Thursday, 19 October 2017
Environment and Infrastructure Legislation Amendment (Stop Adani) Bill 2017; Second Reading
The Greens are once again bringing the Environment and Infrastructure Legislation Amendment (Stop Adani) Bill 2017 to stop Adani's massive polluting coalmine because we think it's about time that other parties in this place finally see some sense. We know that the ABC program Four Corners recently did a damning expose that highlighted the litany of corrupt activities—tax-dodging on a monumental scale and environmental destruction—in Adani's operation elsewhere around the world. That Four Corners expose made it very clear that this is a company that should never be supported by the Australian community. Indeed, we're hoping that in this place both the government and the opposition will stand up for the Australian people and for a healthy environment and stop Adani in its tracks.
This bill would make sure that the government can't hand a billion dollars of taxpayer money—that is, money that belongs to every Australian citizen—to facilitate the development of this mine because it won't stack up on its own two feet. It would do this by introducing what's known as a suitable person test. It would also strengthen our environmental laws to make sure that the environmental history of a company needs to be considered when approvals are given. It would trigger a review into the approvals that Adani has already been given by this government, including the review done into the Carmichael mine. It would also look at the approvals given for the coal railway infrastructure project and the Abbot Point coal port.
It is remarkable that a company like Adani could have been given those approvals after what was revealed by the nation's premier current affairs program just a few weeks ago. Just think about their activities. They have been proven to have engaged in corruption. They have their tax affairs managed in such a way that money is funnelled to tax havens like the Cayman Islands for the benefit of a few individuals. How on earth are we considering allowing this company, with its track record, to build a giant mine when it has this clear history of corruption, of tax dodging and of environmental vandalism? Most importantly, how is it that both the major parties in this place say that they support the development of the Adani mine? In Queensland, the Queensland Labor Party have said that they will give Adani a series of royalty holidays. Federally, here, the coalition have indicated that they are prepared to throw a billion dollars of taxpayer money at the mine.
Four Corners went into great detail about the behaviour of this company. We heard stories about young kids who have debilitating asthma because Adani doesn't do what we know it should do in securing those giant piles of coal. Coal is a very dangerous and dirty substance. Coal, when it's burnt and indeed when it's mined, produces particulate matter. This is something that the World Health Organization and, indeed, all medical bodies accept—that the mining and burning of coal creates significantly harmful effects to individuals who are exposed to the products of combustion and coalmining. Particulate matter, getting deep into the lungs, causes lung disease—including diseases like emphysema and high rates of lung cancer—cardiovascular disease and a range of other serious medical conditions. There is no dispute within the medical community about the association between the mining and burning of coal and the serious and devastating impacts that coal has on individuals. Adani has shown itself to be reckless when it comes to protecting the health of individuals, because of the way it operates its coalmines. Adani has also, through its environmental vandalism, ripped up mangrove conservation areas without seeking prior approval, and it has blocked the access of fishing families to their traditional fishing grounds.
Adani was fined almost a million Australian dollars for failing to clean up after its unseaworthy ship sank off the coast of India. Yet here we are with both the Liberal and Labor parties still wanting to allow this company to export coal through the Great Barrier Reef. It is remarkable that a company with that track record would still be given licence in this place by both Liberal and Labor. I haven't even gone into great detail about Adani's record of corruption and their record of tax avoidance, but we know that five Adani companies are now under investigation for using so-called black money. It's bribed officials with huge sums of money, and it was involved in a massive illegal iron ore export scam. It seems that all of the money that flows to tax havens across the world flows in a way that makes sure that Adani doesn't pay its tax. It's a company that pollutes. It's a company with a track record of corruption. It has a track record of not paying its fair share.
The bill would finally put an end to the massive disaster that is the Carmichael coalmine. If it was a country, it would be the seventh-biggest polluter on the planet. It would release a dirty, great climate bomb that would see 2.3 billion tonnes of coal dug up over 60 years. It would open up the entire Galilee Basin, which has enough coal, if burnt, as I said, to make it the seventh-largest polluter on the planet. Yet here we are with both the Liberal-Nationals and the ALP going full steam ahead with Adani, rolling out the red carpet and falling over themselves to facilitate a massive billion-dollar taxpayer loan. And, of course, they're also looking at giving it unlimited groundwater licences at the expense of the farmers who rely on that water resource. This is polluting the land, polluting the air, and stripping away a water resource that belongs to all Australians.
I say to the Prime Minister and to the Leader of the Opposition: you've got an opportunity to stop this in its tracks. To be frank, we've given up on the Liberal Party. We have given up on the Liberal Party taking a stand. But Bill Shorten has an opportunity here. Say that you're going to review those environmental approvals. Do everything you can to say that you will, if elected, review those approvals, and no-one, no financier, will touch this with a barge pole. Together we can make sure that this mine is defeated. But, if the parliament fails, make no mistake, we will be there standing with the community, making sure that, one way or another, this polluting, jobs-destroying, climate-killing mine never gets built.
Senator O'Sullivan, I know that you are seeking the call. You have previously spoken on this matter, and you were in continuation when this debate resumed. You missed your chance to speak, or to continue from your previous remarks, so under standing order 188 you would need to seek leave to speak again on this matter if you want to make a further contribution.
On a point of order, Senator O'Sullivan is not seeking another entire 20-minute block of time; he is seeking to continue his remarks. The normal practice is that people in continuation are able to complete their remarks. I accept that he wasn't the immediate speaker when the debate resumed. Procedurally, that is unfortunate, but, from the point of view of fair debate in this place, I request that the Greens consider whether they wish to deny the opportunity for somebody to make a contribution up to the full 20 minutes, which is the time that senators in this place are normally entitled to.
By means of clarification, yes, you're right in the terms of what might be reasonable for people to consider. However, under the terms of the standing orders, Senator O'Sullivan did miss the call for his continuation, which means his contribution has been completed. If he is granted leave to speak further, he would have the opportunity to speak for a full 20 minutes. If Senator O'Sullivan chose to confine his comments to, perhaps, the balance of his previous speech, that would be entirely fitting, but he needs leave in order to do so. And leave has been denied.
I rise to make a contribution to the debate on this private senator's bill, the Environment and Infrastructure Legislation Amendment (Stop Adani) Bill 2017, introduced by the Greens party. The Environment and Infrastructure Legislation Amendment (Stop Adani) Bill 2017 proposes to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Act 2016 to expand the suitable persons test in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in order to make it mandatory rather than discretionary to introduce the test in the NAIF Act.
I point out at the outset that this bill, as proposed by the Greens, in their usual style, is a stunt that is not a solution to the problems of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility—and there are very substantial problems with the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility that need to be addressed. At the last estimates session, we discovered that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility board member Karla Way-McPhail is a person whom we should be watching very closely. Indeed, it was revealed that she is a personal friend of the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, that the minister himself put her forward for appointment to the board, that Ms Way-McPhail regularly attends LNP fundraisers and is, indeed, a donor to the LNP, and that Ms Karla Way-McPhail is also the CEO of two companies and the director of a third company that could benefit directly or indirectly from Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility board decisions. That alone is one very significant matter that deserves much better consideration, and what is being proposed here by the Greens party this morning does not go to that very, very important matter.
There is clearly a conflict of interest. When the minister was questioned about this during estimates, his answers, I have to say, were found wanting. We asked the minister whether Ms Way-McPhail had recused herself from discussions involving projects on which she had a conflict of interest, and to date we have received no answers. This is a very significant matter of concern for all those who believe in the potential of northern Australia to be opened up and developed in an appropriate way. The funds that have been declared by this government to exist to undertake such projects and grow jobs should be processed in an open and transparent way. Again, let me put on the record that what has been proposed here in this private senators' bill by the Greens does nothing to address this critical issue and just focuses on one issue and one issue alone.
The minister had an opportunity to show that this is a transparent government and that his actions were aboveboard, but failed to do so. In fact, he went as far as to declare public interest immunity. I have to ask: what public interest is served by the minister refusing to answer questions about how decisions are being made on $5 billion—not that we've seen much of it flow through—of taxpayers' money? There's another dimension of failure. It's $5 billion of taxpayers' money which should be open to clear scrutiny, but which seems to be protected by the minister declaring public interest immunity and failing to respond to questions at estimates. Earlier this year, during the consideration in detail in the House, the shadow minister asked the minister representing the Minister for Northern Australia if he would answer the questions that Senator Canavan had refused to answer; again, there was a deafening silence. There was no response, no answer, no transparency and no accountability from this government which simply seems to think it's above and beyond the need to answer to the Australian people or to put exactly what is happening on the record in the Senate.
This bill, as proposed by the Greens party, will not address the governance and transparency issues that have certainly been uncovered through estimates in relation to the NAIF. We know that the board of the NAIF has been paid at least $600,000. Hopefully, we'll get an update on the amount of money that's been spent so far at the upcoming estimates session. But $600,000, to most Australians, is a very significant amount of money indeed, and we still have no investment driving job creation in the North. Despite all its talk, this government has failed to deliver.
The NAIF, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, is a body that was established by this government two years ago. I repeat my concerns about the fact that there is not a single job-generating infrastructure project for north Australia that's been funded. Not one. Zero. There is $5 billion sitting there and jobs are needed in the North. The work of the last parliament put forward very significant propositions to this government and the actions of the board seemed very questionable. On the record, there is still no money spent other than the $600,000—perhaps more by now—for the members of the board. This bill does nothing to address that very significant problem. There's an opportunity for the Greens to do something substantive here for north Australia to address the issue of jobs, but they continue to walk away from it.
The bill will not improve the NAIF assessment process so that they would be able to start providing these funds and allow the capture of the incredible opportunities that actually do exist in northern Australia. We want, as the Labor Party, to take a constructive and deep look at the NAIF through the Senate inquiry process. There are, as I said, huge opportunities in northern Australia, and we should make the most of those opportunities. With $5 billion sitting there, the people of the North must be wondering what on earth they got for their election of Liberal and National Party members who came down to Canberra, saying that they were going to advocate for them and that they had this great vision for the North. They said, 'We're going to do wonderful things for you.' But all we see is a fund of $5 billion sitting on the side and still nothing being done. There are concerns about the NAIF, how it's structured and its inability to deliver on those commitments that were made. Infrastructure does build jobs, and jobs build communities. This $5 billion should be working for Australians but, instead, this out-of-touch government, with its incompetent and opaque processes, is simply not delivering for the people of the North.
This bill also completely unnecessarily expands the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in respect of the suitable persons test. The suitable persons test includes consideration of the person's history in relation to environmental matters; if the person is a body corporate, the history of its executive officers in relation to environmental matters; and, if the person is a body corporate that has an associated entity, the history in relation to environmental matters of the associated entity and the entity's executive officers. It also includes consideration of any other matter that the minister or the NAIF board consider to be relevant for consideration under the EPBC Act. Section 136 of the EPBC Act already sets out the 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 that approval. Section 136(4) of the EPBC Act currently provides the minister with the discretion to consider a person or company's environmental history. This will now make that test mandatory. The test would be applied by the minister in relation to decisions on projects taken under the EPBC Act, and by the board of the NAIF in relation to decisions regarding financing of projects by the facility.
The range of Commonwealth, state and territory legislation contains an analogous fit-and-proper-person test. In environmental legislation, this often includes the consideration of a person's or company's environmental record. However, unlike the EPBC Act and the proposed bill, some of this legislation also provides further guidance or criteria. It's also worth noting that ministerial decisions under the EPBC Act are subject to judicial review under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act, including by conservation organisations, and under the extended standing provisions of section 487 of the EPBC Act.
In addition, the bill amends the EPBC Act to cause the secretary of the department of the environment to review the decision on the Carmichael mine, known as the Adani project, with regard to that suitable-persons test. These decisions are related to Adani's projects—the Carmichael coalmine and rail project, which was EPBC referral 2010/5736, the Abbot Point coal terminal, referral 2011/614, and the North Galilee Basin Rail Project, referral 2013/6885. This singles out one project, the Adani project, and reviewing projects of one company has no policy basis and would raise retrospective sovereign risk issues that could have negative impact on business investment in Australia.
For all of the gobbledygook language that's part of what I just had to say, there has been careful consideration to make sure we have laws that are robust enough to allow proper discernment of appropriate projects going forward and that are constructed in a way that avoids the sovereign risk threat to the nation. No such suitable-person test currently exists for other Commonwealth government financing facilities, including the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Efic.
This bill, I'm afraid to say, when you start to look at it in that kind of detail, reveals exactly what's happening here this morning: that this is a bill that's nothing other than political point-scoring by the Greens party. For the Greens, it seems northern Australia matters less. One project and one project alone is their focus, and they're using whatever vehicle they can to continue a political campaign. But the cost, it would seem to me, of the political point-scoring that we're seeing here this morning is the failure to call the government to account on inaction with regard to the NAIF for the whole of northern Australia. Rather than targeting one particular project, the work of this Senate should be calling this government to account to attend to the reality that, across the north of Australia, $5 billion of Australian government committed money is still not acting in and through our economy to generate jobs, growth and infrastructure that the north of this country so desperately needs.
What we're seeing this morning is an unrelenting opposition to Adani without consideration for the broader issues that are of great concern to those in northern Australia, and in particular Northern Queensland. It's another example of the Greens using Adani as a political football to further their own agenda, regardless of the cost to the community of northern Australia. And we've seen this behaviour continuing for some time, using Adani as a political tool in the native title amendment bill that we were debating earlier this year and turning a debate about land rights into one about mining rights simply because it suited their own political agenda, with no care for the cost to advocates of those other vital issues. That very significant elder of the first peoples of Australia, Dr Marcia Langton, an expert on native title, had this to say in June, where she spoke of the Greens and the other anti-Adani protest groups. She said—and this is not a mild word—that they had used 'deception' and had 'deliberately thwarted' the aspirations of the majority of Indigenous people, and they're doing that same thing again with this bill they have got before us this morning. We should hear that. We should hear the voices of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters.
It's time for this place to have a serious discussion about job creation and infrastructure projects for this country. People across the country, north and south, and in our regions in particular, are telling us that they're worried about jobs right now, they're worried about jobs for their kids and they're worried about their future. We need to make sure that we are creating jobs of the future without compromising our environment. Labor has a strong history of acting to protect the environment. It was Labor that initiated the protection of the Great Barrier Reef during the Whitlam government. Remember that. These are the realities that the Greens party would have us forget: the history, the great history of Australians, Labor Party action on environmental protection. There's been nothing that the Greens party have achieved since their entry into this parliament that can match those great achievements of our wonderful Labor leaders. It was the Hawke and Keating governments that protected the Franklin and the Daintree. Antarctica and Kakadu were signature environmental policies of Labor environmental action. That's Labor: we did the hard yards, the heavy lifting with regard to environmental protection.
The most recent Labor government ended 30 years of conflict over Tasmania's forest and 120 years of disagreement over the Murray-Darling Basin. It also put in place the world's largest network of marine reserves. These are facts the Greens will continue to try and disturb to reconstruct the history of this country as if they're the only champions of the environment. But the reality and the history show a very, very different world view. Labor will continue to act. We will not back down on protecting our environment and we recognise that conventional fuels will be part of the energy mix into the future. But we believe and have built policy and delivered in government commitments to renewable energy that will have a growing share of the total energy mix given it's now the cheapest form of new electricity generation.
So, instead of debating a single project and getting column inches out of it, we should be having in this place a much broader discussion about the future of energy for our nation. And through the NAIF, we should be thinking about what can happen in the north with that $5 billion to address this issue that is touching every household and every business across the country. That's an issue that the Australian people are interested it. That's an issue that people are facing at 10 o'clock at night when they are trying to find the money, pulling it from different accounts, possibly even from the kids' Christmas accounts, so that they can pay for electricity. We should be having that kind of a conversation here, but, sadly, we're not.
The issues on the minds of Australians right now are jobs and energy prices. But that's not what we're talking about here. We should be talking about the transition to clean energy that is already happening, that we want to encourage. We should be talking about supporting this transition through our commitment to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. That's what we should be doing instead of this stunt that we are seeing here this morning.
Last week Labor announced new policies to boost renewable energy generation and storage, create new jobs and put downward pressure on power prices. I want to state clearly here that a Shorten government will modernise the energy market rules to give more power to consumers—because that's what Labor does. It doesn't lose sight of the people on the ground, which absolutely is a trait of the Greens party and this government, which has lost touch and is completely out of touch with what's going on with ordinary households. It will create renewable energy zones to drive investment and jobs in the sector, and it will change the Clean Energy Finance Corporation's investment return benchmark so that it can invest more in electricity generation and storage projects. So, in this place, while we see a government fighting with itself and blaming everyone else, Labor is outlining a positive alternative to tackle out-of-control power prices, reduce pollution and, very importantly—something that we just won't hear from the Greens at all—create jobs for Australians.
Labor is about fighting for secure employment and fighting for ordinary Australians who just want to get out, do a fair day's work, get a fair day's pay and be able to come home and pay to keep the lights on in their own homes. We are seeing that constantly under attack. In question time this week some of the attacks on the union movement that we heard from the government opposite were cringe-worthy. They are a disgrace to break the voices of those who support Australian workers and deal with the realities of confronting life with insecure employment.
Labor is serious about renewable energy for Australia, with a plan to get there. We will do the policy work and the hard work in these chambers to make sure the focus is on things that matter to Australians. That's why we should not be supporting what the Greens are proposing here. It's a stunt. It doesn't deal with complex policy realities. (Time expired)
I have the speakers list in front of me, which I appreciate is an informal list. I don't know who jumped first. I was expecting to give the call to Senator McKim, as that is on the list, which, I presume, has been agreed to by senators. Given that I've given him the call, I need to stick by that.
I rise today to speak on the private senator's bill submitted for consideration by this chamber by our former parliamentary colleague from Queensland, Senator Larissa Waters. Before I begin speaking on the specifics of this bill, I would like to make a comment on the behaviour of senators in this chamber this morning. Senator McKim—who, as we all know, is forever trapped in a first-year-arts-student mentality—normally plays his cards disingenuously, but today—
As I said, Senator McKim is a man normally trapped forever in a first-year-arts-student mentality. We are used to him playing his cards most disingenuously. However, today I think that he has gone to new lows; he has sunk to new depths. His treatment of Senator O'Sullivan was nothing short of appalling. And then shutting down the debate in this chamber—the place that is supposed to be a contest of ideas—was nothing less than disgraceful. I can't understand what it is that Senator McKim is frightened of. This is a debate worth having. And you, Senator McKim, are a representative of a party that apparently upholds the virtues of freedom of speech and yet at the same time shuts down debate in the place where the contest of ideas should occur. I cannot understand what it is that you fear so much about this—
Thank you, Madam Deputy President; you are absolutely right, and through you: I can't believe how appalling the behaviour of Senator McKim has been in this debate. If you want, Madam Deputy President, to look at the face of the totalitarian left, look no further than Senator McKim's appalling behaviour today as he shut down the debate in this chamber. Quite frankly, I can't understand how he doesn't get altitude sickness, because the air is thin up there on the moral high ground.
In the unfortunate absence of former Senator Waters from the Senate, her few remaining colleagues in the Australian Greens have attempted today to ram home a radical environmental agenda to stop Adani. In the face of overwhelming support for the Adani project from almost all stakeholders, I remain aghast that the Australian Greens could continue to pander to their well-to-do constituencies in the inner cities, for whom increased power prices and jobs in regional areas are simply not a concern. Once again, I'm terribly disappointed that the Australian Greens would so coldly and so callously ignore the pursuit of sensible energy policy for the sake of political pointscoring, to sandbag their electoral support from the armchair environmental warriors of the inner cities.
It is mind-boggling to me—