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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2851

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (16:23): In speaking on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013, I have to say what a lot of politics has been dragged into this whole debate. Yesterday I listened to Senator Waters talking about food security. The Greens do not care about growing food, and their history proves that. Go back to the Native Vegetation Conservation Act—of which Senator Heffernan would be well aware—which the then Premier of New South Wales, now Senator Bob Carr, brought into New South Wales to stop farmers ploughing even country that had not been farmed for 10 years. They could have grown some wheat crops on it. They could have grown more food. New South Wales could have yielded a lot more food to human consumption. But no—the Native Vegetation Conservation Act brought that to a complete stop, and it was driven by the Greens in the New South Wales parliament. Then Premier Bob Carr said his government would be the greenest New South Wales had ever seen. That he was. He cuddled up to the Greens and put all the environmental costs on to the farmers.

It is interesting that it was the then minister, one Kim Yeadon—John Laws used to call him by his full name, Kimberley Maxwell Yeadon—one of Premier Carr's senior staffers, who drove the SEPP 46 and then the Native Vegetation Conservation Act, with no compensation to farmers when they could not grow food, driven by the Greens. And who was one of the chief advisers? One Senator Penny Wong. That is where she came from, in her pre-Senate life. This was a Greens-Labor stooge of a policy to blame those terrible farmers, those 'environmental vandals', as they refer to the farmers—who actually feed everyone in Australia plus millions of other people around the world.

That is what has come into this whole debate, once again: politics. It is not about the environment; it is about politics. We have seen the Greens just recently up at Liverpool Plains, the fly-in fly-out visitors to regional Australia. None of them live out there.

Senator Di Natale: I do! Get it right.

Senator WILLIAMS: I did not realise—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: You will ignore the interjections, Senator Williams.

Senator WILLIAMS: I will ignore the interjections. Put it this way: none of them live up near Liverpool Plains. If Senator Di Natale lives in regional Australia, he would be a rarity in that group, I can assure you. On 25 April, an article in the Namoi Valley Independent said:

Greens leader Senator Christine Milne is questioning why Shenhua Watermark Coal was granted a coal exploration licence on farmland that she believes could be vulnerable to water contamination from mining.

What is amazing is that this delegation led by Senator Milne did not go and visit Shenhua Watermark Coal:

Shenhua Watermark Coal issued a statement yesterday, saying it had not been consulted about the visit or asked to provide a tour of the proposed mine site.

Don't go and look at the facts; let's play politics with the issue. The article said:

It said when the company did invite the delegation to visit, the request was rejected.

Shenhua also said in its statement:

'This is extremely disappointing as our tour would have allowed her to see first hand how the project is avoiding any disturbance on the region’s black soil Liverpool Plains and highly productive acquifers which are used by local farmers …

Contrary to Ms Milne’s comment, the Watermark Project is actively managing the farms we have acquired and the overall loss of agricultural output will be minimal as a result of mining.'

I have spent all of my life in rural Australia, and being a member of the National Party of New South Wales I know we are the last people who want to see any damage done to the Liverpool Plains or any other farming country in Australia. There is very little of the sort of magnificent country of the Liverpool Plains, about three per cent, on this planet.

This bill is giving more authority to the federal government, but we on this side of the parliament supported the $150 million scientific study. We actually got the amendments through the Rudd government, from this place—despite the bashing we got from some—that said you could not mine coal seam gas in the Namoi Valley until a water study was carried out. It was the coalition that pursued that and, in conjunction with the Labor Party, we achieved that. So they could not move from exploration to mining without a water study being carried out. It was the Labor Party and the coalition that put that in place. The Greens opposed it because they wanted the water study done before exploration. If that were the case, no exploration would ever be done. Let's be fair dinkum here. The four-wheel-drive utes and tractors that people drive around their farms are not made out of tree bark and leaves; they come from mining. That is why mining has served our country well, as has agriculture. Mining represents a finite resource. Agriculture represents a renewable resource that will hopefully go on for as long as mankind lives on this planet.

But the problem is the politicisation of this issue. The Nationals leader, Warren Truss, made it quite clear when he announced our five-point plan for coal seam gas in November 2011. We said:

No coal seam gas development should proceed where it poses a significant impact to the quality of groundwater or surface water systems—

or the environment more generally.

Prime agricultural land … must be protected from activities that destroy its capacity to deliver food security …

We know that some in this place like to just lock it up for national parks. We have seen the record of the Labor Party and the Greens on that. We could go to Toorale Station, Senator Heffernan, couldn't we? Ninety-three thousand hectares of good grazing country and good farming country—with some irrigation—is now a national park. Our coal seam gas policy continued:

Coal seam gas development must not occur close to existing residential areas …

Landowners are entitled to appropriate pecuniary returns for access to their land …

The regions that deliver much of the wealth from coal seam gas developments deserve to see a fair share of the generated revenues reinvested in their communities …

That is what was put out a long time ago and has been stated for a long time now. We have made it quite clear where we stand on this. We must tread with extreme caution. One thing we cannot do in this place is destroy the environment for future generations, especially the land and water needed to grow food. If you do not have healthy soil, you do not grow healthy food. If you do not have healthy food, you do not have healthy humans. It is actually a health issue.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! It being 4.30 pm, the debate is interrupted.