Thursday, 15 June 2017
Environment and Infrastructure Legislation Amendment (Stop Adani) Bill 2017
With the jubilation of us succeeding in having a Greens bill passed, you will forgive us for the short delay. I rise with pleasure to speak on the Environment and Infrastructure Legislation Amendment (Stop Adani) Bill 2017, which has been introduced by the Greens, which hopefully passes like the last bill did. This bill is an important bill because it does two things. It would insert into the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility Act a test that says that we need to check a person's corporate environmental history to see if they are in fact a fit and proper person to be receiving taxpayer money. You might think that, for a $5 billion slush fund, there would already be such a test in the act and that we would already check whether someone was a fit and proper corporate person to receive free concessional mates rates loans using taxpayer money, but, unbelievably, there is no such test in the NAIF Act at the moment. So this bill would insert such a test.
The second aspect of this bill would be to require, under our environmental laws, a review of the approvals already given to the Adani group of companies for their Carmichael mine. The reason for this is the appalling track record of environmental breaches and also of allegations of fraud, corruption, money laundering and the use of tax havens which has come to light since those approvals have been issued. This bill would not only clarify that the environmental history of someone who wants to get environmental approval needs to be looked at before approval is given; it would also specifically trigger a review of the Adani approvals already issued, supported by both sides of politics, to take into account the litany of dodgy practices that has come to light since those approvals have been issued. So this bill would make sure that the Australian government cannot simply hand out $1 billion to Adani without actually checking whether they are a suitable person—
and ensure that investigations against members of the Adani corporate group for fraud, for money laundering, for tax minimisation and for corruption would be undertaken and that there would be mandatory consultation with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, ASIC, and with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. This is a crucial bill because it goes to the integrity of our approval system and it goes to the level of scrutiny that the government undertakes when giving out taxpayer dollars.
This bill is also an important next step in the campaign to stop Adani opening up the world's largest coalmine right when we have just lost half of the coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef, in the largest bleaching, with the highest mortality, that the reef has ever seen in its ancient history. It is really clear to us, on examination by many other experts, including lawyers from Environment Justice Australia, that this company is a dodgy company pushing an environmentally and economically destructive project. The Adani mine is the best example of the way in which the big parties—both of them, sadly—are working for big corporations rather than for citizens.
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
Australians know that our political system is broken and that our economic system is rigged against everyday people, and that same system lets greedy bankers rip off everyday people with the full protection of politicians.
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
Mr Acting Deputy President, I am so over the interjections by Senator Ian Macdonald, who does this routinely when I am on my feet and when other female senators are on their feet. I ask you to call him to order and, if he will not desist, I ask you to eject him from the chamber. I have had six years of Senator Macdonald and I have had enough.
Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. As I was saying, this is the same system that is stacked against everyday citizens and it has seen Adani receive unlimited groundwater from the Queensland state Labor government. Ninety per cent of our state is in drought and this multinational company is now allowed to have free unlimited groundwater thanks to—
Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President, for enforcing the rules. As we know, this system that lets property developers steamroll over local residents is the same system where it looks like $1 billion in public money will be handed over to this multinational mining company. This, of course, is the same system that lets political donations influence policy outcomes and locks out the community. Adani, the banks, the insurance companies and the big end of town, who have made the donations and got the well-paid lobbyists and well-connected former politicians, are all part of this system.
On the other side, we have people power and this growing and broadening campaign to stop the world's largest coalmine being facilitated with public money, handouts, free groundwater and a royalties holiday of almost one-quarter of a billion dollars. The people power against this perfect example of how the system works for vested corporate interests is growing, and I am confident that we will succeed because not only is the global coal market diminishing—we have seen the price now in such decline that economic commentators are calling it structural decline—but we have just seen the death of half of the Great Barrier Reef. So it is clear that the economics of this project will not stack up. That is why the company has got its hand out for a $1 billion mates rates loan from the federal taxpayer.
It is clear that the environmentals of this project would be absolutely disastrous not only for our reef but for our broader environment and for our very way of life. We have already seen the havoc that extreme weather events wreak upon all of our states, and in particular Queensland with more intense cyclones. We have seen the ravage of bushfires become more intense and more frequent around the country. We cannot go sleepwalking into climate change any longer. We know the impacts that it is having. We know what is coming down the line if we continue to fuel this dangerous and systemic problem.
Yet we have both sides of politics, who have received $3.7 million in donations from fossil fuel companies over the last 10 years—including from the Adani group of companies—championing this enormous coalmine right when the rest of the world is taking climate change seriously, pledging to cut emissions and making that transition to clean renewable energy, which not only keeps the lights on but actually generates more jobs. This is why I fail to see the logic of both big parties backing this project when we have so many more clean, long-lasting, job-creating opportunities in clean energy not just nationally but in Queensland, and not just in Queensland but in the very region where this mine is proposed. In the pipeline of projects that are funded already, and are rolling out as we speak, are 3,200 jobs. They are in large-scale wind and solar in the region where the big parties would support Adani opening up the largest coalmine. This coalmine will not generate the 10,000 jobs that the company initially bragged about. They had to eat their own words and say, 'In fact, no, it will only be 1,464 jobs.' So double the number of jobs can be created in clean energy projects in that very same region of Queensland that actually have funding and that are going to happen and are going to proceed. So why are both of the big parties still wanting to throw federal taxpayer money behind such a destructive project? Well, it is the donations, isn't it? There is no other reason for it. The $3.7 million of donations from the fossil fuel sector, including from the Adani companies, to both sides of politics must be what is driving this decision—because there is no other good reason that they would back this project.
It is a climate-destroying project that does not generate anywhere near the number of jobs that clean energy does and it has black lung disease associated with the jobs that it may or may not generate. We have seen in Queensland in the last couple of years the resurgence of pneumoconiosis, black lung disease, which is an extremely dangerous disease. I was at a briefing by the Lung Foundation Australia that perhaps Senator Macdonald, rather than chortling, should have been at to increase his awareness of this pernicious disease. It is atrocious that we are abrogating our occupational health and safety duties to our workers—our right to keep these workers safe at work—and sending them into coalmines without appropriate protection and dust suppression techniques. These are toxic, dirty jobs that are hurting the health of workers. They are jobs that are already being shed as the industry transforms and as global economics puts coal in the waste bin of history and transitions to clean, green, sustainable and long-lasting energy. Again, there can be no reason why this project is receiving the support that it is from both of the big parties except for the donations and a system that lets vested interests pay money and get the outcomes that they want.
But what I want to particularly focus on today is the reason that this bill is so important. This bill would say, 'Let's have a look at the corporate environmental history and the corporate tax history of companies before we give them public money.' This is an eminently reasonable position and it is one that I hope will receive support from both sides of this chamber. What I will do now is go through the litany of examples of highly inappropriate corporate conduct by the Adani Group of companies and ask both sides of politics: do you really want to give this company a billion dollars in a mates rates concessional loan, after the Queensland government has just given them free groundwater and a quarter of a billion dollars of a royalty holiday on the coal that they will dig out which, when burned, will worsen the climate for all of us and probably write the death warrant of the Great Barrier Reef?
The list is long, so I will use my time to read it into the record. In August 2016, the Adani Group was fined nearly $1 million in India's specialised environment court for its role in chartering an unseaworthy ship to transport coal. That was the sinking of a coal ship in Indian waters, for which they were fined. The Indian government's Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, or DRI, is currently investigating a number of the Adani Group entities, including Adani Enterprises Ltd, which is the ultimate holding company of the Adani Mining group—the proponents of the Carmichael mine—for illegally overvaluing imports of coal and capital equipment in order to siphon funds offshore, a practice that creates what is called 'black money'. There are now investigations into fraud and trade based money-laundering. There are two separate investigations into allegations of trade based money-laundering by the Adani companies. The first investigation is into the fraudulent invoicing of coal imports and the other is into a scam involving false invoicing for capital equipment imports.
The list goes on. In January 2016, the National Green Tribunal fined Adani Hazira Port Private Ltd, which is a subsidiary of one of the Adani companies, almost $5 million for undertaking development works at a port in Hajira without an environmental permit. The tribunal found that those works destroyed mangroves and impeded the fishing activities of local communities by interfering with their access to the river and the ocean. So they were fined for not following environmental guidelines in building a port, and we have just given them operation of the limb of the North Queensland Bulk Ports at Abbot Point, to do, potentially, exactly the same thing, with no guarantee that they will respect the conditions that our government have put on that permission.
In 2011, after a three-year investigation, the ombudsman of the Indian state of Karnataka found AEL to have been actively involved in large‐scale illegal export of iron ore. In 2015, in considering whether to approve the Carmichael mine, the federal environment department asked Adani Mining for the environmental history of its executive officers, and, in its response, Adani Mining failed to disclose that one of its directors and the CEO of the Adani Group's operations in Australia was previously an executive officer of an unrelated company when that company caused serious water pollution in Zambia. That company later pleaded guilty to criminal charges for the pollution and for its failure to report the incident. But Adani did not think that was worth telling the environment department, even though they had asked.
On tax-dodging, an analysis of company filings shows that up to $3 billion from Adani's planned Carmichael coalmine would be shifted to a subsidiary owned in the Cayman Islands, if the controversial project goes ahead. An overarching royalty deed gives a shell company the rights to receive a payment of $2 a tonne, rising yearly by the inflation rate, beyond the 400,000 tonnes mined each production year for two decades. The company with this entitlement is ultimately owned by an entity registered in the Caymans, controlled by the Adani family. In plain English, the upshot is that if the mine goes ahead they receive a $2-a-tonne payment—so, up to $3 billion—via a company they own in the Cayman Islands, a tax haven.
These are just some of the revelations that have come to light after some fairly basic research was undertaken by a variety of organisations, including Environmental Justice Australia, in Victoria—just a few examples of the allegations of tax fraud, bribery, corruption and clear environmental breaches by Adani and various companies in the group.
Why do we still not have a test in our laws that says we will consider the history of someone that is putting their hand up for a mates rates concessional loan? Why would this government and the opposition willingly turn a blind eye to the suitability of the recipient of a very large concessional loan—$1 billion of public, or taxpayer, money?
Why would they not want to look and see this? And this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. This is what has been uncovered by some basic research. There are whole departments here that could, if their powers were clarified, be looking into these issues.
That is why this bill is so important. Not only does it say we have to look at these issues under the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, the $5 billion that Adani wants a billion of; but in our environmental laws we should look properly at this. We should look at the corporate environmental history and look behind that corporate veil to see the real record of the people involved in these companies and the companies themselves before we decide if we are going to give them environmental permission to build the world's largest coalmine and to ship it through the Great Barrier Reef. We have had so many near-misses in the reef and we have already had some very big accidents, including with coal ships. Do we really want a company that has shown a disrespect for environmental laws in other jurisdictions trusted with the future of the Great Barrier Reef and, not only that, to build the world's largest coalmine that, when its coal is burnt, will see the end of the reef? That is what the scientists are saying.
That is what it is all about. I will take that interjection because that is exactly what the scientists are saying. I do not know why this side cannot accept the scientific evidence. It is because they are blinded by the coal donations. That must be the only reason. I have a science degree. It is not rocket scientist, and the scientists are speaking in plain English.
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
Thanks very much. We are used to the interjections from the elderly gentlemen on this side who perhaps need to reflect on their own conduct in this chamber.
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
Oh, are you going to object to being called elderly? It could have been a lot worse.
Mr Acting Deputy President, if you mention something about Senator Waters being a woman, you have all hell break loose in this chamber. She feels that she can insult people—or thinks she is. I am proud to be old and I have lived a long time that you will not, Senator. I have been in this place a long time that you will not. I ask you, Mr Acting Deputy President, to moderate her language, and while I am at it—
Thanks. It is pretty clear they have not been listening to what I am saying, but I am used to that, so it does not bother me. Unfortunately, they are not listening to the scientists either. If they were then we might see a different outcome.
Anyway, as I was saying, the litany of corporate environmental breaches and financial law breaches of this company should be raising red flags to anyone in this chamber irrespective of whether they have been receiving donations from that company or other in the fossil fuels sector. This should not simply be a tick and flick for a billion-dollar mates-rates concessional loan to a company with such a concerning history.
It is very interesting that the senators on my left are so intent on protecting this multinational coal company. It is very interesting indeed because, again, we have lost half of the reef, coal is on the decline globally, coal workers black lung disease is on the rise and there are more jobs in clean, renewable energy in Australia and in particular in this region of Queensland that stand to be made. So I ask the senators to reflect on the changing nature of world economics and on the amazing technological developments that have happened in the last 10 years in renewable energy. I ask them to desist with their ideological war against climate scientists and reef scientists and to see that this could be economically beneficial as well as beneficial for our environment and for our own very safety and way of life. But we will see who has more patience in that regard.
The other important aspect of this Adani campaign is, of course, the rights of traditional owners, and I was exceedingly dismayed this week when their native title rights were in part restricted with the passage of laws that will retrospectively validate an ILUA. The Wangan and Jagalingou people oppose this mine. They are concerned at the environmental history of the company that would propose to build a large coalmine on their land. I am proud to stand with them and to voice their concerns. They are of course before the Federal Court, and I imagine that they will be successful. Whilst this government has tried to fix the native title issues, as the Prime Minister promised Mr Adani on his visit to India that he would do, it is really clear that there are multiple limbs to this litigation, and that the Wangan and Jagalingou people will not be subjugated and are proud advocates for the integrity of their ancestral land.
In summary, I look forward to the support for this bill because, really, who could argue against simply checking the corporate environmental record of a company before giving them a billion-dollar mate's rate loan? No-one could argue against that so I really look forward to the contributions from my fellow colleagues supporting this sensible and rational bill, which would also have the outcome of stopping Adani getting public money and stopping this coalmine from going ahead.
In my 27 years in the Senate, I have heard a lot of speeches. I have heard a lot of speeches from the Greens political party senators and I know a great many of them are based on deliberate mistruths. But never have I heard a speech like the one I have just been subjected to that is so full of misstatements, so full of deliberate wrongs that I am almost speechless.
Many people up my way would say that was a speech full of lies, absolute lies and distortions of fact. I will not say that, because the senator who just spoke would take any sort of point of order to stop me refuting the deliberate misstatements of fact she has just spent 20 minutes wasting this Senate's time in propagating and in so doing abused corporate companies that have done a hell of a lot of good around the world—and I will come to that later—and abused her political opponents with allegations of bribery and corruption, all of which she knows is simply not true.
I say to the previous speaker, if you have any evidence of this wrongdoing, which you have just spent 20 minutes alleging, please take it to the authorities. Please take it to the police or to the corporate agencies and have it properly tested. You cannot just get up in this chamber and have a list of mistruths about particular individuals and companies and try and pass that off as fact. If the senator had any skerrick of evidence, even a remote skerrick of evidence, she would report it and give the evidence to the police and the corporate authorities but of course she will not because that speech was just a litany of deliberate mistruths set out to appease the few people left who support her political party.
The former speaker talked about people power. I happened to be in Townsville when Adani announced that it would create its headquarters there and immediately employ up to 600 people, which, in a town like Townsville with 11 per cent unemployed, is a huge boost to the employment opportunities in that town. As I went in to that very well publicised opening of the office, the regional headquarters of Adani, by the Queensland Premier, by the Townsville mayor—both Labor people—and by Senator Canavan—a federal minister—there was a huge people power protest outside. When I went in, there were five people there from Townsvilles population of almost 200,000. There were five people opposing it. This is the 'people power' that the previous senator spoke about. But I have to concede, by the time we left that event after about an hour later, the number had swelled; it had gone up to nine in the hour that we were there.
I am just reading from it. It is the front page of the Townsville Bulletinthe newspaper that serves North Queensland and northern Australia. It is totally supportive of this project, as is everybody in Townsville, North Queensland and northern Australia, because it will bring wealth to the north and it will create jobs for the 11 per cent unemployed in Townsville that, clearly, Senator Waters has absolutely no interest in at all. It will help the small businesses in North Queensland who are struggling to keep their doors open with the mining downturn. Those small businesses are mums and dads who have put their life savings into small business to see them going out the door. This project will help those people.
Adani contribute three per cent of their global profits every year to community projects. This is the company that Senator Waters is berating—three per cent of its global profits go to community projects around the world. Adani is also paying for school for 10,000 underprivileged kids in India. They have paid for infrastructure for 128 schools. Senator Waters claims to be looking after the poor people around the world and those less advantaged than ourselves. Here is a company that is doing it. What can Senator Waters do in this coward's castle of protection? Senator Waters is misleading, and deliberately maligning a company that has done so much around the world for others and the underprivileged.
When I put my name down to speak on this, I had a lot of things that I wanted to raise. But, after hearing that speech from—I am embarrassed to say—a senator from my own state of Queensland, I am afraid I will again have to spend most of my time pointing out, point by point, the deliberate misinformation that was contained in that speech. It was one of the most misleading and deliberately false speeches I have ever heard in my long period in this chamber.
First of all, Senator Waters keeps talking about giving out taxpayers' money. She knows that is wrong. She knows that if Adani apply to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, and if the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility do provide funding after due diligence which will, in their normal way, be lengthy and detailed, it will be a loan. It will be a loan that will have to be repaid. The continual reference to giving away taxpayers' money is simply part of the Greens political party's ongoing campaign to do and say anything as long as they can get to a result that they think is right at the end.
The senator continues in this speech, and every speech, to tell the world that the Barrier Reef is dying. Everybody who lives up there knows that is false. I ask you to go and ask any one of the ambassadors to Australia from around the world that the foreign minister took to Cairns a couple of weeks ago—they have been out onto the Barrier Reef, they have seen it and they are amazed at its beauty, resilience and ongoing growth off the Queensland coast. The reef has, over the years, had ups and downs. It is very well managed by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments. Its flourishing coral is growing in certain areas. Ask anyone up on the reef, any of the ambassadors or any tourist that goes there—the reef is magnificent and will stay there. I do not know who Senator Waters is being paid by, but, clearly, she is trying to say to tourists from Germany and North America, 'Don't come to Australia and spend your money. Go and spend your money somewhere else in the world.' That is the message that she is giving and deliberately giving.
It is not my normal course to raise points of order, but obviously Senator Macdonald likes to raise spurious points of order all the time. However, he has just inferred that I am in receipt of monies for holding a position to protect the reef. I would ask him to withdraw that, because not only is it entirely false but I get paid to do my job; I do not accept corporate donations. These guys take the money from the big mining companies, not me. I would ask him to withdraw that.
I raised the question: who is paying Senator Waters? But after a speech of 20 minutes, where she accused me of being bribed by international coal companies, the hypocrisy of the point of order is typical of the Greens political party.
I did not say that, and it is exactly the same that she has said about me. Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter, I would ask you to refer this to the President for a ruling, but I do not intend to apologise to Senator Waters for anything I have said.
It is not a point of order. I heard it clearly: a question was posed. No assertion was made; a question was posed. If we have come to a point where we have to withdraw questions that are posed, we will not be able to function in this place.
Always, when I making a point that hurts the Greens, they make these spurious points of order. Can I just remind those who might be listening that we were talking about the health and the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. Senator Waters, in her speech, said that the Adani coalmine is going to cause the death of the Great Barrier Reef—those are her words, not mine.
Mr Acting Deputy President, I refer you to the chief scientist of Australia, Dr Finkel, at estimates just two weeks ago. After I said to Dr Finkel:
… we emit less than 1.3 per cent of the world's carbon emissions.
I asked Dr Finkel:
If we were to reduce the world's emissions of carbon by 1.3 per cent, what impact would that make on the changing climate of the world?
Dr Finkel replied 'virtually nothing'. If anyone wants to see that exchange, it is on my Facebook. It is the actual video recording of me asking Dr Finkel those questions and his response.
Even if you shut Australia down completely and stopped every emission from Australia—the 1.3 per cent of the world's carbon emissions that Australia emits—according to the Chief Scientist, that would have virtually no impact whatsoever on the changing climate of the world. Yet the previous speaker would have any gullible listeners believe that Adani building a railway line and opening a coalmine 500 kilometres west of the Great Barrier Reef is somehow going to destroy the Great Barrier Reef.
The hypocrisy and the absolute deliberate mistruth of those statements just leaves me almost speechless. I cannot believe that a colleague in this chamber could so deliberately misstate facts that she tries to infer to the gullible listeners are truths. I cannot understand how Senate colleagues can be a part of that. Listen to Dr Finkel: any reduction in Australia's emissions will have virtually no impact on the changing climate of the world. That is the truth, that is the fact and that is the scientific opinion. But would you have Senator Waters and her mates in the Greens political party ever conceding that? Yet she talks about science and scientists. There is science! There is an opinion from the Chief Scientist of Australia, and that should be taken as fact. Senator Waters said, 'We have more cyclones and bushfires now because Adani is going to build a railway line 500 kilometres away from the Barrier Reef.' Who could possibly believe that? But the Greens go around convincing themselves that it is right and convincing the ever-dwindling band of fanatics who follow the Greens political party of those misstatements and outright lies.
The jobs to be created from this project mean so much to my state of Queensland—particularly to Townsville, where I am based. I know that Senator O'Sullivan has more detailed statistics on this and he will inform the Senate of these later, but I can tell you that this is the biggest thing that has ever happened to Central and North Queensland. That is why the Labor mayor, the Labor Premier and all of the Liberal-National Party state and federal members who represent those areas are totally and unanimously in support of this project. I do not have the statistics—I am sure Senator O'Sullivan will—but there are about 300 conditions placed upon Adani by Queensland and Commonwealth environmental authorities on the things they have to do in the construction and the development of the coalmine. They are some of the most stringent conditions I have seen imposed on any development application in Australia. Adani have accepted them and will follow them. As a result, according to the experts—Senator Waters claims that she is the expert—the scientists in the department of the environment in Queensland and the department of the environment federally, who have been through the conditions, if these conditions are met then the environment is perfectly safe. The suggestion that we will have bushfires and cyclones because Adani is building a coalmine 500 kilometres inland is just absolutely ludicrous and typical of the Greens political party.
We have heard the allegations about donations to the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. I do not know whether that is true or not; I have never seen them and I am not part of it. But I do know that the Greens political party received the biggest donation in Australia's political history from a businessman donor. Then, coincidentally, would you believe, a couple of weeks after that—I am one of the few Senators who was here for this—the then leader of the Greens political party moved that offline or community newspapers should be tax exempt. And guess who was proposing to open such a newspaper? None other than Mr Graeme Wood: the guy who gave $1.6 million, the biggest donation ever in Australia's political history, to the Greens political party.
Senator Waters went on to say that coal is destroying the world. We know, as a matter of fact, that China opens one new coal fired power station every week and we know that India—and these are the two biggest, most populous countries in the world—continues to build coal fired power stations. We know that even Germany, the epitome of goodness and light environmentally these days, has just completed a coal fired power station.
We also know that the poor people of India and China are as much entitled to electricity as Senator Waters is, sitting in her ivory tower in Brisbane or the Gold Coast. She can have air conditioning, she can have electricity and she can turn on the stove and get instant heat. But she does not want the people of India or China to do that. No, no, no! It is okay for her and her Greens mates but no good for the poor people—the destitute people—of India and China. The clean energy projects that create the jobs that Senator Waters continues to talk about—most of those jobs are created overseas, and those that are created in Australia are hugely subsidised by the Australian taxpayer.
Time is running out for me, unfortunately, but can I just again highlight the unfortunate misinformation that was contained in the speech that was delivered to the Senate just before mine? It was on broadcast day, of course. Greens senators always make sure they make these outrageous claims on broadcast day. No decision has been made, as far as I am aware—unless it has happened in the last five minutes, and I do not even know whether Adani have applied for it—about any money that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility might give to Adani. Senator Waters said that taxpayers are going to give Adani $1 million. Clearly, if—and I emphasise that if—the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility gives them anything, it will be a loan repayable with interest on commercial terms.
I also re-emphasise that nothing that Adani will do will in any way have any impact on the Great Barrier Reef. Again, I refer people to Hansardit is there; look at it yourself, do not believe me. Look at Hansard and look at the video clip, where I said to Dr Finkel:
… if we reduce the world's carbon emissions by 1.3 per cent--
Which is what Australia emits—
what impact would that have on the changing climate of the world?
Dr Finkel: Virtually nothing.
Virtually none! And so Senator Waters claims that Adani are going to kill the reef, bring cyclones and bring bushfires are just so much scaremongering. As I said, I am speechless to find the term for my disgust of for colleague in this chamber telling such deliberate and outright untruths in a debate such as this.
Thank you, Adani, for what you are doing for the unemployed people in Townsville and Central Queensland, who I care about. Clearly, Senator Waters does not care about them but I care about them. Thank you, Adani, on behalf of all the small businesses, the mums and dads who were struggling to stay open, for what your project will mean for Townsville and North and Central Queensland. Thank you for that. Thank you for what you have done around the world—helping schools and helping children; helping the poor to get electricity. And thank you for being a good corporate citizen for Australia. Long may you reign! All the very best, and I speak on behalf of everyone in Queensland in saying all the best for your project. (Time expired)
The Labor Party notes that the Environment and Infrastructure Legislation Amendment (Stop Adani) Bill 2017 proposes to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Act to expand the suitable persons test in the EBPC Act to make it mandatory rather than discretionary and to introduce similar tests in the NAIF Act. However, it is Labor's view that these are not the solutions to the problems within the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.
There are, indeed, significant problems with NAIF that need to be addressed. I note the good work done by Senator Watt at estimates. He discovered that NAIF board member Karla Way-McPhail is indeed a personal friend of the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, that the minister put her forward for a position on the board and that Ms Way-McPhail regularly attends LNP fundraisers and is a donor to the LNP. She is also the CEO of two companies and the director of a third that could benefit directly or indirectly from NAIF board decisions.
This is of great concern to the ALP. It is a clear conflict of interest, about which the minister was questioned in estimates. We asked the minister whether Ms Way-McPhail had excused herself from discussions involving projects in which she had a conflict of interest and, sadly, we did not get any answers. The minister went as far as making a public interest claim. So the question before us is: what public interest is served by the minister refusing to answer questions about how decisions are being made on $5 billion worth of taxpayers' money?
We heard during consideration in detail in the House just yesterday the shadow minister ask the minister representing the minister for northern Australia if he would answer the questions that Senator Canavan, unfortunately, refused to—again, nothing. In Labor's view this bill before us today does not address the governance and transparency issues that have been uncovered in relation to NAIF. The board of NAIF has been paid $600,000 and was established some two years ago. We find that not a single job-generating infrastructure project for northern Australia has been funded—not a single one.
This bill will not improve NAIF's assessment processes so that they are able to start providing the funds that will allow us to capture the great opportunities that exist in northern Australia right across the country, but indeed they do need to be improved. That is why the Labor opposition want to take a constructive and deep look at NAIF through this Senate inquiry process. There are big opportunities in northern Australia, but NAIF as it currently stands is not helping to deliver on them. We want to know why and how it is possible to improve NAIF so that the community can have confidence in its governance processes and we can get on with the big task before us of developing economic opportunities in northern Australia. As a senator for Western Australia I find that the lack of attention and discussion around our opportunities, for example, in the Kimberley to be highly problematic.
This bill also completely unnecessarily expands, in Labor's view, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. I note that the bill introduces a new suitable persons test; however, the EPBC Act as it currently stands sets out considerations that the minister must take into account when deciding whether or not to grant an approval under the EPBC Act and what conditions to attach to such an approval. Section 136(4) of the EPBC Act currently provides the minister with the discretion to consider a person's or a company's environmental history. I note that the bill before us seeks to make that test mandatory.
The test would be applied by the minister in relation to decisions on projects undertaken under the EPBC Act and by the board of NAIF in relation to decisions regarding financing of projects by the facility. I note that there is already a range of state and territory legislation that contain an analogous fit-and-proper-person test. In environmental legislation across the country this often includes consideration of a person's or a company's environmental record; however, unlike the EPBC Act and the proposed bill, some of this legislation provides further guidance and criteria, which should be the case.
It is also worth noting that ministerial decisions under the EPBC Act are subject to judicial review under Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act, including by conservation organisations under the extended standing provisions of section 487 of the EPBC Act. I note that the bill amends the EPBC Act to cause the secretary of the department of the environment to review decisions on the Carmichael mine—that is, the Adani project—with regard to such a suitable persons test. These decisions related to Adani's projects: the Carmichael coal mine and rail project, the Abbot Point coal terminal and the north Galilee Basin rail project. Indeed, what you see from this in relation to how this bill is constructed, and indeed named, is that it is not about transparent reform of the EPBC Act; it is simply singling out one project—that is, the Adani project. Reviewing projects of one company, in Labor's view, has no policy basis and would raise retrospective sovereign risk issues that could have a negative impact on business investment in our country.
I note that no such suitable persons test currently exists for other Commonwealth government financing facilities, such as the CEFC or Efic; therefore, it is of concern to the Labor Party that this bill seems to be about a single project—that is, Adani. It is about the Greens' unrelenting opposition to Adani without consideration for broader issues like job creation in our nation. It is yet another demonstration of the Greens using Adani as a football to further their own agenda. They have used Adani as a political tool, as we have recently seen in the native title bill that we have just been debating in this place, turning a debate about land rights and self-determination for Indigenous people into one about mining rights simply because it suits their own political agenda. And I note Marcia Langton, who is a leader in our Indigenous communities and on native title, last week spoke of the Greens and other anti-Adani protest groups, saying that they had used 'deception' and 'deliberately thwarted' the aspirations of a 'majority of Indigenous people'. It is of concern that they are again doing that with this bill.
It is important in this place that we have clear in our minds the relationship between Indigenous self-determination, native title, environmental regulation and jobs. We cannot and should not combine together the accountability that we must have in each of those areas to suit just an environmental objective. It is not the proper thing to do. But, again, that appears to be what the Greens are doing with this bill.
It is time for this place to have a discussion about jobs. We need a facility such as the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, but it must be properly and transparently managed, because we know people in our regions and across the country are telling us they are worried about jobs. Right now they are worried about jobs and their children's future. I know that this is the case in northern Queensland. It is certainly the case in my home state of WA. We can make sure we are creating jobs of the future without compromising our environment, and we have a long history of acting to protect our nation's environment. It was Labor who initiated the protection of the Great Barrier Reef during the Whitlam government. It was the Hawke-Keating governments that protected the Franklin and the Daintree, Antarctica and extended Kakadu. The most recent Labor government ended 30 years of conflict over Tasmania's forests, 120 years of disagreement over the Murray-Darling Basin, and put in place the world's largest network of marine reserves. So Labor takes its environmental responsibility seriously and will continue to act. We will not back down on protecting our environment, but we also recognise that conventional fuels will be part of our energy mix into the future. But, importantly, renewable energy will have a growing share of the total energy mix given it is now the cheapest form of new generation.
Our transition to clean energy is already happening, and we want to encourage and support this transition through our commitment to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. As we did in government, Labor will ensure that any proposed mining projects meet the highest environmental standards, so we will be closely monitoring whether conditions are being met in relation to those standards. We note that the Adani project received Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—EPBC Act—approval by the Abbott-Turnbull government back in 2015 and that the conditions of approval are still being addressed by the company.
We also note that, despite claims by the Greens that Labor's position on these matters has not been clear, we have been absolutely clear in saying time and time again that we are very concerned about the prospect of taxpayers' money being spent on the Adani project. Taxpayers should not be expected to pay $1 billion for a project. We have said very clearly that the project should only go ahead if it stacks up environmentally and commercially; if it does then those jobs are most welcome in Central Queensland. We are concerned that this bill is a stunt by the Greens aimed at a single project and not a genuine attempt at improving the way the system operates. Labor support jobs for Central and North Queensland, but we have always said the Adani project has to stack up both commercially and environmentally.
We have serious concerns about the operation of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, which is yet another example of Malcolm Turnbull's incompetent leadership. Indeed, it is yet another example of a dysfunctional government. Despite the NAIF being set up months ago, not a single cent has been spent on better infrastructure for Northern Australia. It shows how out of touch the government is in not understanding these issues. The government needs to get on with it and start investing in Northern Australia, in Western Australia and in other regions right across the country to build infrastructure and create the jobs that our regions desperately need. We would be very concerned if the federal government were considering spending a fifth of the NAIF fund on just one project, taking money away from other important job-generating projects. Labor does not think Australian taxpayers should be coughing up $1 billion for a single project. We believe that most Australians would rightly be scratching their heads, wondering why they have to give a mining billionaire $1 billion of taxpayer's money, particularly if such subsidies then go on to displace the viability of existing projects and jobs in other regions around the country. This bill does not have our support, because it does not fix any of the problems with NAIF. It is about time the government and the Greens stopped talking about this single project and started talking seriously about jobs right around the country.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I rise to speak to the Greens tiresome Environment and Infrastructure Legislation Amendment (Stop Adani) Bill 2017. Senator Waters admits in her earlier comments that this is yet another step in stopping this project. This bill seeks to prevent the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, NAIF, lending funds to Adani to construct a railway to ship coal mined in the Galilee Basin by introducing a so-called suitable person test. As Senator Macdonald said, the Greens would not pass such a test.
In addition, this bill yet again seeks to strengthen Australia’s already ridiculously strict and unfounded environment and biodiversity laws. Here we go again—another day and another farrago of green rubbish. Both the bogus suitable person test and the environmental babble are just more cloaks to hide the Greens real anti-jobs, anti-prosperity Luddite agenda. Don't other senators tire of their endless bleating? Unlike the Greens, informed and responsible senators would be aware of the real facts. They know that the Adani Carmichael coalmine to be built by the Adani Group in the north of the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland represents a $16.5 billion investment. It opens the Galilee Basin to supply clean coal, which is in huge and growing demand globally. It is expected to produce 2.3 billion tonnes of coal over a projected 60-year life span. This wonderful project will generate thousands of jobs and many hundreds of millions of dollars of export earnings for our nation. How great is that for our state of Queensland and for our Australian nation?
As the first of a number of large mines expected to be built in the Galilee Basin, the infrastructure to be built for the Carmichael mine will greatly facilitate the development of subsequent mines, which in turn will generate yet more jobs and yet more earnings for Australia. This is the reason, of course, that the northern Australia infrastructure fund—NAIF—plans to spend the $1 billion to which this ridiculous bill refers, because this will not only facilitate the development of the Carmichael mine but will also assist the development of numerous other subsequent mines by other companies in the future.
I make it very clear to the whole of the Senate that we have, in One Nation, some serious questions about the loan, but this bill is not the way to do that. This bill aims to stop the Galilee Basin. We aim to open it up responsibly. For the Greens to claim that the NAIF loan to build vital infrastructure somehow means the government is 'working for billionaires' is simply, logically, incoherent. It is false. It is working with us, for us, with Queensland jobs. We compliment Senator Canavan for his effort to get this project up, finally, despite all the obstacles. Also, note that I said 'lend', because, contrary to what the Greens claimed in their MPI the other day, no-one is giving Adani anything.
The northern Australia infrastructure fund was set up to lend money to assist in development—of railways, port and airport facilities, roads, water, communication facilities et cetera—that specifically assists in the development of northern Australia. Our One Nation party, through our leader, Pauline Hanson, will be ensuring the government does its due diligence. She will be asking the Prime Minister, personally, about Adani's use of funds and the risks in that project to make sure that we are not held responsible for anything that falters with Adani's project. We specifically note the rail line: we want that to be for the use of all Australians.
The NAIF loan and the Carmichael mine will open up the Galilee Basin to the world, creating untold thousands of jobs and a treasure trove of government revenue and export earnings. We note that the Queensland government got into surplus just as a result of billions of dollars from the coal industry, thanks to the state of Queensland. Much of the coal mined in this region will go to India to power Prime Minister Modi's amazing industrial revolution in addition to fuelling power generation that will help to transform much of India and provide the lighting, heating and cooling that we take for granted. This coal will also directly provide many with fuel for domestic cooking. Instead of facing the severe adverse health effects of burning animal dung or scarce wood, millions of Indians will benefit from being able to burn clean coal. As any rational person knows, cheap power drives industrial development, creating jobs, prosperity and progress. Australian coal will help to lift the poorest in India out of poverty.
As someone who was born in India myself, and who visited India just three years ago, I know firsthand the grinding poverty and disease which has afflicted the subcontinent. I am proudly a citizen only of Australia, but I am also an inhabitant of the world. I am a part of the human race, and I am very, very proud to be that. We need to help our fellow humans around the world.
The real truth is that the last 170 years has seen billions of people lifted out of poverty and removed from the vagaries of nature's weather extremes of drought, flood and famine. We have enjoyed vastly lengthened lifespans, greatly increased comfort, safety, ease and security. This has occurred hand in hand with the miracle of coal and hydrocarbon fuels—gas and oil—that, until recent government interventions fuelled by the Greens' nonsense, used to be ever falling in real prices. The key to sustaining human development and sustainable economies is decreasing energy prices. The Greens reverse this trend.
Now Prime Minister Modi in India wants to bring this kind of development and prosperity to India, and I congratulate him and his Bharatiya Janata Party in the strongest terms. Prior to the election of this visionary Indian prime minister and his progressive BJP, much of the country was locked in its own time warp by the socialist policies of the Indian congress party. Like a fly in amber, prior to the BJP government, India seemed lost in a heat haze of ramshackle colonial infrastructure, meandering polluted rivers, reverse engineered old British cars, sprawling slums, chirping cicadas and spreading banyan trees, forever trapped in 1946.
Prior to the BJP, basic necessities like power, clean water and sewerage, which we and the Greens in Australia take for granted, were the luxuries of the wealthy elite in major towns in India. Like One Nation, the BJP is a nationalist workers party that seeks to drastically improve the material situation of everyday, decent people, along with seeking the restoration of traditional national values. The BJP seeks to do this, not through socialism, but through enhancing the marketplace to serve the nation; not through control, but rather through free markets. The BJP is struggling to drag India into the 21st century and to embrace the greatness that could be theirs as a major world power. Adani is part of that movement for a new, modern India and is not just helping to give India cheap power and affordable, low-polluting fuel for cooking and lighting; it is also committed to delivering fresh water and sewerage to many parts of the country that have never known this. It is therefore of great concern to us in One Nation that a tax by the odious Greens and the extreme left faction of the Labor Party on Galilee Basin coal mining has been not just on the Carmichael mine project but on the Adani company itself. This bourgeois hubris that makes the Greens and their ilk imagine that their undergraduate obsessions with carbon dioxide are more important than the lives of Indian workers and families is sickening.
What this ridiculous bill and the Greens' endless attacks on Adani and coal and coal miners demonstrates is not just that the Greens could not care less about creating jobs or generating export incomes here in Australia but that they care even less about lifting much of India and the world out of poverty, out of the Third World. For all their feigned concern about impoverished, underdeveloped countries and despite all these Greens crocodile tears, when it comes to selling India something that will actually help lift its people out of poverty, the Greens are not interested. They are not interested if it does not fit in with their fairies at the bottom of the garden fantasy of windmills and solar cells. This is actually racism of the worst kind—not the self-conscious racism of the determined bigot, but the unconscious racism of elites, who are simply oblivious to the suffering of those beyond their own smugly superior social circle. I can genuinely imagine that when told Indians have no bread, the Greens might actually suggest that they eat cake. Everywhere they go and in everything they do, the Greens do all in their power to close down productive industry and rob honest working Australians of their employment from logging, mining, power generation and manufacturing—the list goes on and on—and add to that farming. Now with Adani, we see the Greens trying to do the same to India.
Fundamentally, while the Greens think they are pro-environment, in fact they are anti-human. They do not care about people's livelihoods, like the Australian workers they seek to throw out of work or the struggling Indians they want to prevent ever being lifting out of poverty and avoiding disease. And the Greens have the nerve to try to call One Nation racist. The truth is that the Greens are the worst kind of racist of all. They are human-racists.
I will now take a few minutes to address Senator Waters' claims in regard to the environment. And I make note to everyone in this chamber that three times I have invited Senator Waters to a debate; three times she has refused. Let us just talk about the fact that the Greens never present science. You will notice that they refer to the word 'science', but they never present any science. Instead, they use pictures of cuddly little animals and pictures of beautiful green turtles or diving dolphins—but never the science, never the evidence. So let me give you some of the evidence right now.
First of all, global temperatures are not rising unusually. Global temperatures are doing what they have done for the last thousands of years. They are going up and down cyclically: warming, cooling, warming, cooling. We have now had 22 years of atmospheric temperatures being flat—no warming at all. The largest and longest temperature trend in the last 160 years was 40 years of cooling from the 1930s to 1976, at a time when the human production of carbon dioxide dramatically increased. The temperatures in this country, in our country of Australia, were higher in the 1880s than they are today. That is fact.
Dr John Reid, formerly with the CSIRO, recently released a paper statistically analysing the temperatures, and there is no trend at all, none at all. If you look at rainfall; if you look at snowfall; if you look at floods' severity, frequency, duration; if you look at droughts' severity, duration, frequency; or if you look at storms' severity and frequency—if you look at all these factors—there is no change going on. It is just natural variation. That is why the Greens will not debate me and that is why the Greens will not actually quote the science: there is nothing to support them.
Second, not only is there no temperature increase but we know that their claim that the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere drives the temperature is in fact the reverse of the reality. The reality is—and it is in the data, the hard data, the measured data—that temperature changes lead to changes in the level of carbon dioxide. The level of carbon dioxide is not the cause of temperature; it is the result of temperature.
The third fact that is inconvenient to the Greens is that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is independent of what we produce. It does not matter how much carbon dioxide humans produce from our activity, because we do not control, do not even affect, the level in the atmosphere. That is determined by the oceans, which respond to cooling or warming by releasing or absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide that dwarf our production. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is determined by the temperature, and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is determined entirely by nature alone. It has nothing to do with our production of carbon dioxide.
What I also want to point out is that the Greens go on and on about bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. Senator Waters claimed that half the Barrier Reef has been bleached. That is sheer nonsense. Alkalinity is the measure of ocean acidity. The oceans are currently alkaline. They are not acid. They have a pH of 8.3 to 8.4, and that pH varies entirely naturally. There is no trend going on, and it remains alkaline. It is not even heading for acidity.
When we talk about bleaching, no-one seems to mention that since 1928 there have been 16 major bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef. No-one seems to mention that the part of the Reef subject to the bleaching that occurred at Great Keppel Island just four years ago has already largely recovered.
Then Senator Larissa Waters says 'ancient history of the Great Barrier Reef'. The Great Barrier Reef around the Keppel islands, in our state, is 6,000 years old. The Great Barrier Reef in the northern parts of Queensland is 8,000 years old. Sea levels 20,000 years ago were 120 metres below where there are now. Where does that put today's Reef?
These claims by the Greens are nonsense, and that is why we claim them as not only antihuman but antiscience. Photos of cuddly animals are no substitute for empirical evidence. False claims like toxic jobs are no substitute for the facts.
They talk about black lung. They take money from the CFMEU that represents coalminers. I worked underground for three years at the coalface, and black lung is a threat to anyone who does not manage his or her workplace properly. But black lung is no longer a problem where coalmines have ventilated properly. The answer to black lung is the regulations in Queensland not being enforced, the CFMEU not doing its job and some coal operators not fulfilling their responsibilities. Black lung is not an inherent problem when it is managed properly. Thousands upon thousands of people around the world manage to work in coalmines safely and harmoniously without any fear of black lung, because they comply with basic standards.
Thirdly, coal is the main driver of environmental improvements on our planet. About 170 years ago, people were burning forests in London for fuel. People were using whale oil for lighting. In fact, in 1826 in Sydney, we celebrated the first street lamp network in our country. It was powered by whale oil. What caused that to change? Very simple: coal—coal being burnt in modern power stations cleaned up the skies over Europe and London. The pollution in London afflicted people from the 1400s through to 1960s until the advent of modern electricity in coal-fired power stations. That is when Londoners first started to see the stars at night. That is when people no longer got lung diseases, thanks to clean coal. Not only do the whales thank coal, not only do the forests thank coal but humanity itself thanks coal, because only by the remarkable benefits of hydrocarbon fuels are humans decreasing in birth rate as we increase our prosperity.
In finishing, I want to say a few words about the fact that the Greens bill is a destroyer of Australia. I call on the Senate to reject the Greens and all their works. Let us reject these irrational, racist, Luddite policies of the Greens and consign this human racist bill to the legislative garbage bin, along with the enemies of the wheel that created it. Do we really want to develop north Queensland? Yes, we do, and yes we can. Thank you.
If I seem disappointed and a bit flat, Madam Deputy President, it is because I feel robbed. I thought I was going to have 20 minutes to respond to our colleagues the Greens, and to be reduced to just four minutes is going to make my effort difficult. In doing that, we need to be crystal clear on what we are being asked to consider here by the Greens in this bill.
This bill is not about some new found interest in the Greens about the integrity and profile of foreign companies who invest in our nation. If that were true, one would suspect that they would have been in this place with bills previously on the hundreds and hundreds of occasions that foreign investment occurs in this nation. They were in coalition with our friends in the Labor Party for six years, and not once did they introduce legislation when they had the power to do so, to influence a decision about investment in this nation by a foreign company.
That being the case, I do not think it is unreasonable for us to draw the only inference that can be drawn—that is, this is not about Adani, this is not about the integrity of Adani and this is not about the profile of Adani. This is about killing any future development in the coal industry—in this case in particular—in my home state of Queensland. This is about denying thousands of young men and women who are currently unemployed. Some of the figures around Townsville and some of the areas in Central Queensland are up to nine per cent. This is about killing the prospects of their jobs. This is about denying the 14,000 workers who did work in the coal industry and all the allied support industries at one stage the opportunity to return to the dignity of full employment. This is about stifling the ongoing investment that comes with transformational, generational opportunities like this to develop the economy of a region and a state and then, indeed, all the benefits that flow from that to the nation. This is about stopping people—owners of empty homes in their thousands in Central Queensland—having the opportunity to have them tenanted once more by people coming to develop this wonderful opportunity.
This was a sleight of hand, this bill. This bill is fraudulent. The presentation by the senator earlier was in itself fraudulent. You can take offence to that if you like. You wrote—
On the point of order: Senator O'Sullivan has just finished twice referring to Senator Waters and her behaviour as fraudulent. If it is good for the goose, it ought to be good for the gander here. This matter was commenced by Senator O'Sullivan in alleging fraudulence on Senator Waters's part, and he should withdraw that.
Thank you, Senator McGrath. Order!
Senator McGrath interjecting—
Senator McGrath, are you dis—
Senator McGrath interjecting—
I have called you to order. I expect you to be quiet. Thank you. Senator Waters, it is not all right to then repeat the imputation that you made. We have had that discussion in this place. I am simply asking you to withdraw that imputation.
Thank you. I did not assert that the senator was a fraud. I asserted that the presentation she made to this chamber was fraudulent. I will be guided by the chair. The spirit was that some of the allegations made were in conflict with public information.
What we had today was a trojan horse. This bill was rolled in as a trojan horse. When you look inside, what is the motive? The motive is to stop this development in my home state of Queensland. It is astonishing that the attack was led by a Queensland senator. That will prove, I suspect, in the fullness of time to have been a grave political error, and I intend to make what contribution I can to ensure that your political error is well known across the state.
In the short time that I have left, I will yield to Senator Waters to answer my question. I will make a week at your convenience—
Through you, Deputy President, I extend an invitation to Senator Waters to join me on a one-week tour of Central Queensland. I will meet all of the expenses and everybody is welcome. I will arrange general public meetings, all over Central Queensland.
An opposition senator interjecting—
Look, if you have not been a success in life you do not need to reflect upon my successes!
I have some difficulty in this space, Madam Deputy President. But the invitation stands. A week of your diary and I will take you into Central Queensland. You can arrange the meetings if you like. I will arrange some meetings. We will get the chambers and local government to bring the people together and we will see whether your efforts reflect the intention of the grassroots people who live in this great part of our state.