Senate debates

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Matters of Urgency

Gas Industry

4:54 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today 26 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the letter from Senator McKim, proposing a matter of urgency, was chosen:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

"Opening up the Beetaloo Basin will release massive amounts of toxic methane, a dangerous climate heating gas, and in the words of United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, building huge gas infrastructure now will leave us 'stuck with stranded assets in 10 or 20 or 30 years'."

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

4:55 pm

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

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

Opening up the Beetaloo Basin will release massive amounts of toxic methane, a dangerous climate heating gas, and in the words of United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, building huge gas infrastructure now will leave us 'stuck with stranded assets in 10 or 20 or 30 years'.

I rise to speak on this matter of public urgency, which is about not spending public money to open up the Beetaloo Basin, which would turbocharge the climate crisis our globe is already in. Sadly, we know that there was almost a quarter of a billion dollars of public money committed in the budget to opening up the Beetaloo Basin. Perhaps even more sadly, we know that the opposition also supports opening up this basin.

I want to make a few points about what a bad idea this is. Not only is it a climate bomb, and not only will it be an enormous threat to 90 per cent of the Northern Territory's groundwater systems; there is no consent from the traditional owners for any of this gas mining, this fracking, this extraction from their land. That should be enough to stop this proposal in its tracks, but, as we all know, our laws do not provide any protection for First Nations people to have any sort of determination over what happens on their land. But it should provide pause to this government and the opposition that the First Nations owners of this part of the Territory do not want fracking on their land. They do not want their groundwater jeopardised and they do not want the world's climate stuffed up. That hasn't provided any pause to this government, because they have allocated so much public money: $175 million for roads in and out of the Beetaloo Basin and $1.1 billion of new spending, $16 million of which is for so-called strategic gas basins, including the Beetaloo, and $50 million for drilling in the Beetaloo. Is this government going to get in there and drill gas fracking wells for the company itself? Frankly, it is essentially bankrolling the whole project.

It is very interesting to see who is in fact undertaking the project and who is going to benefit from this largesse of public funds. Two billionaires are set to profit in particular—surprise, surprise!—and many of the big energy companies pushing this are donors to the Liberal Party. Blow me down with a feather! The companies are comprised of those that have been accused of tax dodging, like Jemena and Santos; those that donate to the Liberal Party, like Origin, Santos, Empire Energy and Jacaranda; billionaires Gina Rinehart and Dale Elphinstone; and Liberal Party luminary Paul Espie. What a bunch of folk to get public money to open up a gas basin, against the wishes of the traditional owners, which will turbocharge the climate crisis that we're in and potentially wreck 90 per cent of the groundwater of the Northern Territory.

Fracking the Beetaloo will increase Australia's emissions, if it goes ahead, by at least eight per cent and possibly up to 23 per cent; it is that much of a carbon bomb. We just had the G7 saying yesterday that not only should we not be funding more fossil fuel subsidies or more fossil fuel projects with public money by 2025; we should have strong emissions reduction targets by 2030—at least double what this government is proposing, and the opposition doesn't even have a 2030 target.

Australia is flying in the face of the rest of the world in wanting to sink a quarter of a billion dollars in public money into opening up a climate bomb that would wreck the groundwater of the Northern Territory, against the wishes of the traditional owners of that land. It is hideous. You could not think of a worse proposal. Naturally it's for the benefit of the big corporations that either donate to, or have links to, the Liberal Party. But the Australian people will not let this fly. They want genuine action on climate, they want renewable energy investment and they want the wishes of First Nations owners respected.

4:59 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

First of all, I'd like to touch on Senator Waters' comments about public money being used for energy projects in this country. The Morrison government has committed billions and billions of dollars to renewable energy—not the least $10 billion in the Clean Energy Fund; $5 billion in the Snowy Hydro; $3.5 billion for the Climate Solutions Package; $2.5 billion for the Emissions Reduction Fund; $1.5 billion for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency; $1 billion for the Grid Reliability Fund, which has now become another fund; and $0.5 billion for the Hydrogen Strategy. That comes to about $24 billion all up.

My view is that you either nationalise the energy market or let the market rip. But this idea of going around subsidising energy producers regardless of the type of energy is not on. I think the private industry should pay their fair share of tax. If they make money, they should pay money. In terms of putting in roads to enable this to happen, I'm more than happy to argue that they should pay their fair share of tax on that. However, the Beetaloo Basin does have over 200,000 petajoules of shale gas in place. To put that in perspective, Australia currently uses 1,920 petajoules a year, both for domestic use and for export. So there is over 100 years of gas just for Australia in the Beetaloo Basin. So we'd be mad not to use our own natural resources where we can. We cannot rely on wind and solar alone. It's intermittent energy, and, ultimately, it's not renewable and it's not clean either—which I'll talk about in a minute.

The other thing I would like to talk about is this allegation of it being a 'climate bomb' and, in particular, the description of methane as being a 'dangerous climate-heating gas'. We've got to get over this notion that greenhouse gases are somehow warming the planet. What warms the planet is the sun. The scientific equation for that comes under E=mc2. Every second, 600,000 tonnes of hydrogen is burnt and converted into 596 million tonnes of helium and four million tonnes of energy. That energy is transported in the form of a photon to planet Earth. Not all of it but some of it comes here to planet Earth. How long that takes depends on where it was created in the sun. If it was created internally in the sun—in the middle of the sun—it can take up to 170,000 years just to get out of the sun. Then, once it is out of the sun, it takes about eight minutes and 20 seconds to get here. But that will have a lot less energy than that of a photon created on the edge of the sun, which will get here with a lot of energy. That will come either as an ultraviolet ray or a gamma ray and that will have a lot of energy. Hence why we have to stay out of the sun, because ultraviolet light will knock out an electron—it has that powerful ionising effect—and hence could cause cancer.

On the infrared radiation, which is on the other side of the visible spectrum, you've got two parts. There's near radiation and thermal radiation. The near radiation—the infrared radiation—is the incoming stuff and the thermal radiation is the outgoing stuff. Interestingly enough, methane, even though it stays in the atmosphere for about 20 years versus, supposedly, carbon dioxide for 200 years—but that ignores the photosynthesis effect and lots of it gets absorbed by the ocean to create corals, of all things—actually emits at about eight microns versus 15 microns of carbon dioxide, which I will talk about in a minute. I thought I would talk a little bit about the science, because we often hear people say how they 'believe in the science'. Well, you don't 'believe' in science; you either understand it or you don't. Science isn't a cult. It's not a faith. You've got to actually understand the science.

When it comes to heat, you've got three forms of heat transfer—convection, conduction and radiation. I'd like to quote a paper that was released in 1917 that talks about the quantum theory of radiation. That paper was put out by a bloke by the name of Bert—Albert Einstein. In this paper he concludes that the 'momentum transferred by radiation is so small that it always drops out as compared to that from other dynamic processes'. What that means is that radiation has such a minimal impact that it's basically negligible in the overall transmission of energy on planet Earth. I love to quote these scientists, because we're told that we've got to believe the science; well, here's the science. Interestingly, he says at the start that 'molecules will acquire as the result of their mutual interaction by collisions'.

He goes on in this paper to talk about nitrogen and oxygen, which make up over 95 per cent of the atmosphere. They are heated up as well. Given that they don't emit radiation, how is it that these things heat up if radiation is such a powerful effect? Effectively, they heat up because the major forms of heat transfer in the environment are convection and conduction. About eight million collisions a second go on; that's conduction. Then convection is basically where the wind and the evaporative cooling from the ocean and everything cools the planet. We need to understand that because, unlike climate science theory—and that's all it is; it's a theory—there is actually a true science that has been around for about 200 years and that's the science of heat, which is called thermodynamics.

There are two laws in that that really matter. The first applies to conduction—the first law of thermodynamics—and that says that energy can neither be destroyed nor created, only transformed or transferred. That's important, because, when we have a collision with molecules, whatever one molecule loses in energy the other molecule gains. But overall there is no increase in energy in the system, because, ultimately, energy is kinetic energy. When we talk about heat it is kinetic energy which is the energy of motion, which makes a mockery of the whole 'climate science carbon dioxide traps heat' because nothing traps heat. As per the Stefan-Boltzmann law everything absorbs and radiates, absorbs and radiates. This idea that carbon dioxide is up-down and it's sucking up all this heat is absurd. If it were sucking up all this heat, the question you'd have to ask yourself is: given it has been around for 3½ billion years, why don't we get hotter and hotter? The answer to that is: effectively it emits as well.

Then we go to the second form and the major form of heat transfer in the atmosphere, which is convection. The second law of thermodynamics applies to that. Yet again I emphasise the word 'law' as opposed to 'theory', because laws have been proven through empirical science. That basically says the entropy of a system must always increase. What does that mean? That effectively means that if I've got half a cup of water here at 10 degrees and half a cup of water here at 20 degrees, and I pour one into the other, it'll average out at 15 degrees. It's a bit like the atmosphere. If you turn those two cups on their sides, effectively whatever heat is emitted downwards, by the so-called greenhouse gases, convection will naturally balance out. Why? Because the atmosphere is basically one big pressure gradient based on temperature differentials. Any change in the pressure or the temperature will always seek to increase the entropy of a system. As I said, if you're putting heat downwards—so if we've got those two cups on their sides and carbon dioxide's radiating downwards and suddenly the bottom cup increases to 21 degrees, using the first law of thermodynamics that means the upper cup will go back to nine degrees. If you combine the two again it still averages out at 15 degrees. Long story short: we really have to stop scaring the world with this whole climate change mantra, because the climate has always changed and the earth has always been able to balance it out as a result of the atmosphere, pressure gradients, evaporative cooling and so on.

The other thing I want to touch on here is that the proposed solution to all of this is somehow renewable energy. Let me tell you, there is nothing renewable about lithium. Lithium is a one per cent ore body. What does that mean? That means that you've got to mine 100 tonnes of ore to get one tonne of metal. These ore bodies don't sit in the ground in a nice, perfect shape where you can go in and just dig it up; you've got to go around and around and around. When you see those mining pits they will probably be 10 times the size of the ore. You've got to get down to the ore. You can't just have a big truck driving down a steep gradient. You might have to shift 1,000 tonnes of dirt just to get one tonne of metal. To get lithium out of the ore it has to go through four intensive electrolysis processes—before it's even ready to be put into a battery, right? That's just one half of the battery. You've then got to use graphite as the cathode. Then you've got to dig all that up as well.

Interestingly enough, a guy by the name of Richard Herrington, who is the head of the earth sciences in the Natural History Museum, says, 'Just to power of the UK fleet you're going to have to use half the world's available copper, the entire amount of the world's available lithium and about three-quarters of the world's available cobalt', so it's never going to happen.

5:09 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always good to follow Senator Rennick, the Senate's own Julius Sumner Miller, giving us all a version of a science lesson, just like he does at Senate estimates as well. This urgency motion debate is an important one. It's about a particular basin in the Northern Territory, and it's also more broadly about the gas industry and its future in Australia.

I think it's important, at the outset, to put on the record what Labor's position on the gas industry actually is. We hear a lot from people in this chamber and people in the media about what Labor's position allegedly is. They say, 'It's about this and it's about that.'

Senator Seselja interjecting

So, for the benefit of Senator Seselja and other people—our friends in the Greens, our friends in One Nation, our friends in the LNP—I thought I'd actually enlighten them as to what Labor's policy is. If they'd actually bothered to pay attention and observe Labor's National Conference earlier this year they would know our position on the gas industry was made crystal clear then, and it has been crystal clear ever since. This is the direct quote from Labor's national platform:

Labor recognises and supports the critical role that gas plays in the Australian economy. Labor recognises that gas has an important role to play in achieving Labor's target of net zero emissions by 2050. Labor's policies will support Australian workers in the gas extraction industry, building on Labor's legacy of supporting sufficient and affordable gas supply for Australian industry and consumers. This includes support for new gas projects and associated infrastructure, subject to independent approval processes to ensure legitimate community concerns are heard and addressed.

Pretty simple. Pretty straightforward. Pretty clear. So, for anyone out there who is actually interested in what Labor's position on gas is, I'd encourage you to maybe not worry too much about what the LNP says Labor's policy is, what One Nation says Labor's policy is or what the Greens say Labor's policy is. You know what? It might actually be a good idea to go back to the original source document and look at Labor's platform—and there it is. It is very, very clear.

So what that policy means in practice is that Labor do support the gas industry. We support the jobs in the gas industry. We support the export earnings in the gas industry. And we also support strong environmental protections applying to that industry, as we do for any resource or other industry in the Australian economy. Labor does recognise that gas has an ongoing role to play when it comes to firming and peaking electricity, as well as being an important feedstock for manufacturing.

As I say, Labor supports the jobs created by our gas sector—in particular, those 17,000 who are already employed in the industry—and also the role that the industry plays in creating economic growth and export income earnings. Labor will support new gas projects that meet all regulatory requirements and that stack up environmentally and economically. Any new exploration must of course be done safely, with widespread, genuine community consultation. Importantly, consultation must include consultation with traditional owners as a priority to ensure that cultural heritage and the natural environment of country is protected as a matter of importance. We will always assess public spending for gas, or any infrastructure being funded by government, on a case-by-case basis to ensure that Australians are getting value for money and are not being ripped off by this government and its own preoccupations.

Now, the energy debate in this country—and I suspect we'll see a bit more of that this afternoon—is too often dominated by loud voices on the extremes of each side of the argument touting all-or-nothing opinions. Labor do not take that approach. As I've made clear, we support the gas industry and we support our resources industries generally, and the jobs that they create. But, unlike the government, we also acknowledge that climate change is real, that we need to take action to combat it, and that one of the best ways we can do so is to genuinely support the expansion of renewable energy in this country.

Now, to think, as some do, that gas is not going to play a role in our transition to renewables is, quite frankly, unrealistic. We will need reliable energy sources to back up our renewables industry as it grows and until we have the technology for it to power the grid alone. If you talk to anyone who knows anything about energy in this country, renewables—while we want to see them go ahead in leaps and bounds—will require firming, whether it be by gas, by pumped hydro or by batteries, for some time to come. So gas will have an important role in backing up those renewables even as we expand their use. As I say, gas is also important as a feedstock for manufacturing and for the jobs that come with it.

But, of course, we on the Labor side also know that the need for action on climate change is urgent. Every single day we have reminders of that, whether it be what we see in the climate or what we see in expert reports warning us of the dangers if we do not take action on climate change and drastically reduce our emissions. That's why Labor, for some time now, have committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. That is the best thing that we as a country can do as to contribute to the global fight against climate change.

I might note that we are not alone in supporting net zero emissions by 2050. In fact, most of the key bodies and companies involved in the gas industry in Australia also support net zero emissions by 2050. The peak body for oil and gas, APPEA, supports net zero emissions by 2050. Santos and Origin, two of the biggest gas producers and exporters in this country, support net zero emissions. Of course it goes beyond the gas industry to pick up the big mining companies, like BHP and Rio Tinto, and the National Farmers Federation, speaking on behalf of real farmers in this country, as opposed to people like the National Party, who pretend they speak for farmers.

It's on this point—net zero emissions and the need for strong action on climate change—that the Morrison government fails time and time again. What its energy policy even is is still a mystery to most of us. It's time the Morrison government made a serious commitment to renewable energy in this country. We are falling further and further behind on energy and climate policy, to a point where, if you speak to gas or mining companies—as I do on a regular basis—they will tell you that they have given up on this government and they're just getting on with it. They've all adopted a target of net zero emissions by 2050, because they know that's the direction the world is taking and they want to be able to compete in that environment. They are leaving this government in the shade, while it continues with its ideological preoccupations and its own internal divisions on matters like climate change. These companies—whether they be in the oil and gas industry, in the mining industry, in agriculture or in many other extractive industries—are getting on with the job, are moving ahead and recognise the need for action on climate change, including a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. Industry can see that this is the logical and rational thing to do. It's just a shame that we don't have a government in Australia who can do so as well.

Australia is perfectly poised to take advantage of the opportunities in renewables, both domestically and overseas. We have an abundance of sun, wind, water and critical minerals, and, frankly, we should just start using them properly. Let's look, for instance, at northern Australia. There are critical minerals present in the north which are needed to manufacture batteries, solar panels and wind turbines. There is a massive opportunity in northern Australia not only to mine these minerals but to process them, export them and even create our own advanced manufacturing industry where it's Australia that builds batteries, solar panels and wind turbines, rather than exporting these minerals only to see other countries value-add, create jobs and produce products which we then import. We can do it in Australia. We could do it in Australia if only we had a government that was prepared to pull its head out of the sand, recognise that there are jobs and dollars to be made by tackling climate change, as well as the obvious environmental benefits that come with it, and allow Australians to actually seize those jobs rather than offshoring them to other countries.

Similarly, we are well positioned to develop, use and export hydrogen. Even in my own state of Queensland, places like Townsville and Gladstone are at the forefront nationally of grabbing these opportunities in hydrogen and creating jobs for North Queenslanders and Central Queenslanders. Why does this government not want to see those jobs go into places like North Queensland and Central Queensland? Why does this government want to continue sticking its head in the sand, ignoring the reality of climate change and ignoring the jobs and export opportunities that come with tackling climate change? Why does this government want to see these jobs go offshore to other countries who are recognising these challenges, rather than have them in places like North Queensland and Central Queensland? I know the same can be said about places in Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and pretty much every state in the country.

Where is the federal government on these issues? When are we going to have a federal government that takes climate change seriously, that grabs the job opportunities, that has a sensible policy about energy and that recognises that gas will have an ongoing role to play for some time to come and supports the jobs in that industry but at the same time grabs the incredible opportunities we have in solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy? It's not difficult. All it requires is for people to get over their ideological preoccupations.

5:19 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to discuss this issue which, at its core—quoting from the Greens—is about 'climate heating'. Really—about humans heating our climate! One Nation relies upon data, facts and empirical evidence proving causation. Senator Watt relies upon 'belief'.

Let's have a look at some data on another issue, and that is the Greens' claims. On 9 September 2019, I invited Senator Waters and then leader Senator Di Natale—remember him?—to present us with the empirical scientific evidence proving that carbon dioxide from human activity affects climate and needs to be cut. I also challenged them to a debate on the empirical evidence and on the corruption of science. What have we heard since? Nothing; not a thing—just more claims and more beliefs. On 7 October 2010, I invited Senator Larissa Waters, who's now the Greens leader in the Senate, to debate me on climate and climate science corruption. She jumped to her feet and said: 'I will not debate you.' Six years later, in May 2016, five years ago, I challenged her again, along with the Labor Party, and again she wouldn't debate me. She won't debate me because they haven't got the facts.

So let's go instead to someone who used to be part of the Obama administration, Steven Koonin—or should I say Professor Steven Koonin. He has written a book called Unsettled, and he says: 'Heat waves in the US are now no more common than they were in 1900'—121 years ago. Secondly, he says, 'the warmest temperatures in the US have not risen in the past 50 years'—so much for warming!—and, thirdly, that 'humans have had no detectable impact on hurricanes over the past century'. These are facts. These are things that I have spoken about in the past in this chamber. Professor Koonin continues: 'Tornado frequency and severity are also not trending up, nor are the number and severity of droughts; the extent of global fires has been trending significantly downward; the rate of sea-level rise has not accelerated; global crop yields are rising, not falling; and, listen to this, while global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are obviously higher now than two centuries ago, they're not at any record planetary high—they're at a low that has only been seen once before in the past 500 million years', as I have said repeatedly. Since all that data that Mr Koonin uses is available to others, he poses the obvious question: 'Why haven't you heard these facts before?' He's cautious—perhaps overly so—in proposing the causes for so much misinformation. He points to such things as incentives to invoke alarm for fundraising purposes and official reports that mislead by omission. Exactly!

Let me touch on the CSIRO. The CSIRO have admitted to me—we've had three presentations from the CSIRO—under my cross-examination that there is no danger from carbon dioxide from human activity. They've admitted today's temperatures are not unprecedented. And they have claimed the rate of warming is, but their own papers reveal that that is false.

There is no merit to this matter of public urgency. We say: toss it in the can.

5:23 pm

Photo of Sam McMahonSam McMahon (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the matter of urgency. I would just like to start by saying that there has been a crime committed here, and the crime is Senator McKim's motion, in that it demonstrates a complete lack of genuine understanding and knowledge of basic chemistry and perpetuates John Kerry's apparent scientific qualifications and practical experience of oil and gas and energy in general.

The motion talks of 'massive amounts of toxic methane'. Well, sorry—when I did chemistry, methane was not toxic. It's actually biologically inert and it is only harmful if it displaces oxygen, which leads to asphyxiation, or as a flammable gas in large concentrations. If you strike a match and you're down a mine and there's lots of methane, it will blow you up. So it can be harmful, but it is not toxic. It is certainly not going to be deliberately mass released into the atmosphere. The whole point of methane is that it has a value. It's a valuable gas. When we talk about the oil and gas industry, we don't just take it out of the ground and throw it up into the atmosphere. We collect it and we do things with it. Methane has many uses. It's used in LNG, in—ironically—hydrogen production, and in the production of ammonia and other chemicals.

The Beetaloo Basin—which is what we're talking about—is in my neck of the woods in the Northern Territory. If we put the gas reserves into perspective, the gross potential revenue from the Beetaloo Basin would be in the order of $1.7 trillion. This is the equivalent of all of Australia's annual GDP, so we're talking about fairly high-value commodities here. The development of the Beetaloo has the potential to create 6,000 jobs by 2040. Six thousand jobs in the Beetaloo region of the Northern Territory is absolutely massive and staggering. Historically, there have been very few labour market opportunities in this region of the Northern Territory other than the pastoral industry. In 2016, the region's unemployment rate was almost double the Territory's unemployment rate. This likely understates the real jobless rate in the region, with only half of all people of working age in a job or actively looking for one. There are many more people who are unemployed than turn up in official figures, so jobs represents one of the best opportunities for the Beetaloo Basin and for this entire region of the Northern Territory. I know that the Greens don't care about regional Australia, but I and my coalition colleagues do. In this case, so do Senator Watt and Joel Fitzgibbon; they know how important the oil and gas industry is.

Here are a couple of fun facts about the Beetaloo. It's approximately 5,000 kilometres south-east of Darwin in the Northern Territory. It lies between Katherine, 100 kilometres to the north, and Tennant Creek, 250 kilometres to the south. The Stuart Highway bisects the sub-basin from north to south. It covers an area of 28,000 square kilometres and comprises mainly vast rolling plains. It sits within the larger—at 180,000 square kilometres—McArthur Basin, which covers the majority of the north-east of the Northern Territory. Population is very sparse. Fewer than 1,500 people reside in the rural communities which border, or lie within, the Beetaloo. Most of the land in the Beetaloo is used for cattle grazing and Indigenous land practices. Perpetual leasehold covers most of the Beetaloo region. Native title exists for most of these leases, and the rest are under application. Tennant Creek is the key service centre of the Barkly region. It has a population of 3,200, and the town has a long history of mining and cattle grazing. Tennant Creek also has a strong Indigenous presence, comprising 51 per cent of the population.

I would reject the premise of the Greens that Indigenous people oppose the oil and gas industry in the Beetaloo region. Many of them have engaged with oil and gas exploration companies and have come to agreements with those companies or are in the process of coming to agreements with those companies because they realise that this represents their best opportunity at economic independence and jobs for their people. They know that, at the moment, there is very little to look forward to in the way of economy and jobs in this region of the Northern Territory, and they understand the importance that the development of this basin will have for their economic independence. That is something that the Greens do not want traditional owners to have. They want to keep them oppressed. They want to keep them living in communities that have no economic opportunity whatsoever. They don't want to see them lift out of a lack of an economy. They don't want to see them get jobs. They don't want to see them get training. They don't want to see them get trades. They do not want to see the economic development of traditional owners and Indigenous people in the Northern Territory.

With regard to our future energy mix, we understand that gas has a role to play. Yes, solar, wind and a whole pile of other, emerging technologies and intermittent generators also have a role to play, but they need to be firmed. We understand that gas is one of the best ways that we currently have to do this in a transition to a future energy mix. Gas will continue to underpin these emerging industries, and gas will be a way forward from a fossil fuel based economy to a future economy where intermittent generators will have a role to play.

The development of the Beetaloo and the technological development of renewable gases, such as hydrogen and biomethane, will complement each other. If we look at where methane comes from—seeing as it's such an evil, horrible and non-toxic gas—methane obviously comes from the oil and gas industry, extracted from the land and the seabed. It also comes from biomass burning, from livestock and from waste management practices.

If we look at emissions, the government's gas-fired recovery measures are a key component of our transition, as I said, to future energy mixes. That may include wind, solar or pumped hydro and it may also include hydrogen, which the Greens like to trot out as the renewable energy mix of the future—the panacea for everything that's evil about the oil and gas industry and fossil fuels. Let me tell you: nearly all hydrogen on the planet today is ironically manufactured from—guess what?—that evil, evil methane. Does that make hydrogen evil as well? Maybe it does.

If the Greens truly want to go as fast as they can to low emissions or no emissions, then they should consider gas as a transition fuel and nuclear power generation in their mix of renewables and intermittent generators.

5:33 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on this urgency motion, and, in doing so, I recognise the contributions from Northern Territory senators such as Senator McMahon. This is an issue that relates to the Northern Territory, but, as we know, this is a far-reaching debate about much more than just one area of our country; it's about the government's energy policy, it's about where we're going in the future and it's about the jobs that can be created right now and how those jobs are going to be created.

The problem with what the government put forward in these debates is that they talk about a transition but there's no plan of where they're going to. They talk about a transition, but there is no support for renewable energy; there is a walking away from and a walking backwards of support for renewable energy. There's even, as we've seen from some of the contributions today, a complete denial that this is something the government needs to address, that these jobs can be created and will assist our regional communities, and even that climate change is something that we need to talk about in this place. So it's disappointing. I respect the views of the Territorian senators that have contributed to this debate, but the broader debate around this government's energy policy is incredibly lacking.

On the Beetaloo Basin: can I just say that federal Labor respects and understands the Northern Territory government's support for exploration in the Beetaloo. Labor also understands that there are strong community views and concerns on the issue in the Territory, and that's why Labor will continue to advocate for the government and industry to continue to consult with traditional owners to ensure that cultural heritage and the local environment are protected as a matter of urgency. Under this government, we've had repeated attempts to put in place laws that will not do that—that will not protect the environment and will not protect cultural heritage. So, again, we call on the government to do what is necessary under the Samuel review and bring a bill to this parliament that isn't just a repetition of Tony Abbott's one-stop shop so that we can actually move forward and get good environmental protections and good cultural protections in place to assist state parliaments and state governments to do this work.

More broadly, this motion raises issues around the contribution of gas and the contribution of renewable energy to the energy mix and where we're going from here. Labor has always continued to argue for urgent and meaningful action on climate change, in keeping with our commitment to reach net zero by 2050 and in keeping with our support for the declaration of a climate emergency. Labor's record in government was to ratify Kyoto, to supercharge Australia's renewable sector and to put Australia on a pathway to sharply declining emissions. That's what Labor governments do, but this government has walked backwards from all of those achievements.

Labor's position on matters that involve environmental and heritage protection has always been that we must adhere to, defend and act upon analysis and research. This is science based, and, as much as members opposite want to come in here and give the Senate a science lesson, they are not the scientists. We need to listen to the scientists when it comes to these issues. Of course Labor knows that gas has an ongoing role to play in both firming and peaking electricity, as well as feedstock for manufacturing, but where there is a role for gas to play in firming and peaking electricity, and as a feedstock for manufacturing, it must be subject to rigorous, independent scientific assessment—not scientific assessment from Senator Rennick over there, but scientific assessment that is independent and rigorous.

Labor supports the Australian gas sector. Let's be clear about that. Labor supports Australia's gas sector, the jobs it creates and supports right now and recognises its important role in creating economic growth, export incomes and earnings and both job retention and creation. There's no opportunity here for the Greens to put a wedge motion through or for the government to point the finger at Labor. Labor has a strong position on this, and we want to make sure that is clear. But we also know that we need to invest more money in renewable energy. We want to make sure that we invest money in jobs that not only create economic development but also contribute to our country's need to do something about climate change.

I want to quickly address the comments that were made by the Deputy Prime Minister, the acting Prime Minister, this week about climate change, where he again sought to frame this debate as a city-versus-country divide. Let me tell you this: this isn't about regional versus city. Climate change is not a regional issue. It's not a city issue. It's not about baristas. The jobs that will be lost if we fail to act on climate change are regional jobs.

Climate change is the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef, which supports 64,000 jobs. Those aren't my words; they are the words of the member for Leichhardt—the special envoy for the reef. This government isn't listening to their own members or their own scientific panels on this. The jobs that will be created if we do something and support renewable energy are regional jobs. You only have to go to the wind farm that was vetoed by Minister Pitt—250 jobs in North Queensland vetoed by this government—to understand that renewable energy jobs are being created right now in regional Queensland, but they're being held back by this government. We also know that the communities that will be impacted if we don't take any action on climate change are regional communities. They're the islands in the Torres Strait that are facing rising sea levels right now. They know that they may have to leave those islands because this government is failing to take action. Can we just agree that this is a problem— (Time expired)

5:40 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We are in a climate emergency. Yet, across our nation, particularly in our north, the major parties are opening up massive gas projects, from the Beetaloo in the NT to the Scarborough gas project in Western Australia. Both parties are in lock step towards the precipice of oblivion, against the wishes of traditional owners, against the advice of the best science and against the common sense of communities who are coming together to oppose fracking in all of its forms, to keep coal in the ground and to invest in renewable energy solutions. This government and state governments like Mark McGowan's in WA and Michael Gunner's in the Territory are tramping over the top of the desires and wishes of traditional owners. Embodying the very finest arrogance that white men have ever brought to government in this place, they are seeking to exploit and open up from the ground some of the most filthy fuel in existence that will supercharge global heating.

This is one of the most disgraceful moments in Australian political history. When the world is moving to action on the climate crisis, Australia has dug itself in. The Morrison government, helped by Anthony Albanese's so-called opposition, is leading the charge of the denialists globally, blocking action on climate change left, right and centre, particularly here in the Asia-Pacific region, when our neighbours and friends are struggling with the reality of water lapping around their ankles. We turn up to international fora after international fora and block action. Why do we do it? Why is it that these two parties are so willing to sell the future of young people particularly in this country? It's because they take millions for it; it's because they are on the take. Woodside alone has given $2 million between 2013 and 2020 to the major parties. Other gas giants have given millions more. What do they get in return? They get to be able to utilise their claims over the Fitzroy River in Western Australia. Whether they are Boral Energy, Origin Energy, Black Mountain, Mitsubishi or 'Twiggy' bloody Forrest, all are able to circle at the trough and pursue their claims over one of the last great pristine wildernesses in this country. Just a few weeks ago we saw the former Treasurer of Western Australia leave his position and join the boards of Rio Tinto and Woodside, claiming $400,000 for it. The disgusting, slimy turnstile of Australian politics is on full display.

We in the Greens oppose it. We are united in support for the community to keep the gas in the ground and go bloody renewable.

Photo of Wendy AskewWendy Askew (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Steele-John, your time has expired, and I just comment on your unparliamentary language during the course of your presentation then.

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Oh, burble, burble, burble!

Photo of Wendy AskewWendy Askew (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask you to apologise for that, please.

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The swearing and the raspberry, or just the raspberry?

Photo of Wendy AskewWendy Askew (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Both, thank you.

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Both the raspberry and the swearing?

Photo of Wendy AskewWendy Askew (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, thank you.

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw both.

Photo of Wendy AskewWendy Askew (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you.

5:45 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the matter of urgency. The contrast is becoming so clear. As the world moves away from digging up fossil fuels, it is Australia's absolute shame that the Liberals are propping up oil and gas by funnelling endless taxpayer dollars to this dying industry. No amount of actual science or the climate disasters that we have been witnessing in our own back yard—the fires, the floods and the heatwaves—seems to convince this government that digging up fossil fuels is dangerous in the extreme. It is killing us. It is destroying our livelihoods, our communities and our planet.

Just this morning, Mr Morrison spoke via video to the oil and gas lobby's annual conference after being isolated and shamed at the G7 summit. We know who your real mates are. I can never forget that this is the same guy who brought a lump of coal to parliament. The International Energy Agency has made it absolutely clear that, if we want a future free from the climate crisis, it means no new fossil fuel projects, starting now—starting today. This means no more new coal, oil, or gas. Yet this government single-mindedly continues down the path of the so-called gas-led recovery, promising hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new projects and exploration, and sadly the Labor Party is being led down the same garden path. This bipartisan refusal to take significant action against the climate crisis is leaving us behind.

Any new fossil fuel assets will become useless to us in the next decade or two. At the most, the Beetaloo Basin drilling, the Kurri Kurri gas-fired power station and the Woodside Scarborough gas project are all doomed to fail. But the government are only interested in spin. They are very focused on faking it—faking that they care about climate change and that they and their oil and gas lobby mates are taking action. Their hollow rhetoric about technological change and emissions reductions means nothing as they continue to bankroll dangerous fossil fuel projects with tonnes of carbon emissions.

But you know what? Time is running out for these climate criminals. Climate change has become a real problem for them because the community has risen up, because people are demanding change and they're demanding change right now. The Liberals will soon have to reckon with this, or, better still, they will soon be booted out, with the Greens holding the balance of power and pushing the next government to phase out coal and gas and transition to safe, sustainable jobs rolling out renewables.

5:48 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

If you want to know how much the world's changed recently, consider this: last month, the International Energy Agency released its Net zero by 2050 road map, and, at the launch, the head of the IEA said this:

If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now—from this year

There it is, clear as day, in black and white. Remember, the IEA were basically formed in 1974 to ensure the security of global oil supplies. Basically, for the best part of the last 50 years, they've been part of the fossil fuel lobby, and here they are saying clear as day: 'No fossil fuels. They are done. They are over. We're living in a climate emergency. We need to change course, and we need to change course now.'

This is the rational response of most of the rest of the world. In the face of an existential crisis, the world is choosing survival. It's common sense, right? Well, wrong—not here in Australia and not for this government. No, this government is happy to choose the apocalypse. While the rest of the world is going the other way, this government—with plenty of support, I might add, from its mates in the Labor Party—is trying to turn Australia into a petro-state, and a big part of their petro-dreaming is the plan to open up the Beetaloo Basin. This one gas field, the biggest in the country, would see the release of up to 34 billion tonnes of carbon pollution—the equivalent of 68 years of Australia's current annual carbon emissions. Why is this government apparently so hell-bent on cooking the planet? It's because there's big money to be made in cooking the planet and there's big money to be made in cooking the planet from the people who are donating big money to the LNP.

Over the last decade, companies involved in Beetaloo have donated—wait for it!—$1.4 billion to this government and, by the way, nearly another billion dollars to the Labor Party. Those companies don't care about the future. All they want now is to squeeze another decade or two of obscene profits out of pillaging the earth and cooking our planet. What comes after is somebody else's problem, according to them. Their view is: pay off the pollies and party while the world burns. This is debased politics. It's a stain on our nation. It is utter, utter madness. Let's not forget that the oil and gas behemoths who will profit from this madness—among them Santos and Origin—are also systematic and serial tax avoiders. How does the government treat serial and systematic tax avoiders? By pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into their latest planet-cooking venture. That's how the government treats them. This government has tipped over $220 million into Unlocking the Beetaloo so that the big corporations and the billionaires who have already got obscenely rich from cooking the planet while paying next to no tax can get even richer while continuing to pay no tax and cooking the planet even faster. It's morally bankrupt, it's economically irresponsible, it's planet destroying and it's stealing the future from our children and our grandchildren. Congratulations, everyone!

5:52 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I've said it before and I'll say it again until you understand. First Nations people are of country; we are not just from country. I want to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land, waters, air and sky of what we now call the Beetaloo and connected basins. The traditional owners that are still protecting country from desecration come from many nations and clans, but they have come together to fight for country. I acknowledge your struggle to protect your country. I support you, and everyone in this place must listen. They are standing united against the desecration of their lands and the poisoning of their waters. They fight for country like their ancestors and their law men and women, how their old people always have. They've maintained their country for thousands of generations, and you can see what's happened in just over 200 years: absolute desecration of country. They're in parliament this week with one message: together they will fight for country. I'm proud to be able to join with them in their fight. For years, they've been told lies by the gas and oil corporations—the very dirty companies that have brought so many of the politicians in this parliament.

I've sat with those companies, like Santos. They've told me how they con our people. For years, our people have been told that there would be no damage to country. They walk into communities and say: 'Everything's going to be alright. We're not going to damage.' They're lying. They're dirty liars, going into communities, destroying not only country but people's lives with lies that have been facilitated by the very politicians in this place that have been bought cheap by these dirty climate-destroying gas and oil corporations. Yes, we know that those opposite are in their pockets and vice versa; that's the problem in this country.

It's lies, like the acknowledgement of country: every morning we do an acknowledgement of country. You do your prayer and then have your acknowledgement of country right here in this chamber. What does that really mean, though? Do you really mean it from your heart, while you backdoor us, stab us in the back and rape and pillage our country and our water? Don't acknowledge country if you're going to go off and do that! These companies do not respect traditional owners. They have failed to consult properly. I know that Labor talks about consultation, but, gee, with their consultation Labor are just as bad as the government!

Consultation is not consent! Don't think that it is, because you've been getting away with it for too long—and both sides know that. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is clear: free, prior and informed consent of First Nations peoples must be secured before any action on country. Are you doing that, Labor? Are you doing that, Libs? We know that the National Party just don't give a stuff. So if that's how we're going to operate, with no consent, we know that— (Time expired)

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The question before the Senate is that the urgency motion be agreed to.