Senate debates

Thursday, 19 March 2015


Coal Seam Gas

4:30 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Siewert, I move:

That the Senate—

(a) notes:

(i) the negative impacts of coal and coal seam gas mining on Australia's environment, including prime agricultural land and water, and the wellbeing of regional communities, and

(ii) the concerning relationship between these mining activities and political corruption, particularly in New South Wales, as evidenced by the findings of the Independent Commission Against Corruption; and

(b) calls on all parties contesting the New South Wales state election to commit to a ban on coal and coal seam gas mining.

This is an absolutely critical motion for the Senate to consider. I have been in politics for over 25 years, and I have got to the point where I do not believe that we live in a democracy anymore. We are living in a plutocracy in Australia—that is, government by the wealthy in the interests of the wealthy. I have now got to the point where I recognise that we can vote, we can march, we can write letters, we can make calls, we can post tweets, but, as long as the rich few can buy the political process, there is very little hope.

Honourable Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I remind senators that the standing orders require that senators will be heard in silence.

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. As I said, to get our country back, to give ourselves a chance, we have to restore the health of our democracy. We need to educate everyone to put up in lights just how big business and wealthy individuals use their money and connections to take and retain power. That is precisely what has happened in Australia, particularly with regard to resource extractive companies. It has been the case for a very long time. I got into politics on this very issue, when North Broken Hill ran the Tasmanian Liberal government under the then Premier, Robin Gray. It got to the point where North Broken Hill, holed up in what was then the Sheraton Hotel, issued a press release on North Broken Hill letterhead recalling the Tasmanian parliament to get it to pass doubts removal legislation that would give North Broken Hill all the rights to pollute and do as it liked in Tasmania.

That is what has happened over the years in Tasmania—crony capitalism. Quentin Beresford has just written a brilliant book, The Rise and Fall of Gunns Ltd, that documents how the timber company North Broken Hill, in cahoots with a whole lot of people in government and in Forestry Tasmania, destroyed democracy in Tasmania for a long time. The governments of Tasmania became the puppets of the forest industry. I would argue that that same cronyism between resource based companies and parliament has existed in New South Wales for some time. It got to the point in Tasmania in 1989 where the graffiti all over the state was: 'Vote 1 North Broken Hill and cut out the middle man'. That is what people thought about the role of the parliament. You could do that in New South Wales right now. You could say: 'Vote 1 coal seam gas, Vote 1 coal and cut out the middle man in the New South Wales parliament', because effectively that is what has occurred.

We heard the same sort of attitude today in question time, when my colleague Senator Janet Rice from Victoria asked the government to explain how it is that the proponents of the East West Link in Victoria drafted the letter for the Liberal government of Victoria to sign. The letter said that they would be granted compensation if the East West Link did not proceed, because they thought there was a likelihood that the Liberals would not win the election. We asked a serious question about corruption—how else would you describe it?—and Minister Cash stood in here and laughed and shouted and failed to address the question, even though she was brought back to it three times. I happen to think it matters that the corporations that were proposing a road for which Infrastructure Australia said there was no business case wrote the letter to deliver themselves that level of compensation, and it was signed off by a Victorian Liberal Premier. Of course, the Liberal Party lost the election and the road will not proceed. This is exactly what has happened in New South Wales, and that is where I go now.

It is not just the Greens saying it. The New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption, ICAC, put out a shocking report in October 2013 entitled Reducing the opportunities and incentives for corruption in the state's management of coal resources. That ICAC report found shocking levels of corruption and incentives for it in New South Wales under what was then a Labor government but that continues now, I would argue, under a Liberal government. We have corruption in New South Wales. There is no other way that you can describe the absolutely disgraceful behaviour.

The investigation in Operation Jasper followed an allegation made by a private individual in February 2011 that confidential information regarding the tender process for awarding the Mount Penny coal tenement had been leaked to the Obeid family. As part of that investigation, the commission examined the circumstances surrounding a decision made in 2008 by the Hon. Ian Macdonald MLC, then Minister for Primary Industries and Minister for Mineral Resources, to grant a coal exploration licence to Cascade Coal Pty Ltd and the circumstances relating to the tendering process and the way in which the tender bids were assessed.

The commission found that Mr Macdonald's corrupt conduct was motivated by an agreement with the Hon. Edward Obeid Senior and Moses Obeid to financially benefit the Obeid family. Mr Macdonald, Edward Obeid and Moses Obeid were found to have engaged in corrupt conduct by conspiring to defraud in the creation of the Mount Penny tenement. The commission also discovered that several co-investors, including Travers Duncan, John McGuigan, John Atkinson, John Kinghorn and Richard Poole, had engaged in corrupt conduct to obtain financial advantage by deception—and on and on it goes. The commission said:

In preparing this report, the question facing the Commission was not simply how the state's policy and regulatory framework could allow … ELs—

exploration licences—

of great value to be corruptly provided to favoured recipients, but how it could have been so easy to do so.

It is inconceivable that in any other portfolio area of government such value could corruptly be transferred from the state to favoured individuals with such relative ease.

That is the definition of plutocracy. New South Wales is not a democratically governed state; it is a plutocracy where the rich buy what they need through corruption in the political process. That is not found by the Greens; it is not an allegation; it is proven in this report by ICAC. Read it. It goes on to explain corrupt deal after corrupt deal. When you look at this, it is why we are moving today to call on all parties contesting the New South Wales state election to commit to a ban on coal and coal seam gas mining but also to note the concerning relationship between these mining activities and political corruption.

I go to the political corruption. Just have a look at the disgraceful and appalling behaviour that has given us Whitehaven and has given us the Maules Creek mine and the loss of the irreplaceable Leard forest. This goes absolutely to the heart of corruption. You had Mark Vaile, former National Party Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, who is now Chairman of Whitehaven Coal. Before that, however, he was also chair of Nathan Tinkler's company Aston Resources. Evidence tendered at ICAC reveals allegedly prohibited donations passed between the Aston Resources board and Chris Hartcher, through the Free Enterprise Foundation and eventually to the New South Wales Liberal Party, and that ministers who received donations allegedly assisted various Tinkler developments through the planning process. It is alleged that Aston donations to the National Party were made at the suggestion of the chairman of its board, Mark Vaile. That is just appalling, but that just tells you where the Nationals have come from and have been and remain in New South Wales when it comes to coal seam gas and coal. They are in it as much as the Liberal and Labor parties in delivering for coalmines and coal seam gas companies to the detriment of the community.

I am going to talk about the detriment to the community. I have sat at kitchen tables. I have been out to the Liverpool Plains. I have talked to people in the Hunter Valley. I have been onto some of those horse studs in the Hunter Valley. People have just looked at me and said they just cannot understand how it is possible that this would occur. And now we have the New South Wales Premier saying that he has delayed 16 new coalmines in the Upper Hunter. 'Delayed'? What does that mean? That means until after the election. I ask you: what will happen then to those 16 mines in the Upper Hunter?

It is the same with coal seam gas. We have a situation where the New South Wales government enabled the companies to get the licences in spite of absolutely shonky assessments in relation to impacts on water and impacts on prime agricultural land. It is just disgraceful that we would be doing this at a time when the international community, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has said we are facing an urgent crisis with global warming and two-thirds of all fossil fuel resources have to stay in the ground. 'Stay in the ground' means not extracting coal seam gas and not expanding coalmines and coalmining around the country. The Galilee Basin should stay as it is: no mines in the Galilee Basin.

And yet there are very serious questions about the arrangements that were previously made under the Newman government in Queensland: Jeff Seeney and Adani. That will come out eventually, no doubt. But there are serious allegations being made about who reversed decisions in Queensland, who fast-tracked the process and what they got for it.

But I return to New South Wales, where again, even at the federal level, you have all this doublespeak. Former minister Tony Burke gave approval to the Gloucester CSG licence, the biggest coal seam gas licence in New South Wales, delivered by Labor, saying, 'Oh, look, I had concerns about it,' but, because the New South Wales minister decided to leak a letter, he had to announce the approvals and has no idea whether it is going to go ahead or not. And now all those communities are stuck with it. All those communities have had to suffer because of the corrupt behaviour of the New South Wales minister, going out there and leaking it, and then the federal minister going ahead and granting the approval.

But I come back to Maules Creek and the offsets. The Commonwealth, under EPBC, had to guarantee the offsets that were there for the Leard forest, for those irreplaceable, critically endangered species. They had to have the appropriate offsets. They did not have them. The Commonwealth had the capacity to say, 'No, the offsets don't exist,' pick up the company and take them to court for misleading under EPBC—for putting in documents which did not provide the offsets.

Someone here in this federal government under Minister Hunt, whether it was Minister Hunt himself or the bureaucracy, decided not to take them to court and not prosecute them. I ask why not? Why weren't they prosecuted? At estimates nobody would own up to who actually made that decision. Which person? Was it the minister? He must ultimately take responsibility because this is a democracy in which ministerial responsibility, if it means something, means you have to have accountability.

How do you think people who are suffering as a result of corruptly granted licences feel about the Commonwealth deciding not to prosecute the company involved when the company has clearly misled the community on the offsets, and we are going to lose irreplaceable, critically endangered species? Again, I have been out there to look and it is absolutely the case. The Leard forest will be lost, and the offsets are nothing like the vegetation types that are required to sustain ecosystems there.

That is why we are saying that, at the highest level, coal and coal seam gas should stay in the ground because of the impacts of global warming. More particularly, we are highlighting the corrupt culture that has extended through the Liberals, the Nationals and the Labor Party in New South Wales. No amount of saying it has not changes the fact that if there was real justice in New South Wales then we would see every single one of those corrupt licences that have been given cancelled. Why haven't they been cancelled? Instead, bad behaviour has been rewarded. They are proceeding and Mark Vaile is going to make a great deal of money out of the fact that he is proceeding on the board of Whitehaven with a mine that should never have been allowed to proceed. How is that just and fair in Australia? Well, it is not. It goes back to my point: government by the wealthy, for the wealthy, through the corrupt processes set out by ICAC. The Greens join with ICAC in the question: how is it possible that this could have happened in New South Wales? It is inconceivable that such value could be corruptly transferred from the state to favoured individuals with such relative ease.

We have to get serious about this. It is no laughing matter when corruption is brought to the attention of governments. What we saw today in question time was disgraceful behaviour. But it will come out eventually. The relationship that we raised today between the proponents of East West Link and the former Liberals in Victoria will come out eventually. The grossly corrupt behaviour of the Labor Party and the Labor ministers in New South Wales has already come out, about how they were involved in the granting of licences to coalmining. Equally, the corrupt behaviour of the Liberal Party has come out through ICAC and that dodgy trail of political donations to get where they are. As I said before, it went through Aston Resources, Boardwalk Resources, Chris Hartcher, Free Enterprise Foundation and eventually the New South Wales Liberal Party. That is how the money trail went—clear as anything that that is the case. These were donations which should not be allowed.

Yet, we now have the Shenhua Watermark coalmine on the Liverpool Plains. Of course, everyone is seeing the deferred approval for Shenhua as a way of stopping this ahead of the New South Wales election. This should be cancelled. The licence should be cancelled. We know the amount of money involved in this Shenhua proposal. For example, it was granted a mining exploration licence by the former Labor mining minister Ian Macdonald, who has been found to be corrupt after Shenhua paid $300 million to the New South Wales government. Part of this commercial agreement saw Shenhua agree to a further payment of $200 million on the granting of its mining licence. Shenhua paid $300 million and was going to pay another $200 million when the licence was granted to a minister who is known to be corrupt. Why hasn't the Shenhua licence been cancelled? If there is any justice, that Shenhua licence should be cancelled. That is why we are standing here today on this very, very serious matter.

We have to end the connection between political donations and licences for coal and coal seam gas. We have to look after our agricultural land and water and regional communities. Food security in an age of global warming is critical. We are going to see the loss of crops and food around the world because of extreme weather events. Just as oil was one of the critical resources of this last century, food will be the critical resource of this century. Therefore, agricultural land and water are essential. Food is the oil of this century; land and water are the gold of this century. There will be resource wars in this century, but they will not be over coal; they will be over land and water to sustain ecosystems and grow food. Please, consider this corruption case. Consider why it is essential to ban political donations from these coal and coal seam gas companies. Get some justice for people and let's restore our democracy from its plutocracy.

4:50 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am happy to speak against this motion. As I was listening to Senator Milne, I was reminded of some of the talk about the ferals in the Senate that we have heard in recent times. This is a motion that would seek to make ferals of us all. It is the sort of motion that is part of the Greens overall agenda to shut down the coal industry that will send us all back to the caves. The ferals would well and truly be in charge if we were to support a motion like this and if any sensible political party were to take the advice of the Greens on this issue. Let's be clear: the Greens are anti coal. They are anti gas. They are anti mining of any sort. They are anti roads, as we heard today. They are anti-new houses. They are anti development. They are anti jobs. We all know it to be true. It think it was Warren Mundine who recently challenged the Greens to point to anywhere in the country where they might support a new mining project, and they would not point to one. So they are happy to have the iPhones that come from mining, the cars that come from mining and all of the development that comes from mining, but they are anti it all. They would see the jobs of tens of thousands of Australians thrown down the gurgler if we were to accept this motion. If we were to accept this motion, we would be condemning the state of New South Wales to a bleak economic future indeed.

Before I got into some of the economic impact that such an approach as the Greens are calling for in this motion would have, I think it is worth talking about political donations, which Senator Milne spoke a lot about. There was no mention of Graeme Wood, no mention of the $1.6 million donation—the largest in political history in Australia—to the Greens, which they were very grateful for. Bob Brown was very grateful.

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Seselja is misleading the Senate by not indicating that that donation went through the Electoral Commission and was appropriately declared, not hidden like the ones to the Liberal Party.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no point of order.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I can see the sensitivity; you mention Graeme Wood and the Greens are immediately on their feet. They do not want to talk about the $1.6 million donation which Bob Brown said he was 'eternally grateful' for. I think they are also eternally grateful for the donations they get from the CFMEU. They get the donations from the CFMEU and they back it up by opposing efforts to stamp out corruption and lawlessness on building sites. They get the donations from the CFMEU and respond very strongly with their vote, because they do not support efforts to clean up our building sites, to get rid of corrupt behaviour on our building sites, to get rid of unlawful, thuggish behaviour as we have been hearing about just in the law few days on our building sites around the country. So forgive me if I will not take advice from the Greens on some of these issues.

But let's go to the economic impacts. I will deal with the coal seam gas issues, but this motion calls on the parties in the New South Wales election to ban coalmining and coal seam gas. I am going to deal with both. Before I go into some of the regulation of coal seam gas in the state of New South Wales I will deal with the impacts if that advice were to be followed. Let's have a look at the contribution of coalmining around the country and then in New South Wales. Let's take one part of this motion. The Greens want to shut this industry down, and I think people should know how many jobs are at stake.

Around the country there are approximately 55,000 direct jobs for Australians in the coal industry. There are around 145,000 related jobs for Australians. That is $6 billion in wages paid to Australian workers through the coal industry. The Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics estimates coal is responsible for export earnings of $40 billion. It accounts for around 15 per cent of Australia's total exports. Senator Milne gets on her feet and says she wants to see $40 billion of export industry, $6 billion of wages and 145,000 jobs killed through a motion like this if their policy prescription were followed.

It goes further. State treasury papers record that the coal industry was responsible for royalty payments of $20.5 billion between 2006-07 and 2012-13. Deloitte Access Economics estimate the coal industry is responsible for $17.7 billion in company tax in that same period. Think of the impact if that amount of company tax were not paid, if that amount of royalties had not been paid to the states. Who would pay for the hospitals? Who would pay for the schools? Who would pay for the roads? It is an extraordinary argument that we are hearing. Professor Sinclair Davidson says coal's overall contribution to our economy can be estimated at up to $60 billion. This is a massive industry for Australia, and to say we can kill an industry because the Greens do not like it is absurd and should be rejected.

Coal is responsible for 34 per cent of Australia's primary energy and 75 per cent of our grid electricity. In New South Wales it accounts for 90 per cent of grid electricity. Let's have a look at New South Wales stats when it comes to coalmining. In 2012-13 $17.8 billion worth of coal was mined in New South Wales. Eighty-five per cent of that, worth $15.2 billion, was exported. More generally in mining in New South Wales, there are 40,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in royalties a year. This is the size of this industry that the Greens are now arguing should be shut down. No party deserves to be taken seriously when they come out with these kinds of statements. This would be the world according to the Greens: an industry that employs 145,000 Australians, an industry which is one of our largest exporters would be shut down. For the states we would not have the ability to fund the essential services that they need if they were just going to shut down industries and throw out jobs as the Greens would have them do.

Let's go to the issue of coal seam gas. I think the other point to make about this motion is that it also seeks to have the Senate dictate to the state of New South Wales what their policies should be. That is the other aspect of this that I object to. I do believe that the people of New South Wales should be able to decide how they use their resources, how they manage their economy, what kind of rules and regulations they put in place for environmental approvals and others. I think it is an important point to make. But, given this motion does try to dictate terms to the New South Wales government, I think it is worth looking at some of what has actually been put in place by the New South Wales coalition government.

When it comes to coal seam gas, there is no doubt that the New South Wales government wants to see things done sustainably, reasonably and using world's-best-practice standards. I think all people in New South Wales, and all Australians, do not want just to see industries completely banned; they want us to be careful, to be cautious, to ensure that we have excellent environmental standards. The former New South Wales Labor government gave out 39 petroleum exploration licences with no oversight and no regard for the environment, no regard for water or the impacts on our best agricultural land. There was no community consultation. The Baird government has taken a different approach. It has a sensible plan to manage coal seam gas and clean up the former Labor government's mess. They are buying back the licences that Labor issued without any consideration of the impact on the community—12 licences have been bought and cancelled—and they have put a freeze on new licences for 12 months. They are taking a very cautious and responsible approach to this issue.

As a result of steps taken by the Baird government, New South Wales now has the toughest CSG regulations in the country. They have put in place a moratorium on CSG exploration in Sydney's drinking water catchment, they have implemented CSG exclusion zones within two kilometres of homes and critical industries, they have mapped more than two million hectares of prime agricultural land and protected it from CSG activities and they have banned the use of BTEX chemicals and evaporation ponds. Importantly, the New South Wales coalition government has appointed a Land and Water Commissioner to assist landowners and oversee CSG exploration. As usual, Labor caused the problem and it is up to the coalition to clean it up. As usual, the Greens are not interested in what is being done—they are simply interested in slogans and grandstanding. Unlike the Greens, the Baird government has done the hard work—it has examined the issue, discussed the issue, developed a policy and dealt with the issue. The Greens would rather just make noise in the Senate—yell and shut down entire industries that employ hundreds of thousands of Australians and that are responsible for tens of billions of dollars of economic activity and exports. The Baird government has been far more sensible than that. The coalition have a different approach from the Greens.

Going back to coal, coal is one of our largest export commodities. We are exporting to places in the world where many people do not have access to electricity. There are billions of people in the world, who the Greens do not care about, who do not have access to electricity. Exporting to those places helps to lift people out of poverty. The Greens are interjecting, but what is it about lifting people out of poverty that they object to so much? It is all very well to sit in a comfortable place with a middle-class existence in Australia and say we are going to shut down the coal industry, we are no longer going to help people out of poverty; we are not just going to put tens of thousands of Australians out of a job but we are going to forget about the hundreds of millions of people in India who do not have access to electricity. We have the opportunity to provide cheap and affordable electricity that will lift people out of poverty. Surely that is something we should be celebrating. Surely we should be proud of being able to assist. The Greens would kill all that. That is their approach to people living in abject poverty around the world. That is the other aspect of this issue that is worth mentioning. As I said at the start, the Greens would have us shut down entire industries—under the Greens approach the ferals would be well and truly in charge.

I turn to the national regulations on CSG. The Commonwealth government is also committed to ensuring strong and appropriate regulations for CSG mining. Through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act the government is able to use the water trigger to assess coal-seam gas and large coal mining developments that are likely to have a significant impact on water resources on a national level. The water trigger was introduced in June 2013, so the protection of water resources was made a matter of national environmental significance. As a result of the introduction, the minister can set appropriate conditions as part of the project approval to ensure any impacts from these projects on a water resource are acceptable. Since 2012 these projects have been referred to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Developments for advice on the likely impacts on water resources. The minister takes this advice into consideration when making a final decision on approval. As at 31 January 2015 the IESC has provided advice in response to 14 requests from government regulators on coal seam gas projects—eight in Queensland, five in New South Wales and one in South Australia. Regional scale assessments of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments across New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria and other research will address key knowledge gaps, provide base line information and inform an integrated understanding of the cumulative impacts that coal seam gas and large coal mining developments have on water related assets. The priority areas of research are hydrology, ecology and chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing.

Research is also being undertaken by the CSIRO to improve the understanding of greenhouse gas emissions from coal seam gas production. The data collected from coal-seam gas activities will inform future updates to Australia's National Greenhouse Gas Inventory and methods used for the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System. Despite bringing in the water trigger, Labor never employed it. Conversely, this government has applied the water trigger to over 50 projects since taking office.

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

You passed legislation to get rid of it.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am not sure the Greens heard what I just said.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Seselja has the right to be heard in silence.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I am always happy if the Greens want to contribute to the debate. If they want to continue to contribute to the debate I am happy for them to, but they did not appear to hear what I just said so I will have to repeat it: Labor, who brought in the water trigger, never used it, they never employed it once. However, the coalition has applied the water trigger to over 50 projects since taking office. The Greens interjected straight away when I mentioned that, but what part of it don't they agree with? What part of that is wrong? What part of that approach don't they support?

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President: the senator is being misleading. In the House of Representatives, the government has passed legislation to get rid of the water trigger. That is on the record. That is their aim.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a debating point.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a debating point. I do not think that it is appropriate for them to spuriously use points of order because they have so badly failed in getting their message across under their leader, Senator Milne. Let me repeat, because there seems to be some confusion: this government has applied the water trigger to over 50 projects since taking office. The Labor Party did not get this policy right. We have come in and taken a sensible and appropriate approach, not one of outright bans—banning the entire coal industry as the Greens are arguing for—but one of appropriate regulation and appropriate protections. That is the sensible approach—not to just kill jobs as the Greens are arguing for with this motion.

The Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development has produced 15 scientific reports informing bioregional assessments and 20 scientific reports on risks to environmental health from chemicals, on ecosystems, on water and on aquifer connectivity. Labor did not publish any of these reports. They preferred to hide the facts from the public in order to preserve their political relationship with the Greens, and the Greens were happy to swallow it. They were happy to swallow that from the Labor Party because it was in their interests—since they formed part of that government. They had no real concern; they were happy to swallow it. They did not seem to be interested in any of this.

We on this side of the chamber have taken a very different approach—a science based approach. We are getting the research done to make sure that, as we proceed, we do so carefully and cautiously. We proceed with a view to growing our economy whilst preserving prime agricultural land and protecting our natural resources. Surely that is the sensible policy option—employing the best scientists from the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia to do the work to ensure we get it right. I know that Minister Hunt takes his responsibilities under the EPBC Act very seriously. That is in stark contrast to what we have seen from those opposite.

In looking at the hypocrisy of the Greens on some of these issues, I think Martin Ferguson, the former Labor Minister for Resources and Energy, said it best:

Their rhetoric is symptomatic of a broader malaise; our increasing inability to listen to, analyse, and properly understand the words and numbers underpinning complex policy.

Slogans should not be a substitute for serious discussion or critical thinking.

That is well said by Martin Ferguson. Slogans should not be a substitute for serious discussion or critical thinking, but that is all we get from the Greens. They want to shut down industries—based on slogans, not based on science.

In conclusion, to support this motion would be to support calls to shut down an industry which indirectly employs around 145,000 Australians. It is one of our largest export industries and is responsible for $60 billion of economic activity. That would be absolute economic vandalism. For all of those reasons, this misguided motion from the Greens should not be supported. (Time expired)

5:11 pm

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When a party comes before this place seeking to shut down an industry, I for one have grave concerns—particularly when we are talking about industries which make an incredible contribution to my home state of Queensland. Properly regulated oil and gas operations are safe and the Australian minerals and oil and gas industries have a strong compliance record. Senator Siewert's motion, spoken on by Senator Milne, makes a number of points that require a response. The motion is obviously timed to coincide with the New South Wales election and to contribute to the anti-science scare campaign currently being waged by inner-city activists.

Coal seam gas is not a well-developed industry in New South Wales. In fact New South Wales imports 95 per cent of its gas from other states. Senator Siewert's call for a ban on such mining in that state would see more CSG development across the border in my home state of Queensland and in South Australia. We always need to make sure we have the right environmental approval processes in place for mining, processing and exporting our resources, including coal seam gas and coal. These approval processes should be driven by science, by thoughtful and logical policymaking and by respectful community dialogue.

It is important to focus on the scientific evidence before us. In my last speech on coal seam gas, approximately two weeks ago, I referred to a report by Mary O'Kane, the New South Wales Chief Scientist and Engineer. She conducted an independent review of coal seam gas activities in New South Wales. That report was released in September of last year and concluded that the risks associated with coal seam gas exploration and production can be managed. With an almost identical result, the Northern Territory's inquiry—recently conducted by Allan Hawke AC—found that the environmental risks associated with some of the more contentious practices can be managed effectively, subject to the creation of a robust regulatory regime. That report was finalised on 28 November last year.

At budget estimates last year, Dr Chris Pigram, the CEO of Geoscience Australia, made comments to the effect that the concerns around the practices employed by the industry are unwarranted and 'they do not represent a problem for the community by and large'.

I would also like to make reference to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development. It was established by the former Labor government as a statutory body under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999—which we call the EPBC Act—in late 2012. The committee consists of eight members with extensive scientific qualifications and expertise in the fields of geology, hydrogeology, hydrology, ecology, eco-toxicology, natural resource management and environment protection.

Under the EPBC Act, the committee has several legislative functions: to provide scientific advice to the Commonwealth environment minister and relevant state ministers on the water related impacts of proposed coal seam gas or large coalmining developments; provide scientific advice to the Commonwealth environment minister on bioregional assessments, including the methodology, research priorities and projects; and publish and disseminate scientific information about the impacts of coal seam gas and large coalmining activities on water resources.

The reports by Mary O'Kane and Allan Hawke are recent, credible and independent. Along with the advice provided by Geoscience Australia and the independent expert scientific committee, I would encourage all senators to make the most of this expert research and educate themselves on this issue.

Turning to the subject of coal: Australia is fortunate to be richly endowed with a world-class supply of coal—a commodity that is essential to modern life. Coal is the world's fuel of choice for electricity, accounting for 41 per cent of all generation, because it is reliable and affordable. Australia has the fourth-largest share of proven coal reserves in the world with 110 years of black coal and 510 years of brown coal. It benefits all Australians through its contribution to exports, wages, investment and tax revenue. It is Australia's comparative advantage in coal together with other mineral and energy resources, including iron ore, that has enabled Australians to sustain the longest period of continuous economic growth in the nation's history.

The Australian coal industry employs about 50,000 people directly and also provides indirect employment for around 150,000 Australians mainly in regional locations across Australia. Australia's coal economy represents 4.2 per cent of gross domestic product or almost $60 billion. Australia's coal industry makes a significant contribution to national, state and local economies through taxes, royalties and other charges.

Coal underpins Australia’s reliable and historically affordable electricity supply. Low-cost, reliable energy has been the cornerstone of Australia’s economic growth and high living standards for several decades. Black and brown coal comprise Australia's principal energy source, providing 75 per cent of our electricity.

There is no solution to global baseload power generation that does not feature a major role for coal. One only need look at the International Energy Agency for some support for that proposition. Coal is very important to baseload generation, and all suggestions that coal will not play a central role in the future are not supported by the International Energy Agency.

Even under the International Energy Agency's new policy scenario, which assumes all government promises on funding renewables and building nuclear power plants are implemented, coal consumption increases by around 17 per cent through to 2035, and there is little change in the global energy mix. Coal remains about 25 per cent or higher of primary energy demand—as it was in 1980 and has been for the past 30 years. This continues to be a 25 per cent part of the energy mix that will grow and, according to the International Energy Agency, by about 40 per cent over the next quarter century. It is important for Australia to be part of that market.

Coal fired power generation has assisted in lifting over 500 million people, principally in China, out of poverty and providing them with higher standards of living. Coal fired power generation heats homes, drives industry and makes life better for billions of people around the world. It is a critical part of Australia’s portfolio of export minerals. Of course we always need to make sure that we have the right environmental approval processes in place for mining and exporting our resources, including coal. We need to make sure that those processes are transparent.

Our coal performs an important function in the global market place. Our coal is better coal and burns cleaner, and is a highly-sought after coal. High-efficiency clean coal technology is important. Coal supports many of Australia’s regional communities and very many good jobs in the mining industry.

Whilst a Commonwealth ban on returning to coal seam gas would be meaningless, since we do not have a role in approving these projects, there is an important role for the Commonwealth to play. The Commonwealth needs to be working with states to, firstly, ensure that regulation in the industry is based on rigorous science, like the science provided by Mary O'Kane and Allan Hawke, rather than knee-jerk reactions; and, secondly, developing a harmonised and best-practice framework for CSG activity.

The federal government presently has environmental responsibility only if a project or activity has the potential to impact on matters of national environmental significance as defined under the EPBC Act and the Water Act.

Australia's national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, was amended in June 2013 by Labor, to provide that water resources are a matter of national environmental significance, in relation to coal seam gas and large coalmining development. This means that coal seam gas and large coalmining developments require federal assessment and approval if they are likely to have a significant impact on a water resource. Proposals that have been assessed by the Commonwealth have only been allowed to proceed after careful consideration of the potential groundwater impacts.

In terms of CSG, on the last occasion that I made a contribution, I acknowledged the concerns that we heard in the Senate inquiry into certain aspects of the Queensland government administration. It is quite true that there were many landholders and their representatives who came before that committee providing evidence about treatment that they had received at the hands of some of the mining companies. I have been on record as saying—and I will say it again today—that, on occasions, those companies have not helped themselves in some of the inconsistent treatment that they have dealt to landowners in my home state of Queensland. One does need to ensure that a proper level of consultation and proper levels of regulation exist.

Nevertheless, global energy markets are being transformed by gas from coal seams, shale and tight gas. The use of CSG as an energy source is longstanding and accounts for 33 per cent of the eastern states' domestic gas production. For example, 95 per cent of gas used in Queensland comes from CSG. CSG powers a number of domestic electric 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: to ensure the appropriate compensation of landholders for the access and use of their land, and to ensure that coal seam gas is exploited on behalf of their citizens, unlocking an important transition fuel, providing a source of employment and export income and generating a long-term revenue source through royalties and rents.

Coal seam gas exploration represents an immense opportunity for Australia, particularly regional Australia. LNG projects in Queensland's CSG-to-LNG industry are worth more than $70 billion and are responsible for almost 30,000 jobs. The policy challenge for the Commonwealth is to ensure more gas production and the best possible environmental protection.

This industry has created good, sustainable jobs, particularly in regional communities, boosted the economy at both the state and federal level and will deliver billions in government revenue. It will lift Australia's export income and provide state and Commonwealth governments with a significant source of revenue. As a cleaner alternative to coal fired power, LNG is an essential part of the global solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provides many jobs and opportunities in regional Australia.

5:25 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The contributions that we have heard from the two previous senators, representing Labor and the coalition, show how enormously out of touch they are with what is happening in Australia today. There is an enormous shift in public understanding and public opinion about how we should look after our farming land, how we should protect our environment, how we should deliver our energy and where we can create jobs. The depth of misunderstanding and misrepresentation that we have heard from the two previous speakers is really breathtaking and once again underlines why this motion is so important. Yet again we are going to see Labor, Liberal and the Nationals voting together in a very backward way on such an important issue.

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's called a democratic majority.

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I acknowledge yet again Senator O'Sullivan from Queensland is here making his interjections in a way that really reinforces how out of touch he is.

Much of this motion is about the situation in New South Wales, which, along with Queensland, is to the forefront of this coal rush that is potentially set to destroy so many areas. It is worth remembering why people are so angry with the Baird Liberal-National government. This is a government which is coming forward with some shocking coal projects. While it was the former Labor government that weakened the planning process, with support from the then coalition opposition, and approved many of the exploration licences for the mines and coal seam gas projects I will deal with, it is now the Baird government that is allowing these mines to go ahead.

It is the Baird government that approved the Shenhua Watermark mine on the Liverpool Plains and the Maules Creek coalmines. Then there is the Wallarah 2 coalmine, where they broke a very clear election promise from 2011, when then Premier Barry O'Farrell had his photo taken, along with a whole number of colleagues, illustrating his opposition to the Wallarah 2 coalmine. But then they broke that promise and gave that mine approval. That one is to proceed. Then there is the Warkworth coalmine, a real monster. This is where Rio Tinto is in action. If it is allowed to go ahead, it will destroy the township of Bulga, but the government have come up with their crazy plan of wanting to move that township.

Everything you look at when it comes to coalmine approvals from the Baird government shows what a damaging track they are on. On top of that, we have the Narrabri Gas Project and fracking just 700 metres from homes in the beautiful Gloucester region. The government are moving so fast because they are under pressure from coal seam gas companies and coalmining companies that want approval very quickly. They can see the world is turning its back on these dangerous fossil fuels. They want to get in quickly before the price of these fossil fuels drops even further.

I said in my opening remarks how out of touch Labor, Liberal and Nationals MPs are. This has been shown in communities that have been impacted by these forms of mining, particularly around the Tamworth-Liverpool Plains area. A poll taken by Lock the Gate Alliance earlier this year showed that 87 per cent of respondents were concerned about the risks of coal seam gas mining, 83 per cent said landholders should have the right to say no to mining and 66 per cent were opposed any coalmines on the Liverpool Plains. Strong opposition is growing around the country. People are understanding what is going on here.

I was fortunate to have the mining portfolio for the Greens when I was in the New South Wales parliament. It was hard going on this issue in the early 2000s. Understandably, people were only just starting to be informed. Awareness was only just starting to build that there were other ways to deliver our energy and other ways to ensure we could have manufacturing based on clean methods. Continuing concern was demonstrated about a week ago, again in the Liverpool Plains area—and it is very relevant to this debate—where more than 700 people came together from 87 communities in the north-west to declare a 'gasfield-free' area. These 87 communities stretched across north-west New South Wales, covering three million hectares—from Tamworth up to Gunnedah, right up to the Queensland border and then west of Walgett. It is very impressive that so many people came together: Indigenous people, farmers, people from Queensland and people from far-flung areas are coming together to demonstrate their deep concern. Why was it done so close to Liverpool Plains? The real worry now is that this China Shenhua mine could go ahead, posing a risk to incredibly rich farming land. If you have not been there, you really should go. I have spent a lot of time in western New South Wales, but the richness of this soil was such a pleasure to see. The productivity of this land is really exceptional, with, in some areas, 40 per cent higher productivity than the average across the country.

One of the farmers who spoke at this gathering was Andrew Pursehouse. His farm would be surrounded by the Chinese owned Shenhua coalmine if were to go ahead. He spoke in ways that everybody should hear. He spelt it out, saying that had been a member of the National Party and that he had voted for the National Party, for Mr Anderson, in the 2011 state election. He said that this time he would be voting for the Independent candidate, Peter Draper. These are his words:

The Nationals are asleep at the wheel and not prepared to stand up against their Liberal colleagues to represent their constituents.

Those words ring loud around this chamber, because that is what we see all the time. Australia would be such a healthier democracy if the Nationals had the courage to break ranks with their Liberal colleagues and to stand up in this place for what they try and make out to farmers and their constituents in rural areas. The inconsistency is massive. There is another wonderful quote here from Mr Andrew Pursehouse, when he says:

As a farmer, we’re not against mining, it’s just in the wrong spot. You just don’t put a toilet in the middle of your best farming country.

So what is happening on the Liverpool Plains? The pressure is really on. BHP Billiton is looking to mine just 10 kilometres from the Shenhua mine. If it goes ahead, they would look to take out 500 million tonnes of coal. Santos has gas exploration across the whole of the Liverpool Plains flood plain. That is such a massive area. China Shenhua has its exploration across 190 square kilometres of this prime agricultural land and the ridges where the valuable water sources feed into.

Just last week I was at Tambar Springs, also on the Liverpool Plains. I have been there many times, listening to the farmers and hearing about their concerns, which are extensive. The pressure that these people are under, when they just want to get on and do their job in this wonderful area—really, you should just not sacrifice productive farming land. Farming land, under no circumstances, should be mined or developed on. Where the world is now, we cannot afford that. It was a very informative trip. When I talked to people during my days there, the issue of ICAC came up again. My colleague Senator Christine Milne spoke in great detail in a very important contribution on this issue. I would again like to share with senators a very important finding of the ICAC report Reducing the opportunities and incentives for corruption in the state's management of coal resources. While this is referring to what happened under the former Labor government, it should be seen as a warning bell for what is happening now. The report stated:

In preparing this report, the question facing the Commission was not simply how the state’s policy and regulatory framework could allow coal Els—

exploration licences—

of great value to be corruptly provided to favoured recipients, but how it could have been so easy to do so. It is inconceivable that in any other portfolio area of government such value could be corruptly transferred from the state to favoured individuals with such relative ease.

There it is—'how it could have been so easy to do so'. We are talking about corruption on a grand scale here. How was it so easy? My concern, shared by many of the people that I meet when I work in western New South Wales, is that that continues.

Because it is so hard to find out what is going on now, some of the recent history in relation to the Liverpool Plains is very relevant. It was back in the mid-2000s when the now disgraced, and found to be corrupt, former mining minister Ian Macdonald was riding high in the then Labor government. How he pulled this off, we still do not know. He comes up with this: getting huge payouts for exploration licences from coal companies. Remember, we are just talking about exploration here. Accordingly, I remember Ian Macdonald so often answering my questions that I would ask in the New South Wales upper house: 'It's just exploration; there's no guarantee that they will be granted full rights to mine; we've got a robust process.' He would always be making those grand statements. But what he did was get huge amounts of money, hundreds of millions of dollars out of BHP Billiton and out of China Shenhua just for exploring. My office found at the time that the highest fee for an exploration licence prior to what Mr Macdonald pulled off had been $10 million. But here we had BHP Billiton paying $125 million for an exploration licence at Caroona on the Liverpool Plains, and China Shenhua paying $300 million. That certainly suggested why Mr Macdonald got away with so much—because he found this way to pull in big money for the then New South Wales Labor government.

But what was the deal done to achieve that? These companies did not give so much money—and we found out that China Shenhua actually handed over more money—without there being some arrangements. What we found was that China Shenhua also guaranteed they would invest $170 million for transport infrastructure and an additional $200 million if the mining lease was eventually granted. That is a huge amount of money when supposedly China Shenhua was not guaranteed that it was going to get a coalmine.

What you saw then was how China Shenhua conducts itself once the exploration starts. It really made a fuss of the planning process that we have in New South Wales for coal mining. Remember the planning process that we have was signed off by the joint vote of Liberal, Labor and Nationals solidly voting time and time again to weaken the laws around mining and planning in New South Wales.

Why I say it is a farce is because so quickly was China Shenhua out there taking action that to any casual observer, particularly the people of the Liverpool Plains—every time I am there, these are the stories they relate—China Shenhua was absolutely confident that they had it in the bag, that exploration was just the first stage of full-scale approval. China Shenhua was buying up huge amounts of prime agricultural land, buying up water licences. As we know, China Shenhua is well known for operating its own railways, ports and power plants. I am not sure where the money is coming from.

Again it was told to me, and I saw some of it when I was there recently, that so much of this upgrade of infrastructure around Gunnedah and those railway lines is proceeding. The Greens are great backers of public transport. But if money has already been put in by China Shenhua, it again raises real concerns: Why are they pushing ahead in putting in hundreds of million dollars when they have not got final approval for the mine?

We then need to look at Mr Macdonald's record. What was agreed to when all this money was handed over? He made five work related trips to China: one in 2005, one in 2007 and three between January 2008 and July 2009. There are very few details about what happened at that time. Local member Barnaby Joyce is regularly out there talking up his commitment to this area. But what was the agreement after making all those trips?

The local talk is that there were agreements around fast tracking the process, that they would be free to buy up farmland, free to buy water licences. If push comes to shove and they really get locked down, where they will be able to mine is on the ridges surrounding this beautiful flood plain of rich agricultural land. There are so many unanswered questions that we should get to the bottom of.

I do congratulate former lower House member, Tony Windsor, for the work that he has done in this area. What we see coming into this New South Wales state election is that clearly the Baird government have been under pressure because it looked like a decision could be made on China Shenhua literally on the eve of the election. What did the federal environment minister, Mr Hunt, do? He stepped in with the statement that he was going to stop the clock on the project and that they would use the water trigger there.

Tony Windsor set out some very clear questions that this government should answer on how it is conducting this water trigger. One of the big ones, something that the Greens call for regularly and that the community groups are calling for, is that when you start examining the impact of a mine in an area, you need to look at the cumulative impacts and clearly that is essential on the Liverpool Plains. In my opening remarks, I talked about the pressure this area is under from Santos, from BHP Billiton, from China Shenhua. You cannot just look at one mine. So is that part of how they are conducting themselves?

Mr Windsor also asked what exactly is Mr Hunt asking the independent expert scientific committee to review? Considering that under the water trigger, the significance of an action has to be considered with other developments past, present and the foreseeable future, will they be looking at the cumulative impacts? These things need to go hand-in-hand together. Another question Mr Windsor asked was: will the IESC carry out the bioregional assessment of the impact of the proposed mine on the Namoi catchment as originally discussed? Those questions are on the public record and this government should be answering them.

I also want to pay tribute to my colleague in the New South Wales state parliament, Jeremy Buckingham, who has revealed some interesting developments with Labor just recently where they did actually return $2,200 of money given to the Labor Party to Santos. But what has not been returned is $90,000 given to federal Labor. As Mr Buckingham has pointed out, what a contradiction. He has called on that money to be returned, and I know that some of the locals are saying that this is money that should be put to good use.

We are talking about massive donations here. Since 1998 the Labor Party has received about $4 million in donations from the resource and energy sector and the Liberal and National parties have received about $9.5 million from the resource sector. These figures are from the past 15 years. Santos alone has donated $1.3 million and AGL over half a million dollars. And in 2013-14, donations from mining companies to the federal coalition increased by 350 per cent on the previous year.

That was in an election year, but it is significant that such a huge jump occurred. It goes to the point that Senator Christine Milne made: what is the link here between the companies giving the money and the political party that gains office, and how do they weaken the laws to make it easier for these companies to make a profit? This motion should be supported; it goes to the very heart of the type of Australia that we need to build—free of corruption and with clean energy, plentiful jobs and clean manufacturing.

5:45 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a great honour to stand up in unity with so many other senators in this chamber to condemn the economic lunacy of the Greens. These guys are economic lunatics when it comes to this issue. It is not about the Liverpool Plains, this motion; this motion says clearly that the Greens party:

… calls on all parties contesting the New South Wales state election to commit to a ban on coal and coal seam gas mining.

To ban coal mining in New South Wales! That would bankrupt the state of New South Wales and it would bankrupt this country, but the Greens do not care because they know nothing about economics.

You know that you should not believe anything they say on this issue, because this is a case where you should not do as they do; just do as they say. The Greens, I am sure, like the rest of us, get planes to come here. I am sure I have seen Greens senators turn up to this place in cars—in cars! And I do not think that they are solar-panel-powered cars! I do not think that we have those in the COMCAR fleet.

Today we heard in question time that the Greens referred to a road being invested in in Victoria, in Melbourne, as a 'polluting' road. I did not realise that roads could pollute, but apparently they can pollute. Everything pollutes, according to the Greens. So, every time we are on a road we pollute. Why do the Greens actually get in a car and come to this place? Why do they use cars to come to this place, Senator Nash?

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Assistant Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

That's right!

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not quite understand it. If they are polluting when doing that, why do they not come here by some other means?

Now, I realise that we do not necessarily have the facilities or infrastructure in this place to provide for alternative modes of transport for the Greens. For example, I have never seen—and maybe Senator O'Sullivan can correct me, because I know he is a keen horseman—hitching posts at the front of the Senate chamber. So maybe the Greens would like to ride their horses into the chamber one morning—instead of getting into their cars, they would love to ride their horses. But we do not have any hitching posts. I am sure this corner of the chamber, the Nationals—and I have not taken this to our party room—would support a motion for some hitching posts to be installed at the front of the Senate chamber so that we can all ride our horses to the Senate and we do not have to rely on the evil fossil fuels that we all do today.

The Greens do want to take us back to the dark ages. They do not believe in modern society—at least, they talk about not believing in modern society. They are happy to live with the benefits of it, but they do not believe in steel, because that is made from coal; they do not believe in cars, because they are powered by petrol; and they do not believe in modern agriculture, because modern agriculture is actually powered by fossil fuels. I will get to that as well.

The other thing that is interesting about this motion is that it actually calls for us to ban coal mining. I remember during the last federal election campaign that the Greens had all these spending proposals. They wanted to build a fast rail from Brisbane to Melbourne—that is about $100 billion—and they wanted to introduce free dental care—that is another few billion dollars. All their promises added up to hundreds of billions of dollars. And when they were asked—as, of course, they would be by a forensic media—'How are you going to pay for all of those commitments? How are you going to pay for all of those promises?' do you know what they said? Their stock standard response was, 'We're going to put in place a mining tax. We are going to put in a mining tax to fund the fast rail from Brisbane to Melbourne. We are going to put in a mining tax to fund all these multibillion dollar promises.'

I do not know how a mining tax works when you do not have a coal-mining industry. How is that going to raise any money, if they want to ban the coal-mining industry but they are going to put on a mining tax to fund all their promises? It does not add up! Something is not quite right there. If you believe you are going to fund everything from a mining tax then you must believe that you want to continue some form of mining which is going to make money to pay the tax.

The Greens always want to talk about the future, because they know that they can confuse people about the future. The future, of course, is undetermined, so they talk about what we will have in the future. I have heard Senator Rhiannon, who just contributed to this debate, say before that we could be 100 per cent renewable by 2020 in Sydney. One hundred per cent renewable! I do not know what we are going to do when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow, but we can be 100 per cent renewable. But you cannot argue about the past. The past is the fact of the matter and you cannot argue about what has happened in the last 30 years across the globe. And in the last 30 years across the globe, we have used 40 per cent more oil than in 1980—so 35 years, actually; we have used 107 per cent more coal—we have more than doubled our use of coal in the global economy; and we have used 131 per cent more natural gas. Those are all fossil fuels and all fantastic technologies that have pulled—as Senator Ketter said before, and I fully support his comments—hundreds of millions of people out of poverty across our globe.

There are still hundreds of millions of people without access to electricity—not any electricity; not dearer electricity, or cheaper electricity or some electricity—no electricity. There are about 300 million people in India who do not have access to any electricity. In Central Queensland we had a tropical cyclone go through recently—through Yeppoon and Rockhampton. Many of us were without power for a week or more. My house was out of power for six days. I tell you what: people understood what it was like not to have electricity. People understood that we have probably become a bit soft these days—after six days people were at their wits end in not having air conditioning, in not being able to refrigerate food easily or even in not being able to cook food at all if they did not have gas or some other source of energy.

People understood that actually they did not want to go back to the dark ages. It is actually a fantastic thing that people have access to cheap electricity to warm their homes for their families or to cool them in hotter areas. That is a great thing; it is a great advancement for human beings all around the world, and the only way we maintain that is through access to cheap and affordable electricity which, right now, means fossil fuels. You cannot get away from the fact that if you want to have access to cheap, permanent, consistent electricity, across 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, you need to use fossil fuels. It is a basic scientific fact right now. I say, 'Let's listen to the science and support those industries that provide those great benefits to the whole globe.'

It is not just about access to cheaper electricity for people to turn on their lights and their air-conditioners and power their cars; it is actually also to have food as well. The Greens love to talk about how the black soil plains look fantastic and it is fantastic to see a wheat crop growing when you drive past it on your way back to Sydney, but they never actually understand how this stuff works, how it is grown and how people actually turned what is a barren, sometimes treed area of land into something that produces food for millions of people around the world. We produce enough food to feed 60 million people around the globe. How do we do that? We do that by converting energy into food. That is all farmers do. They take energy that is in the soil, in the ground and in organic matter and turn that into products that human beings can eat, whether that is through a cow that can eat grass and turn that into the protein or whether it is nitrogen being turned into a wheat crop. It is all farmers do.

This takes a lot of hard work, because when you look at modern food production—the fact that we can feed a lot of people around the world very easily today, many more than we could hundred years ago—a lot of energy goes into it. There was a study done in the United States—I have never been able to find one for Australian cropping—where someone showed that it takes actually 100 kilograms of oil equivalent to produce just one tonne of wheat. That is taking into account all of the fertiliser, tractors, diesel that is used and electricity to irrigate a hectare of land. It is 100 kilograms of oil equivalent of power. That is their metric. We tend to use the actual metric rather than imperial measures. If you convert that to our measures, it is four gigajoules of power for one tonne of wheat.

What does that mean in cost terms? Urea is just basically taking nitrogen out of the air, which is all around us; more than 70 per cent of the air around us today is nitrogen. Nitrogen is compressed through the basic technology into urea, which can be used—as it is now in a physical form of nitrogen—to replenish land and to then grow crops, grass or whatever you want to grow. It costs about $5 to $10 a gigajoule to convert nitrogen into urea. The diesel used for tractors, if you convert petrol prices to gigajoule terms, is about $30 per gigajoule. Irrigation, which often uses diesel powered or sometimes networked electricity, is about $60 a gigajoule.

All up, when you add all of those things together and their relative uses in the production of a wheat crop, it costs around $80 a tonne in energy inputs for one tonne of wheat. Eighty dollars a tonne is what our wheat is made up of. The cereal we eat costs about $80 a tonne to produce. I just checked the actual wheat price itself before I came in here and it is about US$250 a tonne, which is a little bit more in Australian-dollar terms these days. Still, somewhere around a third or a quarter to a third of the price of wheat—the final value of wheat after it leaves the farm—is embodied in energy. If we do not have access to cheap energy, we will not have access to cheap food and we will not be able to feed people.

All of these farmers that the Greens pretend to represent will not be able to make a profit because we will be producing wheat at a much higher cost. We will not be able to sell at the world price, because we export most of our wheat, and they will be out of a job. They will be out of a job, they will be off their farm and they will not be able to employ all the people they do when they produce food for our nation. But the Greens think that it will all be okay because we will not use natural gas to make urea any more, we will not use diesel to power our tractors and we will use wind and solar for everything. We will use wind and solar for everything we do!

The Greens always like to present wind as some form of virgin, absolutely pure and clean form of energy. But when you drive past a wind turbine next time, just think about how much steel has to be made and how much concrete has to be manufactured to make a wind turbine. What makes steel? It is coke, coal and iron ore. In this motion, the Greens want to ban coalmining. You will not be able to make steel anymore. If we ban coalmining, there will be no more steel and there will be no more wind turbines. Even if you did allow some steel production still to occur in some developing country somewhere, a wind turbine takes around 460 tonnes of steel to make. One wind turbine is 460 tonnes of steel—sorry, that is wrong. I misread my notes. Each megawatt of wind power produced takes around 640 tonnes of steel. Each megawatt of wind power takes around 870 cubic metres of concrete as well as an input into the production of that megawatt of power.

Let's compare that to natural gas: natural gas takes 27 cubic metres of concrete and 3.3 tonnes of steel. Wind is 460 tonnes of steel per megawatt; natural gas is 3.3 tonnes of steel. Wind is 870 cubic metres of concrete; natural gas is 27 cubic metres of concrete. Which one is more environmentally friendly? Which one will ultimately use less resources and make less of an environmental impact on our manufacturing processes and our mining processes as well, which are needed to make steel?

Under the Greens' policy and the Labor Party's policy at the moment, they want us to get to a renewable energy target which is basically unachievable. We need around another 3,860 megawatts of wind to be installed by 2020 to do it. That will take, on those sums that I read out before, 1.8 million tonnes of steel. That is enough steel to build 35 aircraft carriers. We would be using the same amount of steel before 2020 in wind turbines as to actually manufacture 35 aircraft carriers. I think I know which one of those options would be of more use to Australia. The Greens do not care about all the facts in this debate. That is because they are on an emotional campaign to touch into people's dreams of having not to rely on dirty mining or the unfortunate things we have to do, but still maintain our standard of living—which is an absolute impossibility.

We have heard all of this before in regional Australia. I want to finish by quoting from a letter to The Land today, which points out that around 30 years ago the Greens ran a campaign in exactly the same area we talking about—the Liverpool Plains in Gunnedah—to ban the use of crop dusting and aerial spraying for cotton and other crops. They wanted to ban that. This letter from Geoff Swain at Carroll rightfully points out that: 'Some people have very short memories. Do they not recall that a former state government and the Greens, with the tacit approval of the then independent member for Tamworth, combined to lock up the Pilliga.' That is a forest up there. He said, 'Have they forgotten the devastation caused to the timber industry? How about the native vegetation laws, which have impacted so heavily on farmers in New South Wales?'

That is exactly right, because the Greens in this debate do not care about the people who rely on the mining sector to provide their jobs, people who rely on the timber sector to provide jobs and people who would not have a lot of other options otherwise. They only care about their votes in the inner city, which are mainly voters who rely on massive amounts of fossil fuels to power their lifestyles and continue their comfortable livelihoods.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time for the debate has expired.