Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 May 2016


Select Committee on Unconventional Gas Mining; Report

6:34 pm

Photo of Glenn LazarusGlenn Lazarus (Queensland, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I present an interim report of the Senate Select Committee on Unconventional Gas Mining, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

One of the first issues I became aware of as a Queensland senator was the issue of CSG mining and the plight of Queensland families living with the scourge of this foul industry.

Over the last 18 months I have travelled throughout Queensland and other areas of the country affected by CSG mining.

I have seen firsthand the devastation this industry is having on people's lives, their health, their families, their livelihoods, the environment, water, livestock and pets, farms, local businesses and rural and regional communities.

I have met and become friends with Queensland families living with the hell of these gasfields.

I promised them that in my time as a senator I would do everything I could to publicise their plight—to make people aware of how our governments and the resource sector are allowing our people to be completely and utterly decimated by CSG mining.

It is not until you get out to the gasfields that you fully understand what is happening to our people.

They have no rights. They have no rights whatsoever.

Our people cannot say no to mining companies. They are not allowed—and, if they try, they are bullied, harassed, intimidated and threatened and told that they will be taken to the land court if they do not submit to the wishes of the mining company.

In the year 2016, in an age where we are supposed to have basic human rights, governments are allowing mining companies to simply come onto people's land, force them into land access agreements and commence mining on their land.

And what does CSG mining do to their land?

It depletes their land of water, contaminates and poisons what water is left—and completely erodes the value and useability of the land.

The toxic and harmful chemicals used in CSG mining cause health and medical issues.

Landholders not only have no right to say no to mining on their land—they become ill.

Families, including children, living in the Queensland gas fields are encountering nosebleeds, headaches, skin complaints, respiratory issues, heart issues and other medical problems.

Even more concerning, cancer clusters are now starting to appear.

When Queenslanders living in the Chinchilla gas fields go the doctor or a local hospital with medical issues, they are turned away.

They are told that because their health issue is a CSG health related issue they have to call 13 HEALTH.

When they do call 13 HEALTH, they are told to go to a doctor or hospital and the merry-go-round just continues on.

I believe what governments are allowing to happen to the people of Australia living with CSG mining is a form of genocide.

I believe because resource companies are paying political parties so much money in donations that governments are turning a blind eye to the damage being done to our people.

So it will come as no surprise to everyone that I, as the chair of this Senate inquiry, have to submit my own set of recommendations because the major parties including the Nationals—who have hung people of the land out to dry—are compromised due to the power and influence of the mining donors.

My list of recommendations is expansive, but most importantly they are designed to shed light on the injustice that is occurring in our own country, on the filthy corruption that is taking place across governments and the resource sector as both sectors collude to protect and take care of themselves, and on the urgent need for action to be taken to bring people to account.

I believe everyone involved in this filthy business should be held to account for what they are doing to the people and the environment.

Every politician and resource company executive in this country who has defended and stood up for CSG mining should be forced to drink the water and shower in the contaminated water that Queensland families are being forced to live with—for the rest of their lives.

I heard stories during the inquiry of CSG mining companies forcing subcontracting businesses to bury contaminated materials on Queensland family's land—to avoid the expense of treating the toxic products off site.

I heard stories of workers who had died and been severely injured while working for ruthless CSG mining companies—due to the companies cutting corners and putting profits before people and workers.

The challenge our country has in front of us is that the resource sector is donating to the major parties.

It is a powerful sector and it is a big sector.

But I do not underestimate the power of the people. If enough people vote for Independents and microparties in the coming election and future elections, we can bring about some change.

I call on every Australian—regardless of how you vote in the lower house, make sure you vote for the crossbenchers and microparties in the Senate.

Someone has to keep the majors accountable.

Because as we have seen, if no-one is holding them to account, they will continue to engage in and attempt to get away with murder.

In closing I would like to pay my respects to George Bender.

I table the committee's documents and my documents—in honour of George Bender.

He did not die in vain.

I would also like to thank Shay Dougall, the Nothdurfts, the Benders, Joe Hill, Anne Kennedy and many others who have opened up their hearts and their families to me to show me how CSG is impacting their lives.

While I have breath in me, I will keep fighting for you and everyone impacted by CSG mining.

Unfortunately, due to the imminent election, this report is an interim report and does not include a lot of information gathered in the NT.

But I hope it will assist the people of the NT to fight and fight like hell to stop the unconventional gas industry getting a foothold.

Daniel Tapp—keep fighting, mate.

To the staff of the committee, Toni Matulick and your team—you proved to be the most professional, considerate, helpful and efficient people I have dealt with and I sincerely thank you for your support.

To my committee members—I thank you.

While I appreciate you do not share my views and my passion to help people affected by CSG—I should say that certainly Senator Waters does support my passion for this issue—I am grateful for you at least giving me quorum to conduct the public hearings.

Without the hearings people would not have a voice.

I commend this report to the Senate.

6:41 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have looked at this report. I do not think there is a great deal of merit in it. But what has attracted me to speak—and I am only going to speak very quickly because I know there is a lot of business to occur tonight, and there is not much time left—is that I just dislike the way that the previous speaker continuously attacks the Labor Party and the Liberal Party for accepting donations from miners and then suggests that that is why we come to certain conclusions here.

I just remind the Senate that the chairman of the committee was elected to this parliament on the money of Mr Clive Palmer, and that money of Mr Clive Palmer comes from the mining industry. It comes from the mining industry.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You have a point of order, Senator Lazarus?

Photo of Glenn LazarusGlenn Lazarus (Queensland, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

What has this got to do with the committee and—

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Do you have a point of order?

Photo of Glenn LazarusGlenn Lazarus (Queensland, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, relevance. What has Clive Palmer got to do with this—and the fact that I used to be a part of Palmer United?

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Just let me seek some advice, please.

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: I clearly heard Senator Macdonald impugn the character of another senator in this chamber by alleging corruption, money, bribery.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Just on the point of order, since we are discussing it—

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, Senator Macdonald, on the point of order?

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The chairman, as part of his speech, said that the reason why Liberal and Labor people opposed his recommendations was that they accepted money from the mining industry. I am simply pointing out that the chairman—and, if this is impugning, I cannot understand this—was elected on the money of Mr Clive Palmer. That is an indisputable fact. Mr Palmer is an iron miner. He is a miner. And Senator Lazarus—

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Macdonald, resume your seat.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, sorry.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no point of order; it is a debating point. Continue, Senator Macdonald.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. For Senator Lazarus to accuse the Labor and Liberal parties of having a view on a report because they allegedly got donations from a mining company is the height of hypocrisy when the speaker himself was elected not only on the money of the iron ore industry, which Mr Palmer was involved in, but on the funds from the Queensland nickel industry workers in Townsville. If Senator Lazarus and Senator Lambie had any decency they would refund, to those workers, the money that was hived out of QNI into the Palmer United Party to get him and Senator Lambie elected.

6:44 pm

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

I will be very brief, because I understand there are a number of reports to be tabled.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There are.

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

We Greens were really proud to support the establishment of this select committee into unconventional gas and, indeed, to expand its terms of reference so that it did look at shale and tight gas as well as coal seam gas, thus giving a platform and an ability to consider those issues right across the nation. We support the recommendations in the report and are proud that many of those recommendations endorse Greens bills that we have had before this parliament for many years, including bills to give landholders the right to know, bills to ban fracking and bills to ban donations from fossil fuel companies to political parties.

We will continue to stand with the community and listen to the science about the dangers of coals seam gas, shale gas and tight gas. It is an unnecessary energy source when we have clean-energy alternatives that do not threaten our land, our water, our climate or our communities. This is a big election coming up, and people have a choice between the big parties—who are in bed with the mining and gas companies—or parties like the Greens and other small parties who are, at least, listening to the concerns of the community and standing up to protect the environment.

6:46 pm

Photo of Nova PerisNova Peris (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak on the tabling of the interim report from the inquiry into unconventional gas mining. This was an extremely important committee and report for the future of the Northern Territory and my constituents. It marks an important collection of research and testimony that will be essential for the way we approach the issue of unconventional gas mining going into the future.

The Northern Territory is a crossroad. The Northern Territory is one of the most pristine environments in the world. Its environment derives millions of tourism dollars for the territory's economy. It is sacred to thousands of Aboriginal Territorians, and the land and sea are used for everything from the live cattle trade to our recreational fishermen. This is why the issue of hydraulic fracturing is such an important issue for all Territorians. This is not just a green issue. It is not just a resource issue. It is an issue that affects all Territorians.

I have heard from hundreds of Territorians about the issue of hydraulic fracturing. Pastoralists, commercial and recreational fishermen, tourism operators, traditional owners, and everyday people are all extremely concerned about the effect, of unconventional gas mining, on the Northern Territory environment. This inquiry was about seeking input from the industry, legal and environmental experts, and the general public about the best way to protect the territory, environment and its industries.

We heard from the Environmental Defenders Office, a legal organisation. They testified and agreed that the current regulation in the Northern Territory is not adequate and does not have the ability to protect the territory's environment against the effects of hydraulic fracturing. The Amateur Fishermen's' Association of the Northern Territory made a submission to the inquiry, displaying extreme concern at the prospect of fracking taking place in the Northern Territory. The CEO said:

AFANT is concerned about the impact of unconventional gas mining including coal seam gas (CSG) and shale gas mining on the groundwater and surface water environment of the NT as any negative environmental consequences may directly translate to irreversible damage of our iconic Top End rivers and valuable fisheries.

The committee also heard from pastoralist Daniel Tapp, who owns Big River Station, near Katherine. He said that the issue of fracking is a life or death issue. He said:

We've got a real strong food industry up here, potentially the food bowl of the north, and this puts it all at risk, whether it's at risk by contamination or simply by depletion. Our aquifers have been stretched to their limits already.

So it is clear that this is a big issue, which is why the Northern Territory Labor Party has committed to an indefinite moratorium on fracking if they are elected later this year. This is a policy I am extremely proud of, and I applaud opposition leader Michael Gunner for adopting this stance.

In closing, I thank Senator Lazarus for chairing this inquiry and I particularly thank the inquiry for coming to Darwin for this hearing. It was valuable for all Territorians to be able to have their say on this issue, particularly in an election year. I also thank those who submitted to the inquiry. It was a terrific opportunity to sit and listen to Territorians voice their concerns. It took place in Darwin only a few weeks ago. I look forward to seeing the final report.

Debate interrupted.