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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 2926

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (Dobell) (11:15): It is always interesting following the member for Gippsland. He is never troubled by hypocrisy in his speeches. I thought he was actually making some good points—and I will come to some of those good points—but we have to start with the fact that he accuses the member for Richmond of playing politics in relation to her speech and then presents the CV of the Nationals candidate in the electorate, speaking in glowing terms about the person! What that has to do with the bill, I am not quite sure. But we do know that the member for Gippsland does not worry too much about hypocrisy in terms of what he has to say. Come on! Let's be real about these things. If you want to accuse someone of playing politics, don't come in here yourself and do exactly that.

Mr Chester interjecting

Mr CRAIG THOMSON: I listened with great interest to your contribution—15 minutes, 13 minutes of which was political. So let's get a little bit real.

But there were a couple of good points that the member for Gippsland made, and I think they should be acknowledged. I think the Nationals were right with their five-point plan. That was a good thing that they put forward, and the member for Gippsland should be proud that they took that stand and took it early. His contribution would have been much more believable had he stuck to those sorts of principles rather than being diverted.

He also made the point that the issues relating to mining are largely state issues—and that is right. But the need for legislation comes when the level of government that is meant to be dealing with this fails to do so. In relation to coal-seam gas, and mining generally, look at New South Wales and what has played out there. If you want to look at failure of process, we have certainly seen examples of that writ large in New South Wales. What is abundantly clear with that is that this is not the fault of one party. We have seen the very rapid departure of the former candidate for the state electorate of New England over very similar issues. Again, political points should not be made in relation to those issues in here without acknowledging that there are problems in the way mining more generally has been regulated at a state level.

So it is very legitimate for the Nationals to have their five-point plan and their position. And it is very legitimate for them to come into this place and say the federal parliament needs to look at additional protections because they have concerns with the way the state has dealt with these matters in the past. I think that, if every member acknowledged that in their contributions, rather than playing the politics more generally in relation to legislation, then we would end up with better legislation. But it is an election year, so those wishes are probably fanciful.

I want to talk about a mine in my electorate, because it involves some of the issues that this bill will hopefully deal with—although, can I say in relation to this particular mine, I think there is some more urgent action needed than just the passage of this bill and what happens as a consequence of that.

On the Central Coast we have had, for close to 15 years, applications and proposals to develop, first, gas mines and then coalmines under our water catchment area. The water catchment area is the major source of our water for over 300,000 people on the Central Coast. There is a plan for a mine to be located directly beneath the flood plain at the junction of the main river systems where the major flow goes to the aquifers there. The river systems are primarily aquifer-fed, and damage to the aquifers from subsidence will result in major loss of water to the catchment area.

We are in an area that almost ran out of water—one of the fastest growing areas in New South Wales. New families are being encouraged to move there and commute to Sydney and to Newcastle. Over 300,000 people are living there. And we got down to less than 10 per cent of our water supply. So issues in relation to our water supply, and things that affect our water supply, are things that the people on the Central Coast are very concerned about and they always make sure that their local representatives put those concerns at the forefront of any policy issues they deal with.

That is why, after I was elected in 2007, one of the first things the Labor government did was spend $80.3 million on making sure there was a water pipeline from the lower catchment parts of the Central Coast up to the storage dam—effectively making sure that the Central Coast would be drought-proofed in the future. We have had a lot of rain since then, but our dams have gone from less than 10 per cent to over 57 per cent, which is where they stand now. Locally, there was a celebration only last month, when our dam levels got above 50 per cent. The people of the Central Coast are acutely concerned about their water supply. The proposal for a longwall coalmine under the water catchment area in my electorate has been around for some time, and it is of major concern.

The reason the member for Gippsland is right in saying that this is a state issue but incorrect in saying that that is where we should leave it is that this application in my electorate has been dealt with on a number of occasions by state governments of both colours. Eventually, in the dying days of the Keneally government, Tony Kelly, who was then the planning minister, relented after it had gone through the processes to approve the dam, some of which are being amended through this bill today, and it was going to be approved. But because of the community outrage, the state government set up another committee, headed by Kerry Chikarovski. Again, the community and the businesses came along and said that this was not a good thing. Finally, Tony Kelly said that there was uncertainty around the ability of the project to meet acceptable surface water quality outcomes and that the project was not consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development, including the precautionary principle. For those reasons, in the public interest, a decision was taken that the mine should not go ahead. That was terrific news but, unfortunately, the previous state Labor government was playing politics. It waited till the last moment to do this and say: 'This is our promise going into the election. We have stopped the mine; now vote for us.' What needed to happen, obviously, was to get the coalition—the opposition at that time—to make a similar commitment. Indeed, that actually happened.

The now Premier of New South Wales put in writing that he was committed to stopping this mine and to introducing legislation into the state parliament if necessary. He stood there with local community representatives wearing 'Water not Coal' T-shirts and he waved that banner around and got his photo in all the local papers. He went on to say: 'No ifs, no buts, a guarantee from my government that we will stop this.'

Mr McCormack: A bit like the surplus!

Mr CRAIG THOMSON: I hear the member interjecting, trying to make a political point. If his point is about politicians who make promises leading into an election and then do not keep them, then I agree with him. He would agree with me, I would think, that when a Leader of the Opposition makes a promise, puts it in writing, says, 'I pledge this to my local community, no ifs, no buts,' the community can expect that that undertaking will be honoured. Unfortunately, the Premier of New South Wales was just playing politics. He had the local community handing out Liberal Party how-to-votes because of that undertaking. Here we are down the track, with a failure in those state processes because of political interference—and I have gone through the problems with the previous government on this same decision. We have a proposal for a coalmine under the water catchment area in the Wyong shire that both the coalition and the Labor Party have said should not go ahead, yet the mining company is still out there looking to go ahead with it.

This is so important because the coalmine proponents themselves have said that the effect of this mine would be that 79 million litres of water would be lost from the catchment area a day. More water would be lost through the damage to the aquifers caused by this coalmine than water from the entire rainfall in our area. Experts forecast that it will take 200 years for the aquifers to recover if this mine goes ahead. That is what the coalmine is saying about the effect this mine will have on the Central Coast’s water supply; it is not what the opponents to it are saying. The legislation before us today, which is about protecting areas where there are water supply issues, is most definitely needed, because the state system has been both corrupted and inefficient.

When I asked a question in parliament the other day, this side of the House howled me down. I am sure the other side do not like it when the name 'Obeid' is mentioned. But let us be very frank about these issues. The Obeid influence in relation to mining is not just on that side of the parliament. We have seen the recently resigned candidate for New England be part of that loop. Liberal Party fundraiser Nick di Girolamo, who the ICAC inquiry has shown was lent $3 million by Eddie Obeid, is the lobbyist to the Liberal Party in relation to this mine. So there are issues of process that both parties have allowed to infect the way in which mines are looked at for approval.

Then we have the hangers-on. I need to briefly mention the current mayor of Wyong shire. All previous mayors on the Central Coast have fought against this coalmine, including the current mayor. But, strangely, as he is very heavily aligned with the Liberal Party, suddenly his opposition to this coalmine has evaporated. This is a bloke who, a couple of years ago when he needed votes, was out saying, 'This coalmine needs to be stopped.' Doug Eaton’s absence from this debate is very lamentable. The people of the Central Coast need to hold this mayor to account for not standing up for them in relation to this coalmine.

This legislation is important because it brings into focus water and how it can operate. The kind of example that I have tried to go through today shows what happens if you do not have that sort of legislation and how the state process can be diverted or corrupted or can be the captive of different interests that are outside the interests of the community. We need to make sure that water is at the forefront of consideration when looking at approvals for mines.

In conclusion, I have a private member's bill specifically relating to this mine. For the reasons for which people have spoken today about water being a consideration when looking at environmental issues, for goodness sake support the private member's bill when it comes on. This mine does affect the water supply of the Central Coast. It has been around far too long and has been interfered with by political processes from both sides, and the people of the Central Coast demand more.