used by the coal seam gas companies to extract and explore for coal seam gas in Queensland. So here we have Bob Katter as part of the Lock the Gate coalition now campaigning against coal seam gas, but back in 1989 Bob Katter was the one that opened the gate to coal seam gas exploration and extraction in Queensland—a somewhat ironic situation which highlights the somewhat bizarre nature of the public debate that has been occurring in respect of this particular issue in our nation.

I draw my comments to a conclusion by once again stating that I appreciate the concerns of the green movement on this issue.

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

With your indulgence, Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: I was just wondering what all politicians of all persuasions are going to do about the 20 million tonnes of salt that is going to be produced.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is not a point of order, Senator Heffernan.

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You don't have the answer and no-one has the answer.

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Perhaps, Senator Heffernan, you will be voting with the Greens on this bill given your concerns regarding the issue. We will wait and see. But I reiterate my points earlier made. It is in my view inappropriate for the Commonwealth to be passing these laws, which apply only to corporations but would allow, were this law passed, cooperatives, sole traders and partnerships to continue to extract and mine coal seam gas on land. This law would apply only to corporations. It is an area of lawmaking that is traditionally within the ambit of the states, and I believe it would be inappropriate for the Commonwealth to be passing these laws and encroaching on that ambit, particularly in the context of the fact that, when we are talking about environmental protection, the Commonwealth has in place a stringent process for the approval of these projects and, importantly, disallowance measures where the relevant minister believes that the safeguards in terms of environmental assessment have not been met and there will potentially be damage to the environment. On that basis I do not support the bill and I urge the Senate to reject the bill.

5:13 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I am in a similar position to Senator Thistlethwaite, and I should perhaps clarify my interjection there earlier. I understand he is not an advocate of state rights but is a very great advocate for his state, which is the—

Senator Sterle interjecting

You are an advocate for state rights, Senator Sterle? Okay. We are obviously divided on this issue in the Labor Party.

Senator Polley interjecting

We have Senator Polley here; she is saying she loves her state. I am sure Senator Cash loves her state as well.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, but does her state love her?

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) Share this | | Hansard source

They did vote for her, and that is fair enough. But that is not the subject matter before us; it may be a debate for another time. We are here today to discuss this bill from the Greens, the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Coal Seam Gas) Bill 2011. It is important to put coal seam gas in the context of its importance to the community and to people whose livelihood depends on it but, more particularly, in the broader context of what the federal government is seeking to do in reducing our carbon footprint. Coal seam gas is an absolutely vital ingredient to that whole process. As you know, Mr Acting Deputy President Cameron, we have introduced our bill to reduce carbon pollution, but there are many more things that we need to do as a government, as a society and as a country to reduce our carbon footprint, and coal seam gas is going to be absolutely vital in that process.

At the moment, coal seam gas accounts for about 33 per cent of the domestic gas production along the east coast of Australia. In fact, when you look at Queensland, 90 per cent of the gas used in that state comes from coal seam gas. Coal seam gas already powers several domestic electrical generation projects in Queensland including Origin Energy's Darling Downs Power Station and the Braemar 2 Power Station. State governments have a twofold policy when it comes to coal seam gas: firstly, to ensure the appropriate compensation of landholders for access and use of their land and, secondly, to ensure that coal seam gas is exploited on behalf of its citizens by unlocking an important transition fuel to provide a source of employment and export income and to generate a long-term revenue source through royalties and rents. If this bill were to pass the Senate today, it would turn its back on that second objective by shifting the state based system, which seeks to ensure proper, if necessary judicially determined, compensation for affected landholders, to a Commonwealth imposed system transferring all powers to the rights, no matter how insignificant, of the landowners.

Coal seam gas exploration is a big opportunity for Australia. We hear about the mining boom, but coal seam gas is part of a much broader development of our resources. Since October 2010, investment decisions in the Queensland coal seam gas to liquid natural gas industry total around $45 billion. That is a very significant amount of money and a very significant amount of investment, and it is creating jobs and opportunities in Queensland. This industry will create jobs, especially in regional communities, and it provides opportunities for Indigenous Australians to seek work in this type of industry. Of course, it also boosts the economy not only of the state but of the Commonwealth. With the recently introduced mining tax, the Australian government is now seeking to distribute the benefits of the mining boom more broadly than to those industries associated with the mining industry. It is a very good project.

Senator Cash interjecting

It is a very good piece of legislation, Senator Cash.

Senator Cash interjecting

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Farrell, ignore the interjections.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to ignore the interjections, Mr Acting Deputy President. It is very hard to do so in the case of Senator Cash because of the volume of her voice. I did once call it something else and she got upset, so I will not repeat that.

Senator Sterle interjecting

I will tell you privately, Senator Sterle. The coal seam gas industry creates jobs and creates opportunities, but, more importantly, both the state of Queensland and the federal government get benefits out of it. The process that Queensland is using to convert the coal seam gas to LNG provides for a much cleaner source of fuel than coal fired power. As I understand, it produces the same amount of heat but does not have the same carbon impact that coal does. In our attempts to reduce our carbon footprint, coal seam gas converted to liquid gas is going to be a very important part of that.

In terms of the role of the federal government, we have been actively involved in the approvals process for all of these developments. They have not happened overnight and they have not happened without the active interest of the federal government, in particular Minister Burke, who has responsibility for this area. Presently, the federal government have certain environmental responsibility if a project or activity has a potential to impact on matters of national environmental significance as defined under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Water Act 2007. Proposals assessed by the Commonwealth have been allowed to proceed only after careful consideration of the potential groundwater impacts. There is a mechanism in place under the two pieces of legislation that I have just mentioned to make an assessment of the environmental impact on groundwater, which is what the federal minister has been doing. Minister Burke has approved three developments, three coal seam gas to LNG gas projects, and has imposed about 300 conditions on those projects. It is a very significant number of conditions, all dealing with applying the environmental responsibilities of the federal government. The aim of those conditions is to ensure and protect the environment and the water resources but, at the same time, to try to progress an industry which we see as being of great benefit in this challenge of changing climates and all the problems we have as a nation and as a world in dealing with the issue of carbon pollution.

The EPBC Act decisions built on 1,200 conditions that the Queensland government imposed, a very good government.

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration) Share this | | Hansard source

Not for long.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) Share this | | Hansard source

They will be comfortably re-elected. You laugh, Senator Cash—

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration) Share this | | Hansard source

I do at that.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) Share this | | Hansard source

but I can recall the last election when the Liberals and Nationals—I cannot remember whether they were a united party back then—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They're still not now.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I suppose that is true. There are significant divisions.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I reckon they should do it in WA.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Farrell has the call.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for that protection, Mr Acting Deputy President; I need it. The EPBC Act did build on those very stringent conditions that were applied by the Queensland government and added to all the regulations that are required by all of these companies which would wish to develop these resources, and when you total them there are 1,500 conditions that they have to meet. These conditions are aimed at addressing the cumulative impacts of multiple projects in terms of community sustainability, regional development and environmental outcomes.

Minister Burke's approval of three coal seam gas projects in Queensland requires the projects: firstly, to undertake detailed planning and monitoring to ensure any potential impact on springs, ecological communities or groundwater resources is detected long before they exceed any critical thresholds; secondly, to develop a timetable for the submission of management plans for aquifers, groundwater and surface water for approval; thirdly, to maintain groundwater pressure in aquifers above conservative thresholds and plan measures to re-establish pressure if it falls below these thresholds; fourthly, to develop pilots for aquifer reinjection and water treatment programs to ensure that any water to be reinjected is of a suitable quality; and, finally, to cooperate with other coal seam gas proponents and the Queensland Water Commission in the development of a regional model for the ongoing assessment of the potential impacts of coal seam gas production on groundwater. All of those five conditions have been imposed by Minister Burke on these projects and are all designed to get the absolute best environmental outcome while allowing the projects to proceed.

In addition to the things I have just mentioned, the minister has established an expert panel of academics and industry experts to provide advice on groundwater related matters and the adequacy of the water management plans which the companies must submit under the project approvals. An interim committee has been set up pending the formal establishment of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development. In fact, just today, Mr Burke has introduced legislation into the other house to set up that independent agency as a statutory body.

In terms of the projects that have been approved in Queensland under the water management provisions, Minister Burke's conditions stipulate that the companies must test and monitor every relevant aquifer to verify whether or not they are hydraulically connected. The companies have to submit detailed water management plans and monitoring regimes to avoid or minimise the impacts of groundwater and surface water, and these plans are subject to rigorous assessment by an expert scientific panel. On 10 September 2010 Minister Burke released an independent expert report on the impacts of the coal seam gas operation in South-East Queensland on surface water and on groundwater. I will focus on groundwater for a moment, because that is an important area when it comes to the consideration of these coal seam gas projects. Work is currently underway to better understand the cumula­tive impacts of multiple coal seam gas devel­opments on groundwater resources. This has been a matter for some public issues and consideration, and that work is currently underway.

The government has also committed $1.5 million to the Namoi Catchment Water Study looking at the potential impacts of proposed coal mining and coal seam gas extraction on the region's water sources in the Liverpool Plains. Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop, I am sure you are very familiar with this study. In addition the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism sought and received advice from Geoscience Australia on phase 2 of the Namoi Catchment Water Study that included data collection, data analysis and model conceptualisation for the Namoi catchment.

I turn to the work that the CSIRO have been doing in this area. They are working on a range of research projects to enhance the characterisation, production and stimulation of coal seam gas, and address the environ­mental impact of coal seam gas production. In July 2011 the CSIRO and the Australian Pacific LNG founded the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance to undertake research in five key social and environmental areas: groundwater, surface water, biodiversity, land management, the marine environment and socioeconomic impacts. The CSIRO and the Australian Pacific LNG have provided initial seed fund­ing totalling $14 million over the next five years for the alliance to undertake this research into the Queensland coal seam gas industry. The alliance has been established with a robust governance framework designed to ensure the delivery of quality, peer reviewed and publicly available science for the benefit of the industry, government and the community.

In addition to what the minister has done and CSIRO is doing in this area, the Australian government has an interest in land use changes, particularly those that affect our agricultural industries in food production. As you would be aware from your background, Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop, decision making with regard to land use and planning ultimately rests with the state and territory governments. A number of states already have policies which protect prime agricultural land, and some states are addressing community concerns by developing such policies. The Australian government is very confident that mining and farming communities can coexist as they have done in Australia for a very long time. This should not be any different for coal seam gas. It is fair to say that to date mining and urban expansions have not threatened Australia's food security. We are in the good position of having food security in this country.

5:34 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is always a delight to follow Parliamentary Secretary Farrell, especially as he has a wide and vast knowledge of water issues. I listened intently to every word of his speech. I rise to make my contribution to the Landholders Right to Refuse (Coal Seam Gas) Bill 2011. But before I do I would like to say that it is a pleasure to contribute to these debates, particularly on mining. I come from a mining state—as you do, Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop—and know that while mining has its challenges it also has its rewards. It is great to come from a state that has these resources. We know when times are quiet or difficult every industry has its challenges, but it would be wrong to think that mining is the only thing that Australia is about. It is not; Australia has a very proud history of numerous other industries, particularly agriculture.

For colleagues from states that do not have offshore or onshore oil and gas activity, it probably would be a strange and difficult industry to grasp, so I would like to share some experiences. As Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop and I are both well aware, there are benefits for our economy, investment and jobs in Western Australia from the gas industry. We do not have coal seam gas production at this stage, which is not to say that we do not have the opportunity to explore, discover and extract any form of gas—whether it be coal seam, CNG, LNG or shale. I have been involved in some way, shape or form with the LNG industry from the first time I took a load of furniture to Woodside's offices on the Burrup Peninsula at Hearsons Cove back in 1984. Like Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop, I interact with a lot of Western Australians who are employed by our gas industry there. I also had the opportunity late last year, as the deputy chair and a long-time member of the Senate Standing Committee on Rural, Regional Affairs and Transport—that is right, the RRAT committee—to look into the coal seam gas industry in western Queensland. On that inquiry I had the privilege of being joined by Senator Waters, who has put up this bill, Senator Heffernan, Senator Edwards and—how could I forget?—Senator Joyce. We visited Brisbane, but we also went out to Roma and Dalby in western Queensland, where we had community meetings and site visits. We were hosted by some farmers. We went out to see coal seam gas wells on their properties and then we had town hall meetings which were very well attended by the communities—some 70 or 80 people in each town. I must admit that the feeling towards the coal seam gas industry by those attending these hearings was anything but warm and friendly. We had to decipher what the heck was really going on.

What we did discover was that the coal seam gas industry in Queensland is not new. I will stand corrected if I am wrong, but I am led to believe that Santos has been extracting coal seam gas for about 40 years in Queensland. Senator Heffernan is indicating it is a little less. It is not a new industry to Queensland, but what we have seen is a massive boost of pipeline investment of about $45 billion. We spoke to coal seam gas employees, industry representatives, farmers and shopkeepers. Coming from WA, I know the challenges that are faced when mining companies come into a town to explore, develop and then process. It can be quite a shock to some people. What I took away from this visit was that there are about 2,700 properties in Queensland that have coal seam gas exploration or wells on their properties. I was led to believe quite clearly that about half were quite happy—there had been some form of negotiation which was a secret that they are not allowed to talk about but they get paid a certain amount of money to have a coal seam gas well on their property—and that the other half were not happy to have coal seam gas wells on their land. To decipher why is always a challenge—they will probably take me to task on this—but I worked it out that some were happy and some are not.

There are other issues that came into it. In Roma we were accompanied by the hardworking member there, Mr Bruce Scott, and he spoke very highly of the industry on his patch and what it has delivered to the towns that he represents in the federal parliament. In Roma, like any town in north-west WA, there isa mix of local businesses—except we do not have an agricultural industry up there in north-west WA—and a lot of fluorescent vests and a lot of steel capped boots. I asked people as we were travelling whether we would see the number of shops open in these communities if there wasn't a gas industry. What I took away, and Senator Heffernan might argue with this, was that—and I go through the Great Southern to our wheat-growing areas down in Western Australia—it was pitifully sad to see shops boarded up. We have only had drought for the last two years whereas New South Wales had nine years before it broke—and didn't it break! But we did see the benefits of the industry. We took evidence that there were quite a few people who had profited—their small businesses had become buoyant and they were able to employ people. There is also an opportunity—and it is an argument for WA as well—for local people to stay in the region. From my side of the country, that is a very big thing, and it was at the forefront of our travels through Queensland.

With the coal seam gas to LNG industry in Queensland—the $45 billion pipeline investment—I know that Australia is now the fourth largest exporter of LNG. On my side of the country and yours, Mr Acting Deputy President—and you and I have both had input through Gorgon, the Wheatstone announcement and, fingers crossed, the Browse Basin project by Woodside and its partners off the coast of Broome, if it goes ahead—these projects not only will increase our GDP, productivity and our economy but also could possibly put us at No.2 in the world for the production and export of a much cleaner fuel supply than coal. I certainly have my fingers crossed, because I hope that, with the blessing of the majority—and I stress the majority—of the traditional owners in the Kimberley, the Browse Basin project will proceed. Senator Siewert will probably remind me on the way out that there was not 100 per cent agreement. I thought I would get in first, because I felt that something was going to be said pretty soon.

Coming back to the coal seam gas industry in Queensland, I know that it has put quite a few people off. There was a lot of debate around intrusion upon land. It would be wrong if I did not acknowledge that we did hear some stories. I do not put it down to coal seam gas; I put it down to very poor public relations and the practices of one or two of the gas companies. I fully support that, if you are going onto someone's land, you should have the decency to introduce yourself, make sure the gates are shut and behave in a way you would expect—

Senator Heffernan interjecting

I am having a giggle with Senator Heffernan. In fact, I would love to hear Senator Heffernan have his five minutes worth. Senator Heffernan will probably have his opportunity in the adjournment debate. If he does get an opportunity to speak, would he please flick me an email and I will make sure I am in the chamber to hear it?

Getting back to what I was saying, it is inexcusable for people to behave in the ways we heard in Queensland. We did go and visit a number of sites. We had a look at the size of the wells. Let us not pussyfoot around: one is led to believe that the wells are only a tiny intrusion on the land—I think we were told they were about 20 metres by 20 metres—but when you see the swathe of cleared land between the wells you understand it is a lot greater than I had envisaged it to be. But I have to come back to why we are in a world where we continually argue about the level of concern around climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. It is very, very hard to argue against it. We do have to explore every opportunity to seek a cleaner source of energy and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that CNG to LNG is the way to go for Australia. We have vast amounts of this resource in our country and we are right to extract it, to treat our communities with dignity and to bring the Australian economy along with us, whether it be in the agricultural areas or offshore.

I am in full support of the coal seam gas industry. I have said that on the record on a number of occasions and I continue to say it now. But I come back to the coal seam gas in Queensland. I did say that it is a longstanding energy source. I would like to put on the record that I have figures that tell me that 33 per cent of the eastern states' domestic gas production is coal seam gas, and 90 per cent of the gas used in Queensland comes from coal seam gas.

I am also very well aware of the bill. The bill wants the Commonwealth to have the full rights to the development of coal seam gas fields, but I cannot support that. I cannot support the states being overridden on that. I do not support the bill. There was a lot of conversation around the loss of prime agricultural land, and I know that a large swathe of Senator Waters's bill is concerned with what happens on prime agricultural land

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No-one has defined prime agricultural land!

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also know that when we were in Queensland everyone we spoke to saw that part of the world as prime agricultural land. Then again, we have evidence from other people who said that it was not the best agricultural land around. We also heard evidence—and I am sure that Senator Heffernan or Senator Waters will correct me if I am wrong—that these coal seam gas wells were potentially threatening the life of the Great Artesian Basin. That was put to us. A number of arguments were put to us saying, 'What the heck is going to happen to our water?' We also heard a number of times, 'What happens if we poison the aquifers?' and I think that is a very fair question.

I also know that there are vast concerns—and I would not stand here and lie about it because I have no need to—about the salt that is left, which we saw. We went out and we saw that. But then we came back to Canberra and we had a presentation from a mob—and I cannot remember the name, and I apologise—about what they could do with the salt.

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Penrose, thank you, Senator Heffernan. They believe that the leftover salt could be a viable industry. They need to prove that to us, but that is what they said. But if you sit back and listen to certain groups of activists against the coal seam gas industry—one comes to mind, and I normally get this wrong: is it Shut the Gate—

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Lock the Gate.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Lock the Gate is headed up by a gentleman by the name of Drew Hutton—am I right?

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


Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Waters. I think that gentleman also was a founder of the Greens in Queensland. Mr Hutton attended all three hearings. He was out in Dalby and in Roma and he came into Brisbane. He gave evidence. He was passionate and is leading the charge for blocking all coal seam gas exploration and development on farming land in the area.

But the sad part is that he also got himself in a little bit of a pickle when he turned his back on the development of best practice regulation and an article reported that 'the bill ignores the reports that they do not like or, as in the case of Mr Hutton, they simply falsify'—these are the ones against—'the facts to suit their predetermined conclusions'.

It is such a help for us on our RRAT committee. I think it is a committee that works extremely hard. We value our witnesses that make an effort to come to us to give evidence. Most of our witnesses who come to us are traditionally people in rural and regional Australia and we are talking to people at the coalface and we should be very proud of that fact. But it is very, very disturbing when someone who heads such an out-there, very active lobby group against coal seam gas is falsifying facts to suit predetermined conclusions. If anyone is listening to me out there and thinks, 'What is he going on about?' I would encourage them to grab a pen and a piece of paper and write down: and then see for themselves. That does not help the argument. I had never paid any attention to coal seam gas and all of a sudden I heard that some movie had come out called Gasland and everyone got the horrors with the coal seam gas industry even though it has been around for 40 years.

Then again, I come from Western Australia. How many times do we see the opportunity for vast investment in our state to deliver not only growth and investment but also jobs, and then all of a sudden someone will pop up who does not like it and we will hear some of the most absurd claims. If some are true, they need to be proved. But, unfortunately, when they come from the lobby against mining the truth gets thrown out the window. We used to play Chinese whispers at school, but this is not done through whispers; it is out there. We see all sorts of nonsense and hear ridiculous claims about what it is going to do the environment or to our health, then we have mining companies—most of the time, or some of the time: you decide yourself—all of a sudden being guilty, then having to sort out the facts. And none can be more in your face. In Western Australia it is not about coal seam gas, as I was saying, but I fear it is happening up in Broome.

I understand as much as anyone who wants to protect and save the pristine and rugged beauty of the Kimberley, and if there is something that is environmentally destructive I will be lying across the road with them. But when I go into Broome I see signs with the name of a company—and it is no secret, it is Woodside; Dr Eggleston knows that and so do you, Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop. And then these signs have an 'equals' sign, the two-fingers sign you gave to me, and the word 'genocide', so they are saying 'Woodside equals genocide'. These are not traditional owners using this language; they are white people. I do not know if they are born and bred in Broome, nor do you have to be, or if they are residents of Broome. But this is the sort of rubbish that is being peddled by the environmental movements. I have respect for environmentalists who genuinely have a concern for the environment. But when it is the same 'usual suspects' that use the most vile language to destroy reputable companies that pay reputable wages and have reputable investments and reputable training for Australians I get very p'd off.

5:54 pm

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

I rise to conclude the debate on my Landholders' Right to Refuse (Coal Seam Gas) Bill 2012. I would like to start by thanking Tony Abbott for the original inspiration of this bill. I may not get the chance to do that in the next 5½ years that I have in this place, hopefully more. He said six months ago that he thought farmers should have the right to say no to coal seam gas, and we thought: 'Great! Finally someone is listening to the concerns of the community. Let's get this bill in and try to get it through the parliament to give landholders the right to say no.' Unfortunately, it was a pretty short-lived approach by Mr Abbott—the next day he changed his mind and said, 'Mining company should respect the rights of farmers.' Well, farmers do not have any. That is why we need this bill to give them some. It has all been downhill from then on with Mr Abbott and the LNP. And I note with great disappointment, but perhaps no surprise, that we do not have any members here of the Nationals, who profess to care about coal seam gas when they are out in the bush but when it comes to putting bums on seats in this place to vote against coal seam gas they are never here.

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

That's a cheap shot!

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

It may well be a cheap shot, but where are they on this issue? They continue to vote against standing up for the community on coal seam gas. I think people should be fully aware of that, particularly when they vote on Saturday.

There are a litany of problems with coal seam gas, which is why the Greens have opposed it from the outset. There are the problems with the long-term damage to our aquifers. There are the problems with the vast amounts of salt that are produced. There is the fact that it will affect our food productivity and export ability into the future. And then there are the false claims made about how supposedly clean it is and how great it is for the climate, without a shred of independent Australian evidence that actually looks at coal seam gas. So we have massive environmental concerns and there are also huge social issues because of the fact that farmers and other landholders have no rights to say no to coal seam gas. That is precisely why the Greens and the community want a moratorium on coal seam gas until we have a better grasp on what this industry is doing to our land and to our water and to our climate and to our reef, for that matter, which is being dug up for coal seam gas exports.

The rest of the parliament does not want a moratorium on coal seam gas. Twice now they have voted down motions that I have put for a moratorium on coal seam gas, blocking their ears to the 67 per cent of Australians who do want a moratorium on coal seam gas until we know whether it is safe. I think that is a very reasonable position and it is consistent with the precautionary principle, which we supposedly have on our law books but that everyone always ignores.

I have other bills before this place to try and address the problems with coal seam gas. One is to give some power to the environment minister to better protect water from coal seam gas, and we have just had a Senate committee recommend against supporting that bill. This bill we are debating is specifically directed to protecting landholder rights and allowing farmers the right to say no. It does not purport to solve all of the environmental problems with coal seam gas; I have other legislation which does that. But with this bill the whole point is to allow food-producing landholders to say no to coal seam gas. When authorities like the National Water Commission and the CSIRO are both saying we do not understand the long-term impacts of this industry, why should we be taking the risk with what precious little food-producing land we have in this dry country? Why shouldn't farmers be able to say that they do not want to take the risk with their land and that they want to give the opportunity to their kids to keep producing the food that we all rely on? That is precisely what this bill would do.

I have heard some very spurious reasons from the other parties on both sides of politics as to why they do not back this bill. There have been some constitutional claims which are just nonsense. There have been some claims that the state laws are somehow properly regulating this industry. I wish they were, but, unfortunately, they are not. You just have to look at the evidence. In Queensland landholders cannot say no to coal seam gas; they have no right to do that. All they have is 28 days to negotiate an agreement with a big coal seam gas multinational corporation, and if they cannot reach agreement after 28 days they end up in court and the companies can still come onto their land anyway. So there is absolutely no equality of bargaining power there and no right ultimately to say no.

The strategic cropping land laws that were brought in by the state Labor government late last year do not stop coal seam gas either. They wrongly say that coal seam gas does not permanently alienate the land. That is not what the CSIRO and the National Water Commission think, and it is not what the Greens think either. The LNP are, very sadly, no better. They want to stop coal seam gas in the Scenic Rim, and we welcome that, but what about the rest of Queensland? What about the rest of the country, for that matter? They have proposed a gasfield land and water commission to develop a better land access agreement. Well, the best land access agreement is one that says farmers can say no, and that is what this bill does. That is why the many communities across the state—in the bush, but also in the cities, because we have had concern expressed about coal seam gas right across the state and the country—are going to vote for the Greens. They know that we are opposed to seam gas and that we are for protecting our water, protecting our food-producing ability, protecting our climate and protecting our reef.

It is a disappointment to me that I only had five minutes today to speak on these issues. I look forward to continuing my remarks when we next have the chance to discuss this bill. In the meantime, if people want action on coal seam gas they will be voting Greens on Saturday.

Debate interrupted.