Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Statements by Senators


1:05 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The South Australian government has served a third and final activity notification to Leigh Creek Energy, giving them the green light to go ahead with a trial of what they call 'in-situ gasification', which others may understand as underground coal gasification or UCG. If this technology sounds familiar, it should; it was banned just over 12 months ago in Queensland by the state government after a disastrous trial in Chinchilla by Link Energy. The company was found guilty of five counts of breaching environmental laws, specifically of polluting a widespread area of soil, water, air and even up to six metres underground with fugitive gases, including carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and hydrogen sulphide. Chinchilla in the Western Downs is an important agricultural area and part of the electorate of Monaro, represented by the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources.

Five of Link Energy's executive directors are standing trial for failing to ensure compliance. However, notably absent from this list of directors is Link Energy's former general manager of investor relations, Justin Peters. After the spectacular and disastrous failure of Link Energy in Chinchilla, Mr Peters became the executive chairman of Marathon Resources, now known as Leigh Creek Energy. South Australians will remember Marathon Resources for their famed dumping of radioactive waste in Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in 2008.

After the spectacular and disastrous failure of Link Energy in Queensland and the terrible track record of Marathon Resources in Arkaroola, how on earth has Leigh Creek Energy now been given the green light in South Australia by the Liberal state government? How can there be so much crossover between these companies and no role for the corporate regulator? Leigh Creek is Marathon Resources—it is simply another name. While five of the directors of Link face court, the head of investor relations from the very same company that is now both bankrupt and being successfully prosecuted is trying to deploy the very same technology in South Australia.

The question is not just why the Liberal state government has given approvals for this project but where on earth is ASIC? What is the point of having a corporate regulator if it can't stop the banks from ripping people off and can't stop these kinds of cowboys, companies and directors with a legacy of misdeeds from continuing their bad projects, putting communities and the environment at risk?

Underground coal gasification poses grave risks of groundwater and soil contamination, not to mention the significant harm it can do as the particular noxious gases released by UCG contribute even more to accelerating climate change. Groundwater experts are very concerned about the impact of this project in South Australia. Groundwater experts from RMIT have raised serious concerns about UCG generally and about the specific application of it in Leigh Creek after evaluating the company's environmental impact report, but the South Australian government has still given it the green light.

If these concerns weren't troubling enough, the recent approval has completely flouted the will of the traditional owners, the Adnyamathanha people. They've been in court this week fighting for an injunction against Leigh Creek Energy. The original Leigh Creek mine site was developed right on top of a sacred cultural site and its closure heralded at the time a period of healing that has now been abruptly disrupted. Despite these concerns and the obvious danger of the technology, the South Australian government has seen fit to give approval to this ghastly project by giving a healthy bump to Leigh Creek Energy's share price. This company has been advertising in various newspapers how much it will invest in this project in South Australia. Why are the South Australian people being put at risk by this company and by their state government? Why have we learned nothing from the disaster in Queensland? Why are we risking our great natural resources for a failed experimental technology that we know is dangerous, all for a company that has already been found to have people at its helm who have been found to be corrupt?

The answer to the questions appears to be the usual one: the revolving door between politics and fossil fuels. Who is doing the bidding for Leigh Creek Energy with our state government? It is none other than Iain Evans, the former SA Liberal Party leader. He is listed as a lobbyist, after the recent change of government, with his sole client being Leigh Creek Energy. Before we get ahead of ourselves and just blame the Liberal side of politics, this murky back-room wheeling and dealing is not the sole preserve of the Liberal Party. Leigh Creek Energy was lobbied on behalf of by South Australian former Labor senator Chris Schacht before the change of government in South Australia earlier this year. Former senator, now lobbyist Schacht, is also a shareholder and was a director of Marathon Resources, the same company that is pushing this dangerous and lethal toxic technology in South Australia. This connection between fossil fuel companies and politics is not only shady; it's dangerous. The South Australian government has failed in its duty. The corporate regulators have failed in their duty. The federal government has failed in its duty. Not only should this approval be revoked and this technology banned outright; we obviously need reforms that put communities and environment at the centre of decision-making, not the profits of fossil fuel companies or the cheques being signed for their lobbyists.

Where on earth is the cop on the beat in relation to all of this? How could ASIC not step in and do something about this company, which has been proven to have such shoddy, dangerous technology, shoddy governance and shoddy officers, now setting up shop in South Australia? ASIC should be doing their job and stopping these bad actors from leapfrogging from one dangerous project to another.

South Australians are incredibly concerned about what is going on in Leigh Creek, the motives of this dodgy company and the motives of the corrupt people at the helm, and they want action. The South Australian government is hoping no-one has noticed that this licence for approval has simply been ticked off. Well, they are noticing and they will notice more. We should ban this technology outright and we should make sure the regulator does its job. We don't need cowboys like this in South Australia. We don't need them anywhere in Australia putting the health of our community and our environment at risk. This technology should go and the cowboys running the show should be seen in court.