Senate debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Matters of Urgency


5:30 pm

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKim has submitted a proposal under standing order 75 today:

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

The Government is breaking an election promise to strengthen our environment laws and is attempting to prevent First Nations people having a voice by pushing through the Parliament a bill to fast track offshore gas projects."

Is the proposal supported?

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

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator McKim, I move:

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

The Government is breaking an election promise to strengthen our environment laws and is attempting to prevent First Nations people having a voice by pushing through the Parliament a bill to fast track offshore gas projects."

This government said back on election night in May 2022 that they were committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full and listening to First Nations voices. Now, this government has also committed to strengthening the environment laws and it's said it is committed to strong action on climate change. Schedule 2, part 2 of the offshore petroleum greenhouse gas and storage amendment bill currently before the parliament flies in the face of all of these commitments.

To add insult to injury, this change has been hidden in an otherwise exceptionally important bill that makes much-needed improvements to offshore worker safety—offshore worker safety, which has been campaigned on for many years. Not only is this government breaking an election promise; it's doing so under the guise of worker safety. It is shameless and it is spineless that this government wants us to think it's taking action on climate change seriously and that they are actually listening to First Nations voices when in reality this is a sneaky act. What will the Minister for Resources, in fact, obtain through these wide-reaching powers? We have no indication of what they are, just that we're going to carve it off and give it to the resources minister. We're going to hide it in a section of the bill away from the crossbench, other environment groups and other people from the crossbench, environment groups and other people that attended the hearing last Thursday here in this place. They didn't even bother to tell us here in the Greens about the bill at all, and I meet with the Minister for Resources on a quarterly basis. They clearly tried to sneak this one through and hoped that no-one would actually notice. They're embarrassed that this plan did not work.

This gives the resources minister a blank cheque to weaken consultation requirements and fast-track all those gas projects to open up any new fossil fuel projects against the wishes of First Nations people and against the climate science. Guess whose voices they're listening to. They're listening to Santos, Woodside, Inpex, Jera and others that they're so eager to please. This comes off that FOI letter from the CEO of Santos about traditional owners winning cases left, right and centre. This government is doing the bidding of the gas cartel. (Time expired)

5:33 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

This motion today confirms that the Greens don't support a prosperous Australia. They don't support Australian workers or understand the importance of supporting investment. They either don't understand the importance of the resources sector or are so arrogant that they don't care about the benefits that it brings. The Greens are simply empowered by one motive: playing politics. They would rather generate hot air in this chamber and fearmonger than come to the table like adults and work on delivering real policy that helps Australians. Whilst they all benefit from the resources sector, they refused to support it. The hypocrisy is rife because they're happy to drive on roads built by taxes resource companies pay, drink from glasses manufactured with gas and use their phones and laptops built with Australian minerals, yet they continue to appear in this chamber and try to drag the whole sector through the mud and shame the more than one million Australians who work in the sector.

We know that the resources sector is responsible for and is to thank for propping up the budget and is to thank for the schools and hospitals that we enjoy and the roads we drive on. Yet you won't hear the Greens acknowledge this. They just ask for more and more, until there is nothing left.

What you'll hear from the Greens is that they don't actually speak on behalf of all Indigenous Australians. They only like to talk about those that fit their ideological crusade. I'm sure you won't hear about the Indigenous voices who do support the resources sector. I've had the pleasure of meeting with members of the Top End Aboriginal Coastal Alliance, who gave evidence at this hearing last week. A group of Indigenous Australians—

How appalling to have those people undermined in this very place, when we are supposed to be here to represent them. I'd ask you not to do that. It is a group of Aboriginal Australians from northern Australia who support the resources sector because they know the value that projects like the Barossa project bring to their communities. The Greens never talk about communities like these.

The Greens would much rather parrot the talking points of the Environmental Defenders Office, an organisation that receives taxpayer funds to try and sabotage our nation's wealth-generating industries. What an outstanding, upstanding organisation they are, with allegations of witness coaching and confected evidence. Yet the Greens are happy to be strongly associated with that organisation. I'm sure that those on the government benches are proud to be spending millions of dollars on funding that organisation.

What about the government—the alleged party of the workers? Thanks to their terrible energy policies we are seeing manufacturing jobs leave this country. The mess this government has created is costing Australian workers and costing the country. We see senators on the other side talk about how proud they are of their union backgrounds and their support for Australian workers, so let's see what the unions have said. Brad Gandy, secretary of the AWU's Western Australian branch, called out the exploitation risk that is occurring in the offshore oil and gas regulations, saying:

The vulnerabilities in the regime that are being exploited must be closed, whilst retaining the integrity that the process needs.

AWU national secretary Paul Farrow expressed concern that workers were becoming 'collateral damage' in the campaign to destroy the oil and gas industry—a campaign the government is helping to fund through the payments to the EDO.

I raise this question: how can Australian workers have faith that Labor supports them? The answer is that Labor does not, and it's become apparent that the coalition is the real party of working Australians because Labor's only solution is to talk about how they support Australian jobs, while their policies lead to the closures and jobs fleeing offshore. As investment and capital flees, thanks to their energy policies and industrial relations disaster, more jobs will leave.

The coalition remains an ardent supporter of Australia's resources sector. We remain committed to ensuring that this crucial industry, which generates and delivers so much wealth, is able to keep investing in our nation. It's worth recognising just how important this contribution is. Australia's gas industry generated $92 billion in export earnings in the last financial year, which provided direct economic support to federal, state and territory budgets. It powers energy and manufacturing across the entire country and provides secure energy to many of our international partners.

5:38 pm

Photo of Karen GroganKaren Grogan (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We stand here with one party over there that's all about resources and absolutely nothing about the environment, we stand over here with the other party in this chamber that's all environment and no resources—with neither looking at a sensible punt down the middle that gives us the resources we need and protects the environment that we so desperately need to protect.

What we're dealing with in this chamber today is another case of misrepresentation of reality by our colleagues in the Greens. There is either a significant lack of understanding about what is in front of us here or wilful misleading for political gain. We are talking about a review of Australia's offshore environmental management framework to ensure that it's fit for purpose. We know, because we've heard from First Nations people and environmental groups, that it isn't working effectively at this point in time, so we are reviewing it to make sure it does. We've heard that consultation for offshore resource projects isn't targeted or culturally appropriate. That's not okay. The Albanese Labor government is working to fix that.

The plan is to actually make this consultation appropriate so that we are listening to First Nations people and so that it is targeted and culturally appropriate. There will not be any watering down of environmental standards. There will not be any rushed offshore projects, as has already been declared in this chamber. Those things are not happening. It is not true. I'd also like to point out that this review isn't a secret. It's not something that's just arrived in this chamber. It is something that was announced in the 2023 budget. It was quite some time ago, so those who are struggling to get their heads around it have had plenty of time to get briefings, to ask further questions or to investigate this. There is no need to just use this as some crazy ongoing political football, which we've seen for so many years.

The central premise of this motion is that the Labor government is breaking its election commitments. That is just a farce. It's not true. After a decade of environmental negligence and wasted time by the coalition, coupled with some less than helpful contributions from the Greens, the government is getting on with the job of delivering better outcomes for the environment and driving down our emissions. We've committed to net zero by 2050. We've committed to 43 per cent emissions reduction by 2030. We have significant investments in renewables and significant projects. We also now have stronger fuel efficiency standards and a $2 billion investment in green hydrogen. Our climate safeguard laws also mean that any project has some pretty strict guidelines and caps. Any coal or gas project must comply with that and must work towards our net zero commitment.

We understand that action to address climate change has to go hand in hand with protecting our environment and our biodiversity. We've invested significantly in projects across our environment. We've worked very hard to offset some of the significant decline that we have seen through a decade of inaction by those opposite when they were in government. They have neglected the environment. They have reduced the protections. They ignored the Samuel review. They held $40 million aside for Indigenous projects on the Murray and didn't spend a single cent. We have promised to provide stronger environmental protection, and that is what we are working on. That is what we are going to deliver. It is a huge task on the back of the neglect and the inaction that we've seen, which resulted in significant decline. Just to be clear: there will be no environmental standards watered down, there will be no fast-tracking of projects and there will be no weakening of consultation requirements. (Time expired)

5:43 pm

Photo of Fatima PaymanFatima Payman (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is another case of the Greens political party misrepresenting and falsifying the Labor government's environmental action response. I'd like to thank my incredible colleague, Senator Grogan, for highlighting so many of the farcical things that they are putting out there. They never let the truth get in the way of a good clip for social media. So let me start by getting the facts on the record, and we'll keep reiterating these facts as long as it takes. There are no environmental standards that will be watered down, there will be no fast track for offshore projects and no consultation requirements will be weakened. Feel free to clip that, Senator McKim.

Minister King is undertaking a process to review Australia's offshore environmental management framework to ensure it is fit for process. A holistic review was not undertaken for an entire decade when those opposite were in government. So it is incumbent on our government to review the rules and regulations governing the resources sector to ensure those rules and regulations remain fit for purpose.

As Senator Grogan outlined, this review is not a secret. It was announced by our government in the 2023 budget. An essential part of this review is to clarify consultation provisions that apply to offshore oil and gas projects. The government takes that responsibility very seriously and is working to strengthen the occupational health and safety outcomes for the offshore resources industry through appropriate improvements.

The regulation changes proposed by the government are simple. They are in response to safety reviews. As Minister King has said, there is no planned change to rigorous environmental assessments. Time and time again we have heard from the people on the ground that the current system of consultation for offshore resource projects is not working effectively. This government refuses to undermine the essential consultation process; therefore it is within our responsibility to appropriately address those concerns regarding the ineffective processes that are currently in place.

What we have here is the Greens, yet again, standing in the way of better outcomes for First Nations people, local councils, environmental groups, local industry and our resources sectors. Australians have seen how politically performative fights from the other side have stopped action on climate change for almost a decade. No-one wants to see that again. Just last week, in a Senate committee hearing on this bill, it was stated that the current consultation process is not only ineffective but also culturally inappropriate.

Please allow me to jog your memory on a wasted decade of environmental neglect and instability in this country by none other than the Liberals, the Nationals and the contributions, or lack thereof, from the Greens. This government is responding to a decade of detrimental inaction, placing us back on the trajectory where the environment is at the forefront of our agenda through fulfilling the commitments we've made. We all know that transformation cannot happen overnight, but we're working overtime to get there for the betterment of this country.

The Albanese Labor government is committed to fulfilling its obligation. We know that better consultation leads to greater confidence and better outcomes. The government knows the importance of working together to achieve collaborative solutions for all Australians. So, together with the crossbench and stakeholders, we need to achieve sensible amendments to give everyone further confidence about the intent of the changes in this bill. The government has made its position very clear: we need a better system of offshore consultation that works for everybody.

To sum it up, the proposed amendments are there to strengthen and represent the government's ongoing commitment to improving outcomes for Australia's offshore resources sector. I would like to invite the Greens— (Time expired)

5:48 pm

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

If you want to know what this schedule of this particular bill that we are debating today means, you just need to have a look at who asked for it. It was asked for, begged for, by some of the country's biggest gas cartel CEOs, including the head of Santos. Santos has just been in a long battle with the traditional owners in the north of the country because they want to not just wreck their traditional sea country but, of course, continue to make the climate crisis worse. If you want to know the truth about this amendment, look at who is putting it forward. It has been snuck into a bill that is virtually irrelevant to the topic of cutting this consultation. It has been snuck in by the resources minister, even though it is directly related to the Minister for the Environment's job and role.

This bill is a gag on First Nations people. This bill allows for the trashing and bypassing of environmental laws, and it is about fast tracking big climate-wrecking gas projects. The CEOs of the biggest gas companies in the country want it. The traditional owners in the areas where these companies want to build these gas projects oppose it. And the minister in charge of it is the minister who is doing the bidding of the big fossil fuel industries, not the minister whose job it is to protect the environment. If you want to know what is really going on, they are the facts.

This government now have a broken promise on this. They first promised the Australian people that they would listen and consult with First Nations people in these types of issues and would give them a voice. They also promised that they would strengthen and fix our environmental laws. These new schedules in this bill break those promises. The government also promised to take urgent climate action and to take the climate crisis seriously, and all this bill will do—these sneaky changes, fast-tracking the approval, bypassing environmental laws for the gas cartel—is drive the climate crisis to become much worse and supercharge pollution. (Time expired)

5:52 pm

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

() (): Aboriginal communities should have a voice. The question is, in addition to their own, whose voice? There is a need to protect Aboriginal communities from unethical, litigious environmentalists who don't care about their welfare and who instead exploit Aboriginals. I refer to individuals like Mick O'Leary and his involvement in the Environmental Defenders Office against the Santos Prosser project. The Federal Court not only found that Santos's pipeline would not cause harm to local traditional owners but also found Mr O'Leary had lied to Tiwi Islanders about his cultural mapping exercise that was used to claim the project would harm Tiwi Islands culture. This is not the first time the Environmental Defenders Office have manufactured cultural heritage to hold up vital developments. In this case, the Federal Court found them out, and Minister Plibersek has written to that Environmental Defenders Office reminding them of their ethical obligations. What needs to happen is for the government to cut off taxpayer funding for the Environmental Defenders Office. (Time expired)

5:53 pm

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

Off the back of the Voice referendum and two historic court cases about inadequate consultation with First Nations people on offshore projects, the first action the government is taking in the First Nations space is to silence their voices. Schedule 2 part 2 of the amendment proposed for the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment (Safety and Other Measures) Bill 2024 threatens to sideline the environment minister, to bypass environmental approvals and First Nations consultation, which would otherwise be required by the EPBC Act, in order to facilitate new oil, coal and gas approvals, in particular offshore oil and gas.

This schedule would mean that any action that is approved under the offshore petroleum regime, including any offshore environmental management regime, is taken to be within the scope of EPBC Act accreditation. In other words, there is no need to get fresh environmental accreditation. That offshore gas environmental regime is taken to be accredited, no matter what changes this or future governments might make. This is a total carveout for offshore oil and gas from our environmental laws, and it gives the resources minister the power to be the sole arbiter of environmental management. Yet we hear the protestations from the government: 'That isn't at all what they are intending.' Well, don't write laws that do what you don't want them to do. Fix it. If that's not your intention, fix it.

This amendment, as written, would trash our environmental laws. It makes a mockery of consultation, with its explicit aim of fast-tracking climate-wrecking oil and gas projects. We know that gas is as dirty as coal and that pollution from gas corporations is rising, pushing a safe climate out of reach. The last thing we need is a loophole for gas giants like Santos, who are pretty cranky that the government worked with the Greens on the Safeguard Mechanism to make it harder for them to open new gas mines.

It is well beyond the time for truth and treaty in this country, yet we've seen the government vacate this space completely. First Nations people have been standing up for their right to be heard and consulted with. They've taken these gas giants to court and they've won. Now Santos wants the government to change the rules to favour those gas companies, and the government is delivering for Santos and the gas companies yet again. This is the same government that said on election night that it was committed to the Uluru statement and that it was committing to strengthening environmental laws. What a massive election promise breach that is, because they're now working with the climate deniers in the Liberals to carve out gas projects from environmental and cultural heritage laws.

You are breaking an election promise by working with the Liberals, and you are silencing the voices of First Nations people for the sake of offshore gas. For shame! (Time expired)

5:56 pm

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

Right now, gas companies, backed by Labor and the coalition, are surrounding the coastline of this beautiful continent and threatening our sea country, our dreaming stories, our oceans and our climate. On Gunditjmara country right now, the community is alarmed about what will be the biggest seismic testing for oil and gas ever planned off the Victorian coast. This threatens our sacred sea country, the koontapool whale dreaming and precious ocean ecosystems. This government would rather deny First Peoples our right to free, prior and informed consent than stand up to their mates and big donors in the fossil fuel industry.

To all the activists and supporters fighting to protect country, I say: keep going, because this is our children's future that we're fighting for.

5:57 pm

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

This bill is not just one broken promise from the Labor Party; it is two broken promises from the Labor Party. Firstly, they promised to strengthen our environmental laws, and they are coming in here and weakening our environmental laws. Secondly, the government promised to listen to First Nations people in this country, and they are now reducing the capacity of First Nations people to have a say over massive gas developments that impact on their sea country. I guess the lessons for First Nations people in Australia is that they should donate as much money to the Labor Party as Woodside and Santos have, if, in fact, they want to be heard.

If we ever needed a smoking gun to show just how much the gas cartel had completely purchased the Australian Labor Party, here it is. It lays bare the hold that the gas cartel has on this parliament. It is a stark reminder of who actually calls the shots in here, and that, of course, is the giant climate-destroying gas corporations. And who has marched in here, obsequiously serving the gas cartel? That's right; it's the Australian Labor Party. Who are the lickspittles and the lackeys and the toadies to the giant climate-destroying gas corporations? That's right; it's the Australian Labor Party—the absolute vassals to the psychopaths running the gas corporations in this place; the bootlickers to the giant gas corporations.

The Australian Labor Party is showing today that it is prepared to serve the corporate interests of the gas cartel over and above the future wellbeing of every person and every species on this beautiful planet that we all inhabit. We should be surprised, but, unfortunately, we are not surprised, because, time after time after time, in here marches the Australian Labor Party to do the bidding of the big corporations. Whether it's Coles and Woolworths, whether it's Woodside and Santos, whether it's big banks, whether it's big gaming, this is a party that has sold itself lock, stock and smoking barrel to the big corporations of this country. And who's missing out? It's the people who are getting price-gouged at the checkouts in Coles and Woolworths. Who's missing out? It's people whose lives are being destroyed by climate change because this government is too weak, craven and cowardly to stand up to the giant gas corporations. Shame, shame, shame on the Labor Party!

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator McKim be agreed to.