Wednesday, 9 July 2014
Coal Seam Gas
Mr President, please accept my congratulations on your position. I move:
That the Senate—
(a) notes the importance of protecting valuable agricultural, residential and conservation land from unconventional gas activities;
(b) supports the right of landholders and local residents to say 'no' to unconventional gas exploration and mining in their communities;
(c) recognises the concerns expressed by communities in the south east of South Australia over potential groundwater contamination from unconventional gas activities; and
(d) congratulates the South East Local Government Association in South Australia for standing up for their local communities and voting for a moratorium on unconventional gas.
The government does not support this motion. The government supports the responsible development of resources based on scientific evidence with the involvement of local communities and appropriate environmental safeguards. We have long held the view that the development of resources should occur under three coexistence principles: that there is no long-term damage to underground water supplies, that agricultural production is not permanently impaired and that access to prime agricultural land should only occur with the farmer's agreement. Landholders' rights should be respected if they do not wish their land to be used for exploration or the production of gas. Equal respect should be given to those landholders who do choose to allow their land to be used for exploration or the production of gas. They should have the right to say yes without their privacy and their safety being impacted.
The best outcomes can be achieved where resource companies work cooperatively with landholders to negotiate land access agreements that allow for the development of the resources while still protecting the interests of farmers and the productivity of prime agricultural land. The Australian government supports an evidence based regulatory framework and a commitment to leading practice by industry so the focus can be on developing a world-class industry while also protecting the environment. (Time expired)
The National Party concurs with all of the remarks made by Senator Fifield. We support any motions that speak to the protection of agricultural, residential and conservation land. We support the rights of landholders and local residents and we recognise the concerns expressed by any communities in relation to the quality and the integrity of their groundwater systems. However, this motion, when read properly, is about none of those things. This motion is about inhibiting and stopping sound and sustainable developments that are very important to our regional and rural communities. As such, they cannot be supported by the National Party, and that is why we will be voting against the motion.
I am very disappointed that the government and particularly the National Party do not see fit to support this motion. Despite what my colleague has just said about the merits of local communities having their land and their food production protected, in fact it goes against that to not support this motion. Indeed, this was actually a landmark unanimous decision by seven councils that make up the South East Local Government Association of South Australia after hearing the concerns of their residents, farmers, landholders, winegrowers, croppers and graziers, who were saying that they are concerned about the risk of unconventional gas mining in their area to the water supplies around Mount Gambier and the south-east region. For that reason, they have sought a moratorium to receive further independent analysis about the risks that are involved. It would seem to be highly uncontroversial and, in fact, we congratulate the council on seeing fit to speak out to protect the interests of their residents and the landholders in the area.