Motions – Coal Seam Gas – 19 March 2015


Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (16:50): I am happy to speak against this motion. As I was listening to Senator Milne, I was reminded of some of the talk about the ferals in the Senate that we have heard in recent times. This is a motion that would seek to make ferals of us all. It is the sort of motion that is part of the Greens overall agenda to shut down the coal industry that will send us all back to the caves.

The ferals would well and truly be in charge if we were to support a motion like this and if any sensible political party were to take the advice of the Greens on this issue. Let's be clear: the Greens are anti coal. They are anti gas. They are anti mining of any sort. They are anti roads, as we heard today. They are anti-new houses. They are anti development. They are anti jobs. We all know it to be true. It think it was Warren Mundine who recently challenged the Greens to point to anywhere in the country where they might support a new mining project, and they would not point to one. So they are happy to have the iPhones that come from mining, the cars that come from mining and all of the development that comes from mining, but they are anti it all. They would see the jobs of tens of thousands of Australians thrown down the gurgler if we were to accept this motion. If we were to accept this motion, we would be condemning the state of New South Wales to a bleak economic future indeed.

Before I got into some of the economic impact that such an approach as the Greens are calling for in this motion would have, I think it is worth talking about political donations, which Senator Milne spoke a lot about. There was no mention of Graeme Wood, no mention of the $1.6 million donation—the largest in political history in Australia—to the Greens, which they were very grateful for. Bob Brown was very grateful.

Senator Milne: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Seselja is misleading the Senate by not indicating that that donation went through the Electoral Commission and was appropriately declared, not hidden like the ones to the Liberal Party.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Smith ): There is no point of order.

Senator SESELJA: I can see the sensitivity; you mention Graeme Wood and the Greens are immediately on their feet. They do not want to talk about the $1.6 million donation which Bob Brown said he was 'eternally grateful' for. I think they are also eternally grateful for the donations they get from the CFMEU. They get the donations from the CFMEU and they back it up by opposing efforts to stamp out corruption and lawlessness on building sites. They get the donations from the CFMEU and respond very strongly with their vote, because they do not support efforts to clean up our building sites, to get rid of corrupt behaviour on our building sites, to get rid of unlawful, thuggish behaviour as we have been hearing about just in the law few days on our building sites around the country. So forgive me if I will not take advice from the Greens on some of these issues.

But let's go to the economic impacts. I will deal with the coal seam gas issues, but this motion calls on the parties in the New South Wales election to ban coalmining and coal seam gas. I am going to deal with both. Before I go into some of the regulation of coal seam gas in the state of New South Wales I will deal with the impacts if that advice were to be followed. Let's have a look at the contribution of coalmining around the country and then in New South Wales. Let's take one part of this motion. The Greens want to shut this industry down, and I think people should know how many jobs are at stake.

Around the country there are approximately 55,000 direct jobs for Australians in the coal industry. There are around 145,000 related jobs for Australians. That is $6 billion in wages paid to Australian workers through the coal industry. The Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics estimates coal is responsible for export earnings of $40 billion. It accounts for around 15 per cent of Australia's total exports. Senator Milne gets on her feet and says she wants to see $40 billion of export industry, $6 billion of wages and 145,000 jobs killed through a motion like this if their policy prescription were followed.

It goes further. State treasury papers record that the coal industry was responsible for royalty payments of $20.5 billion between 2006-07 and 2012-13. Deloitte Access Economics estimate the coal industry is responsible for $17.7 billion in company tax in that same period. Think of the impact if that amount of company tax were not paid, if that amount of royalties had not been paid to the states. Who would pay for the hospitals? Who would pay for the schools? Who would pay for the roads? It is an extraordinary argument that we are hearing. Professor Sinclair Davidson says coal's overall contribution to our economy can be estimated at up to $60 billion. This is a massive industry for Australia, and to say we can kill an industry because the Greens do not like it is absurd and should be rejected.

Coal is responsible for 34 per cent of Australia's primary energy and 75 per cent of our grid electricity. In New South Wales it accounts for 90 per cent of grid electricity. Let's have a look at New South Wales stats when it comes to coalmining. In 2012-13 $17.8 billion worth of coal was mined in New South Wales. Eighty-five per cent of that, worth $15.2 billion, was exported. More generally in mining in New South Wales, there are 40,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in royalties a year. This is the size of this industry that the Greens are now arguing should be shut down. No party deserves to be taken seriously when they come out with these kinds of statements. This would be the world according to the Greens: an industry that employs 145,000 Australians, an industry which is one of our largest exporters would be shut down. For the states we would not have the ability to fund the essential services that they need if they were just going to shut down industries and throw out jobs as the Greens would have them do.

Let's go to the issue of coal seam gas. I think the other point to make about this motion is that it also seeks to have the Senate dictate to the state of New South Wales what their policies should be. That is the other aspect of this that I object to. I do believe that the people of New South Wales should be able to decide how they use their resources, how they manage their economy, what kind of rules and regulations they put in place for environmental approvals and others. I think it is an important point to make. But, given this motion does try to dictate terms to the New South Wales government, I think it is worth looking at some of what has actually been put in place by the New South Wales coalition government.

When it comes to coal seam gas, there is no doubt that the New South Wales government wants to see things done sustainably, reasonably and using world's-best-practice standards. I think all people in New South Wales, and all Australians, do not want just to see industries completely banned; they want us to be careful, to be cautious, to ensure that we have excellent environmental standards. The former New South Wales Labor government gave out 39 petroleum exploration licences with no oversight and no regard for the environment, no regard for water or the impacts on our best agricultural land. There was no community consultation. The Baird government has taken a different approach. It has a sensible plan to manage coal seam gas and clean up the former Labor government's mess. They are buying back the licences that Labor issued without any consideration of the impact on the community—12 licences have been bought and cancelled—and they have put a freeze on new licences for 12 months. They are taking a very cautious and responsible approach to this issue.

As a result of steps taken by the Baird government, New South Wales now has the toughest CSG regulations in the country. They have put in place a moratorium on CSG exploration in Sydney's drinking water catchment, they have implemented CSG exclusion zones within two kilometres of homes and critical industries, they have mapped more than two million hectares of prime agricultural land and protected it from CSG activities and they have banned the use of BTEX chemicals and evaporation ponds. Importantly, the New South Wales coalition government has appointed a Land and Water Commissioner to assist landowners and oversee CSG exploration. As usual, Labor caused the problem and it is up to the coalition to clean it up. As usual, the Greens are not interested in what is being done—they are simply interested in slogans and grandstanding. Unlike the Greens, the Baird government has done the hard work—it has examined the issue, discussed the issue, developed a policy and dealt with the issue. The Greens would rather just make noise in the Senate—yell and shut down entire industries that employ hundreds of thousands of Australians and that are responsible for tens of billions of dollars of economic activity and exports. The Baird government has been far more sensible than that. The coalition have a different approach from the Greens.

Going back to coal, coal is one of our largest export commodities. We are exporting to places in the world where many people do not have access to electricity. There are billions of people in the world, who the Greens do not care about, who do not have access to electricity. Exporting to those places helps to lift people out of poverty. The Greens are interjecting, but what is it about lifting people out of poverty that they object to so much? It is all very well to sit in a comfortable place with a middle-class existence in Australia and say we are going to shut down the coal industry, we are no longer going to help people out of poverty; we are not just going to put tens of thousands of Australians out of a job but we are going to forget about the hundreds of millions of people in India who do not have access to electricity. We have the opportunity to provide cheap and affordable electricity that will lift people out of poverty. Surely that is something we should be celebrating. Surely we should be proud of being able to assist. The Greens would kill all that. That is their approach to people living in abject poverty around the world. That is the other aspect of this issue that is worth mentioning. As I said at the start, the Greens would have us shut down entire industries—under the Greens approach the ferals would be well and truly in charge.

I turn to the national regulations on CSG. The Commonwealth government is also committed to ensuring strong and appropriate regulations for CSG mining. Through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act the government is able to use the water trigger to assess coal-seam gas and large coal mining developments that are likely to have a significant impact on water resources on a national level. The water trigger was introduced in June 2013, so the protection of water resources was made a matter of national environmental significance. As a result of the introduction, the minister can set appropriate conditions as part of the project approval to ensure any impacts from these projects on a water resource are acceptable. Since 2012 these projects have been referred to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Developments for advice on the likely impacts on water resources. The minister takes this advice into consideration when making a final decision on approval. As at 31 January 2015 the IESC has provided advice in response to 14 requests from government regulators on coal seam gas projects—eight in Queensland, five in New South Wales and one in South Australia. Regional scale assessments of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments across New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria and other research will address key knowledge gaps, provide base line information and inform an integrated understanding of the cumulative impacts that coal seam gas and large coal mining developments have on water related assets. The priority areas of research are hydrology, ecology and chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing.

Research is also being undertaken by the CSIRO to improve the understanding of greenhouse gas emissions from coal seam gas production. The data collected from coal-seam gas activities will inform future updates to Australia's National Greenhouse Gas Inventory and methods used for the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System. Despite bringing in the water trigger, Labor never employed it. Conversely, this government has applied the water trigger to over 50 projects since taking office.

Senator Waters: You passed legislation to get rid of it.

Senator SESELJA: I am not sure the Greens heard what I just said.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Lines ): Order! Senator Seselja has the right to be heard in silence.

Senator SESELJA: Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I am always happy if the Greens want to contribute to the debate. If they want to continue to contribute to the debate I am happy for them to, but they did not appear to hear what I just said so I will have to repeat it: Labor, who brought in the water trigger, never used it, they never employed it once. However, the coalition has applied the water trigger to over 50 projects since taking office. The Greens interjected straight away when I mentioned that, but what part of it don't they agree with? What part of that is wrong? What part of that approach don't they support?

Senator Rhiannon: On a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President: the senator is being misleading. In the House of Representatives, the government has passed legislation to get rid of the water trigger. That is on the record. That is their aim.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That is a debating point.

Senator SESELJA: It is a debating point. I do not think that it is appropriate for them to spuriously use points of order because they have so badly failed in getting their message across under their leader, Senator Milne. Let me repeat, because there seems to be some confusion: this government has applied the water trigger to over 50 projects since taking office. The Labor Party did not get this policy right. We have come in and taken a sensible and appropriate approach, not one of outright bans—banning the entire coal industry as the Greens are arguing for—but one of appropriate regulation and appropriate protections. That is the sensible approach—not to just kill jobs as the Greens are arguing for with this motion.

The Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development has produced 15 scientific reports informing bioregional assessments and 20 scientific reports on risks to environmental health from chemicals, on ecosystems, on water and on aquifer connectivity. Labor did not publish any of these reports. They preferred to hide the facts from the public in order to preserve their political relationship with the Greens, and the Greens were happy to swallow it. They were happy to swallow that from the Labor Party because it was in their interests—since they formed part of that government. They had no real concern; they were happy to swallow it. They did not seem to be interested in any of this.

We on this side of the chamber have taken a very different approach—a science based approach. We are getting the research done to make sure that, as we proceed, we do so carefully and cautiously. We proceed with a view to growing our economy whilst preserving prime agricultural land and protecting our natural resources. Surely that is the sensible policy option—employing the best scientists from the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia to do the work to ensure we get it right. I know that Minister Hunt takes his responsibilities under the EPBC Act very seriously. That is in stark contrast to what we have seen from those opposite.

In looking at the hypocrisy of the Greens on some of these issues, I think Martin Ferguson, the former Labor Minister for Resources and Energy, said it best:

‘Their rhetoric is symptomatic of a broader malaise; our increasing inability to listen to, analyse, and properly understand the words and numbers underpinning complex policy.’

Slogans should not be a substitute for serious discussion or critical thinking.

That is well said by Martin Ferguson. Slogans should not be a substitute for serious discussion or critical thinking, but that is all we get from the Greens. They want to shut down industries—based on slogans, not based on science.

 

In conclusion, to support this motion would be to support calls to shut down an industry which indirectly employs around 145,000 Australians. It is one of our largest export industries and is responsible for $60 billion of economic activity. That would be absolute economic vandalism. For all of those reasons, this misguided motion from the Greens should not be supported. (Time expired)