Senate debates

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Statements by Senators

Coal Seam Gas

1:09 pm

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

I rise as a senator for Queensland who has seen our communities, our farmland and our environment devastated by coal seam gas extraction. I am deeply concerned that this industry is on the verge of an enormous expansion in other states right across the nation. That is why, earlier this month, I travelled to western Victoria to talk to locals about the threats of this dangerous industry. Today I would like to pay tribute to the courageous communities of western Victoria which have already begun to resist.

In my home state of Queensland, the big coal seam gas companies got in early and they swamped farmers and communities, despite their best efforts to protect their land, their water, the climate and their communities from the dangerous coal seam gas. It is truly devastating to see areas of south-west Queensland from the air, where the landscape resembles Jarlsberg cheese—pockmarked with gas wells, as far as the eye can see. It is even more heartbreaking to hear the stories of farmers who have had their lives turned completely upside down by the onslaught of the big gas companies. The locals from across the Darling Downs at Dalby, Chinchilla and Tara, from the Scenic Rim at Boonah, Kerry, Croftby and Rathdowney, to as far west as Roma and Emerald have fought long and hard to protect their land, water and local environment from coal seam gas companies.

In spite of their efforts, over 8,000 coal seam gas wells have been drilled in Queensland and approval has been given for up to 30,000 gas wells. Governments, both Labor and Liberal, under Premiers Beattie, Bligh and Newman, have never refused an application for coal seam gas. Those communities are carrying on their heroic efforts and they are now sounding a warning to their friends in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

The communities of western Victoria and Gippsland are facing off against a very powerful adversary: the unconventional gas-fracking industry. They are responding with an inspiring display of grassroots, participatory democracy and their momentum is building. At last count, 43 communities across Victoria, including 11 in western Victoria, have declared themselves 'gasfield free'. In total, there are 70 communities across the state at some stage in that process of making those declarations. These communities deserve better than the weasel words that they have been getting from the Liberal government in Victoria and from the Labor opposition. The Liberal Napthine government have placed a temporary moratorium on fracking, which is due to expire in July next year. They are refusing to tell Victorians what they will do after that—if, of course, they retain office after the election. The Labor opposition are refusing to give a commitment either way. They are handballing the issue to some future parliamentary inquiry. Methinks both parties are trying to get this off the election agenda. Only the Greens are taking a clear policy to the coming Victorian state election. We would ban all fracking and unconventional gas—no weasel words, no deception. Our farmland, our water, our climate, our sustainable industries and our communities deserve that.

In western Victoria and the Otway Basin they have something really special. It is a wonderful, fertile area with good rainfall in many areas and the capacity to be a powerhouse for sustainably producing food and fibre for the country and for the world. It was a pleasure to see this part of the world a few weeks ago with my colleague Senator Richard Di Natale and our Greens candidate for the western region, Lloyd Davies. Lloyd would work with local communities rather than against their interests and would work to avoid some of the mistakes that Queensland, sadly, has made in rolling out the red carpet to the gas-fracking industry.

In particular, I would like to acknowledge the incredible work that many of the community groups have been doing in that western Victorian region: Gasfield Free Portland deserve congratulations; Glenelg Shire Council, which covers that area, has unanimously supported an unconventional gasfield-free zone; Frack Free Geelong, where along with successful community declarations, the Council of Greater Geelong has voted to reject onshore gas and fracking, and for a permanent ban; and Gasfield Free Torquay, who have just formed and are doing a magnificent job at protecting the stunning coastal regions of Torquay and Anglesea. It is unbelievable to me that anyone would think of ruining these stunning places, but they are subject to a gas exploration lease. There are too many community groups to list, but Frack Free Moriac also deserve a mention.

It was a real honour to meet many of the community members in the dozens of townships that we visited who have banded together, had these conversations in their community and undertaken surveys. Many have recorded between 97 and 99 per cent support for gasfield-free communities. We travelled to Birregurra, to Colac, to Camperdown, to Warrnambool, to Portland, to Drumborg, to Hamilton and to Geelong. Victorian communities in the western region who want to be gasfield free include many of those areas but also some additional ones: Dartmoor, Drumborg, which we visited, Lyons, Hotspur, Freshwater Creek, Moriac, Boonah, Bambra and Geelong area rural communities including Deans Marsh, where Senator Richard Di Natale hails from, Mount Moriac and Paraparap.

On that recent trip, the Greens announced our bill, which I will soon be reintroducing into this place after two earlier attempts which, sadly, received no support from the other parties in this place. Our new bill will give all landholders the right to say no to unconventional gas and it will include a ban on fracking for unconventional gas. I call on all parties to support that bill and I call on all parties in Victoria to respect the grassroots, democratic, community led declarations, instead of trying to weasel their way out of unconventional gas with either empty commitments or silence. I call on Victorians to heed Queenslanders' warning and to back our call for a ban on fracking and all unconventional gas exploration and production.

We have renewable alternatives to gas—clean, green, renewable energy that does not risk farmland, does not risk groundwater or surface water, does not divide communities and actually creates more jobs. That is the sort of future that the Greens see for western Victoria and for the rest of the nation, not dangerous, unconventional gas.

It was wonderful on that trip to be able to share the experience of the Queensland communities, who, in the face of this onslaught to their land and their water, really did band together and resist as much as they possibly could the might of this very well heeled, very well resourced, mostly multinational company driven gas industry. As well as I could, I shared the learnings that Queenslanders have, sadly, now had to learn about the dangers of letting the gas industry get their claws into what is our best food-producing land. I urge those western Victorian communities that we visited, who are already so well organised, so strong in their opposition and so across the dangers of this unconventional gas industry, to keep up their fight, keep having those conversations in their communities and keep doing those wonderful surveys where they declare themselves gasfield free. We know that there is no legal implication that flows from that, but it is an incredibly powerful statement of community sentiment and community vision for those towns. It will be a very bold government or opposition that ignores that really strong community sentiment in western Victoria that says, 'We don't want unconventional gas fracking here. We love our farmland. We value our clean water. We have other renewable energy alternatives. You're not welcome here.' It was a great honour to undertake that trip and to share those learnings.

I am confident that ultimately, despite the intransigence of the current government in this place and their absolute disregard for clean, green, renewable energy, the momentum for renewable energy is unstoppable. Not even this Abbott government can stop the broad support for renewables that the industry is experiencing and that the public know. I am confident that we will be able to stop this dangerous and unnecessary unconventional gas fracking industry in Australia. We have clean alternatives. We have solar; we have wind; we have tidal power; we have geothermal—we have a whole raft of options that other countries would be very envious of. That is where we should be investing. That is what will protect our farmland across the nation, including in western Victoria. That is what those committees want. That is what the Greens are taking to the Victorian state election. I very much look forward to giving those communities their voice on polling day and, hopefully, to the election of our western Victorian candidate, Lloyd Davies.