Thursday, 6 March 2014
Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013; Second Reading
I rise to speak to the Greens bill the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013. As people well know, because this bill has been on foot for quite a while—it was on foot in the last parliament—this bill gives landholders the right to say no to dangerous coal seam gas, shale and tight gas mining on their land as well as to coalmines. Here in Australia, as we all know, we have so little good-quality farmland, so little good-quality agricultural land. It just seems absolutely outrageous to the Greens that the good-quality land we do have is not safe from being turned into massive mines and it is not safe from being pockmarked with coal seam gas wells, shale gas wells or tight gas wells.
The reason that we are so concerned about these new and continuing fossil fuel industries is that they are simply a disaster for water, they are bad for land, they are bad for communities and, sadly, they are bad news for the Great Barrier Reef and they are terrible for the climate. As people may or may not be aware—and I certainly hope there is a growing awareness in this place of the risks of coal seam gas, because it is an issue, I am afraid, along with shale and tight gas, for all of us in this chamber; this is all across the country—you cannot simply punch a hole through an aquifer to get to a coal seam without doing damage. So they pockmark the landscape with these massive wells. They have then got to dewater the coal seam so that the gas can flow. You have got to put that water somewhere. You have then got to blast in a mixture of, again, water and sand and chemical proppants—and who knows what else, because they do not tell us—to fracture open the coal seam so that the gas can flow more quickly. You have then got to suck that hydraulic fracturing mixture out as well, and you have got to put that somewhere. Then you have got to hope that you have sealed your well properly, because when you are punching holes through aquifers to get to something that is underlying, if your well casings are not completely solid, of course you are going to risk contamination.
We also know that those wells create pressure changes, particularly in the Great Artesian Basin. So you have got the potential for the groundwater level to drop and for the residual fracking fluids and even the naturally occurring carcinogens—benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene—which can be mobilised by that fracking process to then shift up into those aquifers. So we have serious risks of contamination of the most precious resource here in Australia, the driest inhabited continent on the planet, water. You have got that potential dropping of the groundwater table, and of course the water that is sucked out of those coal seams is very salty.
I am old enough to remember when salinity was the biggest problem facing this country. Sadly, this industry will only make that problem worse. Once those massive lakes of produced water start to evaporate, what do you then do with the salt? I was on a Senate inquiry into this subject when I first started my role in this place speaking for Queenslanders, and the industry do not have a solution; they do not know what they will do with all that salt. They are now seeking permission to try and bury it somewhere. They had better not do it anywhere in the Murray-Darling catchment or there will be an awful lot of environmental damage done—and it is not just the Greens saying this; it is the scientists.
On that point, the National Water Commission has said that coal seam gas development represents 'a substantial risk to sustainable water management given the combination of material uncertainty about water impacts, the significance of potential impacts, and the long time period over which they may emerge and continue to have effect'. The point is here: water moves really slowly and, if you are changing that pressure and you have not quite sealed your well properly, you might find in 50 years time that your bore has dried up. Of course, the company has up and left by then so all of its promises that it will truck you in water are meaningless, because the company is not there anymore. The wells only have a 20- to 30-year lifespan. That is not the sort of risk that the Greens want to take with our water. It is not the sort of risk we want to take with our food security.
On that point, it is not limited to water impacts. We know that there are surface impacts from coal seam gas and, obviously, from coalmining. It is not just the well pad, as the very highly paid and slick merchants of the coal seam gas industry will try to assuage people's fears on; it is the roads to get to and from the well pad; it is the pipelines to get the gas out; it is often the diesel generators or the overhead powerlines to power the site; and it is the people coming onto your land at all hours of the day and night and you do not have the right to say no. The only right the landholder has is to argue about how much compensation they might get for this potentially irreparable damage to their groundwater and for the massive disturbance in their way of life and their surface-farming operations.
We know that the industry would say this is the solution to climate change—it is so much cleaner than coal. I wish that were the case. Sadly, it is not. Sure, it burns cleaner, but by the time you have extracted the gas and have piped it to the liquefaction plant for export—and much of this is for export, and there is a growing debate about that—you have expended an awful lot of energy and, importantly, those pipes and wells leak. I hope people here have heard of fugitive emissions—it is those leaking wells and pipes. Coal seam gas is methane and it is 26 times more potent as carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. So, when you have leaking wells and pipes and have a massive energy footprint to liquefy this stuff for export, you are cancelling out any of the benefits you might claim at the ultimate burning stage of this fuel. It is no solution to climate change and, in fact, it is every bit as dirty as coal.
A lot of the export process is through the Great Barrier Reef. I am from Queensland. Queenslanders love our reef, Australians love our reef and the world loves our reef. It is World Heritage listed and is an international icon. It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It is now being pocked with massive ports that are either expansions or new ports, and a massive dredging program that is the biggest the reef has ever seen. A lot of that dredge spoil, that sludge, then gets dumped offshore, creating even more water quality problems and problems for the coral, the seagrasses and the feeding and breeding grounds for turtles and dugongs. If all of these projects go ahead, we will see one ship every hour and a half going through the Great Barrier Reef. Is our reef simply a highway for coal and gas ships? I think it is a biodiversity icon that we should be doing everything we can to protect.
These are the reasons that the Greens are opposing coal seam gas. It interferes with farming operations; it potentially damages water supplies forever more; it is terrible for the climate; it is terrible for the reef; and it is ripping apart communities. Farmers are being forced to sign confidentiality agreements so they cannot speak with their neighbours about how much compensation they got. People know they have no right to say no. They are being worn down after years of pressure from these big companies. In the end they are forced to sign up and then cannot talk about it. This is really ripping communities apart. I am proud to say that in Queensland and now in the southern states, which are learning from Queensland, there is a really strong community movement that is opposing this dangerous industry.
I want to pay tribute to people from Lock the Gate Alliance who are in the public gallery today: Phil Laird, the National Coordinator of Lock the Gate Alliance; Anne; and Innes Larkin, who is a Queenslander. They have come here this week to speak with all of you. I hope people have made the time to meet with them. Some of these people are conservationists. Innes is an ecotourism operator. Phil is a farmer. We have got Indigenous people in the delegation as well. There is a broad range of real people who are concerned about coal seam gas. They have met with us. I hope they have met with you. I know they have been meeting with a number of other parties. They have taken the time to share their concerns. Innes is an ecotourism operator in the Scenic Rim, the green cauldron of Australia. It is a beautiful area; in fact, it is one of the 16 national landscapes that were recognised by the previous government last year. Ironically, as Innes was telling me yesterday, 11 of those 16 landscapes are threatened with coal seam gas or coalmining. What an absolute farce? Doug Balnaves, who is also in the delegation, is a vigneron from South Australia. There are many folk in this chamber who not only indulge in some wine now and then but also are vignerons themselves. You simply cannot have industries coexisting with coal seam gas. It destroys the land, it destroys the water supply, it rips communities apart, it is no solution to climate change and it is destroying our reef.
The genesis of this bill were some remarks made by Tony Abbott, of all people, back in 2011. He was not the Prime Minister at the time, but he commented that he thought landholders should have the right to say no to this industry. We welcomed those statements and within a few days we were able to have a bill drafted and brought into this place for debate, giving landholders that right to say no to coal seam gas. Sadly, Mr Tony Abbott, now the Prime Minister, changed his mind in the space of 24 hours. He backed down from those comments.
We do not give up. We have continued to work on this issue. We are bringing this bill forward again. The coalition, likewise, still purport to hold these views. In their own election document they say that access to prime agricultural land should only be allowed with the farmer's agreement, that the farmer should have the right to say yes or no to coal seam gas exploration and extraction on their property. We welcome that commitment and we would just love you to follow through on it here in this federal parliament. You have the legislation before you. Hell, do your own if you do not like ours. We do not care whose name is on the bit of paper. These landholders just need the right to protect their land from this dangerous fossil fuel industry.
Mr Tony Abbott recently visited Tara, one of the beautiful places in my home state of Queensland with its gorgeous bushland. A lot of people suffering there have a very low socioeconomic background and a lot of people have gone there for some peace and quiet. Sadly, their lives have been destroyed by a multitude of different coal seam gas exploration companies. Tony Abbott, when he was in Tara, made a promise to Debbie Orr, one of the residents there. He said no-one should be forced to have a gas well on their property. Well, what are you going to do about it? If you purport to hold these views, please follow through on them. From what I have heard so far—and the government will speak for themselves; I do not wish to verbal them—I understand they purport to hold these views but they do not think it is up to them to give landholders that right. They think that should be up to the state governments.
Two things on that: the state governments have done an absolutely rotten job in protecting our land, our water and our climate from coal seam gas. This industry has just steamrolled ahead. There has been virtually no constraints on it whatsoever. Promises are sometimes made but are rarely followed through on. I, sadly, have very limited confidence in the state government's political will to seriously address this problem or to represent those people, as they should be doing.
The second point, of course, is that there is no reason why this needs to be left up to the state governments. There is no constitutional limitation on the federal government stepping in and giving landholders the right to say no to coal seam gas, shale gas, tight gas and coal mining on their land. There are myriad powers that the Commonwealth could rely on. The corporations power is perhaps the most obvious but there are others. There is no excuse for not taking this step other than: actually, you are in the pocket of those fossil fuel industries. I was incredibly saddened, although not surprised, to see that the National Party in South Australia has taken donations—more than $200,000—from Santos, one of the big coal seam gas companies. That was very shocking to me. That came to light last week. It may well explain, sadly, the position that they have taken.
I have talked about the need for federal action. We have had some action in this place. We now have a water trigger in our federal environmental laws. That is a good start. It says that if you have a big coalmine or coal seam gas operation that is going to have a significant impact on a water resource, the federal environment minister needs to have a look at that and the approval of that minister is required before the operation can proceed. When that legislation was coming through this place the Greens tried to amend it to expand it to include shale gas and tight gas to help our communities in Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and of course Tasmania—all those places at risk from shale gas and coal seam gas. Sadly, we did not get support for that at the time, but I pay tribute to the efforts of the community in creating the pressure for the water trigger to be passed. I also pay tribute to the former Independent Tony Windsor for his seminal work in working with the Greens as well as the community and the government of the time to pass those laws. The problem is that those laws give the environment minister the ability to say no to coal and to coal seam gas, but nobody ever has. There has not in living memory been a coal seam gas project or coalmine that has been refused under these laws or even under the previous laws. That is exactly why we need landholders to have the right to say no. It is all very well to give the minister the ability to do so, but if you are in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry it is no wonder that you just tick off on everything that passes your desk.
I am really proud that we have had folk here from the Lock the Gate Alliance. They are here to support this bill. They are here to support their own right to protect their land and continue to farm it into the future and to provide the food that we all rely on. Some people say that this is just a country issue. It is not just a country issue. We all eat and we all drink. You cannot eat coal and you cannot drink gas. I know that in Brisbane there is a growing movement of people—I am convinced that it is around the country as well—who want to support our farmers by buying locally produced food. They want to keep their own carbon footprint low and they want to support their local farmers. This is an issue that touches all of us in Australia.
Last weekend, I worked with our mining spokesperson in New South Wales, Jeremy Buckingham, to fund the travel of a rancher from Wyoming, John Fenton. If you have watched the movie GasLandif you have not, please do—you will know that his ranch has been completely destroyed by fracking for shale gas. His water has been poisoned to the extent that the authorities have said to him, 'You'd better leave the windows open when you take a shower because your water might actually explode.' That is no joke; it is actually what John and his family are living under. It is what could happen here if we do not arrest this dangerous industry. Seriously, are we going to let that happen to our own people? I hope not. This bill is one way of helping to stop that.
If you will not listen to the science, and we know that science ain't so popular anymore under this government, more's the pity—we have no science minister, as we all know, and apparently climate science is still crap—if you want to listen only to the polls, there have been some recent polls in New South Wales that show that 75 per cent of voters oppose coal seam gas on agricultural land. That follows an earlier poll that showed that 68 per cent of Australians want to stop coal seam gas until it has been proven safe for our land, our water, our environment and our communities. Clearly, this is a concern to Australians. It is something that represents a massive risk. It is an industry that has rolled out so quickly it has gotten ahead of the science. I think that in Queensland it almost got ahead of the communities, but now we have strong networks of people, both in the bush and in the city, who are standing firm to protect land and water from coal seam gas.
I do not want to finish my contribution without mentioning that this bill also covers coalmining. We know that massive destruction that coalmining can do to forests. We know the interference that it can have with the water table. Of course we know the massive climate impacts it has. I will mention again Phil Laird, the coordinator of Lock the Gate, who as I said is in the gallery. He lives near the Leard forest, which of course is going to be hugely impacted by the Maules Creek mine, a 23-megatonne coalmine that is proposed for there. Interestingly, of course, approval for that mine was given, because apparently all we do here is tick and flick when it comes to fossil fuel projects. That mine was required to offset the damage to the vegetation that it would clear—critically endangered box gum woodland; we do not have much of it left. An offset was required to be provided to offset the damage of the loss of that critical habitat. In fact, the offset that is now proposed has got five per cent box gum in it. The rest of it is a completely, entirely different ecosystem. The farce that is these approvals that are handed out with almost no scrutiny to an industry that is dangerous for the climate, rips up communities and undermines our precious habitat boggles the mind. The state laws are too weak. Landholders across the country, in the main, do not have the right to say no to this dangerous industry. They should have that right. This industry has rolled out too fast. It has gotten ahead of the science. We are doing potentially irreversible damage to our groundwater table and to our climate.
I have been out to these communities. I have been to Tara, I have flown over and seen the grill—it is hard to describe. There is a grill pad of wells. It does not look like a landscape anymore; it is pockmarked with wells. I have been out to Narrabri. I have been to Roma. I have been to the Kimberley. I have seen the beauty of these places and the damage that can be done. Please, today, search your consciences. Have a look at the science. Take the chance to speak with the people who have come from your state, from Lock the Gate Alliance, to speak with you and raise their concerns. Please think seriously about following through on the government's own election commitment to give landholders the right to say no. Don't just leave it up to the states—they are not doing it. That is why we need this bill. We have got to protect our land, our water, our communities, our climate and our reef from this dangerous industry. We have the opportunity today. I beg you to seriously consider supporting this bill.
I spoke about the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013 previously in the chamber when it was under another title, before there were slightly amended provisions put into it. I do have some experience with this. We all know that the use of coal seam gas as an energy source is longstanding and accounts for 33 per cent of the eastern states' domestic gas production. For example, 90 per cent of gas used in Queensland comes from CSG. CSG powers a number of domestic electricity generation projects throughout Queensland, including the Origin Energy operated Darling Downs Power Station and the Braemar 2 power station. The policy challenge for state governments is twofold: 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—unlocking an important transitional fuel, providing an important source of employment and export income, and generating a long-term revenue source through royalties and rents. This bill seeks to shift from a state-based system that ensures proper, and if necessary judicially determined, compensation for affected landholders to a Commonwealth-imposed system that transfers 'all power' to the rights of landowners, at the expense of all citizens.
Coal seam gas exploration represents an immense opportunity for Australia, particularly regional Australia. It is in these regions and we need to generate employment. I am sure that many of the senators in the chamber would accept this as being a fact. LNG projects in Queensland and the CSG to LNG conversion industry are worth more than $70 billion and are responsible for almost 30,000 jobs. We know Queensland, my home state, is an area that needs jobs—with the state Liberal-National Party government having terminated thousands of jobs in the state there is an obvious need for the generation of more employment in this area to replace those jobs that have gone. Unfortunately, and sadly, the unemployment rate in Queensland has now increased to 6.1 per cent—one of the highest in this country—as result of the actions of the LNP government in Queensland. We had doctors up there, just last night, rallying about their employment conditions and being forced onto individual contracts. Some 900 doctors attended a rally at the Pineapple Hotel on the south-side as a result of the actions of the LNP government. But, I digress.
The policy challenges for the Commonwealth are to ensure more gas production and the best possible level of environmental protection. In Queensland, since December 2013 there have been 4,037 voluntary land access agreements signed between gas companies and landholders. Queensland land access laws provide landholders with protection and security in relation to secure exploration and development activities, including coal seam gas activities being undertaken on their land. The laws ensure that the landholders are fairly compensated for activities on their land and resource companies must minimise the impact of existing operations. The resources industry in Queensland must comply with the Queensland Land Access Code, which outlines the Queensland government's expectations of how resource companies communicate and consult with landholders and how they behave while on a landholders property. I appreciate that this is a vexing issue. In fact, on my travels throughout the state, I have had discussions with landholders and groups about that. What I have found as a result of those discussions and communications is that there is a lot of misinformation.
One of the things we did well when we were in government, in partnership with the previous Labor state government, was to make contributions towards research and science—Senator Waters touched on science. Science is an important issue affecting the environment and it should never be dismissed or discounted. In July 2011, I was fortunate enough to be present at the launch of the Gas Industry Social & Environmental Research Alliance, a partnership of the CSIRO in Queensland and Australian Pacific LNG. We, along with the state Labor government, at the time contributed $14 million over the next five years for funding research into the social, economic and environmental impacts of the natural gas industry. We need to make sure there are further opportunities for this sort of contribution so we can better understand the science behind these matters. There is not much point in dismissing the science and having a view that something else applies. It is important to listen to those who are expert in these areas to make sure their point of view is heard.
The University of Queensland has recently released findings of research, incorporating a recent survey conducted by Nielsen covering 1,700 residents in the Greater Brisbane area—I am sure there will be further surveys conducted out in the regions to get a better understanding of the concerns expressed by those people who live in regional Australia. It is clear from the findings of the research and the survey conducted that there is a lack of information and a lack of understanding by people in regard to what CSG is about, and the impact it has not only on their communities but also on the environment. I want to touch on some of the findings. Firstly, most people who responded were aware that coal, iron-ore and gold were mined in Australia—that is a given; most people would realise that—but only 70 per cent of people were aware that CSG was extracted and most of them needed prompting on this to get a true understanding of what their concerns were. With regard to attitudes, and this is where the rubber hits the road, people who indicated that they knew a lot about CSG were more likely to indicate it was having a positive impact on Queenslanders. People who only had a little bit of knowledge of CSG were more likely to indicate that it was having a negative impact on Queenslanders. Unfortunately, people's perspectives were being encouraged or driven by the stories in the media. You would know, Mr Acting Deputy President, that sometimes the media has the ability to influence people's views about what is happening in their communities and in their environment, and without the knowledge of the science behind it to back up they do not really understand what the facts are on particular issues such as coal seam gas or other matters that affect our environment.
People also have a strong view about farmers' rights and what the government does with the royalties on coal seam gas. In my travels to western Queensland, I found that it is one of the areas that is a bit of a myth as well. People were unclear about what happens with royalties. In many cases, a farmer might release some information on the royalties they have been receiving on their land, and then the neighbouring farmer or someone down the road might find that being less or greater on their land, depending on the size of the extraction. This is where the confusion and misunderstanding arise of what generates fair compensation on the farmer's behalf in respect to what sort of extractions and issues are being generated on their land.
With respect to knowledge, people were generally uninformed about coal seam gas but were interested in learning more. In fact, during the campaign of the federal election, I remember having a discussion with a gentleman up in Bowen. At that particular time, there were concerns around that township about the Abbott Point coalmining port. This particular gentleman, at the time of our discussion, was relating stories about earthquakes as a result of coal seam gas extraction. I have heard media reports on that sort of issue associated with the United States, but I have not yet heard of any issues associated with extraction from Queensland or other parts of our country where there have been earthquakes associated with the extraction of coal seam gas. This is just another example of how misinformation gets out into the public. As you know, someone will tell someone else that story and then it turns into something even greater, but it is important that people rely on the facts and the science when it comes to these issues.
When it came to trust—and this is my point about ensuring that science and, particularly, organisations like the CSIRO are trusted and competent enough to provide this information—people indicated in the survey that the CSIRO and universities were seen as the most trustworthy providers of information on coal seam gas. It is important that this parliament continues to fund the CSIRO to make sure that the science is available and the facts are forthcoming to everyone to make sure that we know what is happening out there.
I can only relate furthermore in regards to my travels last year, when I went out beyond Roma to Miles on an RDA Fund release that I was involved in on behalf of the minister in that particular part of the world. Driving out through that area, you notice a lot of four-wheel-drive vehicles—particularly at the airport when you fly into Roma—and no doubt there is an exploitation increase in these areas to make sure that employment is generated to ensure that these regions are kept viable and alive, and it is important that we do not discount this and affect their conditions or turn them into ghost towns.
In conclusion, I think we need to have a look at the science behind these particular matters and make sure that we communicate with the communities in these areas so that they have the right information, the understanding and the facts to ensure that their communities are being served well and are looked after by, in this case, the state governments that are responsible for this particular area and ensuring that their jurisdictions are upheld. That is why we, on this side of the chamber, are opposed to this particular bill.
I was waiting to see when we were going to hear whether Labor, after all of that, was going to cave in to the coal seam gas industry and the alternative gas industry. Clearly, we have seen that.
This is a really important piece of legislation. I have had years of working with rural communities around Australia, and they are fed up with the hypocrisy of politicians. I want to start with a quote from the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, who only last week, in terms of drought relief, said:
These are people who are not backed up by a multiple-billion dollar company. They are individuals, they are mums and dads, they are Australian citizens.
This is all about backing farmers until the multinational gas corporations and the coal seam gas industry come along, and then the farmers can just be left off the agenda. It is disgraceful, but it has always been thus.
I started my political career in Tasmania with North Broken Hill, in cahoots with the Liberal government at the time of Robin Gray, wanting to build a pulp mill right in the middle of the Wesley Vale district—where I was brought up—which is very rich farmland. The farmers were shocked at the extent to which both Liberal and Labor in Tasmania abandoned them in favour of the dollars from North Broken Hill, and that has happened every single time. Whenever farmers come up against multinational corporations, governments sell them out, and that is why we need this legislation, which at least gives farmers the right to say no.
It is critical legislation. In the bigger picture, we are living in a climate emergency. We are on track for four degrees of warming and the drought in northern New South Wales is just a part of what is happening around Australia. We should be protecting our farmland, our water systems, our landscape and our ecology, because they are going to come under huge pressure due to global warming. We need to be maximising food production in Australia, exporting what we can, looking after our own food security and contributing to global food security—not trashing agricultural land and water for these fossil fuels. I emphasise that the International Energy Agency has come out and said that fossil fuel reserves have to stay in the ground. That is, coal does not get dug up and coal seam gas does not get pulled out of the ground—and shale gas, in the Tasmanian context. We need to leave it there. Those reserves need to stay in the ground if we have any hope of constraining global warming to less than two degrees.
I point out to the Senate that the biggest increase in greenhouse gas emissions in this last 12 months has been from two things: from deforestation—ripping down biodiversity because beef prices have gone up—and, secondly, from fugitive emissions because of the expansion of coal seam gas. So you have a two-pronged attack here: not only is this industry driving global warming but it is actually destroying our farmland. And because global warming is going to create even more of a food security crisis, we are undermining our own capacity to grow food. It is stupid, what is happening in Australia! And if the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund does as I hope it will do, and divest itself entirely of coal and gas investments, then we will see that what we are doing is not only destroying our farmland and our food capacity but actually leaving us with stranded assets all over the place. It is dumb to be doing it.
I particularly wanted to follow up from my colleague Senator Waters, who has been doing a fantastic job on this, supporting farmers from around the country. I have been out to visit many of these farming areas on the mainland as well and, overwhelmingly, rural communities are opposed to what is going on.
I want talk about Tasmania, in particular. In July last year the company Petrogas lodged an application for a shale, oil and gas exploration licence in an area covering much of Tasmania's southern midlands. Investigations by the community revealed that two similar exploration licences had already been granted for the northern midlands and part of Tasmania's north coast. A fourth application for much of the Huon was proposed and subsequently withdrawn, but that, I presume, is just for now. In total, the shale, oil and gas exploration licences cover 17,000 square kilometres. That is a staggering 25 per cent of Tasmania's total land area.
Earlier this year, that licence for Petrogas covering 3,900 square kilometres in the southern midlands and upper Derwent Valley was granted. It covers the farming communities of Ouse, Westerway, Hamilton and Gretna in the Derwent Valley and knocks right up to the doorstep of the town of New Norfolk. It covers the historic towns of Richmond and Campania and into the Coal River catchment. It covers communities such as Brighton, Elderslie, Broadmarsh, Mangalore, Bagdad, Colebrook, Oatlands, Bothwell and Melton Mowbray in the Southern Midlands. What we have now is horrified rural communities in Tasmania, who feel they have been abandoned as once again Liberal and Labor come out backing the right of the companies to come onto people's land to undermine their way of life. More particularly, what on earth it will do to their water systems? They have had public meetings and they cannot believe that they are being ignored in the way that they are. I am very pleased to say that my state Greens colleague, Tim Morris, represented the concerns of the community when he took a motion to state parliament to give landowners the right to say 'no'. But the Liberal and Labor parties in Tasmania voted in lock step to deny that right.
So we have it happening federally and we have it happening in Tasmania. So please do not get up in this parliament and start talking about how you care about the mums and dads, the small farmers, who are not backed by multibillion-dollar companies, as Barnaby Joyce, the minister, describes them. If you cared about them, you would be giving them the right to say 'no' because of what the impacts are. The impacts are recorded right throughout Australia. You only have to look at what has happened in the United States to see what the impacts are.
I, too, want to add my congratulations to Lock The Gate Alliance. They have been doing a fantastic job around the country. It certainly has made a lot of farmers aware of just how important nonviolent direct action is in bringing these issues to the fore. It should not be necessary. If you had governments looking at future trends and genuinely caring for the environment and the farmers, this would not be necessary. But it is happening because they have no other choice.
People are asking what does all this mean for the Tasmanian Midlands, with nine complex and separate groundwater flow systems all prone to salinity. What on earth does that mean for them? What does it mean for water competition from the new Midlands irrigation scheme? Or the farmers who rely on their water allocation in the Derwent Valley to survive? And, of course, the Midlands is one of Australia's national biodiversity hotspots. Millions of dollars of public money, together with the stewardship of landowners, has gone into that region to protect it for future generations.
It is an extraordinarily important area in terms of biodiversity, and that is why it should be looked after. It is also an area which is rich in plant and animal species, many of which are endemic or endangered, including the 32 nationally threatened species and more than 180 plants and animals that are threatened in Tasmania. That is why every Tasmanian, like every other Australian, must have the right to say 'no' to unconventional gas mining on their land. They cannot trust their governments to protect their farming land, water and natural environment, and until we have a government that abandons the madness of championing the fossil fuels that are driving our planet to destruction by climate change, the only thing they can do is fall back on their natural resilience and fight.
I want to say that the Greens stand with them. We will stand with the farmers, saying they should have the right to say 'no'. We will stand up to these multinational corporations which are jeopardising not only food security but jeopardising rural communities, jeopardising future production and jobs and jeopardising the biodiversity which we all rely for our health and wellbeing.
I would like to respond to a couple of things that Greens senators have raised this morning in support of their bill, known as the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013, and indicate quite unequivocally that the position of the Labor Party—the opposition in this parliament—is to oppose this legislation, which Senator Milne seemed a little bit surprised about. It should not have come as any surprise because, when a previous version of this bill was raised in 2011, it was the policy of the Labor Party, then in government, to oppose this legislation. It should not have come as any surprise to Senator Milne that we do not support this legislation. We do not support it for very good reasons, which I will go into in a moment. We particularly do not support it because we believe that the coal seam gas industry and agricultural land can coexist. It is not an either/or scenario.
Senator Waters interjecting—
Senator, I was quiet throughout all of your speech. I listened to what you had to say in silence. I am not sure why you cannot offer me the same courtesy.
Senator Farrell, I am in agreement with you, but I would ask you to direct your comments through the chair. Senator Milne, everyone did listen to you in silence.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Sorry, I should have been referring to Senator Wright.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Three in a row! I am sorry. Third time lucky: I should have been referring to Senator Waters.
I note your statements and I will address my comments through the chair. It was Senator Waters who continued to interrupt me. I had given her the courtesy of sitting in silence to listen to her speech.
It should not have come as any surprise to the Greens that this is the position of the Labor Party. It is a very sensible position and one that is entirely justified on the facts. I would also like to respond to a rather unprovoked and unjustified attack by Senator Waters on Santos. She seemed to think it was remarkable that Santos should make a donation to a political party in this country.
Stop this! There was a quite unprovoked attack on Santos by Senator Waters. The company Santos is a good corporate citizen in this country. The company is an especially good corporate citizen in South Australia. They assist in a whole lot of community development programs in my home state, not least of which is the most recent one: the Tour Down Under, which they very prominently support in South Australia. That is good for health, exercise and a whole range of other things.
The important thing about Santos is that they do two things in my home state of South Australia and for Australia generally. They create jobs—generally speaking, high-paid jobs by comparison with jobs in the cities. They provide those jobs in regional areas of Australia. Lots of Australian regional centres are under pressure. This company provides good, well-paying jobs in those country regional areas of Australia. More importantly, they provide a great, clean source of energy. Let us be clear about this: there is a difference between the carbon-producing effects of coal versus gas. We know, by all of the science, that less greenhouse gas is produced by this form of gas.
It is completely inappropriate for Senator Waters to attack the coal seam industry on the basis that it produces as much, if not more, greenhouse gases than the coal industry. The Greens ought to be supporting the coal seam gas industry if one of their objectives is to reduce, in the longer term, greenhouse gases. Again, I do not accept Senator Waters's categorisation in terms of the difference between coal seam gas and coal in their effect on the greenhouse gas environment.
Santos is a good corporate citizen in this country. I think it was a quite unnecessary attack by Senator Waters on that company. Santos have been producing coal seam gas in this country for years and years. This is not a new development for this company. They have been producing coal seam gas in the Cooper Basin in South Australia for years and years. To the best of my knowledge there has not been any issue with the production of that coal seam gas. I have not heard, particularly in South Australia, any complaints from landholders about—
An honourable senator interjecting—
I do listen. I take a considerable interest in developments in my home state. I see Senator Wright in the chamber. When I proposed a piece of legislation a couple of sessions ago to open up mining to companies in the Woomera defence area, shockingly—Senator Brandis might agree with me—the government and the Greens joined forces to talk out that legislation. It was a private member's bill designed to allow mining in the Woomera defence area. It should have been passed last year. It did not, because the coalition and the Greens combined to refer it to a committee. The bill lapsed. I wanted to reintroduce that legislation, but what did the Greens do? They talked out the legislation. So here are the Greens, attacking coal seam gas—a good form of energy—but a couple of weeks ago Senator Wright was in here talking out a piece of legislation which would have allowed mining exploration in South Australia in the Woomera defence area.
Why are these things important to Australia but particularly South Australia? There is a very simple answer: we are in a transition mode. In my home state, we have seen the company Holden announce that they are closing down. That is obviously tragic news for the people who work in that industry, but it also has a long-term detrimental effect on the South Australian economy. Added to that, we then found that Toyota closed down, and many of the companies that supplied Toyota with their components also operated in South Australia. Many of the companies that supplied Holden also supplied Toyota, and those companies, of course, have had the bad news that Toyota has closed down. A company that you are very familiar with, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, Qantas, announced they are outsourcing their operations.
So there is a whole transition going on in the South Australian economy at the moment. As jobs go down in that industry, of course we have to see that they are replaced. Coal seam gas has in the past produced good, well-paying jobs. It has the potential into the future to continue to produce those well-paid jobs, and I think it is incumbent on the opposition to say, 'If the federal government is going to abandon industries like the auto industry, we need to do something responsibly to replace them.' This particular industry, coal seam gas, has a great opportunity to do that. Senator Furner quite rightly pointed out that coal seam gas as an energy source both is longstanding and accounts for 33 per cent of the domestic gas production on the eastern seaboard. Just one example of that is that 90 per cent of the gas used in Queensland comes from coal seam gas.
So this is a very significant energy source for this country. It is an energy source that has been providing energy to the eastern seaboard for a very long period of time. What we need to do as a country and as a community is ensure that there is a balance between this industry, which provides high-paying jobs and job security, and agricultural interests. This bill does not do that. Whatever the objective might be of the bill, this bill does not achieve that. This simply closes down an industry which I think not only currently supports a very significant portion of Australia's energy requirement but into the future is going to be expanded—and, of course, we have the opportunity for export industries. We are on the cusp now of a great deal of development within our region.
We are seeing the growing economies to our north; their standard of living is rising; their energy needs will, as a result, continue to rise. We have the opportunity to assist in that growth and in that development. We should not be putting any impediments in the way of doing that. We ought to be working cooperatively, not with this heavy-handed fist that this legislation provides to one section of the industry which, for some reason or another, the Greens have decided to dislike.
I want to state very clearly the opposition oppose this legislation. We do not think that this is the direction that this country should be heading in. There has to be cooperation between the coal seam gas industry and agricultural landowners. We believe that can be achieved through other mechanisms and we will not be voting for the legislation.
I rise to speak in support of the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013, which has been introduced into this place by my colleague Senator Larissa Waters. This important bill supports the rights of landholders across Australia in the face of significant and increasing mining activity. The unconventional gas industry, in particular, is on its way to a massive exploration in Australia, including in the south-east of South Australia—the state that I am proud to represent. I am proud to speak in favour of this bill because I think it is actually a very, very important bill, and it acknowledges the realities of the challenges that we are facing in Australia this century; the scientists are almost unanimous in warning us about what is coming. It is absolutely important that we do everything we can in these early decades of this century to safeguard the very aspects that we rely on for life on this planet.
In South Australia the language is about unconventional gas, and this includes coal seam gas, tight gas and shale gas—all of which require hydraulic fracturing, or what is often known as 'fracking', to extract the gas, which is predominantly methane. You could also add underground coal gasification to that list of processes. Fracking involves pumping large volumes of water and chemicals into the earth at high pressure to force open, or fracture, cracks in the rock, allowing gas to escape to the surface. This is an extraction technique that has been banned in France. It has created environmental issues in Queensland, New South Wales and in the United States after freshwater aquifers have become polluted. Many of us, indeed, were horrified to see the US documentary Gasland a few years ago, where we were able to see water that could physically be set alight because of its methane content and find out about the impacts of this activity on agricultural land in the United States. Indeed, only last year the ABC Four Corners program GAS LEAK! revealed not only a hasty and incompetent process in the approval of thousands of coal seam gas wells in Queensland in 2010 but also a potentially illegal process. Some of the approvals that featured in the Four Corners program were forwarded to the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission. The referral was made by Drew Hutton, National President of the Lock the Gate Alliance—who has been a shining light in the movement to oppose what is really the life-defying, incessant forward movement of this sort of mining—and Simone Marsh, the government whistleblower who featured in the program.
Both the CSIRO and the National Water Commission, the federal government's own independent expert adviser on water, have stated that fracking's impacts on underground water levels, the amount of emissions and the long-term impacts on local environments and farmland are still poorly understood, and yet there is this relentless push to set out on this path across Australia. The National Water Commission in particular said that CSG development is a substantial risk to sustainable water management. Preliminary research tells us that it will take up to 75 years for a gas site to recharge its previous groundwater levels.
Let us pause to think about the implications of the warnings that we are hearing from these bodies: threats to underground water, local environment and food-producing land—these are unacceptable risks. What this Australian Greens bill would do is give people who are living and working on the land a right to participate in the decision-making process around the use of that land, and indeed the bill would give landholders the right to refuse gas mining and coalmining activities on food-producing land.
Australia is a big continent, but the proportion of Australia that is quality agricultural land is actually severely limited. We must protect it from land uses which would threaten that, particularly now, with what we know in this 21st century. The pressures on our food supplies and our water supplies are immense. We now have a world population of seven billion people, approaching 10 billion by 2050. Add to this the sobering fact that report after report is warning us of the threats to food production in this century, especially from climate change. Whether from the London School of Economics, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or our own CSIRO, we know that the negative impacts of global climate change on agriculture are only expected to worsen. There is increasing concern among respected international bodies that climate change could so destabilise the world's food system that it would lead to rising hunger, even mass starvation, and of course to the conflicts that would be associated with that on a world scale. There are similar threats and warnings about our water supplies, with predictions about resource wars this century centred on water and food. So it is understandable that there is increasing community concern about mining's impacts on Australia's food security.
With unconventional mining spreading its tentacles across Australia, it has been extremely heartening to see civil society come into action, with strong and diverse alliances across sectors and the community to protect what we know we must protect and to oppose the health, social, cultural and environmental threats that coalmining and unconventional gas mining pose. We are seeing farmers, traditional owners, tourism operators and conservationists coming together to stand against these threats. In fact, the campaign is deriving support from very unlikely sources. We even have Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones—definitely not a card-carrying member of the Australian Greens—as a vocal critic of coal seam gas, particularly because of its impact on farmland.
According to the Lock the Gate Alliance, titles for gas and coal exploration cover more than 54 per cent of Australia's land mass right now—more than half of Australia's land mass—at 437 million hectares. In South Australia, my home state, a map outlining the potential for unconventional gas exploration was released by the state government and was reported in the Stock Journal as showing many of the sites earmarked for rapid unconventional gas exploration being smack in the middle of our most prized agricultural land. Prized arable land is precious in Australia but never more so than in South Australia. There is very little land left in South Australia for our clean green food bowl—the food bowl that will help feed the population of Australia and the population of the world in future decades. Only 4.6 per cent of prime agricultural and cropping land is left outside of pastoral areas in South Australia. Water supplies are also becoming scarce. In Australia we cannot afford to be profligate with our water resources, and again never more so than in South Australia, the driest state on the driest continent.
I would like to give you an example of the folly of this untrammelled expansion—a case study in the south-east region of South Australia. It is the Limestone Coast area and it is a region surrounding the city of Mount Gambier. In this area many people have been working together to actively highlight the risks of the expansion coming down the line. The Greens are proud to be supporting them. I would particularly like to commend the work of the Leader of the Greens in South Australia, Mark Parnell, a member of the Legislative Council, who has been speaking on this issue and working with the community to highlight the threats of unconventional gas mining.
The south-east is a beautiful part of South Australia; it is characterised by vineyards, dairy industry, cropping, stock production, timber, aquaculture and seed production. These are all dependent on reliable water supplies. The number of workers in the south-east region employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing is above the state average. The whole of the lower south-east region is mapped out for unconventional gas exploration, with a number of exploration licences proposed for mineral mining and coal. All of these proposed projects will impact the aquifers upon which the region relies. These aquifers underpin the productivity of the region. Indeed, they provide the sustainability for human life in this region.
Much of the lower south-east region is dependent on two aquifers for these industries. The Mount Gambier water supply and 80 per cent of the region's irrigation come from the unconfined aquifer. The Dilwyn aquifer contains 30 per cent of my state's potable water—that is, 30 per cent of the potable water in the driest state in the driest continent. Much of this water is at least 2,500 years old and there is a minimal recharge available. The risk is that once this water is gone it is gone for all time, certainly within the foreseeable future. At this point, I would like to give a shout out to some particularly active people from South Australia: Anne Daw, Doug Balnaves and many other people who have been working with the Lock the Gate Alliance and other local organisations to make sure that the Australian community is very clear about the threats of these proposals.
The Greens are working at every level of government—federal, state and local—to support our food growers against the threats posed by this industry because, fundamentally, we believe that farmers are the custodians of our future when it comes to our food supply. Simply, then, farmers and landholders should have the legal right to decide whether to keep farming on their land and whether to allow these threats to occur. Merely being able to negotiate the price of entry with a coal or gas company is not good enough. It does not change the fundamental power imbalance.
This Greens bill gives landholders the right to decide whether coal or gas mining activities will take place on their land. It would mean that gas and coal corporations would have to secure a landholder's written authorisation before entering their land. That written authorisation would have to contain an independent assessment of the current and future risks associated with the proposed mining activities and any associated groundwater systems. It would ensure informed consent, and a landholder would be advised to seek independent advice and could refuse to give written authorisation if they were to so choose.
The Greens are standing strong with those in the community who want the benefits of long-term food production and potable water supplies over the risks of fracking. I pose the question: why would we risk our future merely to prolong the life of industries which belong in the past? I finish by referring to an oft-quoted edict. It is attributed commonly to the Cree Indians. But wherever this idea came from, wherever this notion came from, I think we would all be hard pressed to argue with just how sensible it is: 'When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.' We rely on our environment for our very future and our survival. We must not risk it.
The Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013 is one of those common-sense bills. The bill challenges the idea of corporations being able to enter a private landholder's agricultural land without the permission of the owner for the purpose of exploring for coal or gas and for mining or producing gas or coal. The bill is not just a toothless tiger; it has simple and effective measures to ensure that corporations take this legislation seriously—as they should.
Often I hear stories from constituents who have had corporations barge into their land as if they own the place and start sizing up what rewards they can reap. When we talk about the coal seam gas aspect of this bill, we can see that Senator Waters, who has proposed this bill, has to a large extent been very measured and could certainly be calling for much more. The DLP believes that there should be an immediate moratorium on all coal seam gas mining until independent, transparent and scientific research overseen by federal government representatives, along with the proponents and the opponents, can irrefutably prove it is entirely safe and harmless to the human population and to our water resources. To that end, it also should conclude that there is no risk of contamination to our groundwater aquifers and it is entirely safe for the land and environment.
In my first speech I said that, if we are not making decisions that make the lives of Australians better, then we should at least make sure that we do not make them any worse. The great economies of the world do not survive by simply digging holes in the ground, turning their country into a quarry and educating their competitors on how to bury them. The science of coal seam gas extraction is not settled—not by a long shot. Currently, the technology presents an unacceptable threat to the watertable and we cannot let this go within cooee of our prime agricultural land.
At the invitation of the Lock the Gate Alliance yesterday, I had the privilege of co-hosting a cross-party briefing about the impacts of coal seam gas fracking. We heard from the national director, Phil Laird, as well as delegates from communities from the Coonawarra to the Kimberleys who are all gravely concerned about the impacts of coal seam gas fracking. Australians do care about this issue. After reading an article in this morning's HeraldSunby the editor of The Weekly Times, Ed Gannon—I do believe they have a right to feel concerned. Indeed, we could accept the advice of a Mr John Fenton from Wyoming in the US, who has 24 gas wells on his property:
Yes we make some money from it, but then came the smell and the odours and people getting sick. Then the neighbour's water turned black. All the things they said wouldn't happen were happening.
Mining companies are getting wealthier while water is turning black and people are getting sick. Mr Fenton does not believe that $48,000 a year is enough compensation for that, and rightly so.
Successive governments of all persuasions have done the bidding of foreign corporations, in many cases at the expense of Australians. But we need to be proactive now and not reactive later. How many of you know that the Murray-Darling Basin is now down to 54 per cent of its capacity? How many of you care? Are these coal seam gas companies going to care as they frack the life force out of Asia's potential food bowl? What do we as a nation want to be? Where is the independent, eminent Australian research that tells us that we have got it right?
Much like there is a need to undertake wind-farm health research, we must undertake urgent research, with an agreed testing methodology and all results available to all parties, in order to ascertain whether the science behind CSG initiatives is safe. Until safety can be proven under these conditions, there can be no such assurances and a moratorium should be placed on CSG developments.
This bill means a lot to a lot of Australians. It provides some certainty in an area where people's livelihoods and communities are seen to be a hurdle which, at best, might need to be negotiated with. The bill sets in stone some rights for Australians who want to go about living their lives without being harassed or made to feel insecure about what they are entitled to. It is for these reasons and many others that I will be supporting this bill. Lastly, we are ultimately custodians of Australia for a very short period of time in the overall framework of things. If we do not hand it on any better, we should not hand it on any worse.
I rise to support the Landholders’ Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013 wholeheartedly. A large number of farmers and citizens across the country are extremely concerned about the impact that the exploration and production of unconventional gas is having across this country. So I very strongly support Senator Waters's bill. This bill has been introduced as a result of concern around the country from farmers, landholders and the broader community about the impact of gas and coal exploration and production and, in particular, unconventional gas across this country.
It should come as no surprise that we have just heard members of the ALP speak in opposition to this bill and about the benefits of unconventional gas—ignoring, of course, the science. They argue that it can be a replacement because it contributes slightly less greenhouse gas to our atmosphere than fossil fuel does. It is a flawed discussion because, combined with the efforts by the government to allow coal to keep getting mined and to allow the fossil fuel producers to rampantly contribute to our ever-climbing greenhouse gas emissions from the fossil fuel industry, any money invested in this delays the progress that we absolutely need to make in renewable energy. They continue to pursue a flawed argument. They continue to put the profits of big business and the exploration and production companies above the profits of farmers, above the need for land for food production, above food production and, of course, above damage to our environment.
This bill takes an important step in addressing the proper regulation of unconventional gas. It gives the power back to farmers and growers. It gives them the power to say no, to refuse the rampant expansion of this dinosaur industry across the landscape and across Australia. This bill will give landholders the right that they should have to refuse the undertaking of this mining activity on their land.
I will go into the impacts of this particular industry only briefly because my colleagues have covered it very well. I remind people that the chemicals used in extraction can be toxic to humans, animals and our environment. It can contaminate groundwater. Shale and tight gas drilling requires vast amounts of water. It is particularly problematic in my home state of Western Australia, where we do not have a lot of water. The disposal of the waste water is highly problematic. Drilling can cause land disturbances.
Although people will argue that the regulation of fracking is technically a state responsibility, the federal government has stepped in on this issue more than once in the past few years—in other words, this is a fallacious argument. In June 2013, just last year, a bill was passed through the federal parliament to protect groundwater resources in every state except Western Australia. WA was not included because the legislation was limited to areas where coal seam gas is found; Western Australia's reserves are shale gas. My colleague Senator Ludlam proposed an amendment to the legislation as it went through the Senate in an attempt to include Western Australia and the impacts of shale gas production. Unfortunately, that amendment was voted down by the major parties. Apparently they do not care about the protection of groundwater resources in Western Australia.
Fortunately, a Western Australian parliamentary inquiry has been launched into the effect of fracking in Western Australia. That inquiry is ongoing. Submissions to the inquiry, which I will come to in a moment, have been very enlightening about the impact on Western Australia. It is very disappointing that neither of the major parties care enough about the situation in Western Australia to ensure that Western Australian groundwater resources, which are very scarce, are protected.
I will go into a few of the impacts, particularly on the environment, of this activity. Shale and tight gas fields involve the industrialisation of whole landscapes with numerous closely spaced wells. Typical gas fields can contain thousands of wells. I have flown over a few sites in the Kimberley, just outside Broome, where Buru has already established some exploration wells. You can see from the air the impact that this industry has on the landscape and how it cuts it up with the pads for the exploration wells. This is in bushland. You can see the impact of roads and pipelines dissecting the landscape, which of course results in clearing. In farmland, paddocks are interrupted by thousands of wells and infrastructure. Gas wells also require vast networks of access roads, gas pipelines, compressor stations, processing plants and waste-water holding dams and treatment plants. Tight gas uses large amounts of water. It requires the pumping of acid into the well to dissolve concrete between the rock grains, and the use of toxic chemicals.
We then need to look at the disposal of the waste water. In addition to the chemicals used in extraction flow-back, this 'produced water' can contain naturally occurring substances, such as heavy metals; radioactive metal materials, including radium; and high concentrations of salt. All these of course need to be disposed of in the landscape. Vast amounts of water are used in the extraction process. The amount varies from project to project. However, CSIRO says:
No two wells or coal seams behave identically and water production can vary from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of litres a day, depending on the underground water pressures and geology.
Water extraction during unconventional gas processes is often referred to as 'produced water'. It is generally salty and can contain toxic and radioactive compounds, and heavy metals, as I have articulated. Once this water is extracted it then has to be stored in tanks or holding ponds, which of course are then in the landscape. CSIRO also says:
… quality is highly variable from site to site, but it is generally not fit for human consumption.
There is a high risk of contamination of groundwater and surface water. There is also the issue of how much water the gas companies actually use in their production.
I would like to focus the rest of my contribution on Western Australia because Western Australia often gets left out of the debate nationally on unconventional gas activity. The WA parliament has established an inquiry which, as I said, has not yet reported. It has taken submissions. Submissions from both the Department of Health and the Water Corporation raised public health concerns. They raised concerns about the fracking process and, in particular, highlighted the risk of contamination of groundwater. The Water Corporation noted the trouble—surprise, surprise!—that they had in getting any proper advice from the Department of Mines and Petroleum. Unfortunately, they have changed the assessment process in Western Australia and have put Dracula back in charge of the blood bank. In fact, the Department of Mines and Petroleum now have a lot more control over environmental assessments and determining what needs to be assessed than they did in the past.
This is extremely concerning, given that the Western Australian government has a poor track record of late when it comes to following due process and environmental assessments. I need go no further than using the example of James Price Point, in Western Australia, where in fact the court has now outlined the flaws in the process. A lot more effort would have needed to be put into it had Woodside not pulled out, very sensibly, from putting their infrastructure onshore at James Price Point. However, there were numerous errors both in the process and in the documentation for that assessment. So people in Western Australia do not have confidence that they can rely on their state government to ensure that a proper environmental assessment process occurs.
Oil and gas exploration and development are occurring in some of the most sensitive areas in Western Australia. I will start with the Kimberley, where it is well known that it will be ramping up this year, with the state government proceeding with their acquisition of land at James Price Point and still talking about putting in infrastructure there. They have granted 25 new fracking leases in the Canning Basin. We have heard a great deal of concern expressed by the community in the north-west. Some of these areas include coastal permits around Roebuck Plains and Roebuck Bay. This is a particularly important area. In fact, it is a most beautiful area. It is also a critical part of the internationally recognised Ramsar wetlands, with much of this land being inundated by floodwaters in the wet season. Of course, that raises the issue of the inappropriateness of allowing this form of unconventional gas activity and the exploration and proposed development in areas that are subject to inundation.
I would also point out that, over the years, there have been numerous mining attempts in Roebuck Bay. It is extremely disappointing that, time after time, the community has to keep fighting these inappropriate developments in some of the most beautiful and environmentally significant areas. The same goes for farmland. We have to keep fighting proposals as they come up. This also applies to areas around the mid-west, which I will come to in a moment.
Not only do you have these sorts of problems on land itself, on farms and in these really sensitive areas, but infrastructure has also been proposed. There are proposals that Buru Energy expand port facilities in Broome. That will of course impact on Roebuck Bay—again, impacting on an environmentally sensitive area, an internationally important Ramsar area, where people from around the world come to observe the birds that stop off in Roebuck Bay on their migration every year. So, on one hand, we have the Premier of Western Australia saying that we need to industrialise the Kimberley to make a lot of money out of the resources that are there; yet, on the other hand, we know that this will directly impact on other industries, such as tourism—not to mention disrupting the birds' migration paths.
Other proposals, targeted by Key Petroleum, include Mandora marsh and wetlands—again, extremely important areas on the coast of Western Australia. When considering development of the Canning Basin reserves, clear boundaries need to be established that specifically exclude unconventional oil and gas exploration.
There is a strong push in the Western Australian community for a moratorium on fracking, which I strongly endorse. Community groups are opposed to the practice of fracking developing across Western Australia because of the rampant approach of this industry in parts of our state that have not only important environmental values but important gardening and food production values. Fracking is now popping up in the mid-west of Western Australia. Local groups have been liaising with the Lock the Gate Alliance nationally and I thank the alliance for the support that they are giving the groups in Western Australia. Frack Free Geraldton has been holding forums in Geraldton as well as towns around the mid west aiming to inform the public and raise their concerns.
It is extremely concerning to see the proposals to develop unconventional gas in the mid west, particularly in the area around Lesueur. This is particularly poignant for me, because 25 years ago I helped lead the campaign that stopped coalmining. At that time we knew that coalmining in that area and the power station they wanted to put up there were totally inappropriate. It was dinosaur technology. A group working with farmers and landowners up there recognised the inappropriateness of the development as well as the biodiversity value of the Lesueur area. It is one of the most biodiverse areas not only in Western Australia but in the whole of Australia, with endemic species that are found nowhere else. It has the most beautiful heath-type vegetation you could ever hope to see. But here they are again, 25 years later, proposing inappropriate, dinosaur developments of products that are at the end of their life as a fuel for the globe. This is a dinosaur industry, and farmland that we need for food production is being threatened. It has never been more important that we ensure that we are protecting our farmland for food production and giving our farmers the right to say, 'No, this is not an activity that is appropriate on my farm', to enable people to farm. We need this bill to enable landholders to say, 'We don't want this activity on our farm'. Western Australians need this bill so they can say, 'We don't want this activity on our farms'.
I would like to finish by quoting Ian James, a farmer from Cunderdin, whom I have worked with quite a lot. He is a wonderful man and very insightful. He said, about unconventional gas:
It's a landscape holocaust, which is really going to be unstoppable under current laws.
The farmers have absolutely no rights, and the gas companies are intent on opening up and mining on all this land.
I want to help Ian James, to give him some power to refuse this rampant activity on his farmland and on other farmland and to give landholders the right to say no.
I welcome this important initiative from Senator Larissa Waters—the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013. It is an opportunity for this parliament to consider the very future of our nation. We go to issues here that are critical to food security and to protecting our water resources, which are obviously central to how we function as a society and to the strength of our economy. The role of our agricultural industries needs to be maintained, and, at the moment, under present federal and state laws, farmers are put in a very difficult situation. I travel extensively in rural New South Wales and have heard stories of people just trying to protect their land, so often not being able to do their farming because they are often in court or at meetings or are writing submissions on issues that should have been worked out long ago. That is why we need to pass this legislation.
This legislation is about protecting the economy from the one-track path that successive governments—sadly, along with the big end of town, where the mining companies come from—have pushed us towards. Wherever the mining industry wants to go, it goes. What we have seen time and time again is that whatever the mining industry wants from governments the mining industry gets. Even when there are wins—and sometimes communities do get wins in the court—you will see governments then amending the legislation to stop those aspects of the laws being used by communities. So endangered habitat, water resources, agricultural land and regional communities are all suffering at the hands of mining companies that are putting their own interests—their profit lines—first and not looking at the immediate needs of our communities or long-term issues. This policy of 'dig it up and sell it off' really does not work. We cannot have the narrow focus which comes with that approach.
Farmers across the country have been struggling for years with the rapid expansion of the mining industry. Even if they are not coerced into agreements—and that certainly happens; I have heard many stories from farmers about how they have been intimidated and left few options by mining companies moving into their area—when the agreements are reached, landholders, if they have not already sold up, are not left many options. Some find that they cannot even sell their land, because by now they are surrounded by mines and it is not attractive for anybody else to buy. The mining companies know that they have bought out most of the land and that they can get away with it. Some of the landowners are then bound by confidentiality and cannot speak about their situation.
There are many moving stories of farmers taking these giant multinational mining companies on, and it is worth sharing some with you. One that I was inspired by, because it was such an extraordinary David-and-Goliath struggle, was the protracted battle of Ian and Robyn Moore, cattle graziers in Jerrys Plains in New South Wales. This really illustrates the need for this legislation. They were forced to allow NuCoal on to their land. Mr Moore is actually legally blind, and his ability to run the farm is dependent on his visual memory. He told of how he was nearly in tears when he discovered the intention of this mining company to explore on his land. These farmers, as well as fellow farmer Bryan Chapman, described the way in which the community was divided, with some people actually spying on their neighbours and threats being made against those who resisted mining. That is one of the saddest aspects I find when I go to these communities—division where you have had very united communities who have had a rich life, often over many generations of farming, and then this is what it comes to. The Moores' story is significant because it is a most blatant example of a government colluding with the mining industry.
The granting of the Doyles Creek mine exploration licence was found by the corruption watchdog ICAC to be corrupt—and, thankfully, five years later it has now been stopped. But imagine the stress that the Moore family and Bryan Chapman have gone through as they have tried to deal with this. The Moores' comments to the Newcastle Herald on this is telling. They said:
We haven't got university degrees; we are just farmers. Why should we have to fight like this to defend our livelihoods?
That was a point that Senator Christine Milne made when she spoke about the direct actions—the courageous, innovative stands that these people are taking—and that they should not have to do that. These people want to get on with their farming or their small businesses in the country town—they want to be able to get on with their daily work—but so often they have to take on these mining companies in what are incredibly challenging battles.
The stories that come out of these communities are from right across the country. I also pay tribute to cattle farmer Wendy Bowman, in the Upper Hunter, from whom I have learnt a great deal in terms of how she has very consistently fought, for more than a decade. In fact, it would go back much longer than that. When the mining companies came to the Upper Hunter they saw the threat that was posed to not just their very livelihood but also to the future of fertile land in this wonderful valley. Wendy's farm is largely surrounded by mines these days but she continues to battle these companies.
This is not always a depressing story in terms of how these struggles are taken on, because the rampant invasion of the mining industry has caused something really extraordinary to happen—and that is reflected in the bill. People from all over the country and from all walks of life are calling on their governments to slow down. They are taking a common-sense approach. It is obvious that something is amiss. You just have to travel through these mining areas and talk to the communities to see that clearly something has to change.
This is where I pay tribute to mining-affected communities and to the Lock the Gate movement, which has grown exponentially by linking up people who have just recently been facing similar problems to those which more experienced farmers have had to face and sharing their knowledge, working out how they can write their submissions and even talking about taking direct action and going to the workshops. It is truly inspiring how this struggle is gathering momentum across the country.
I particularly wanted to mention Liverpool Plains, where both the Pilliga and Maules Creek are under threat from different mining projects. I was in the area recently and the campaign was so impressive, with such a diverse range of people taking action there. Only last weekend 600 people in the town of Narrabri gathered to voice their concerns over the extensive plans that Santos has to produce coal seam gas in the Pilliga.
Then, in February just past, Coonamble farmer Mark Robertson locked himself to the gates of the coal seam gas drill-rig in the Pilliga. Also in the Pilliga, more recently, Coonabarabran farmer Ted Borowski brought a massive line-up of coal seam gas trucks to a halt by locking himself to one of them.
They are courageous actions, and it takes a lot of consideration to take those steps. These people should not be put in this position. It is common sense that we allow farmers to protect their land. They should not have to be fighting against the industrialisation of their landscape.
A number of the members of the Lock the Gate allowance are in the gallery today, and I commend their work. I look forward to meeting with them later today and learning more about the great work they are undertaking. I congratulate my colleague Senator Larissa Waters. This is a bill that should pass this chamber. It is one small way we can help ensure that we protect our farming land and our water resources.
I also rise to support the Landholders’ Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013. I am very proud of the leadership shown by Senator Waters in bringing this to the Senate, because this is exactly where this type of bill needs to be debated.
As a Tasmanian I have a really simple proposition to put to the Senate today. My colleagues have done a very good job of explaining the risks of coal seam gas to farming communities and to the environment. Tasmania is a bit different in the sense that we have not had any coal seam gas exploration. However, six months ago we had official applications put in, through the state government, for exploration for shale gas—which of course is a little bit different from coal seam gas but which nevertheless has also been dogged by significant problems and community division in countries like America and Canada where shale gas is more common.
I am not going to dwell on going through the risks; they have been very well covered today. The proposition I want to put here today is that Tasmania just does not need coal seam gas. It really does not need it. It is not that it just does not need the conflict or the threats to what is the best asset in my state—that is, some of the richest soils with some of the highest rainfall in the country. Our competitive advantage is around our agricultural industry, and this will cause division and fear in our communities. But Tasmania does not need it because 86 per cent of our power generated in Tasmania is renewable and because it is very achievable for us, in the next six years, to reach 100 per cent renewable.
Apart from Iceland this is a unique proposition for my state, and a proposition that we can take and develop around our brand—our clean, green and clever brand. We hear those terms used often but I would like to highlight for the Senate today that those words were first coined by the Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Christine Milne: clean, green and clever. Those words are often quoted, but they are absolutely critical to the brand of my state. Because we are an island on the bottom of Australia and close to the bottom of the world, we need advantages and we need to trade on those advantages. The fact that we are close to being 100 per cent renewable is pretty special and pretty unique.
The history of this comes from hydro-electric power. Of course, that hasn't been without its controversies in the past. I recognise here today that unintended consequences are something that we deal with in our society, and certainly something parliamentarians deal with.
We now have a situation where we have a state owned enterprise, Hydro Tasmania, that owns the assets and the generation of power from hydro. They have also invested significantly in other types of renewable energy generation, such as in very large wind farms—including potentially the biggest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere, on King Island, a $2 billion project that will generate a significant proportion of this country's renewable energy if it goes ahead. There is also research and development going into areas like tidal power in places like Flinders Island and the Tamar Valley, where I live. I know some of the PhD students at the Australian Maritime College who are working on these projects.
This is innovation around clean tech and clean energy. This is the future of Tasmania. Why are we even contemplating letting in exploration companies that, I must say, look like penny dreadfuls to me? I should be careful about that term, because I used to be a stockbroker. They do look like very small companies with very low share prices. I cannot help thinking about the opportunistic grab to try to find gas buried deep below the beautiful fields of Tasmania—a very isolated place a long way from gas markets.
This brings me to the next question I want to raise, and I would like to answer it too. Do we have gas already in Tasmania? It is a bit of a sordid history. Babcock & Brown built a gas fired power station, the Tamar Valley power station—sometimes referred to as the Bell Bay Power Station—over a decade ago. Because Babcock & Brown ran into financial troubles, that station was purchased by the Tasmanian government for around $100 million. It is not currently operational, and there have been rumours that it has not been operational for some time. Official statements I could find this morning, from Hydro Tasmania, were that it 'stands in operational readiness'. In other words it is a backup power station. But to get gas to that power station it cost $400 million to build a pipeline under the ocean, from Victoria into Tasmania. That $400 million pipeline was recently sold for half that price—$200 million.
In Tasmania we face a situation where we actually have the potential for a surplus of power. Because we still have one or two large users of hydro-electric power in Tasmania, like the Comalco operation in Bell Bay, we face a very significant risk that these types of operations are going to shut down, and it is only a matter of time before they do. They have done so recently in Victoria—in Geelong—and Comalco's refinery in Bell Bay is one of the oldest in the country. We will have a significant surplus of power.
So at this critical juncture my state faces the issue of what to do with the power. How do we sell it? How do we capitalise on this advantage? These are all big decisions that have been looked at strategically by the state government and no doubt by many senators in this chamber. So why are we even contemplating opening up access to a new source of energy and gas that we do not need? It will be very difficult to sell in Tasmania and overseas. The tyranny of distance just happens to be a geographical fact in my state. More importantly, we are very close to being 100 per cent renewable.
I would like to take the opportunity today to commend my state colleagues, in particular Cassy O'Connor, recently a minister in the Labor/Greens government. Under her four years as a minister in government she instituted what was called Climate Smart Tasmania: A 2020 Climate Change Strategy. It is the most comprehensive plan by any Australian government to reduce carbon emissions and help communities adapt to climate change and issues around climate change. It has been built on nearly a decade of careful research and consultation. It aims to eliminate the use of dirty fossil fuels, which includes gas from coal seam or shale. Our dirty fossil fuel usage is about 14 per cent of our energy.
In the last four years, Cassy's department has put up more than 80 strategies on public transport, new energy ratings for buildings, carbon farming initiatives and forest sequestration, including a lot of significant research into carbon farming through the University of Tasmania and other research institutions. So we are making real progress in Tasmania.
We have also invested around $18 million to provide energy efficiency upgrades to nearly 10,000 low-income homes in Tasmania. I am also proud to say we have rolled out a state initiative to help farmers have access to renewable energy projects, such as solar panels. It is remarkable how just a few simple energy-efficiency tweaks can make a major difference to a family or to a community's health and happiness. It also has the potential in the future to significantly reduce power costs and power bills.
But, once again, you need incentives in place for renewable energy. You need incentives in place to generate energy efficiency schemes. These incentives have to be provided by strong leadership to transition our economy into a low-emissions future and to reduce the impacts of climate change, not just in Tasmania but also nationally. We have discussed this in this chamber this week ad nauseam.
I am very proud that my party nationally and at state level—and it cannot be disputed—has been the party that has been pushing this transition in our economy. The Clean Energy Australia Report said that in Tasmania renewable energy or clean tech was estimated to produce 2,000 new jobs in my state, which desperately needs new jobs and new employment. This was also backed up by the Climate Institute, who said that the renewable energy sector would generate thousands of jobs.
Not only do we need strong signals like a price on carbon and all the schemes in the clean energy package that are bringing on the structural change that creates jobs, creates innovation and drives research into new areas but also we need to think about the environment, because the two go together. Trying to bring a dirty, divisive and totally unnecessary new industry into my state should not be contemplated. I am very grateful to Senator Waters for bringing this bill on today and giving me the chance to talk about a very optimistic view of Tasmania's clean energy future and why we do not need shale gas.
I rise to make some concluding remarks about the Landholders’ Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013. I am really proud of all of my fellow Greens senators for the contributions they have made, speaking on behalf of the communities in their respective states about the rights of those people to clean air, to clean water, to a healthy climate, to strong and united communities and to continue to grow the food that we all rely on into the future
I was saddened that we did not have any contributions from the government, either the Liberals or the Nationals, on this bill, particularly when those folk have been so hasty in the bush to make promises to people. Sadly, they did not see fit today to make a contribution on this issue to say that they support it or oppose it. They have instead chosen to remain silent. I understand that is because they do not support this bill and because they think it is not their problem but the problem of state governments to fix this issue. The state governments are not fixing this issue, and it is about time—in fact, it is well past time—that the federal government stepped in and gave the communities that we are all here to represent the right to protect their land, their water and our climate from these dangerous industries.
With great sadness, I want to particularly mention some of the Labor Party's contributions to this debate. Senator Farrell was talking about the donation made by Santos—one of the big coal seam gas companies in this country—to the National Party. Somewhat perplexingly, he was defending Santos and the donation that they had made to the National Party. He went so far as to describe Santos as a good corporate citizen. He said that he had not heard any complaints from the community about Santos. Senator Farrell perhaps needs to listen a bit more closely to communities who have been tossed aside and bullied by Santos and a number of the other big coal seam gas companies. To be honest, I was horrified to hear the Labor Party defending the rights of coal seam gas companies to buy support from other parties. That is horrific. He then went on to say that this parliament should not put impediments in the way of coal seam gas. We have some folk up in the gallery from Lock the Gate. Are those people impediments? Is their health an impediment? Is a continued fresh water supply an impediment? Is food security an impediment? Is a healthy climate an impediment? Is the integrity of our ecosystems an impediment to Senator Farrell? I was incredibly disappointed. Those things are not impediments; they are fundamental rights that all of us here in this chamber should be defending. The primacy of the private profits of multinational corporations over the rights of communities, the environment and our health is an insidious disease and it seems to have infected all parts of this chamber.
We know from studies done by the Australia Institute that many of the profits of those companies flow offshore. From memory I believe that 86 per cent of mining profits flow offshore, and I include gas mining in that term. That the private profits of overseas multinationals should somehow trump the health of communities, land, water, the climate and the reef, and that those things should merely be an impediment to those private profits, is incredibly disappointing. Sadly, it says to me that the fossil-fuel companies have got their hold on all of the big parties in this place.
One of the other speakers—and, again, there were no government speakers, so I am referring to the Labor speakers, because they at least did make a contribution, albeit to oppose the bill—Senator Furner, talked about the jobs that the coal seam gas industry in particular has provided, as he claims. I would say two things about that. Look at the job figures that were promised by those companies in their environmental impact statements and then look at the reality. You will find a great disparity, and that is not an uncommon occurrence. We routinely see vastly inflated claims about job numbers spruiked in the early approval stages for these big projects; then we see the reality, and the numbers rarely eventuate. The jobs are rarely for locals, they are often fly-in fly-out workers, and rarely does the time frame for those jobs ever provide any meaningful support to those people.
I want to mention another key point. What about the jobs in agriculture? What about the jobs in the tourism industry? Why is it that those jobs are somehow worth less than jobs at coal seam gas companies? I do not understand. We have long-term, sustainable jobs in agriculture and tourism that could last us and could prop up this economy for years to come, and yet somehow they are less important than the short-term jobs for fossil-fuel companies. It does not add up in terms of the time frame for those jobs, and it does not add up in terms of the sheer numbers. At last count—and I acknowledge that my ABS figures are perhaps a year or so out of date—there are about 30,000 people in the mining industry in Australia. We have 63,000 people who need a healthy Great Barrier Reef for their livelihood so, even on a pure numbers parameter, that does not stack up. So I take great umbrage at Senator Furner's ability to sadly parrot back the rhetoric of the coal seam gas companies rather than properly consider the effect that this industry has on agriculture and tourism. Coal seam gas threatens the surface operations of farming and it threatens the groundwater. It cannot coexist with agriculture. It cannot coexist with a thriving tourism industry when there are national landscapes across the country, which have been listed, threatened by coal seam gas and coalmining. Then there is the Great Barrier Reef, our greatest tourism asset, likewise threatened by the export of those commodities. Some jobs are more important than others, it seems.
I again flag my concerns with the 'fan-girling'—if I can use the common term—that we saw from Senator Farrell in relation of Santos. He said that they are good corporate citizens and that we should not be putting impediments in their way. I do not like to get personal but, Senator Farrell, we are all here to represent people and to represent our communities; we are not actually here to represent Santos. They are doing pretty well by themselves.
I would ask all senators to reflect on the fact that we have had a delegation from Lock the Gate in this place this week seeking meetings with each of you, I understand. Certainly some senators and many members have met with that delegation, as they should. We get a lot of lobbyists walking these halls—a lot of big mining companies, a lot of gas companies, a lot of the big end of town. They get ready access to governments, whichever colour they are from. It is not often that the community has their voice heard or reflected. Now is the most crucial time for that to happen. As I say, we still have Lock the Gate folk in the public gallery and they have been here all morning. They will remain be here today. I would urge them, please, to continue to seek meetings with the folk who are from their states that they are here representing.
We have had no speakers from the government. I want to just highlight my disappointment that they say one thing when in the bush and then do another when they are in this chamber. Their election commitment document was very clear. I mentioned it earlier and I would like to mention it again because, as far as the coalition go, it is an okay policy position. It is not as strong as the Greens would like, but they do say that access to prime agricultural land should only be allowed with the farmers' agreement. Tony Abbott made that promise to Debbie Orr in Tara in Queensland, which is where I am from. Nobody should be forced to have a gas well on their property. I welcome those comments. We agree, so please follow through. It is not okay to say one thing and then do the opposite or, worse, stay completely silent when legislation—the genesis of which was your original remarks—is now before the parliament for debate. Silence is not okay.
I acknowledge Senator John Madigan for the contribution he made and for his support for this bill. He made a very considered contribution, I thought, and referred to the science and to the uncertainty of long-term water impacts, which is precisely what the National Water Commission and the CSIRO have been warning this government and the last government about. I acknowledge and welcome that support. I am disappointed that his was a lone voice outside the Greens on this issue. We have had no contributions from the Nationals and nothing from the Liberals. We did not hear, sadly, from Senator Xenophon. We have had two contributions from Labor, who were so full of praise for the coal seam gas companies that one found it hard to not feel physically ill. Once again we see an issue where it is the Greens and a handful of others speaking supporting the community, and the rest are in bed with the mining industry. I think people across the country who are watching this debate will feel really let down. The contrast between the short-term interests of a vested few and the long-term interests of the nation have been brought into stark contrast this morning.
We are in an age of food insecurity and we are in an age of climate change on a continent that is in a permanent age of water constraints. But we are also in an age where we can run our cities and homes with renewable energy. We know that we have the technology. We know that renewable energy production is actually more job intensive than traditional fossil fuel energy sources. We know, of course, that renewable energy does not have the terrible climate impacts that fossil fuel sources do. We know that we should be in an age where people have the right to be represented in this chamber, and where communities should have the right to resist the invasion of their properties by self-interested, profit-hungry, multinational corporations who want to destroy their land and water to make a quick buck and then bugger off and leave them with the remainder of what was once good quality farmland. These corporations rob future generations of the ability to keep farming that land and rob those communities of their heart, their soul and their sustenance.
I am hoping that between now and when this bill comes to a vote, which will be soon, people will have a change of heart. Sadly, with the contributions that we have seen this morning that looks incredibly unlikely. We Greens do not give up and neither does the community. I want to once again pay tribute to the Lock the Gate Alliance members who have been here this week. I want to particularly single out Drew Hutton who is the grandfather of that movement. He has really given people in the community hope, and they do have cause for hope. I have a fundamental belief in the goodness of people in this chamber. Clearly we have incredibly different policy perspectives on this and on a number of other issues, but I do like to think that we are all open to science and that we can act as rational representatives for our communities.
I acknowledge that there are, at least, some senators in the chamber as often, when you give these speeches, there are not. Thank you for being present. I would urge you to listen to the community, to listen to the science and to think long term about the sustainability of the industries that we support in this country. Our water is too precious to lose. Our food security is on a knife edge. Our climate will affect our grandchildren's future and the future of every other single creature and human being that we share this planet with, as well as those to come. I urge your support for this bill.