Tuesday, 8 August 2023
Environment and Communications References Committee; Reference
I move my motion relating to the establishment of a Senate inquiry into the Middle Arm project in the Northern Territory:
That the following matter be referred to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry and report by 28 November 2023:
The Middle Arm Industrial Precinct, with particular reference to:
(a) the development of Darwin's Middle Arm Industrial Precinct, the role and funding intentions of the Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments;
(b) the likely and intended future uses on the site, as well as the industries and supply chains that would benefit from those plans;
(c) any climate, environmental or health impacts as a result of developing the harbour and the industries seeking to establish themselves at Middle Arm;
(d) the conduct, process and implications of the proposed strategic environmental assessment for Middle Arm;
(e) engagement and advocacy by industries and their representatives throughout the Middle Arm proposal, including with First Nations groups and communities and adherence to the principles of free, prior and informed consent; and
(f) any other related matters.
This particular reference is one that has previously been proposed by the Environment and Communications References Committee, in our majority report into the Beetaloo basin back in April this year. Today we are discussing the direct terms of reference for the establishment of this inquiry, an inquiry into a project that this government has proposed and on which it has budgeted to spend $1½ billion. Why, you might ask, wouldn't the government just let this go through? It's an inquiry into spending $1.5 billion of taxpayers' money, so surely any type of big budget item like this needs to be considered properly, thoroughly scrutinised and indeed looked at closely by the Senate. That's why we are moving this motion for this inquiry today.
The Albanese government have a choice to make, a choice for basic integrity and scrutiny in the public interest, as of course they were elected to do and we hear time and time again that they stand for it, or is the government going to take the path of more greenwashing, cover-ups and climate-wrecking pollution? This is the choice that the Labor government and the Prime Minister, Mr Albanese, must make today when they consider whether or not to keep their commitment to this inquiry, to look at this project and to allow the public and the experts to have a say over exactly what this project needs. Will the Labor government backflip, break the promise and deny the ability for this Senate, the chamber of scrutiny, to indeed look at this particular issue?
It's $1.5 billion of taxpayer money which, as it stands today, will expand gas and fracking and help open up the gas fields in the Beetaloo basin. It will supercharge the climate bomb. It will cook the climate. Of course it should be scrutinised because it's public money, but it also needs serious consideration because of the climate impact, environmental impact and health impact that this project will cause.
As I said at the outset, back in April this year, only several months ago, the Labor government, including members in this place, backed the establishment of this very inquiry into the Middle Arm gas project. It was recommendation 2 of the Beetaloo report, which every member of the Labor government who was on that committee backed. They signed their names to it and supported it. It was a commitment that was made to the Senate and a commitment that was made to the public back in April, only a few months ago.
So what has changed? What's changed here? Why this change of heart from the Labor government? Why this change of heart from Labor senators in this place? Because of the gas lobby? Fossil fuel donors? The scare campaign of the fossil fuel industry? Your guess, Mr Acting Deputy President, is as good as mine. But it's pretty obvious, isn't it? They made a promise one day and it was broken the next. I thought they would be better. I thought this government came in on the premise that that type of backflipping, that type of breaking of promises and that type of flip-flopping was something to be left behind with the old style of coalition and Morrison government. Apparently not, unless of course we see a flip again and the Labor government do the right thing today and back this inquiry.
The commitment to investigate and to allow the Senate, community and experts to look at what the Middle Arm project means is important. It matters because, despite the attempted greenwashing about sustainable development—let's be very clear about this—the Middle Arm precinct will enable the expansion of fossil fuels. We know this because one of the very companies who want to frack the Beetaloo basin have put it up in lights to the ASX. They have said: 'We can keep going. We can frack. We can open up. We can create a big new gas field because this government is going to allow us to export our gas, our pollution, overseas.'
The reason this all matters is because we are, right now, in a climate crisis. We know what is happening. The planet is warming. In fact the United Nations have described the planet as 'already boiling'; we are at global boiling point. And what makes all of this worse? More gas, more coal, more fossil fuels. The world's entire expertise on climate and pollution agree, and the global energy experts agree, that if we want to arrest the most dangerous elements of the climate crisis and global warming we must stop expanding fossil fuels. We cannot have one more new project, let alone a project that is going to pollute so much that it increases Australia's emissions by 11 per cent—that is just one project, the Beetaloo basin, that's going to use this Middle Arm precinct.
Despite all the greenwashing in relation to this particular precinct, documents reported by the ABC show that the Northern Territory government described the project as 'a new gas demand centre', at a time when we need to get off gas, stop pollution and stop making things worse. Where is all this gas going to go? It's going to get shipped off overseas and burnt, and the climate crisis is going to get worse. Make no mistake: the Middle Arm gas precinct is about the expansion of fossil fuels and creating more money and more profit for the gas industry. This is about gas and fracking, and nothing more.
There are a number of people in the building today, as we heard during question time, wanting to talk to their local members of parliament, wanting to talk to their senators and wanting to talk to the government about the very real impact that this Middle Arm project and precinct is going to have not just on the health of the environment but on the health of the community. Under pressure from those community advocates and doctors in the building today, the Prime Minister himself stood up in question time and tried to make us all believe that this project that the Northern Territory government themselves say is a gas demand centre isn't about gas at all; it's only about solar and the export of solar power. Have you ever heard such rubbish? Have you ever heard such a blatant, terrible, ham-fisted attempt at greenwashing? The Northern Territory government themselves say that this is a gas demand centre, at a time when we need to reduce gas, get off gas and stop pollution.
I know there are good people in the government, on the government benches, who are vehemently opposed to the Middle Arm precinct, who are disappointed that every time they want to stand up in caucus or stand up in their local community and say, 'Enough is enough; the Labor Party has to be serious about climate action,' they get walked over. They get told to sit down and be quiet. It must be incredibly frustrating. But what frustrates me more is that three or four months ago, this lot, over here in government, said they would allow this inquiry to go ahead. We're not asking for the government to make a decision to scrap the Middle Arm precinct today or to not spend $1.5 billion today. All we are asking today is for the Senate to be able to do its job, to inquire, to investigate, to gather expertise, to hear the views of the local community and to consider all the impacts of this project properly.
There are serious questions about the economics of the Middle Arm precinct—not just the climate impacts but whether this is even going to stack up economically. A report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis has said that they have serious concerns about the economic risk of this project. So not only do the scientists have a concern; the economists have a concern. Meanwhile, who doesn't? Who is saying: 'Yay! Okay! Let's open the floodgates. Let's set up the new gas field in the Beetaloo. Let's destroy and pollute more with the Barossa gas field'? The only people pushing for this project in this manner are the fossil fuel criminals.
The fossil fuel industry have their hands out again for more public money to keep doing what we know is destroying the environment and wrecking the planet. They can't even pay for it themselves. That's $1½ billion of taxpayer money plus hundreds of millions of dollars more in other forms of subsidies. The gas industry can't even stand on their own two feet. They're only kept upright because, time after time after time, state and federal governments give them a cash handout. Talk about corporate welfare. We can't afford—we hear over and over again from this government—to help people who are actually in a cost-of-living crisis. We can't lift people out of poverty, we can't fund free dental care, we can't fund free child care and we can't fund our hospitals properly, but we can afford, apparently, $1½ billion of taxpayers' money to keep the fossil fuel industry afloat.
Even on the sheer economics this project doesn't stack up. I've said very little about the coalition and the Liberal and National parties in this debate so far, and here is why: we know they care zilch about the climate impacts. We know the front bench of Peter Dutton's party is riddled with climate deniers. But here is the clincher. Do you really think the taxpayer should be funding $1½ billion for something that Labor members themselves say they have a problem with.
It will be of no surprise that the coalition won't be supporting this committee referral, for a very long list of reasons. Probably the most important one is that the entire argument for holding this committee is based on misinformation, lies and hysterical activism. It in no way supports the future of Australia, whether it be economically, environmentally or for the taxpayers and those Australians who enjoy great jobs, which fund their lifestyles and the First World life that we have in this country.
The coalition has never made any secret of the fact that, once we were sufficiently informed about the Middle Arm sustainable project and the potential costs in this development, we have been very supportive of it. That is because the Middle Arm project is incredibly important for the Northern Territory and for Australia as a whole. There has been an enormous amount of work undertaken in relation to the interactions between economic and environmental considerations in the creation and operation of this project, and this is the bit that I think is completely missing so far in this debate. There's a lack of understanding about the role that the Beetaloo gas project, in particular, can play in reducing emissions, in improving the quality of life for people in the Northern Territory and, yes, in increasing the royalties and company taxes and PAYG taxes that these industries provide to Australians.
The Greens talk about who's going to fund more medical care and more social security. Guess who it is? It's mining and resource projects. Over $38 billion worth of wages and salaries are paid to Australians by those companies. The vast majority of environmental projects in this country are paid for by resources projects. Forty per cent of Australia's corporate tax is paid for by resource companies. PRRT is already nearly $2 billion in the last financial year, which is paid for by offshore gas projects. The bit that the Greens will never talk to you about is that it is these projects that pay the bills for Australians. It is these projects that allow us the luxury of having these conversations. And the Northern Territory, a jurisdiction that is desperate to raise its people up and to provide greater services, desperately needs the taxes and PAYG jobs that these projects through the Middle Arm development will provide.
In our years in government we took a leading role in assessing and progressing the Middle Arm precinct. In April 2022, we announced a $1.5 billion commitment to the project, which was subsequently matched by the Labor Party. Our decision came after careful and comprehensive consideration more than a year after the project was included in the national Infrastructure Priority List. That consideration included embedding a clear focus at the precinct on advancing, in the words of the Northern Territory government, 'low emission hydrocarbons, green hydrogen, advanced manufacturing, carbon capture and storage and minerals processing'.
We absolutely cannot move to a lower-emissions, higher-energy economy and environment unless we bring on projects like this. There is absolutely no way to do it. There is no way that we can bring online the scale of renewables that is proposed by the Greens in the time frame that will allow us to support lithium processing projects, rare earths projects and critical minerals projects. It is an absolute fantasy to be trying to stop important gas projects which will allow us to have reliable and affordable energy in the foreseeable future.
It makes me very nervous about what would happen if we removed those industries. If the Greens were successful and there were no more new projects, who would pay the bills? Who would pay the bills for Australia? Who will pay the company taxes?
The resources industry, broadly, is paying huge company taxes, PRRT payments and $38 billion of wages in this country. If it was up to the Greens, we would be living under trees with absolutely no services at all.
For every Australian mum and dad who has shares in these businesses through their super funds and who are benefiting in their retirement from their businesses, this is exactly the kind of financial security that the Greens would rip out from underneath them.
Moral grandstanding about Australia's fossil fuel industries, coal and gas, may make some people feel better about themselves, but shutting down our industries will have exactly the opposite effect to the one they claim they want, because, if Australia withdraws from exporting our high-quality coal and gas, global emissions will rise. The Beetaloo basin has some of the lowest-emissions gas in the world. When we don't produce it, countries like Malaysia and Vietnam, who are building LNG import terminals, will go to Qatar and the US to buy gas. They will not be building the number of solar panels and wind farms that the Greens would like us to have, because that cannot support them. That cannot provide the reliable, affordable energy that they absolutely demand.
So Australia has a clear choice. We either adopt the European model of energy security, offshoring our energy security, or we adopt the US model and make ourselves energy secure. The Middle Arm precinct is a part of that. The Middle Arm precinct will allow for the development of important gas basins like the Beetaloo. The gas will either come east and south down the pipeline or, yes, be exported. But, either way, lower-emissions gas is better for worldwide emissions. The Beetaloo Sub-basin is one of the largest undeveloped onshore gas resources in the world, and development of this resource has the potential to create 6,000 jobs by 2040. It would transform the Northern Territory's economy and supply gas into domestic markets for decades to come. One petajoule of gas can power 19,000 homes for a year, and the Beetaloo has approximately 200,000 petajoules of potential supply. When you don't develop supply, like Victoria, you see the result of that. The results there are coming home to roost. The last thing we need is more bans and more moratoriums.
The coalition strongly support more gas production more widely. In government we committed $108 million to deliver on this gas-fired recovery. That is a fraction of the royalties, company taxes and PAYG taxes paid by this industry. The idea that the taxpayer is funding the fossil fuel industries, gas and coal, is just not true. That is a fraction of the income that this country receives from that industry.
Read the budget. The risk of hysterical activism to our economy and to our environmental standing is incredibly dangerous.
But what do we hear from the Greens and the teals? And, be clear, they're in partnership on this. We hear hysterical language: 'global boiling'. We've moved from global warming to global boiling. Next we'll be just pure evaporation. Despite the Greens and teals presenting themselves as fair and reasonable, it is hypocritical—their scare campaigns and their lack of understanding of the sheer economics and environmental outcomes that this country is trying to manage. They don't have real solutions to the cost-of-living issues facing Australians and, despite skyrocketing energy bills, instead want to turn off affordable, reliable traditional energy in order to make a few feel better about themselves. Instead of engaging constructively, they have come here today to try and damage Australia's prosperity, to damage the Northern Territory's economic future and to shut down this critical infrastructure project.
Middle Arm will deliver thousands of permanent high-skilled jobs in new and emerging industries. It is set to bring billions of dollars to the Northern Territory and federal economies and continue generating wealth for our country, yet the teals and the Greens want to throw all of this away. I say to Territorians: be very afraid, because this is proof that the Greens and the teals are coming after your jobs. They don't support these foundational industries. They grandstand for the sake of grandstanding. And I say to anyone who works in the resources sector across Australia—that's all 1.1 million of you, the 1.1 million Australians who are directly employed by resources industries—that the Greens and the teals are coming for you too, because when there are energy and electricity shortages and the new mines that are on track cannot meet their safeguard targets and we cannot develop processing for critical minerals like lithium and rare earths, where do you think the investment will go? It won't go here. It will not go to Australia. We are already seeing investment decisions being made that preference Alaska and Canada over Australia. Qatar is eating our lunch and filling our export markets.
It is critical that we continue to press back against the fearmongering and scare campaigns that come from these groups, because they will damage Australia. They will ensure that our children don't have any future at all, because we will hand over our responsibilities for being high-standard managers of resources projects—something that we are incredibly good at in this country. We will offshore those responsibilities to countries with higher emissions and with less high standards for work force, for the environment and for tax payments. We will offshore those responsibilities to someone who does a worse job, and Australians will be left the poorer for it.
We stand at a turning point and we have a very clear choice: do we continue to allow these hysterical claims that will damage Australia economically and environmentally to continue coming from the Greens and the teals, or do we say enough of your hysterics? Step back, because we know that it is from these projects that Australians receive the taxes to pay for our health system, our education system, the NDIS, schools, roads and hospitals. That is our choice, and the coalition says: 'We will not allow this to go on.' We say enough. We will protect Australians. We will protect Australians' jobs and we will protect Australian standards of living.
( ) : Senator Nampijinpa Price was first, and I will come to you, Senator David Pocock. Before you speak, Senator Nampijinpa Price, I will check whether any of the Greens senators are intending to speak. If not, I will go to Senator Nampijinpa Price, then I'll go to Senator David Pocock and then I will come to you, Senator Cox. I don't have a speaking list in front of me. I'm just trying to keep everyone equally unhappy.
An honourable senator interjecting—
Yes, but no-one stood on the government side of the chamber. Two stood on the opposition side of the chamber.
An honourable senator interjecting—
I've called Senator Nampijinpa Price and then I will go to—
An honourable senator: Senator Pocock.
If you could sort it out amongst yourselves, that would make my life a lot easier. Senator Nampijinpa Price has been given the call, and then I will go to whomever.
I rise today to address the blatant hypocrisy of those who are calling for this referral to committee. It is the hypocrisy of those from outside the Northern Territory who are trying to stall and ultimately to stop a project that will help improve the lives of not only Northern Territorians but all Australians and untold numbers of people right around the world. The people of the Northern Territory are sick of politicians and activists from wealthier parts of this country using the Territory to virtue signal to their inner-city bases.
I quote the Northern Territory's Labor Chief Minister, Natasha Fyles:
… it's bad enough to be lectured by people living on Sydney's northern beaches or Melbourne's eastern suburbs about what jobs Territorians can and can't have. But bagging out a development that supports zero and lower emissions energy from a place overwhelmingly powered by coal and oil? The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
I have to admit, I find myself in unfamiliar territory today because I find myself agreeing with the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. Territorians have had enough of people from cities and economies built on coal and oil lecturing us how we use our resources.
Middle Arm will achieve two things: firstly, it will provide a much needed boost to jobs and to the Northern Territory's economy; but, secondly—highlighting the hypocrisy—Middle Arm will provide cheap and reliable energy through gas that is cleaner and has lower emissions than coal or oil. That's right, not only will Middle Arm help to boost the economy of the Northern Territory but the project will help Australia and the world reduce its carbon emissions. To stand in its way under the guise of environmental protection is hypocritical, short-sighted and plain wrong.
I also note the very high environmental standards to which our resources sector operates. If we were to shirk our international responsibilities and stop providing this high-quality, low-emissions fuel, countries around the world who don't have alternatives will turn to lower quality, higher emitting resources that will increase pollution and environmental damage.
Middle Arm can improve the lives of Northern Territorians, all Australians, help reduce emissions around the world and address the problems that the virtue signallers of this place claim to care so much about. It is a win/win really. It is such a win that it's one of the few clear-cut projects that can receive support from both sides of the political aisle. Coalition governments and Labor governments at both federal and Territory levels have worked together on this project for many years to ensure that it can go ahead with environmental considerations at the forefront of the process.
I absolutely oppose this referral to committee and encourage all involved to get a move on, do whatever they can to speed this project up so that the people of the Northern Territory, some of our most marginalised Australians, can receive the benefits they need and absolutely deserve.
I thank Senator Hanson-Young for this motion to look into a project that absolutely deserves the scrutiny of the Senate. I would like to return to what we should be debating here today, whether or not to refer this to a committee. I find myself sitting here listening to what can only be described as ALP talking points and gas industry talking points coming from the major parties. We heard from Senator McDonald about hysterical activism, when we're talking about 2,300 medical professionals putting their names, their reputations in an open letter to the Prime Minister, expressing concern about the health impacts from Middle Arm on people in Darwin, on young people in Darwin, on future generations born in Darwin. Today in the building there were peak bodies representing 100,000 doctors across the country, expressing these concerns about the direct impacts that Middle Arm will have on the health of not only people in the Darwin area and people who live in the Beetaloo basin but on all Australians, as well as the contribution that Beetaloo, Barossa and other projects will have on the climate.
Senator Nampijinpa Price talked about unfamiliar territory in agreeing with NT Labor. This is very familiar territory for those on the crossbench—to have the major parties on a unity ticket when it comes to fossil fuel expansion in Australia. We've heard so many good things from the new government about the need to act, to take this seriously, to build an economy for the future. Millions of Australians have been so hopeful that that would happen, and yet, at the same time we hear about the transition, we also hear about the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. We're seeing $1.5 billion of taxpayer money going into the Middle Arm petrochemical hub and gas export facility.
These sorts of decisions deserve the scrutiny of the Senate, given the concerns that have been raised by paediatricians, by experts here in Australia and around the world, who have spent decades looking at what it means for communities to live next to petrochemical hubs. We've heard the argument from the government about how it's not just gas; it's all these other things. But, by having gas being processed there, you're exposing people in Darwin to the effects of that, and that is on your hands. We know this. We have the evidence. Yet you continue with this decision. This is a very hard thing for the government, I'm sure. There are many smart, educated people who can read the briefing from all these doctors who've been here today, over 100 doctors from the NT, wanting to come here and meet with the Prime Minister to raise their concerns. They weren't able to meet with the NT Chief Minister. She wouldn't meet with them. So they've come to Canberra to seek out support from federal politicians on this project that is getting federal money. They couldn't get a meeting with the PM today. There are a bunch of parents from Darwin who are concerned what this means for their children.
We know that there will be an increase in leukaemia in young people, in cardiovascular disease and in asthma. Despite all this evidence, the major parties are saying that we shouldn't even look into this further—that this doesn't even warrant our scrutiny. It's so absurd. It is absurd that you would not want this to have a little bit more oversight, to dig a little bit deeper, to be able to take these concerns onboard. When we talk about these things, we see the government senators looking down, not wanting to look up, because you know what you are doing.
I plead with you. I've spent the last couple of months talking to climate scientists and reading about the known and likely impacts for young people born today. My four-year-old niece, Georgia—what will her life look like for the next 70 years, to the year 2100? It is terrifying. It is no surprise that young people will continue to move away from the major parties if you continue down this road of destroying their future. We know what we're doing now. We have more than enough evidence. Scientists are imploring you; they are urging you. Communities are urging you, and yet we can't even look into this. We can't even have a Senate inquiry, despite the government agreeing to that a while ago. Now we've seen a change of heart. These sorts of decisions matter. They deserve more scrutiny.
The thing that we will be judged on by young people, by future generations, is what we do now with the evidence that we have, the knowledge that we have, to turn things around.
At the moment, we're failing them. We are failing young people and future generations. We are making decisions that are good for the short term—maybe. We're making decisions that are good for gas executives and gas corporations. I urge the government to reconsider this and to vote for a motion to set up a Senate inquiry into a project that is very controversial in the Northern Territory and across the country because, while this will have immediate impacts on Darwin, it affects all of us. We share a climate, and this project unlocks the Beetaloo and Barossa—some of the dirtiest gas in the country. It's gas so dirty that, from what I've been told, they won't be able to pipe it with the CO2 in it. They'll have to vent the CO2 out at sea. Maybe in the future, with carbon capture and storage, we can take the CO2 out and pump it back underground, but these are the sorts of projects that the government is enabling with this $1.5 billion.
Again, I go back to the core of this, which is whether or not the Senate deserves to be able to look at Middle Arm. I urge the government to reconsider. This will not age well. We are already seeing projections that the Northern Territory will become uninhabitable if we don't stop new fossil fuel projects. It won't be hard to live in; it will be uninhabitable. Your decisions around Middle Arm—your decisions to approve new coalmines and to kowtow to the gas industry—will make that a reality. On behalf of the thousands of people who have been in touch with my office and said, yes, politicians have a duty of care to young people and future generations, I implore the government to allow the Senate to look into Middle Arm.
I rise to speak in support of my colleague's motion that is currently before the Senate. I want to be clear from the get-go that Middle Arm is in fact the dirtiest petrochemical hub and will put First Nations petroglyphs at risk in Middle Arm. This issue has already been raised with the minister. It'll also put health at risk, and Senator Pocock and Senator Hanson-Young have already articulated that with the doctors that were in the building today. There was an open letter to the Prime Minister around the health of people who are going to be living in that immediate area. We'll have our own cancer alley, and we have heard the concerns of people who live within a five-kilometre radius of Middle Arm. They will have a 30 per cent higher risk of leukaemia. I can tell you now that First Nations people in Larrakia country don't need that extra 30 per cent if we are to close the gap. We already have our own statistics that are unacceptable in this country. Everyone on all sides of this chamber and in the other place stands and talks about how we're going to close the gap, and yet they will continue to put the environment and the climate at risk.
Tamboran have been very clear that Middle Arm is key for the export of gas from the Beetaloo Basin. They have pushed ahead against the wishes of traditional owners, against the wishes of farmers and against the wishes of the climate science that is very clear. Also, the Northern Territory government have already said that they have a commitment not to proceed with any fracking until all the recommendations of the Pepper inquiry are fully implemented, which is a blatant lie now, because they're pushing ahead. They're continuing to ignore, and it's all about money. It's all about these so-called jobs that people are going to have. I ask those opposite: how many mob are going to work on those jobs? Not many. Do you know why? It's because they figured out the climate science. They know that they cannot work on projects that go against the cultural and spiritual connection to country. Yet we are here talking about the $1.5 billion that the Middle Arm project has and Tamboran have said is for the export of gas from that terminal. That is contrary to what Senator McDonald would have you believe, because we know—and Senator Pocock has also spoken about this—that the PRRT system in this country is broken.
The tax system is broken. The tax credits that exist mean that a nurse in this county pays more tax than the gas cartels, and the gas cartels, in the words of Minister Husic from the other place, are who they are. They don't want any of those caps on their gas because they are benefitting from the Ukraine war, from the misery in what is happening there. And we are being targeted because we are not paying attention to the environmental and social governance that should exist in this country. It should exist, but it does not. Everybody in this place from the two major parties is looking the other way right now. With their heads down, they're not looking at anybody because the gas corporations have told them they can make billions of dollars from sending our climate destroying gas overseas, by offloading it. On top of that, the documents that have been made public in this place show that Labor knew this funding would be used to expand the gas industry. But do you know what? Again, they look the other way because they're funding it anyway. They took up where these guys left off, just to make sure there was a seamless transition.
They are knowingly making the climate crisis worse. They were elected saying: 'We'll go in there and we will solve this. The climate wars will be over.' But they are also knowingly destroying or going to destroy the remaining First Nations rock art in the city of Darwin, in Larrakia country, while in this place we're talking about cultural heritage being impacted by industry. There are senior Larrakia people that have told me that this artwork that exists right there is priceless for their mob, and it should be considered priceless and a part of Australia's history. Both the Northern Territory and the federal governments have failed to even follow any cultural protocols at a state level or at a federal level in relation to consulting with the Larrakia people.
Earlier today I commended to the Senate a bill to protect the spirit of sea country, sea country that will be affected by the Barossa gas field. It will be affected, and it will pipe gas 200 kilometres down the road to Darwin, into Middle Arm. This is what is going to happen, and this is all happening on the back of the destruction of Juukan Gorge. I was a member of the northern Australian committee, which did two reports. The first one was titled Never again. When you say, 'Never again,' it means you shouldn't do it. Never again are we going do that, and yet here we are. We are at a place where we continue to see examples of industrial development, including in my home state of Western Australia with the ancient rock art in the Burrup Peninsula. This peninsula is being placed at risk by industry, by the promise of all this wonderful money that is going to come from all of this. There's no point in having money if no-one's going to be there to enjoy it. They won't be there because you're going to kill everyone off.
We need to hear from traditional owners about how this project could impact their cultural heritage, their country, their environment and their biodiversity, and if the government won't allow that to happen, we will continue to pursue it in this place. As Senator Hanson-Young said, this is the place of scrutiny where we should be asking those important questions. The Greens have been pushing for an inquiry into Middle Arm for quite some time now. Labor have already backfllipped once on this, so we're giving them a chance to do the right thing and to let traditional owners know they can be heard when they speak about the true nature of this project. They are already telling us they have concerns. They're already saying to us, 'We want to have a conversation about what else we should know.' We know why this government doesn't want that. It's because they don't want their greenwashing to be exposed. They absolutely don't want that because, whilst they're saying that the climate wars are over and we're all playing nice, they're over there handing out billions of taxpayer dollars to fossil fuel companies and continuing to approve new coal and gas projects in this country. And they are pushing for this dirty, climate-destroying industrial petrochemical hub in Darwin Harbour to go on.
This government knows that if we do talk to people like traditional owners—in the year of the Voice, when we're standing here talking about how important their voices are and that their voices must be heard—we will hear from them that their voices have not been heard, that nobody has consulted with them and how this project is not sustainable. It is those traditional owners from Larrakia country who've been sustaining this—for over 65,000 years of continuing culture they've been protecting their land and their sea country. We'll also hear that the project is not clean. There's not free, prior and informed consent from those living close by. The government do not want their own mistruths to come to light and for their greenwashing to be laid out on the table again for everyone to see. That's why they are blocking this and choosing to get back into bed with the opposition.
But the Greens are committed to showing what this project is really about and the impact that this project will have, as Senator David Pocock has already said, not just now but for generations of our children and grandchildren, and not just in Darwin on Larrakia country, not just in the Beetaloo basin and the Barossa, and not just in my home state, with the Scarborough project on the Burrup Peninsula, but all over the world.
You are setting a precedent by blocking the questions that this inquiry could ask and the impact that we will expose if the inquiry is allowed to proceed. The Australian public have the right to know about the impact of what's happening in their backyard. If you listen to those opposite you'll hear them say: 'Oh, yes, people want jobs. They want to reap the benefit.' Come on, people! They also want to know about the health impact and how this affects their children. As a mother of two daughters, I would like to know what was going on in my backyard if this petrochemical hub was being opened. I'm not a doctor and, when 2,300 of them march into Canberra and to Parliament House and give their medical advice, we need to sit up and listen because we are not those people. They know the impact because they've studied it. They are listening to the climate science.
This hysteria activism that is being talked about is ridiculous. We should be hysterical. The climate and the earth are cooking. They are boiling. People need to take this seriously. Preventing an inquiry into Middle Arm will allow us all to look the other way. But I can tell you now that, on this side of the chamber, the Australian Greens—alongside some on the crossbench—are not looking away. We will continue to make the government accountable. We will continue to remind the opposition of the things that they said while they were in power and the decisions that they made, because we've got the legacy of it now. The legacy piece is here and this government continues it. So I fully support this inquiry.
The question before the Senate is that the motion standing in the name of Senator Hanson-Young regarding a reference to the Environment and Communications References Committee concerning the Middle Arm industrial precinct be agreed to.
I, and also on behalf of Senators Dean Smith, Reynolds, Brockman and O'Sullivan, move:
That the following matter be referred to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry and report by 12 October 2023:
(a) the ABC's actions in attending the protest;
(b) engagement between the ABC and the protestors prior to the incident;
(c) any collusion between the ABC and the protestors;
(d) the explanations provided by the ABC for its attendance at the incident, and the extent to which those explanations are accurate; and
(e) any other related matters.
By any measure, I think all Australians could not believe what went on last week at the home of Woodside CEO Meg O'Neill in Perth. It was an absolute disgrace. Nearly all Australians condemned the actions of the activists who terrorised Ms O'Neill and her family in their home, their private property. That the Western Australian police were on hand and arrested the activists is a good thing, and we'll now await the outcome of those arrests as the individuals are processed through the Western Australian courts system.
The other disturbing aspect of what occurred, and the reason the Liberal Western Australian senators and Senator Henderson have moved this motion, was the attendance at the scene of the incident by a team from the ABC Four Corners program. There are a number of concerns about this particular set of circumstances. The first one is this: this was at 6.30 am in a suburban street in Perth. I would've thought—and these are seasoned journalists—alarm bells should have started ringing at this point in time. The Four Corners crew, by the ABC's own admission, only knew about the likely protest because they had been advised by the protesters themselves.
This is where it starts to get interesting. The ABC—and, let's remember, the ABC are funded by the Australian taxpayer—claimed they had no knowledge that what was at the address was actually going to occur there or that it was actually someone's house. This within itself raises very serious questions. Quite frankly, it beggars belief that a crew from one of this country's most renowned investigative journalism shows turns up at a residential address in Perth and doesn't ask any further questions. A quick Google search of the address would have indicated that it was a residential address. Like my fellow Western Australian Liberal senators, we all know this part of Perth very well, and, I have to say to you, if I was travelling through the suburbs at that hour of the morning, I'd start to wonder, 'Well, this is all looking pretty familiar—house after house, after residential address after residential address.'
As Senator McGrath says—and I will take that interjection—not the ABC! Clearly, that is what has occurred here. Only the ABC would be travelling through the suburbs at 6.30 in the morning and not think that perhaps something was up, that perhaps they themselves had a duty to inform the police of what was about to occur. Quite frankly, alarm bells should have been ringing that environmental activists were turning up at a residential property in Perth at 6.30 in the morning. I would have thought it might have been at this point in time that the crew could have thought of alerting the authorities. That would have been the sensible course of action, but, of course, again, we are talking about the ABC.
The ABC claimed that the team remained on public land. This is what they've actually said. This is their explanation. The publicly funded, taxpayer funded, ABC claimed that the team remained on public land and at no time went on to private property or had any involvement in what was happening. That's their explanation. The problem with the explanation is this: like so many buildings now, the houses have CCTV. What then happened is Sky News Australia—I believe it was Andrew Clennell—revealed a picture of CCTV taken from the scene. Oh no! We have an explanation from the ABC, but now we actually have Sky News Australia with an actual picture, CCTV taken from the scene. What does the picture from the CCTV of the scene show? It clearly shows at least two of the four ABC Four Corners team—and this is where their explanation, unfortunately, starts to fall apart—standing in the driveway of this private residence.
What that does—and it should say to all Australians—is bring into doubt the ABC explanation of last week. Of course, it's the ABC, so they're probably going to come up with some technical arguments about where somebody's property begins and ends. I don't know about you, but the last time I stood in my driveway—I would say that most reasonable Australians, when they're standing in their driveway, would consider the activities in the driveway as depicted in the photo to be overstepping the mark.
We all work in politics, and we know that there are certain lines in politics you don't cross. You don't bring peoples' families into an argument. It's an unwritten rule, but it is one that I would hope that we all adhere to. Well, I would have thought that the publicly funded broadcaster would also know that there are some lines you don't cross, but, again, it is the ABC, and they clearly weren't thinking about lines that could or could not be crossed.
This is where it gets interesting. After the picture became public, we were told that the ABC is now conducting a detailed examination of the circumstances surrounding this matter. I would as well! Because the picture that was made public doesn't quite accord with the explanation that has been given by the ABC. But what we on this side of the chamber, the coalition led by Peter Dutton, are saying is that, quite frankly, that is not good enough; the ABC investigating itself, quite frankly, is not good enough. It is funded by the Australian taxpayer; it is taxpayers' money, and the taxpayer has a right to know what went on. That is why we have moved this motion. We want to see this matter referred to the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee for an inquiry and report by 12 October 2023.
What we'd like the inquiry to look at is this: the ABC's actions in attending the protest; engagement between the ABC and protesters prior to the incident; any collusion between the ABC and the protesters; the explanations provided by the ABC for its attendance at the incident and the extent to which those explanations are accurate—this one is very important, given what the CCTV footage shows; and any other related matters. What will the ABC say? They'll say this is an attack on media freedom. Guess what? No, it is not. We on this side of the chamber strongly believe in freedom of speech and a free media. But—and this is what sometimes the ABC need to understand—it comes with a responsibility on the media's part to conduct themselves in a way that is acceptable to the majority of Australians. And that responsibility is particularly important when the media organisation in question is funded by the Australian taxpayer.
This is also not an attempt to cow the ABC or shut down legitimate reporting on any matters. It is simply a question about conduct on that day. As I have said, the taxpayers who fund the ABC deserve—in fact, they don't just deserve, they should be demanding from the ABC and, indeed, from this Senate—answers to those questions. We should have confidence that our money is being used well and that certain standards are being adhered to by those receiving taxpayer funding.
We've heard from the government that they've asked for more information about this matter, but I say to the government: 'Well, quite frankly, that is not good enough.' It is time for Minister Rowland to publicly release all information that her office holds on the conduct of the ABC at the protest. This includes all communications on the matter between the minister and the ABC. The minister should also explain whether or not she, the Prime Minister and the Albanese government support the ABC's conduct. We also call on the minister to say whether any ABC employee will face any consequences as a result of their conduct. It's also time the minister revealed any further action that she is going to take on this matter. Australians have a right to know what the minister responsible for the ABC is doing. But, not only that, they also have a right to know what she thinks should be done.
Those opposite may also be interested in what the Labor Premier of Western Australia had to say about this matter. It's not often I'm going to agree with Premier Cook, but in this instance at least he had something to say. He penned a widely reported letter to ABC chair Ita Buttrose. In part, this is what Premier Cook's letter said:
I have been in public life long enough to understand the vital role the news media plays in a healthy democracy and the right of journalists to report the news without fear or favour. However, the fact that an ABC TV crew attended the private home of a WA citizen to document the committing of alleged criminal acts is cause for great concern and morally wrong.
Your Managing Director has sought to reassure me about the prior knowledge of the ABC crew—
Now, listen to this. This is the WA Premier:
but it is difficult to comprehend how a TV crew could not understand how their presence at a private residence only encouraged these activists. It is doubtful 'Disrupt Burrup Hub' would have targeted a private residence if your TV crew was not present to publicise such appalling actions. Wittingly or unwittingly, the ABC was complicit.
And what have we heard, colleagues, from Prime Minister Albanese to date?
There you go. Thank you for filling the silence. Let's also have a look at the Australian newspaper, which captured well what many Australians think about this matter in its editorial last week. The editorial said this in part:
The creative folk at the ABC have this week debuted a new fictional drama with an unlikely plot line and a most surprising twist. In the gripping script, a crew from the national broadcaster's celebrated Four Corners current affairs program receives a hot news tip in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. The message? Grab your camera gear and head to an address in the Perth suburbs. These intrepid truth warriors have absolutely no idea what's happening there. Hell, they don't even know it's someone's house. Without answers to these most basic of questions they judge the story significant enough to race to the scene, where they happen upon a group of miscreant activists allegedly planning to carry out an attack on the home of Woodside boss Meg O'Neill.
The big twist? The ABC expects Australians to believe this ludicrous version of how events unfolded on Tuesday.
It would appear even the national broadcaster, as well practised as it is at flipping two-finger salutes to the notion of accountability, has realised having prior knowledge of a crime targeting the home of a senior business figure is a bridge too far.
This is also what the Australian said in their editorial:
Trust is the bedrock of any news organisation, let alone one funded by taxpayers. If senior ABC staff are contemptuous enough to spin baloney to explain away a damaging incident, what else are… their journalists not upfront with Australians about?
This is what we on this side of the chamber say: we need an open and transparent inquiry in which all of the issues can be examined in public. The ABC investigating the ABC is, quite frankly, laughable. The ABC investigating itself is not good enough. I would actually implore those in the government to back the establishment of this inquiry. Finally start living up to some of the promises of openness and transparency that you made to the Australian people before the last election.
I rise to speak on the motion that has been moved by coalition senators today. Firstly, I want to comment again—as I have already done on a number of occasions—on the protest action that this motion refers to, which took place in Perth last week. As I said in answers to questions from Senator Henderson in question time yesterday and as I said in a media appearance on Sunday morning, this protest, in my opinion and that of every member of the government, completely crossed the line of what is appropriate, and it should be rightly condemned. As Minister Rowland, Minister and Madeline King, other representatives of the government and I have said, everyone has a right to feel safe in their own home. It doesn't matter whether they're the CEO of the major listed company, it doesn't matter whether they're a member of parliament, it doesn't matter whether they're any member of the Australian public: people have a right to feel safe in their own homes. Australians should feel free to express their views, and protesting and rallies are an important part of our democracy. But it is not acceptable for these protests to be conducted at the door of someone's private home.
When you take on jobs that are in the public eye, there is an understanding that sometimes you will face protests and public opposition. It's something that happens to all of us every day of the week. But what you do not expect is for these extreme acts to come to your front door, where you and your family have every right to feel safe. Crossing that line from peacefully protesting to trespassing on people's property and intimidating them makes them feel frightened to live at home. I don't think that anyone believes that is an acceptable way to voice what you think about a certain matter, nor does it do your cause any good.
Let's also be clear about what these protesters want. These people want to end fossil fuels today, without any contemplation of the consequences for Australians and for our regional neighbours. The truth is that this kind of unthoughtful approach would only result in economic harm for Australians, and it would deprive our friends and allies in the region of the energy supplies they need. As is well understood, the Albanese government is committed to reaching net zero. We've set ambitious targets to improve our emissions reduction by 2030, and we're transitioning to renewable energy. But protests such as these do not help that cause. They only serve to undermine it.
I understand the perpetrators in question have been charged, and I acknowledge the efforts of WA police. We should let that police investigation and those charges run their course. I also understand that the Minister for Resources, Madeline King, has made contact with the CEO of Woodside, Meg O'Neill, to check in on her welfare. That kind of event is frightening and would shake anyone. Clearly, given that the police are involved, their actions will be subject to investigation and legal proceedings. As I've said, everyone in Australia and across the world has the right to protest, but they do not have a right to trespass on people's land and their homes and make them scared to be in their own homes. That is not legitimate protest activity.
In terms of the ABC, I understand that the Woodside chairman wrote to Minister Rowland last week to outline the company's concerns and the steps that they were taking to formally raise these concerns with the ABC. I also understand that in doing so the chairman also thanked Minister Rowland for her public commentary and handling of the issue. The ABC have since confirmed that they have received that official complaint and they are conducting a detailed investigation into the circumstances surrounding this matter. It is the right thing for the ABC to examine this matter, and the government will not be supporting this motion today, because we believe it is appropriate to let that investigation run its course. That is the process the Woodside chairman has himself chosen to pursue. The company of the CEO who was involved in this incident has elected to seek an investigation by the ABC, and that wish should be respected and that process should be respected.
The opposition is also aware that it has options such as examining these issues in Senate estimates, and, of course, if they are dissatisfied with the ABC's investigation, of making a complaint to the ABC Ombudsman—a position that was established by the former coalition government. So there are options here to pursue this matter legitimately. As I said, the Woodside chair has referred this matter to the ABC for investigation. In that context, the government does not believe it would be constructive to commence a Senate inquiry while this investigation is underway—an investigation, as I said, that has been requested by the Woodside chairman.
Australians, understandably, have high standards for the public broadcaster. Under its charter, the ABC is required to provide high-quality, innovative and comprehensive services to inform, entertain, educate and reflect the cultural diversity of the Australian community. While The ABC is independent of government in its operational and editorial matters, that does not mean that it is above scrutiny. There are robust complaints handling processes in place to deal with issue that are raised with the ABC, and they need to be used to thoroughly investigate this incident. That is what is now occurring, at the request of the Woodside chairman. The government will await the processes that are underway at the ABC. I suggest that the coalition should consider utilising other avenues to raise questions about this matter, such as through Senate estimates or waiting for the investigation by the ABC to be completed. As I said, if the opposition remains dissatisfied with the process there is the option of referring the complaint to the ABC Ombudsman as well. That is the appropriate way of handling this matter, that is the way the Woodside chairman has requested this matter be dealt with, and we think that that is the appropriate way for it to be dealt with, with rather than setting up a Senate inquiry in the middle of that investigation.
The sheer hypocrisy of the coalition in drafting and putting forward this motion is just extraordinary. There are the breaches of privacy that they have encouraged and that they have said nothing about, particularly over the last couple of months in relation to the alleged sexual assault of Ms Higgins. That is just one stark example. But, of course, if you want to know who in this chamber has a track record of colluding with the media, it is members on this side. Wasn't it Senator Cash, when she was an employment minister, whose office tipped off the media when the unions were raided? Talk about being in collusion with the media when it suits you.
That is a personal reflection, Deputy President. Senator Cash, my colleague, is not here to defend herself, but I'm happy to do so. That matter was determined by a Federal Court judge, and Senator Cash was held not to have been at any fault whatsoever. Senator Hanson-Young should know that, and I ask her to withdraw that reflection of collusion.
The sheer hypocrisy of this motion: it is just a continuation of the culture war of the coalition, led of course by Mr Dutton, the chief disinformation commissioner, the chief who is in charge of continuing to push and peddle mis and disinformation as his only way of being able to try and win any public debate in this country. It doesn't matter whether it is the Voice, it doesn't matter whether it is about the state of the climate and environment, it doesn't matter if it is about the real issues facing everyday people, it doesn't matter whether it is about those who are in peril because of the previous government's refugee policies, Mr Dutton has a track record of dis and misinformation and of colluding with the media when it suits him—over and over and over again. He is the chief operator and his own team just follow like sheep and that is what we are seeing today.
The culture war from the coalition towards the public broadcaster is just so crystal clear. It doesn't matter what the topic is, they will find an excuse to justify their policies of cutting the ABC budget, disrupting the ABC and meddling with its independence. The ABC has already said that it is investigating this issue, will have a review and will report back. This chamber should respect that independent process. But, of course, those on that side have no concern. They don't care about the independence of the public broadcaster; they just want to attack—stab, stab, stab. That is all they care about: cut its budget, stab at its independence. That is all the coalition are good for.
I have moved an amendment to this motion, pointing out that the biggest, most hysterical peddlers of dis and misinformation working with the right-wing activists in this country are News Corp and the Murdoch press. If we want to have an inquiry into the way the press report on climate and environment issues in this country, we should be inquiring into the climate denialism in the reporting of the Murdoch press, over and over and over again. You don't have to take my word for it; James Murdoch himself has called out the climate denialism of his family's own corporation. It is plain to see that this is just another political attack on the ABC, our public broadcaster, by the coalition. They have got absolutely nothing else to do. They attack the right of First Nations and Indigenous people to a voice and to giving constitutional recognition. They fear monger about that. They collude with the right-wing press and now here they are doing the bidding of the right-wing press again, who are simply in a culture war with our public broadcaster.
You would often hear from those on that side that they would be the first to argue about freedom of speech, freedom of the press—when it suits them.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I can hear the screeching from the other side. Let me be clear, there is an investigation into this issue being run by the ABC and we should respect the independence of that.
I feel that was a sexist term directed to me—I may have been interjecting—that she could hear 'screeching'. I would ask Senator Hanson-Young to withdraw her sexism from this chamber.
Senator Hughes. Senator Hanson-Young was speaking generally in the chamber. That's my understanding. No-one was interjecting from this side that I could hear. I thought you were orderly at the time. Senator Hanson-Young.
The ABC have already announced that they will investigate the allegations made, consider the appropriateness of the work of their journalists and that will be made public for all to see. We need to respect the independence of that process.
But let me be clear, because there were some accusations made while I've been on my feet: I don't think that protests should happen in people's homes. I think the right to peaceful protest is the right to peaceful protest in public spaces. That is my position. I think it should be done in public places. I don't think peoples' private properties or homes should be targeted. I want to be really clear about that.
But this culture war, exploiting this to use as an attack on our public broadcaster, is nothing more than gutter politics from the coalition. The ABC have said they will investigate, they will review and they will report back, and we should respect the independence. But it is a lack of respect for the public broadcaster, for the climate science, for the rights of journalists to do their jobs that is being presented by the coalition here today.
Opposition senators interjecting—
They just can't help themselves. Hysteria. Trumping it up. Fake news, fake outrage and fake facts. That's all you get from the coalition. It doesn't matter whether it's climate science, the Voice or the ABC—fake, fake, fake and fear mongering. That's all they've got. That's why we're voting the motion down. I move:
Omit all words after "The conduct of the", substitute "Murdoch-owned News Corp in relation to their history of climate denialism, with reference to:
(a) News Corp's history of biased coverage in relation to the climate crisis;
(b) any collusion between News Corp and the fossil fuel industry; and
(c) any campaigning or lobbying by News Corp or any of its mast heads for stronger anti-protest laws".
or O'SULLIVAN (—) (): It must be broadcast day in the Senate today because what we've seen here is a demonstration of the stunts and gimmicks that the Greens bring into this place. This amendment is the most ridiculous amendment to a reference to establish an inquiry into a very serious issue that's occurred in my home state of Western Australia. I'm very proud to join my fellow Western Australian Liberal senators in calling for this reference, for this inquiry, because it's absolutely critical. I would invite others—I see Senator Payman here, a good colleague from Western Australia—to join in on this because this is an outrageous breach of privacy that we've seen here, and it is unconscionable that it has occurred.
The staged protests that occurred at the personal home of Woodside Energy CEO Ms Meg O'Neill and her family is absolutely disgraceful. It needs to be called out without any qualification. Unfortunately, not supporting this reference means there is a qualification that's occurring here. We can't see this happen. This should be a unanimous decision here today. It's a very, very simple inquiry. Senator Watt said there are other avenues that should be looked at that the coalition could use. Frankly, it is the role of the Senate to look into these issues, and we should be able to hold an inquiry into the matters that surround this breach of privacy and that caused fear in the home of a private citizen in Western Australia.
It is absolutely disgusting that protesters would turn up to a private residence—with the knowledge of an ABC camera crew. It's just absolutely unconscionable. The public broadcaster's record is strong when it comes to activist journalists, and this is just another example of it. It is, and they need to be called out for it. As Senator Cash was saying in her contribution, for the ABC to appear on the driveway alongside radical climate activists is no coincidence. As Senator Cash was saying, when you get a tip-off—it was Four Corners; they were obviously there for a special investigation, running some sort of story—if you're getting an address in the suburbs, where there are households, you would know that this quite possibly could be a private residence. Anyone of any conscience—the producer of the show, the camera crew, the reporter, the journalists, whoever was involved—would know. It wasn't 1 St Georges Terrace. This was out in the suburbs, clearly a private residence. It is unbelievable.
I will defend the right of people to be able to protest and protest peacefully, but we're seeing, more and more across this country, a rise of property destruction, vandalism and trespassing. This is not protesting. This is breaking the law. For the ABC to go along with this—frankly, they're culpable. They're just as much a part of it, and they need to be called out for it.
All major oil and gas companies are subject to regular protests. We get that. We understand that there are people who don't like the work that they do. Frankly, if it wasn't for fossil fuels, we wouldn't have alleviated poverty across the world like we have over the last century, but there's no acknowledgement of that from the Left. Protests occur, and there's no acknowledgement of that; there's just this utopian world that they want to live in. Look, we're going to differ in that regard. But this is unacceptable. When we're worried about climate activists throwing paint on buildings—it's an absolute farce, and it's unacceptable. These activist stunts are unacceptable, and they should be punished.
For the ABC Four Corners camera crew to rock up alongside this is simply unacceptable and is an extreme overreach. There are some serious questions that need to be asked, and a Senate inquiry is an appropriate place for those questions to be put to the ABC. This is the public broadcaster. They have a responsibility. They've been provided funding by the Australian taxpayer to do their job, and Australian taxpayers deserve for questions to be answered.
The ABC's initial statement said:
The ABC team remained on public land observing what was happening and getting some vision, as journalists do.
We already know that this is untrue. We already know that this is untrue because we've seen the photo of this crew on the driveway of a private residence. This is unbelievable. They may say, 'Oh, it was on the kerbside; it was on council land.' We've all got driveways or entrances to the buildings that we live in. If someone arrives, whether it happens to be on the council verge or whether it's inside the property line of your residence, citizens know—any reasonable person will know—
You don't need to be a surveyor. That's right. I'll take that interjection, Senator Scarr. We know that this is wrong.
So, for the government to say that they don't support this reference—we expected it from the Greens—it is a real shame. We cannot trust the ABC's internal investigation. From what's been spoken about here by Senator Watt and my colleagues in the Greens such as Senator Hanson-Young the ABC are looking into this, but that's just them looking into their own state of affairs. What we need is an independent review of this. We need a Senate inquiry to have a look at this. But what we've heard from the federal Labor government—from both Minister Michelle Rowland and Minister Watt—is a weak response. It's simply a slap on wrist for the ABC. It's not acceptable. There needs to be a thorough investigation. This needs to be looked at. With the power of this Senate, there needs to be an investigation into this so that we can get to the bottom of what actually happened and so that there can be consequences. It's time that this government got serious about this issue. They need to step up to the plate. I commend this motion to the Senate and urge all senators, particular the Western Australian senators—I see that Senator Cox is in here, and Senator Payman is also from Western Australia—to support this motion.
YMAN () (): I want to thank Senator Cash for raising this motion. The safety and wellbeing of Western Australians is our shared priority, and I'm quite proud of that. As a senator representing my beautiful home state, I take this issue very seriously. Everyone has the right to protest. It is an important part of our democracy. However, individuals should not be targeted. Seeking to intimidate someone in their home or workplace is absolutely unacceptable. It is never okay to trespass upon someone's home, to threaten or to intimidate, and these extreme protesters should be condemned. We need to protect our democracy and society, and we do not want to become a place where public figures need to be surrounded by security figures at all times. I think all Western Australians understand this balance, and I understand that the perpetrators have been charged. I want to thank the WA police for their efforts.
With regard to the ABC, I note that staff behaviour is a matter for the broadcaster's board and executives and is guided by a code of conduct which outlines expectations about staff conduct. The ABC maintains a robust complaints handling process, and the broadcaster has confirmed it is conducting a very detailed examination of the matter and it is appropriate that this process run its course. Australians rightly have high expectations of the public broadcaster, and it is not above scrutiny. I want to reiterate that people are free to express their views, but coming to someone's home in the way that these protesters did crossed the line. It is important that protests are carried out with common decency and within the confines of the law. No-one has the right to trespass on a person's land and make them scared to be in their own home. This is not legitimate protest activity, and the perpetrators should be held to account for their actions.
We just heard from the senator opposite that this is not legitimate protest action. I would argue against that. I would say it absolutely is legitimate protest action—from the Left, anyway. The Left love to harass, love to harangue and love to show up at your home or your business and cancel you. The Left is the enemy of all good and decent people in this nation—in the world, actually.
Obviously, I rise here today to support Senator Cash's reference to the Environment and Communications References Committee. Why wouldn't I? Of course you would. Of course I would support my Liberal Party colleagues. I'll go one further. How about this? How about we defund the ABC? How about that one? Defund the ABC. I'm sick of the ABC. All the ABC do is left-wing, brainwashing, propaganda garbage. That's what the ABC is; it's garbage. Break it up into little pieces and sell it to the lowest bidder—not even the highest bidder, the lowest bidder. That's all they're good for.
There are certainties in life. What are those certainties, my Senate colleagues? I'll tell you what they are: life, death and taxes. That's what they are: life, death and taxes. And I'll add one more: the ABC behaving like a law unto itself. There's another one for you. Add that to the list. Here we are today—another day, another scandal from the national broadcaster. Hopefully, it's not the national broadcaster for too much longer. I dream of the day when the coalition or the United Australia Party is back in power and—do you know what we do?—we defund them. That's what we'd do. I would support that. Straight to trash heap of history! That's where they belong—the trash heap of history. Ita Buttrose, I hope you're watching. That's where you're going. With the ABC falsely labelling—
Senator Babet has a very strong and credible reputation for colourful presentations in the Senate, but Ms Ita Buttrose is an outstanding Australian, who has made a very strong contribution. I take that wave as an acknowledgement, Senator Babet, that you'll—
The Acti Ng Deputy President:
And it wasn't made particularly orderly. What I have endeavoured to do, since taking the chair, given the hour, is to allow a little bit of free backwards and forwards, but I will call the chamber to order. I will encourage senators not to feed the high level of energy that's in the room at the moment by interjecting. Senator Hanson-Young?
I don't think that's a point of order, Senator Hanson-Young. I have been listening carefully to Senator Babet. He is speaking to the matter that is before the chair. I call your attention to the contributions from your colleagues in the chamber, Senator Babet.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order, senators. If you want to have a conversation, leave the chamber. Senator Smith if you could resume your seat, it would assist the chair at the moment. Senator Babet, you have the call. Use it wisely.
Let's get back to business. Let's get back to the business of the Senate. What is the business of the Senate? It is robust debate. It is parliamentary privilege. Ladies and gentlemen, that's what it's about. I've got to speak my mind. I've been put here by the United Australia Party. I've been put here by some of the coalition's own previous voters. That's who put me here, and I'm happy to be here.
I'm not from Queensland; thank you, Senator Scarr. I go back to the ABC. Were the ABC falsely labelling the good people of Alice Springs as white supremacists? Were the ABC disgracefully labelling the royal family as a bunch of—
Senator Babet, please resume your seat. Senator Babet and other senators in the chamber, given the hour of the day, I've given a little leniency. I am going to call the chamber to order. I remind senators that interjecting is disorderly and it is not assisting the good governance of the chamber. Senator Babet, it would be helpful if you could lower the volume a little too. You have the call, Senator Babet.
Were the ABC—I'm sure you will all remember this—disgracefully labelling the royal family as a bunch of colonialists? Am I wrong or am I right? I think I'm right when I say that, because that's what they did do. Were the ABC wrongly accused the 'no' campaign of using AI generated Aboriginals to promote the 'no' case? I saw that quite recently.
I could stand here all day today and all day tomorrow and list the outrageous indiscretions of our taxpayer funded broadcaster. There are a lot of them; this is just one in a long list. But, no, this time their failure appears to be far more sinister. Is that even possible? I don't know if it is, but maybe it is. They turned up at a private citizen's residence in what was, in my opinion, almost—almost, so not quite—akin to a home invasion. That should be beyond the pale. That is what it should be—am I crazy or what? It should be that even for the ABC. But evidently, no, it is not.
The ABC claimed that their crew didn't know where they were going that morning. They didn't know, apparently! The ABC claimed that their crew didn't know at whose house they were filming when they started gathering that footage. They didn't know! The ABC claimed that their team remained on private property. That is what they claimed! Well, the evidence from the video footage shows that what happened was quite contrary to their claim. The national broadcaster, ladies and gents, senators in this place, people watching at home, is not a law unto itself. It is paid for, funded by the taxpayer. They're who pay for it. Taxpayers like who? Like Meg O'Neill, whose home was, in my opinion—it's just my opinion—attacked as our national broadcaster stood by and filmed.
The UAP and I support the inquiry into the ABC's conduct in this matter—of course I do. I would support any inquiry into the ABC—bring them on! Do you know what I am looking forward to? Dragging them in front of estimates—that's what I am looking forward to do. As reps of the taxpayer—that's what we are—it is our duty to hold our taxpayer funded broadcaster to account. This is just the latest incident of many. To the ABC I say: we must hold you to account, we must delve into what you are up to, we must unravel the mess that you are and we must set you straight. Hopefully, this is just a step one in that process.
I rise to speak on this topic when it is starting to get a little late in the day, but I am going to bring the temperature in the room down. I wish to speak on the issue of referring the conduct of the ABC to the Environment and Communications References Committee because I think it is actually a very, very serious issue and one that is worthy of investigation by the Senate committee system. That has been my view from the first moment I heard about this incident. I spoke about this on the evening it happened in an adjournment debate. I think we all, when we heard about this, recognised instantly what a serious incident this was.
I want to read from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance guidance to journalists for dealing with extremists:
The group in question that was being reported on by the Four Corners program has knowingly acted in a way designed to invoke fear, to intimidate, to provoke terror. The group in question released an unknown gas into the Woodside headquarters in Perth, causing the evacuation of all staff. Clearly the ABC knew about this—or they should have known about this. Presumably it was part of the piece of investigative journalism they were undertaking. They knew the track record of this group—an extremist group that seeks to provoke fear, that seeks to intimidate, that seeks to terrorise. They knew that before they sent the film crew to WA.
These individuals, it has now been shown, were at Ms O'Neill's place of residence on the two nights before the morning in question, doing surveillance. One of the key questions I have for the ABC is: was it aware of that surveillance of a private person's home in the middle of the night? If so, what did it do with that information? Then we have the morning in question—early in the morning, supposedly. There has already been one piece of misinformation supplied by the ABC in light of this incident, but this is what we know so far. They received a call in the early morning giving them an address. As my colleague Senator Cash and others have said, as soon as you see an address, as soon as you type it into your GPS, you know that it is a residential area. This is not something that requires sophisticated investigation. This is not something that requires journalistic sleuth work. The second you type it into your GPS, you know it is a residential address. Knowing what this group has done in the past, knowing the kinds of activities they undertake—the fear, the intimidation and the terror they seek to impose on people—and then having the information, the ABC crew was directed to a residential address in the early hours of the morning. Massive red flags should have gone up at that point. I don't think this Senate should accept the idea that the ABC will undertake an investigation into this themselves. I don't think that is acceptable in the circumstances I have just outlined. This group is a radical organisation that has clearly got a track record of invoking fear, of invoking terror and of releasing an unknown gas into a high-rise tower with hundreds of workers in it, causing it to be fully evacuated. They surveilled an individual's home two nights running in the lead-up to the early morning events that have made such prominent news.
On the night of the event, when I spoke in this place, I congratulated federal Labor minister Madeleine King and state Labor minister Johnston for their swift condemnation of this. This is not a partisan exercise. I continue to congratulate Minister Madeleine King in particular for being very clear that these actions are not acceptable in Australia. But it is the right of the Senate, in light of the events that I have outlined, to undertake an inquiry into this at the earliest possible opportunity while the matter is fresh in people's minds, while the information is clear and available—not in six months time after the ABC has done its internal process and whatever will come out has come out. The time to hold an inquiry is while the information is fresh and available and while the people involved can talk about what happened. I really do ask those opposite to consider supporting this referral to a committee. Again, this is not a committee that is controlled by one side of parliament or the other. These are Senate committees that do good work, often in a bipartisan way, and I am personally very disturbed by the actions of the protest group in the first place but also by the actions of the ABC in their approach to these issues.
In reflecting on this, and perhaps in reflecting on my immediate and visceral reaction to the events of that morning, my mind immediately went back to a program on Radio National that I was listening to a couple of weeks before. I happened to be in the car, driving in regional Australia, and I flicked on the radio and one of the few stations I could get was Radio National. I was listening along, and I can't remember which show it was precisely, to an interview with an environmental group talking about this very issue and the lengths that they believed were acceptable to go to in order to achieve their outcome. Basically, the conclusion of the conversation on the ABC was that the ends justify the means—you hear that conversation and then you see these kind of events occurring, like the release of gas in Woodside's headquarter building in Perth.
Woodside is a proud Western Australian company, a great contributor to Western Australian society and to the Western Australian economy—a significant export earner for our state, employing many thousands of Western Australians over a long period of time. It's a great Western Australian success story. I don't know Ms O'Neill well. I have met her a couple of times, and I know that anyone who reaches the kind of position that she has reached will certainly not be intimidated by this kind of behaviour. But this is not the kind of behaviour we want in our country. This is not the acceptable way, no matter what your views are. This is not an acceptable approach to protest. The end does not justify the means. We should not ever accept that the ends justify the means, particularly when it comes to protest and civil discourse, and the very important right that people have to free speech, to state their position on issues and to publicly protest if that's what they wish to do.
This approach not only undermines that freedom of protest but it also undermines why media institutions have guidelines like these; why the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance produces guidelines that assist them in dealing with extremist behaviour so we can preserve those freedoms. If the media does not take this seriously—and the ABC particularly, because the ABC is in a special place; it is the publicly funded broadcaster, it does get its resources from the taxpayers of Australia. If it's not willing to abide by guidelines such as these, to take them seriously and not facilitate extremists by giving them a platform in the way that they seem to have in that early morning last week, then I think we tread a very dangerous path. I commend the motion to the Senate.
I, too, rise in support of this very important motion. I note that there has been some invective and a bit of emotion used in opposition to this motion, but I think this is probably one of most important issues that this Senate should review. I say that for a couple of reasons. First of all is the issue of the sanctity of people's homes. In this case it was a pre-eminent businesswoman in Perth, Meg O'Neill, who is the CEO of an outstanding Western Australian and Australian company. But that aside, it should be that everybody is safe.
I listened to Labor speakers earlier on saying, 'Well, yes, this is an important issue, but we don't need to refer it to a Senate inquiry.' Yes, we do. If any of you opposite had that happen to you, if you had protesters who had recently gassed a building in what I could only describe as akin to domestic terrorism, if you had them turn up to your house, case your house and then have a home invasion of your house at 6.30 in the morning, simply because you are a senator or had a different point of view from them, you would be the first ones not only to refer this to the police but to refer it to the Senate for a Senate inquiry. The issues that come to light from this go far beyond one person in one home.
Everybody has a right to feel safe. Whether you're the CEO of a company, whether you are a bricklayer or whether you are a politician, you have the right to be safe in your own home from what look to be domestic terrorism-like activities. When you have a look at the four misguided people who were doing this most horrific thing of terrorising people in their own homes, they couldn't even say what they were protesting about. This then brings on the next question in my mind, which is: what the hell were Four Corners doing there in the first place? Social activism has no place, whether, as we've seen in the last 24 hours, it's the DPP, or whether it is the ABC or a news journalist. If you want to be a social activist, fantastic. As Senator Brockman has just read out from the media alliance guidelines, you do not allow yourself to become a tool of a protest group.
That is exactly what Four Corners have done yet again. They became the story rather than reporting the story. I find it completely beyond belief, as other people have said here tonight, that Four Corners could claim that they just turned up to this domestic address in Perth at 6.30 in the morning and there was this protest or this home invasion that was about to occur. 'We just happened to have our cameras here, but we didn't really know what was going on.' What a load of complete bunkum. They knew exactly what they were there to do. That's why they were in Perth. They were there to film this group of probably somewhat amateur protestors, to give them a voice and to give them a platform on their program. Disgrace on Four Corners and disgrace on the ABC.
The ABC certainly cannot be trusted to do this inquiry into themselves, because guess what they'll find in a few months time? 'Nothing really to see here. Oops, we got it wrong. They were actually on the driveway on the property. We thought they were out.' They cannot investigate themselves. Do you know what they won't investigate? They are not going to be investigating what Four Corners was doing there in the first place when actually doing this story. They were there as activists and they were there to promote activism, which is what the media alliance guidelines warns prudent and professional journalists not to do.
I say to all in this chamber that this motion should be supported because this is exactly the issue that we should be looking at in this place. This is not just about Meg O'Neill and it's not just about Four Corners becoming an activist program. This is about a much greater principle for each and every one of us here and everybody else in Australia. We have to say, 'It is not okay to be an activist and to threaten somebody's home.' Apart from anything else, how cruel is it? Anybody who's actually had someone try to break into their home—