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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2822

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (17:03): I speak in support of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013. My community in Ipswich was built on coalmining. There were dozens of coal mines in Ipswich, and in fact one of the most solemn occasions that I usually go to is the Box Flat commemorative service, which recognises the men who, sadly, died in that terrible accident in the early 1970s. Indeed, the crest of Ipswich contains the words 'Be confident when doing right', in Latin, and symbols of the coalmining industry can be found on the crest. Until recently, there were coalmines at Jeebropilly and New Oakleigh, at Rosewood, in the rural township of Ipswich. New Oakleigh recently closed but Jeebropilly still remains, run by New Hope.

The reality is that coalmines have been very important to the city of Ipswich. Thousands of men and women have worked in the industry. In fact, we have a heritage centre at Redbank Plains. I congratulate the CFMEU, Ian Wilson, and others on the work they have done have restored and remembered Ipswich's long coal mining history.

Back on 23 May 2012 I spoke in this place in relation to legislation dealing with the independent expert scientific committee. I made reference to a meeting I attended in Toogoolawah, in rural Somerset. It is a township with about 900 people on the electoral roll, and about 250 actually turned up on that bitterly cold evening. The meeting was held to talk with a coalmining company about the prospect of coalmining taking place in the mid to upper part of the Somerset region, adjacent to but not too far from Wivenhoe Dam.

In my electorate we have Lockyer Creek, the Bremer River, the Brisbane River, Wivenhoe Dam and Somerset Dam. For South-East Queensland, these are important dams, rivers and creeks. In fact, in my electorate water is a blessing but a bane, with the floods impacting so adversely. In my electorate we know what has happened over the years. The years 1893 and 1974 were all about the floods, as were 2011 and 2013. Water is so critical for life. I often think that the wars that have happened for centuries or millennia in the Middle East are as much about water as they are about religion. Water is crucial. People have fought, bled and died over water.

There have been concerns in my electorate in relation to coalmining—coalmining around Ebenezer, Mt Mort, Mt Walker, rural Ipswich and Rosewood. There have been many protests in relation to these issues. In the speech I referred to in relation to the establishment of the independent expert scientific committee, I spoke about my concern regarding the impact of coalmining and coal-seam-gas mining on water resources in my electorate. I came out pretty strongly in the Somerset newspaper and in the Queensland Times opposed to the idea of coal mining in proximity to the major water resource for the Somerset, Ipswich and Brisbane regions of South-East Queensland, namely, Wivenhoe Dam.

It is very important that we get the best scientific evidence that we can in relation to coal-seam gas and coalmining. That is why I commend the government for providing $150 million to establish an independent expert scientific committee to provide the best scientific evidence on coal-seam gas and large coalmine approvals that are likely to have impacts on our natural environment. We have worked with the states in relation to these types of issues, creating a new national partnership agreement.

I want to make it pretty plain that coal-seam gas and coalmining are under the jurisdiction of state and territory governments. That is from both an environmental approval perspective and a planning perspective. Our involvement at a federal government level arises where mining may impact on something that is protected under what is known as the EPBC Act—for example, if there was a lungfish or koala colony in the area or some wetlands that were of great national environmental significance.

Water resources—the water table, water aquifers, rivers, dams and creeks, which are crucial for towns and cities—have only been tangentially taken into consideration under the EPBC Act. The amendments before this place make sure that that will be front and centre. There is no direct protection for water resources under our national environmental law at the moment and there have been community concerns.

We heard the member for Flinders speaking on this and he reminded me of so many of the LNP candidates who I listened to before the state election in Queensland. They said one thing to the farmers, one thing to the miners and one thing to the environmentalists. The reality is that the coalition has had every position possible on this issue. It matters which room, which meeting and which town they are in. They will say one thing to one and a different thing to another. In fact, it is pretty hard to work out what the coalition position on this matter is. They say that they will not stand in the way of it, but also say that it could be green tape. They say that they share the worries of the local community about the environment. But I wondered for a minute whether the shadow minister for the environment was looking for the member for Groom's job, the way that he was going on about the mining sector and giving bland platitudes about them having no environmental impact in terms of conservation. It really is quite extraordinary for someone to make silly statements like that in this place.

We are trying to make sure not only that community concerns are assuaged but that we have the best scientific evidence in relation to this issue. It is important to note that about 30 per cent of the gas supplied to the eastern states comes from coal-seam gas operations that have been approved by the New South Wales and Queensland governments. We think that this is an important industry. But we also want to make sure that the concerns of farmers and environmentalists are taken into consideration. That is why we need the best scientific evidence. We are going to make sure that the Commonwealth becomes involved when there is an impact on water resources. That is what this legislation is about: putting water resources front and centre.

Those people from farming communities around the country who might be listening should listen to the shadow minister and think about whether he is going to stand up for you if you have concerns about coal-seam gas in your rural community. It is pretty obvious that he will not. It is pretty obvious that if you have an interest in the environment that those opposite will not stand up for you.

In my community, we have had issues in relation to coalmining. I want to mention one thing in particular that is currently happening in the Ipswich area. It is to do with coalmining and a particular town. I note that the New Oakleigh mine has ceased operation. It has been in operation since the early 1900s in the Rosewood area. There will still about 30 workers working there until recently. I commend the ceasing of operations there. I believe, hope and expect that New Hope, which owns the mine, will in fact continue its remediation of the area for the people of Ipswich and the Rosewood region. The Oakleigh Colliery Company began back in 1948 when the Rule family acquired the mine. It was a pick and shovel operation at that stage. New Hope bought the mine back in 1999 from its then owners. The area needs revegetation. It has been mined out. The area needs a lot of work and I hope that they continue to do that work, which they have said that they will.

The closure of the New Oakleigh mine is important for rural Ipswich. We know that between 60 and 120 coal truck movements were going along John Street and other main roads in Rosewood each and every day. That will now cease, which is important. Jeebropilly still remains on foot. I hope that the best environmental practices will continue to operate through New Hope's work there.

The impact on the natural environment and water resourcing has been a big issue in my region—an issue of contention. It has been the subject of litigation as well, particularly in relation to what is known as ML4712 and MDL172. The former was to do with the Ebenezer coalmine and the latter was the Bremer View coal project. I note the community concern in relation to this. If arguments can be put on the environmental and water resourcing impacts of these kinds of projects in the future, I will be very interested to hear them. What we are doing here will go a long way to making sure that people in my region who are concerned will be able to raise those concerns.

I note that back in January 2012 the Somerset Regional Council—and all of the Somerset region is in Blair—passed a moratorium on all exploration, mining and coal-seam gas activities in its council region. I note that the mayor, Graeme Lehmann, was very vocal about this, as were other councillors. This came about very much because of the concerns of the council and the people in the Somerset region about the proximity of potential coalmines to the Wivenhoe Dam.

I was quite astonished to see the Queensland Resources Council criticise the Somerset Regional Council's resolution and call it 'grandstanding'. The regional council is to be commended, I think, for the steps it has undertaken in very difficult circumstances with the flood taking place in 2011 causing $80 million of damage and the flood of 2013 causing $20 million of damage to parks, roads, bridges and causeways all across the Somerset region. The council there is very committed, in my observation, to rebuilding the Somerset region but in an environmentally-friendly way.

I, like a lot of members, have had people who have been active on the environment contact me. Indeed, I met recently with a number of Lock the Gate Alliance members, including Cassie McMahon. Cassie and I always enjoy good and interesting conversations. I talked with her about these types of issues when I last met with her just a few days after this issue was raised in the Queensland Times on 8 March 2013. Cassie and I have always enjoyed robust conversations in a friendly way. I am very committed to making sure I work with local environmental groups in my region to get the best environmental outcomes. But I do recognise the importance of the coal seam gas industry and coalmining not just historically in my region but to the people of Queensland.

I support the legislation that is before the House. It goes hand in glove with our former legislation that passed in getting the best scientific evidence. It puts our water resources front and centre in the approval of coal seam gas and large coalmining developments. For that, I commend the minister. I commend the legislation to the House.