Senate debates

Monday, 9 December 2013


Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013; Second Reading

4:39 pm

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

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table an explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013 will provide landholders with the right to refuse gas and coal mining activities on food producing land.

The intent of this bill is to allow farmers to say no to gas and coal mining on their land. When Australia has so little good quality agricultural land, we must protect it from all other inconsistent land uses.

There is rightly considerable concern within our community about the impacts coal and gas mining activities are likely to have on Australia's food security. Queensland farmers in the Darling Downs, for example, rely on the aquifers of the Great Artesian Basin for their water source. Without detailed understanding of the connections between underground aquifers in the Great Artesian Basin, coal seam gas activities risk a drop in the groundwater table from dewatering of coal seams to allow gas extraction, or contamination of aquifers with hydraulic fracturing fluid or naturally occurring BTEX carcinogens mobilised by fracking. Farmers in the Liverpool Plains and up in the Galilee Basin equally have their livelihoods, and their ability to continue contributing to Australia's long term food security, threatened by the rapid expansion of water-intensive coal mining in their regions. And yet across Australia landholders have little to no right to rights under state laws to say no when these destructive industries seek to exploit coal and gas on their land. This is simply not right.

The surface and amenity impacts of coal and gas mining can have extensive impacts on farming operations, and pose significant risks to their surface and groundwater resources. Land farmed by families for generations are at risk of being lost by the myopic coal tunnel vision of current governments at both state and federal levels if the inadequate current regulation of these industries is not strengthened.

Farmers must be given the legal right to decide that they would prefer to be able to keep farming on their land, and for their children to have that option, rather than be forced to negotiate merely the price of entry with big coal and gas companies. Without the right to say no, this David and Goliath situation forced upon farming families across Australia is even more weighted in favor of big coal and gas.

This bill facilitates the right of landholders to decide whether or not they want coal and /or gas mining activities to take place on their land. It does this by requiring gas and coal corporations to secure the written authorisation of relevant landholders before they can enter their land. That written authorisation must contain an independent assessment of the current and future risks associated with the proposed mining activities on, or affecting, the land and any associated ground water systems. The landholders must also be informed that they should seek independent advice and that they may refuse to give written authorisation if they choose to.

If the corporation unlawfully enters the land, they commit an offence for which a significant penalty accrues daily. Landholders can also seek an injunction from the Federal Court to restrain the entry where relevant authorisations are not in place, and the corporation must pay the costs of that application irrespective of the outcome.

This bill applies to all land that has produced food at any time in the 10 years prior to the first proposed gas or coal activity on the land, from commercial primary production through to urban vegetable gardens. The bill applies to all persons with an ownership interest in the land, which is broadly defined to include all persons with a legal or equitable interest in or right to occupy the land. This would include native title holders or those with native title rights and interests. A corpora­tion must obtain prior written authorisation from all persons with an ownership interest in the land before they may commence coal seam gas activities.

Importantly, this bill does not alter the ownership of the resources, which remain vested in the States. If the federal or state government decide that those resources are so needed, they may seek to compulsorily acquire the land, paying compensation on just terms or in accordance with state acquisition of land statutes. Those existing laws are a sufficient safeguard against a landholder 'unreasonably' refusing access authorisation, so this bill does not seek to address that issue.

The bill will only apply to gas and coal activities which begin after the bill's commence­ment.

Given the enormous threat climate change poses to all that Australia holds dear – our land and water, our environment, health, livelihoods and food security – the Greens believe it's high time that the fossil fuel age be rapidly brought to a close. Unlike the old parties the Greens do not support ongoing encouragement of these destructive industries across our landscape. The case against the expansion of these climate destroying industries is only compounded by the localised impacts these industries have on our water resources, our communities, and fragile marine ecosystems impacted by ever increasing pressures from industrial ports. The Great Barrier Reef is at risk of being listed as World Heritage in Danger due to the rapid expansion of coal and gas ports along its coastline being facilitated by enormous dredging of fragile inner Reef regions, and dumping of dredge spoil within the Reef's waters. The Greens are working to reign in the many impacts of these destructive industries.

This Bill seeks to address one of these critical aspects by giving Australian landholders the right to say no to coal and gas mining on their land.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.