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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1460


Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (1:44 PM) —I will ask Treasury when I see them this afternoon whether it is the case that nothing is being paid back on these borrowings given at a weekly rate by the honourable senator. I think we will find that that is not the case.

I want to talk about the Wandoan coalmine in Senator Joyce’s home state of Queensland. This mine was ostensively given the tick-off by the Bligh government in Brisbane last week. It has been proposed by Xstrata. It is being done against a backdrop in which the Greens have an agreement with the Gillard government for a carbon price committee which will over the coming months be looking at where a carbon price should be set in Australia and through what mechanism it should be set in order to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere. You will recall, Mr Acting Deputy President Barnett, that you were part of the coalition when it went into an agreement with the Rudd government last year, and that agreement was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent by 2020. The price tag put on that was compensation of $20 billion to the polluters from taxpayers, so we were going to pay $20 billion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent.

Xstrata in Queensland will build this coalmine, which so far as I can ascertain—and the government has no information to the contrary—will be the world’s biggest open-cut coalmine. With transport facilities et cetera it will be 11,000 hectares in extent, next to the village of Wandoan on the northern Darling Downs. Out of the pit will come 30 megatonnes a year of coal, or 22.5 if it is dried, to be exported and burnt elsewhere in the world. But it does not matter, because we have the same atmosphere; we are all sharing that. Whether carbon comes out of Peru, Lithuania, Australia or Kazakhstan does not make any difference; it is the same impact on the atmosphere. When you do a back-of-envelope assessment of the impact of this one Xstrata coalmine in Queensland, you find that it will increase the impact of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions—and we are already the worst polluter per capita of all the developed countries in the world—by the equivalent of 10 per cent.

We had the two big parties agreeing to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 for $20 billion just a year ago. Here we have a coalmine which is going to increase our greenhouse gas emissions overall—this is not the way carbon accounting is done, but it is the reality—by 10 per cent, and Xstrata will be wanting public funding to help it get its coal to the seashore for export to be burnt and to damage our future economic and environmental prospects. I ask: what madness is this? James Hansen, the chief scientist for NASA in the United States, who drew the impact of climate change so clearly to congress’s attention in 1988, describes as criminals people who open coalmines like this and transport the coal to be burnt. I ask: what sort of craziness is in the air? I will ask to see Xstrata to hear from them what they have to say about all this.

I am told also that Wandoan is not a one-off; there are two similar coalmines coming down the line. The good folk at Felton, to the south of Toowoomba on the Darling Downs—I notice that Senator Joyce has now left the chamber—have a great farming community there. I visited them earlier this year. They are faced with another massive open-cut coalmine, although this one is, in its first iteration, only 900 hectares. But, as I have told the chamber before, that will swallow up farmlands, the creek at the bottom of the vale, which has platypuses in it, and the local hillside, which has an Aboriginal bora ring on it. They are going to put there a petrochemical works which is a bit short of water. So, to supply themselves with water, the purveyors of this particular mine say they are going to pump it uphill from Brisbane, where we have just had such exigencies in availability of water that the Bligh government wanted to dam the Mary River and put 1,100 farms out of action further north near Gympie. I ask again: what craziness is this?

I spoke at a public meeting in Brisbane on Sunday, and Drew Hutton, who is campaigning on this issue, also spoke there, as well as representatives of a marvellous group of young people called Six Degrees. I guess we have the old asseveration about six degrees of separation, but what I think they are really talking about is that, given current scientific data, what might happen if we do not control this phenomenon of climate change is that we might be six degrees warmer by the end of this century. That is at the upper end; we always talk about the lower end because it sounds better.

This morning I have been talking to Mr Enkhbat, the Green MP from Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. There is a Mongolian delegation in Canberra at the moment. He tells me that because they are at high altitude and—


Senator McGauran —A Green from Mongolia! Are you sure?


Senator Sherry —Julian, you are getting scatty in your senior years!


Senator BOB BROWN —We get an interjection from the quite uninformed senator-for-a-short-time-yet from Victoria on the opposition benches that it cannot be that there is a Green MP from Mongolia. Catch up, sir. It is the case, and he is a very erudite, dignified and informed man who helped to set up the IT industry in Mongolia, amongst other things. He tells me that that country is suffering an average rise in temperature of two degrees since records began at the start of last century. It is having a huge impact. Everybody in that country, like this country, is talking about climate change.

I return to this extraordinary situation in Australia where we have Xstrata with its Wandoan coalmine wanting to do—if we take the raw figures I have given to the chamber—$40 billion worth of damage to this nation’s future through one coalmine. That ought to be—and must be, I would think—rejected out of hand by the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Mr Tony Burke, or by his fellow ministers when it comes to national consideration of this outrageous proposal which will also compromise a third of producing farmlands in the Darling Downs.

Mr Acting Deputy President Barnett, in our home state there is currently a move for a wood agreement. It is not a wood supply agreement—that was part of the mistakes of the past—but an agreement to end logging in high conservation value forests. However, last week I flew over the western end of the Wellington Range, which connects Mount Wellington above Hobart city—that great and beautiful mountain that we all look to in Hobart every morning to see how things are going; to see whether there is snow up there, whether the clouds are around it or whether the rainbows are bringing us rain from the west—


Senator Chris Evans —But it is cold whatever!


Senator BOB BROWN —And it is cold—it is fabulously cold. Anybody who has not experienced the top of Mount Wellington has not experienced weather.

On the ridge that runs from Mount Wellington to the even loftier Snowy Range to the west is the great potential for a walking way from Hobart to the central wilds of Tasmania, including the tallest flowering forests on earth. However, despite a potential agreement there are massive clear fells in that country. There is a community group at the moment trying to stop further destruction of these great forests of highland Tasmania. It is for nothing; the native forest industry is on its knees and has asked the environment movement to help it to get through. Again, I put to Mr Tony Burke that he should require that moratorium on such important places to be brought forward for the alternative values of inspiration and education—and, of course, for great economic value to the tourism and recreation industries and as a backdrop for Tasmania’s international reputation. This destruction should stop immediately.

I am told by a local conservationist that, as we sit, here a new road—and this will involve a large amount of public money—is being driven into the Styx Valley. If this wood supply agreement is going to mean anything, then that is money that is totally wasted. It is being hosed up against the wall and it is high time that the Tasmanian authorities looked at that waste, because there is going to be a request for public money to ensure that the agreement signed between the industry and environmentalists bears fruit. That means good management and an end to this sort of destruction.

I flew across the south coast of Tasmania with a Channel 7 film crew a week ago and there is a massive clear-fell this year. This is where in 1793 the great French botanist, Labillardiere, slept out with his fellow French bushwalkers—this was before British colonialisation—and wrote in his diary about the wonder of these magnificent forests in which the sound of an axe had never been heard. There has not just been an axe there; there have been bulldozers and massive chainsaw clear-felling and cable logging, and next will be firebombing with napalm on this magnificent precinct, all for an industry which cannot make ends meet and which is still subject to great public subsidy. Again, what failure of management and good governance is this? What failure of imagination about the future? The Greens will continue to campaign to put an end to that, and I might add that they will try to enlighten a future government in Victoria about the ongoing destruction of the great forests of the central highlands and East Gippsland in that state.

I was in Bendigo last Friday and people there are trying to protect their local woodlands, which have a great range of rare and endangered species. You have to take your hat off to them, but also wonder why it is that governments are so remiss and that this destruction of native forests is continuing here at the start of the second decade in the 21st century. This great country can do better than that. We can catch up with Thailand and New Zealand by putting an end to the destruction of native forests, and we must do it soon. I am looking forward to hear from this Gillard government and from the minister, Tony Burke, about progress in putting an end to the catastrophic logging of Australian forests and woodlands, which itself produces 15 to 25 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions out of this country, unnecessarily and at great threat to the future of the economy as well as the environment of 23 million Australians.


The PRESIDENT —Order! The time for the debate has expired.