Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2015 - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:17): We have just heard another typical Greens political party campaign full of conspiracy theories, scare rhetoric and very, very few facts. But that is typical. I do want to get onto the bill before us, the Landholders’ Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2015. But, before I do, this is a debate, and I want to comment on a couple of things Senator Waters said in her 18-minute address. I have 20 minutes, but I understand that Senator Siewert wants to speak, so I am going to restrict my 20 minutes to allow her to do so, because I believe in free speech and believe that everyone should have an opportunity—although I suspect that by giving way to Senator Siewert we will hear entirely different views on the subject. Nevertheless, I believe that all views should be put.

Senator Waters made some comments about the 'National Party'. Well, as people know, there is no National Party in Queensland anymore, and neither is there a Liberal Party; there is the Liberal National Party of Queensland. Senator Waters said—wrongly—that the Nationals are losing their sway in these country areas. I will again point out to Senator Waters—as I did to then Senator Lazarus, who, with Senator Waters, was going to make his career out of coal seam gas scares and conspiracies, but we know what the people of Queensland thought about that former Senator—that in the last state election the LNP was clearly in favour of the sustainable use of coal seam gas, subject to all the right conditions and concessions, which there clearly were. Before the election, all of the electorates in the Queensland state parliament in the south-west were not held by the LNP. There were two held by other parties. As a result of the election, every single seat in south-west Queensland, this area of the coal seam gas where Senator Waters says the LNP are losing sway, was won by the Liberal National Party. That is the No. 1 issue where Senator Waters's facts are not correct.

Senator Waters says this is a threat to the Great Artesian Basin. For several years I was the minister in charge of the Great Artesian Basin. I know how important it is to Queensland. I know that no government—Liberal, Labor, Callithumpian—would do anything that would in any way impact on the Great Artesian Basin.

I rarely agree with state Labor governments in Queensland, but I do give credit where credit is due, and the Bligh Labor government in Queensland and the Beattie Labor government before that were very cautious about coal seam gas but eventually came to a conclusion that it could be mined sustainably and safely. They put in a lot of processes that ensured that the gas could be extracted but in a very careful way. The Newman government continued that process. As I said, I do not think the Palaszczuk government has done much at all, but again I give credit where credit is due, and they have again encouraged coal seam gas exploration and extraction because they know it can be done safely and they know what an important element it is to the economy of Queensland and to the creation of jobs in our country.

Senator Waters also raised the issue of fugitive emissions and again, as the Greens do, tried to scare Australians that even a fugitive emission—a small amount of gas escaping—is going to change the climate of the world. As I keep saying to the Greens political party, the climate of the world has been changing since it was formed. I often mention that once it was covered in ice and now not much of it is covered in ice. The climate always changes. I believe in climate change; it has always changed. Has man done it? I do not know. I never get involved in that. But I do know that, naturally, over the years the climate has changed. But, even accepting Senator Waters's view on man's emissions, I again emphasise that Australia emits less than 1.2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. If carbon emissions are what is wrong then Australia contributes less than 1.2 per cent of it. The Greens would have us cut our emissions by 50 per cent, 100 per cent or whatever figure happens to be popular with the Greens these days, but, even if you cut our emissions by 100 per cent—even if we stopped every motor vehicle, shut off every light, closed down every factory in Australia—it would still not make one iota of difference to the changing climate of the world.

I have always said that, once Russia, China, America and India restrict their emissions, so should Australia. But, of course, we know that China is building new coal fired power stations. Probably they will have built one by the time I have finished speaking. Authoritative independent studies around the world from the OECD show that coal use around the world is again on the rise because it is being done in a careful way. It is being done because it is the cheapest form of power for the very poor around the world who currently do not have power. We in Australia have as much power as we like and we can make all these rules for other countries who have never seen electricity. But coal will continue to be used as the main source of power around the world, particularly in the Subcontinent and in South-East Asia, and it will happen because it is available, it is clean these days and it is cheap. It puts poverty-stricken countries in a situation that we in Australia accept as normal—that you will be able to get some electricity.

On the scare campaign of the Greens, if you need a scare campaign—no matter what it is—you somehow have to wind the Great Barrier Reef into it. The Great Barrier Reef is a resilient organism. It has been there for hundreds of thousands of years and it will continue to be there for hundreds of thousands of years. Governments—Queensland governments of all political persuasions, and, particularly, the federal government—have assisted in stopping run-off to the Barrier Reef—not the real cause of the damage up there. But sensible scientists, reasonable scientist, who monitor the Great Barrier Reef with federal government money and do a wonderful job, carefully understand what is happening, carefully manage it and carefully maintain it. But you will get a few scientists, who the Greens always promote, who have views on this that most of their peers find outlandish.

But, whether it is coal-seam gas or blowing your nose, if it is a problem to the Greens—and everything is a problem to the Greens—you somehow have to wind the Barrier Reef into it. I am not quite sure how the Barrier Reef gets into coal-seam gas mining on the west of the range, but that does not matter with the Greens. You just have to put the words into it anyhow and try to scare the people in Melbourne and Sydney who do not know better.

I have diverted a bit from the bill and I do want to give Senator Siewert an opportunity to speak. But having just briefly commented on some of the conspiracy theories and misinformation that Senator Waters presented in her speech, I just want to go to the bill. This is the third iteration of the same bill. I think Senator Waters introduced both bills in the 43rd and 44th Parliaments. They were exactly the same ideas. They did not attract the support of parliament then and I doubt that they will this time, because they are just not right. I have been to a number of presentations where you understand how this fracking occurs and you understand the care that governments require. But, more importantly, you understand the care and safety that major companies, which are good corporate citizens, put into it. I do not have time to describe it, but they put down two or three steel casing, fill them up with cement and leave them there forever. They have as much scientific evidence as you need that that is safe.

More importantly, you have farmers there and I have heard so many presentations by farmers from that area who think that this is all the best thing since sliced bread. I accept that Senator Waters was right that in the early days there were some cowboy operations out there looking for a gas and South-West Queensland. They are all gone, fortunately, and the people who are there now do it the right way. They work very cooperatively with the farmers. In fact, a lot of farmers have made a lot of money from compensation agreements they have reached with the responsible mining companies. You only have to listen to some of these people, and I have said several of them—farmers who have been there for five or six generations who think that coal-seam gas operations are the best thing that has happened to their area and to Australia. Not only does it produce jobs but it keeps the towns going. Their kids, who in the past have had to go to university in Brisbane and stay there because there were never any jobs in country areas of Queensland, now have jobs. So the kids are staying at home. The kids have the capital backing to be able to buy other farms and they welcome coal-seam gas, in the right way, with the right compensation, and they grow.

I am sorry I do not have them with me, but we have some wonderful photographs of grain crops growing up to about three metres away from, and completely surrounding, these coal seam gas wells. The best people to talk to—if you want to seriously get into this debate—are the farmers on whose land these wells are. You will find that the majority of them are concerned. In fact, there is a joke going around: the only farmers who are against it are the ones next door, the ones who did not get a well on their land and, therefore, did not get the compensation! It is only a joke—I am sure it is not accurate—but you hear that said often. So ask the real farmers, ask those out there, ask the townsfolk and ask the kids who get jobs. More importantly, ask the governments and the regulators who are in charge about the safety of these things and the enormous strides that have been taken to make absolutely sure that wells going in are safe and will always be safe. I have a lot more to say, but I will leave it there so that other speakers have the opportunity to contribute.

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