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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1372


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (17:24): It gives me great pleasure to stand up and say that I will not be supporting this motion. Respectfully, I want to outline why: in part B of the motion we are calling on the government to stop approving coal seam gas projects, and, with respect, the federal government's role in coal seam gas project development and approvals is limited.

Senator Waters, I want to touch on something that you briefly mentioned. The water trigger was brought in by the Labor-Greens coalition, but the Labor Party never employed it—not once; not once on any coal seam gas issue. Conversely, this government, because of our commitment to using science and an evidentiary basis in the policy decisions we make, has applied the water trigger to over 50 projects since taking office—that is 50 projects. Moreover, the Independent Expert Scientific Committee has approved 15 scientific reports informing bioregional assessments and 20 scientific reports on risk to environmental health from chemicals, ecosystems, water and aquifer connectivity. We are actually looking at and researching exactly the questions that this motion goes to.

I also want to put on the record the National's perspective. The Greens love a good coal seam gas notice of motion and to make a big song and dance about the National party's perspective. We have been incredibly consistent on this issue. I would like to take the Senate back to November 2011 and the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee's management of the Murray Darling Basinreport and the interim report of that particular committee on the impact of mining coal seam on the management of the Murray Darling Basin.

The report canvassed a variety of issues around this. It was a very comprehensive report which involved excursions and a lot of witnesses appearing. It went for a long period of time, and it was very ably chaired by Senator Bill Heffernan. It went to the impact of water, land access and land use et cetera, and it had a comprehensive list of recommendations, which I recommend to senators who are interested in this to have a look at.

Let's go to the additional comments—the National Party made it very clear in their additional comments to this report that we absolutely support the fact that the agricultural landowner has a very clear right of a significant return on any coal seam gas development in their area. When we go to the additional comments from the Australian Greens—let's have a look, Senator Canavan. As Senator Waters is so impassioned about landholder rights right now, let's look at when she actually signed the additional comments. Her recommendations went to (1) assessing greenhouse gas intensity; (2) to greenhouse gas accounting; and (4) to rigorous independent monitoring of greenhouse emissions. There is not one word in the recommendations from Senator Waters, about landowners and their right to veto, their right to an adequate return or the ensuring that the landholders' community, more broadly, has a right to absolutely benefit from any development in their area. No. So, three years later, during a state election campaign in New South Wales and a by-election in Victoria, we have Senator Waters making hay—or attempting to make hay—with coal seam gas issues. Unfortunately, Senator Waters as a Victorian National—

Senator Waters: Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Senator McKenzie well knows that I have had legislation in this chamber for more than three years—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Waters, resume your seat. There is no point of order. It is a debating point.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you so much for your protection, Mr Acting Deputy President Seselja. This is a publicly available report and, if you want any clearer indication of the people and the parties who are sticking up for rural and regional Australia and landowners, you need look no further than the 2011 November report.

I know that Senator Waters has been quite vocal in my communities in recent times, particularly down in south Gippsland, around this issue. I want to put a few facts on the record from the Victorian Nationals' perspective on this issue. It is true that it was the last state coalition government that put in place the moratorium on coal seam gas development in Victoria. It is indeed the Victorian Leader of the National Party, Peter Walsh, who this week stated publicly that he supported the extension of the moratorium.

The Victorian Nationals will demand stronger safeguards for landholders regarding onshore coal seam gas operations should the industry ever develop in Victoria. The Nationals support landowners having the right to say no to coal seam gas extraction activity on their property. Similar to the federal National Party's position on this issue, the Victorian Nationals believe the regions where the mining takes place should also share in the benefits of the activity. The Nationals support the introduction of a landowner and community benefit structure so that, when mining activity takes place in a local community, the landowners get a share of the wealth to invest in local priorities.

When we look at the additional comments made by National Party senators to the Senate inquiry into this exact issue, recommendation 1 goes specifically to reimbursing—increasing the bargaining position of the farmer or the landholder so that they can negotiate these contracts from a position of power.

Senator Waters interjecting

Senator McKENZIE: This is a state issue, Senator Waters, and you bring it in time and time again. I really encourage you to take your bills and this issue to the state parliaments. Maybe you need to be focusing on that.

Senator Ronaldson: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Waters was heard in silence for the duration of her contribution. She has not stopped interfering since the honourable senator started. Can I ask you, please, for her to give the same respect to the senator that she got during her own contribution.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Seselja ): I remind senators that senators have a right to be heard in silence. Senator Waters, you were heard in silence.

Senator McKENZIE: In terms of the Victorian National Party's position on this, as the rightful, constitutionally legal, area for approving these sorts of projects, I completely back the Victorian Nationals' perspective on coal seam gas development. I think we all should be actually focusing on the fact that we need processes in place when any development takes place in communities so that consultation is appropriate and rigorous and that we include community but we also include industry and that it is based on well-evidenced research.

Too often when these sorts of issues come before us for public debate, we have emotive responses not actually driven by hard science. As a scientist, I would appreciate the Greens, in particular, not using scientists and scientific methodology willy-nilly. You are either for it or you are not. You cannot apply it to policy positions on a whim. It is all or nothing with science. You should not be hiding behind the veil of requiring scientific evidence sometimes and then conveniently using emotive arguments on the other hand to persuade the public to your very, very poor policy positions.

I have many more things to say on this, Mr Acting Deputy President, but I have an estimates committee to chair and I know there are other senators who are keen to speak, so I cede.