Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ludwig. Can the minister outline to the Senate the Gillard government's commitment to protect vital agricultural resources such as water from inappropriate coal seam gas mining developments?
I thank Senator Thistlethwaite for his question. Yesterday the Gillard government took action to protect one of our most important natural resources, and that is water. The environment minister will introduce amendments to Australia's national environment law. These amendments will require federal assessment and approval of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments which have a significant impact on water resources. They will also create a civil penalty and offence provisions for taking an action without an approval or exemption.
Australians know that our water resources need to be protected. Our regional communities know it; our farmers know it. We are acting because there has been significant concern raised by communities right around Australia about the impact of coal seam gas on groundwater and service water resources. There will also be transitional provisions in the bill. By becoming a matter of national environmental significance, this matter will have the full resources of the independent expert scientific committee and the analysis that flows as a result of that. For projects that are early in the approval process, they will be able to incorporate the additional matters of environmental significance at whatever stage they are at. For projects which are already undergoing an assessment, they will not be required to restart their environmental impact assessment from the beginning.
This is good news for agriculture. It is good news for those who have been concerned about coal seam gas, particularly given the water resources so vital to the economy. Water resources need to be protected, and it is the right thing for the Commonwealth now to step in to ensure that agricultural land can continue to enjoy the water resources that are required. The Gillard government has acknowledged the significant concerns that have been expressed in the communities and by farmers about the water resources and will continue to work with governments— (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister outline to the Senate why the Gillard government has acted to protect water resources and prime agricultural land? What has been the position of Australian farmers on the matter?
I thank Senator Thistlethwaite for his first supplementary question. Currently, as you would know, there is no direct protection for water resources under our national laws. This new trigger will allow the impacts of proposed coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on water resources to be comprehensively assessed at a national level.
Farmers, particularly those in New South Wales, have welcomed the government's actions. Yesterday the New South Wales Farmers Federation said:
We have also had comments on this issue from senators in the chamber. Last September, in the Sunshine Coast Daily, it was reported that Senator Nash, while not opposed to mining, said, 'No coal seam gas developments should go ahead where there was a risk to aquifers and agricultural land…' (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate what alternative policy positions there are protecting agricultural resources? Can he outline any risks facing farmers?
(—) (): I thank Senator Thistlethwaite for his second supplementary question. Yesterday I thought the opposition might finally come out as one and support a consistent policy, which the National Party has been advocating for some time. But what response did we get from the opposition? They will consider the response: in other words, it is a mirror response that they have given. I would have expected a bit more from the National Party, but they were silent, except perhaps in some convoluted press conference that Senator Joyce added. But this morning he went further than even the Liberals have gone on this when he said the National Party has been, over a period of two years, fighting within the coalition for this policy. It must hurt the senator to have to fight so hard within his own ranks. You fought for foreign investment— (Time expired)