Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Regulations and Determinations

Industry Research and Development (Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program) Instrument 2021; Disallowance

6:49 pm

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

On behalf of the Australian Greens, I move:

That the Industry Research and Development (Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program) Instrument 2021, made under the Industry Research and Development Act 1986, be disallowed.

This is a very important disallowance motion because it seeks to stop a $50 million slush fund going to mates of the Liberal Party to pollute our planet even more. Mr Morrison, Minister Taylor and resources minister Mr Pitt want to open up the Beetaloo basin in the Northern Territory and build the world's largest gas field when we are in the midst of a climate crisis.

The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow two weeks ago heard very clearly from scientists right around the world and other world leaders that, in order to combat dangerous global warming, we have to stop making climate change worse and we have to start leaving coal and gas in the ground. There's a lot of cleaning up to do right now before making it even worse. The International Energy Agency tells us that, if we are to keep temperatures below the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees and if we are to get to net zero by even 2050, we have to stop opening up new coal and gas fields. In fact, we can't have any new fossil fuels if we are to stop dangerous global warming.

Of course, we know already what this devastating climate crisis is all about. Only two summers ago Australia lived through the worst bushfires we have ever seen. We know that our neighbours in the Pacific islands are already feeling the devastating impacts of sea level rise. We know that famine and drought are hitting some of the most impoverished nations around the world. We know that, in order to stop this, we have to stop polluting and we have to stop making climate change worse.

This current disallowance motion is to stop $50 million of Australian taxpayers' money being handed to private gas companies so that they can continue to drill and explore for more gas. What planet are we on? This world is facing a climate crisis and we are pleading with world leaders and telling our children that we need to stop polluting but we're spending government money, taxpayers' money, propping up the industry that is making our planet sick.

Of course, this is all going on in the Northern Territory in the Beetaloo basin without the consent of the traditional owners. In fact, when I was in Glasgow for the global summit only two weeks ago I met with a young woman who is terrified, frustrated and angry about what the government is proposing to do on her people's land. Rikki Dank, a young, strong First Nations woman from Beetaloo, was at the global summit pleading with world leaders to help stop this devastation. She was pleading not just for the rights of her people but for the rights of every child on this planet. If this gas basin is allowed to be opened up, the Morrison government boasts it will be the biggest in the world—at a time when we have to be getting out of fossil fuels and investing money instead in the transition to clean, green renewable energy and investing in the adaptation strategies that we undoubtably need because already the climate is warming. Rather than doing that, what we see is Mr Morrison putting his hand in the pockets of Australians, taking their hard-earned money and handing it over to his mates in the gas industry.

These mates in the gas industry—let me just put it very clearly—are also donors to the coalition. When I was in Glasgow two weeks ago, talking to leaders, scientists, civil society groups and key business people, when I said I was from Australia, the first question they would ask was: 'What on earth is going on down there? Why is your government so obsessed with propping up coal and gas? We're all here trying to work out a strategy to reduce pollution, to transition, to get money out of subsidising fossil fuels, and all we're hearing from Australia's Prime Minister is, "She'll be right mate; we're doing enough, and, by the way, we're going to keep funnelling money to our mates in the fossil fuel industry."'

When the Prime Minister spoke in Glasgow, he sounded like a stroppy, grumpy, out-of-touch old man. He stood on the stage for three minutes. He travelled all the way to Glasgow for a three-minute speech, and when he stood up he was dismissive of the negotiations taking place. He said Australia didn't have to do anything more; we were doing enough and everything was hunky-dory back home. He directed his Australian negotiators to not sign the agreement to leave coal in the ground and to open no new coal power plants and mines. He refused to sign the methane pledge, because guess where methane comes from—gas. In fact, with the leaking of gas wells at the current rate of three to four per cent, gas is even dirtier than coal. But the Prime Minister doesn't want you to know that. The Prime Minister is doing the bidding of the big fossil fuel companies, pretending that everything is A-OK and that at a minute to midnight, perhaps in 2049, all of a sudden it will all be fixed and we'll get to net zero by 2050.

The rest of the world knows that is bollocks. They know it's not true, and that's what we heard over and over and over again at the global summit. While other world leaders were getting together to discuss how to tackle climate change and how to deal with the influence and undue pressure from the world's multinational coal and gas companies, we had Australia's Prime Minister running PR stunts for Santos. At the Glasgow summit, all of the countries had a pavilion to showcase what their government was doing and what their people were doing to deal with climate change—what they were bringing to the global discussion and putting on the table, what their contribution was. The Australian pavilion, at the direction of the minister, Angus Taylor, had a coffee cart and a Santos logo. So what Australia brought to the global summit, what they wanted broadcast, was: we might make good coffees, but, boy, we do gas well!

The idea that you rock up to a climate change conference to discuss how your country works with others to cut global warming while showcasing one of the filthiest, dirtiest industries in the country is appalling, and it left a bad taste in everybody's mouth. Mr Morrison and his pavilion stand, with the minister, Angus Taylor, were a laughing-stock on the world stage. Business leaders thought it; world leaders thought it; civil society knew it. No wonder that, when I spoke with Rikki Dank, all the way from the Northern Territory, who was there to plead for her country and her people, she was so angry and frustrated, because what was being presented by her government and her country was a fraud. You can't get to net zero by 2050 and you can't get to net zero by 2030 if you keep opening up new coal and gas. What part of that does this government not understand?

But, of course, we're here today debating this disallowance because it's not just the Morrison government that is doing this—as a frolic of their own, for their mates in the coal and gas industry. Sadly, they are doing it in full sight, with the support of the Labor opposition. This is just devastating to Australians across the country who know we need to get serious about climate change and that we are running out of time. This next decade will be crucial, yet the Labor opposition are agreeing with the Morrison government that public money should be spent on carbon capture and storage to keep propping up the coal industry. Here today we will see the Labor Party agreeing to allow $50 million of taxpayers' money to be handed from the government coffers straight over to their mates in the fossil fuel industry.

It just beggars belief that this is what we are facing, when the rest of the world is trying hard to come up with strategies to reduce pollution, to save the planet and to give our children a safe future. It is extremely disappointing to see the Labor Party fold into the lap of the fossil fuel industry like this. It's devastating to see, when they know what a sham Mr Morrison's policies are—when everybody does; it's been broadcast around the world. No-one believes it. Everyone knows that he will not be able to get to net zero without changing a thing. But it's worse than that. Labor want to allow Mr Morrison and Mr Taylor to spend $50 million propping up some private gas companies, to do the wrecking on the land of the traditional owners without even having consent, and to do it in the name of the next generation, who are frustrated and angry that government and political leaders continue to turn a blind eye to the need for a safe climate to secure their future.

Our planet is desperately sick. It needs help. It needs care. It needs restoration. Rather than helping to heal the planet, this program, paid for by taxpayers, is going to make our climate even worse. It's going to make our planet even sicker. That is not a legacy that we should be leaving to our children or the next generation, and I urge crossbenchers and the Labor Party tonight not to let them get away with this. It's climate chaos, it's climate vandalism and it's devastating.

7:05 pm

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

I rise to speak on this disallowance motion. It's not the first time that this has been attempted. Yes, this government has committed $50 million in grants to advance the exploration of the Beetaloo basin, which we think and we hope will be extremely productive.

Why have we done this? This government gives grants to a lot of different industries that we think are going to be valuable for the Australian people and for our economy. We give lots of grants to things like hydrogen, battery storage, solar and wind, and lots of grants to business development and manufacturing. We do a whole lot of work in this space to try to advance economic development, and this is just one of those. This is to bring forward exploration of the Beetaloo basin, which has the potential to bring a huge amount of jobs and economic stimulus to the Northern Territory in particular and also to Indigenous people and traditional owners.

The Greens like to talk a big game about Indigenous people, but the truth is that they actually don't care about Indigenous economic advancement, Indigenous jobs, Indigenous businesses and independence from welfare. If they did truly believe that then they would be supporting this program. This program is not only going to provide jobs—actual long-term jobs—for the traditional owners of this area but it's also going to provide opportunity for Indigenous businesses. In fact, I am engaged with an Indigenous business at the moment in the region which is looking to provide services and a whole pile of other jobs to this industry. (Quorum formed) The Greens like to talk a big game about supposedly supporting Indigenous Australians, but they actually don't. What they want to do is oppress them. What they're doing is trying to infantilise Indigenous Australians. They want to keep them down. They don't want to give them economic opportunity, because this is the biggest economic opportunity that Indigenous Territorians have had in a very long time.

This will grow Indigenous businesses. This will provide Indigenous jobs. This will provide royalties for traditional owners. The Greens don't even know what a traditional owner is. And when they can't find a traditional owner that supports their view, they go and make one. They actually created a traditional owner. Senator Hanson-Young mentioned Rikki Dank and said that she'd come all the way from the Northern Territory to Glasgow. But she hadn't. She'd come all the way from Dubai, where she lives, and she has been confirmed by the Northern Land Council as not a traditional owner. But she certainly wants a slice of whatever's in it for her from the Beetaloo basin.

The Greens can't find traditional owners who support their views, so they go and make them. They create traditional owners who are fake. That's what the Greens do. They make up what they want in order to support their view. They are patronising to the Northern Land Council. The Northern Land Council is the body set up for determining who the traditional owners are and helping them negotiate with companies about their traditional lands. The Greens reject that because it doesn't suit their narrative. They reject the Northern Land Council, which is made up of Indigenous Territorians, and they go and make up their own traditional owners.

The Greens claim—and Senator Hanson-Young claimed this—that the traditional owners do not support this development on their land, but the truth is they do. The Greens also claim that the traditional owners are not capable of making the decisions regarding their lands. They are extremely capable. They sit down with the companies that want to explore and they sit down with the Northern Land Council. They're capable of understanding what's going on, what's going to happen, and they make informed decisions. They don't have decisions made for them, which is what the Greens would have you believe. They make informed decisions about their traditional lands. They make informed decisions about what are and are not sacred sites and where they do and do not want exploration to occur: 'You don't speak for me; you don't speak for my mob.' They're perfectly capable. The Greens would have you believe they're not capable. But, in fact, they are and they have made the decision that they do want to have exploration, economic opportunities and jobs on their land.

7:13 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

If the last couple of weeks have shown us anything, it is that if we want action on climate change—meaningful action on climate change—we need to change the government, because the Morrison government's performance on the international stage was embarrassing. The Morrison government went to Glasgow committed, like all the other signatories, to updating their targets, to contributing to global momentum, so that we could actually do something about climate change. That was their obligation. That's what they should have done. But we didn't see any of that, nothing of that at all. Instead what we saw was an embarrassing effort to present their existing, weak, ineffective suite of policies as, in some way, a solution to the urgent global challenge of climate chang They were called out, weren't they? They were called out, because the international community saw right through that. International figure after international figure called on the Morrison government to do more, and the truth is Australians want them to do more as well.

The Australian people aren't silly. They know that the climate is changing. They know that there is an urgent task to start dealing with carbon emissions. They also know that the environmental emergency—the urgent environmental task—is also an economic opportunity because Australia is blessed with abundant natural resources, and we have the opportunity to use those resources to create jobs of the future, to make sure that we do have a complex, diverse Australian economy with jobs in the regions, powered by clean, renewable energy and creating opportunities for communities right across the country. There's no interest in that over there. The government are determined to continue with business as usual, to pretend that nothing needs to be done and to pretend that their do-nothing approach will be adequate, and people are angry about it.

Labor will continue to argue for urgent and meaningful action on climate change, in keeping with our commitment to reach net zero by 2050. Our record in government was to ratify Kyoto, to supercharge Australia's renewable energy sector and to put Australia on a path of sharply declining emissions. What intervened to prevent that? It was the election of the Abbott government and their determination to remove every meaningful institution that could have put Australia on a better path. Labor has a very different approach and a future Labor government will take the urgent task seriously. We've already announced that an Albanese Labor government will invest $20 billion to upgrade Australia's electricity grid to unlock new sources of renewable energy and the jobs and power savings that come with them. We'll make electric cars cheaper by slashing inefficient taxes. We'll support 10,000 apprenticeships in the new energy trades of the future, and we'll cut bills and support the grid with community batteries for up to 100,000 solar households.

We know that this will receive the support of the Australian community because Australians are already embracing these technologies. Australians are already putting solar on their roofs and they're already looking for ways to improve their own carbon footprints. But, where there is a role for gas to play in firming and peaking electricity and as a feedstock for manufacturing, exploration and extraction then we understand that there is a role for gas in that transition. That gas exploration and extraction must, of course, be subject to scientific, independent and evidence based approvals. Evidence regarding the Beetaloo sub-basin is in the early stages. It's uncertain what proportion of the resource will be technologically and economically viable to extract, and federal Labor respects the views of the Northern Territory government, which supports exploration of the Beetaloo basin. We also supported a Senate inquiry into the Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program in the interests of transparency, and the work of that committee is ongoing. Labor will consider the final report of the Senate inquiry, which is due in March 2022, and, as it stands, Labor does not support this disallowance motion proposed by the Greens. We will continue to advocate for ongoing consultation with traditional owners by both government and industry to ensure cultural heritage and the environment are protected, as a matter of urgency.

7:19 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

The government stands by its gas-led recovery plans. The Beetaloo basin has the potential to deliver 6,000 jobs and over two million petajoules of gas and drive the economic recovery required.

(Quorum formed)

Debate interrupted.