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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2825

Mr IAN MACFARLANE (Groom) (17:16): My, how Labor has changed. As I came into this chamber today, I could not believe that the first two government speakers on this bill were from the oldest coalmining areas of Australia. It is the industry that built their cities. So I will be interested to hear what the member for Newcastle has to say, having just had to sit through the member for Blair's contribution.

Let me tell you something that I know about life—that is, if you do not support those who support you then there will be nothing left. I know the Labor Party are in a terrible place at the moment. I know they have lost their way. I know they have no leadership. I know they have no ability to govern this country. But to walk away from the people who built the cities that these two people represent is beyond belief. Let us not try to complicate their defence by saying that this is about the environment. This is not about the environment. Let me assure you that I have stood at this box on a number of occasions—and been accused half-jokingly by those who sit behind me of working too closely with the government—to ensure that good environmental processes were put in place. The Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism and I have worked together. The minister for the environment and I have worked together to ensure that these industries—the coal industry and the coal seam industry—that are so important to our nation's wealth, to the employment of this nation, to the fundamental standards of our economy and to our way of life and standard of living, that supply the energy that lights this building, do not damage the environment. I have worked together with them on that basis.

It might be news to the member for Blair that I spent a long, long time as a farmer. Longer than I have spent here and longer than he has spent here, I led the industry in Queensland and nationally. I shall not be lectured by him, to use the Prime Minister's words, about who is looking after the interests of farmers. He should read the press releases that have been put out on this legislation in the last week by farmers. He should talk to farmers, like I talk to farmers, and hear what they have to say about their concerns of the precedents in this legislation and what it may do to their livelihoods and the way they operate.

As I say, I have stood here and spoken in support of government legislation. I have worked with the minister for the environment to ensure that we have all the knowledge and all the systems that we can possibly put in place to make sure that the coal seam industry and the coal industry develop not only in coexistence with the rural communities in which they are situated but, probably more importantly in terms of long-term issues, in such a way that they do not damage the environment long term. There have been times when we have disagreed but, in the end, we stood on either side of this table and passed legislation that improved the science, covered the gaps, set up the expert panel, ensured that the states were cooperating and ensured the effectiveness of the EPBC Act—and we made sure that in doing that we did not cripple Australia's economy.

I did not come to this place to be negative but unfortunately on this occasion I cannot speak positively about what this government is doing. I cannot in any way suggest that there is any benefit whatsoever to the environment from this legislation. I cannot possibly say anything other than what I believe—and that is that this piece of legislation is totally, absolutely and completely political. It is a political fix. It exists because the member for New England went into the Prime Minister's office, stamped his foot and said, 'I want the Commonwealth to take over complete control of any project that may impact on water in Australia. If you do not give this to me, I am going to walk and I am not going to support your budget.'

This is not about good government. This is not about good legislation. This is not about good process. This is about the self-preservation of the leader who sits in that seat on the other side of the table during question time and is unable to give the Australian people any confidence in the way this government is operating, any confidence that she or her cabinet know what they are doing on a day-to-day basis or any confidence that the legislation she and her ministers bring to this place will make Australia a better country. This legislation, though, does far more damage than merely being a piece of legislation of a political nature.

Let me perhaps go back one step. We need to understand that, over this century, going back to when I was Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, we have worked hand in hand with the environment department and environmentalists and farmers to ensure that industry in Australia continues to develop. How lucky are we that we did that? How lucky are we that, when the Labor Party formed government, the Minister for Resources and Energy took up that challenge and continued to work with the opposition, the farmers and the environmentalists to ensure that the resource industry developed? Where would we be now if we did not have a resource industry in Australia? I would hate to think. The financial incompetence of the government is breathtaking and the only thing that has saved them, in the last three years in particular, has been the resource industry in Australia.

I was just looking at some trade statistics. The top four exporters are all resource industries, of which coal is first. Then there is education and I cannot recall the next one, but the one after that is LNG. Then there is wheat and then we go back to the resource industries. How lucky are we that we have had a government in the past, maybe even in the recent past, that understood how important it was to have a resource industry?

We fast-forward to today and here we are passing a piece of legislation that does nothing. It does not provide any extra science, because the minister for the environment and I set that up last year. We put in place an expert panel to cover the gaps in the science. There is a process already in place through the EPBC Act and the state environmental permitting which sees coal seam projects approved on the basis of 1,500 state conditions and 300 federal conditions, the majority of which revolve around water.

So don't anyone come into this place and lecture us and say, 'You're doing this without due care to the environment,' because I can tell you we are not. I can tell you that, in putting that legislation in place, I in particular had to convince people on my side and people I would call stakeholders, people in the resource industry, that this was good for the long term—because it is. When those 1,500 state conditions and 300 federal conditions were put in place, 8,000 regulations emanated from that. There was a submission for the application which literally stood this high—16½ thousand pages. So don't tell me we need more regulation, more red tape and more green tape because what we have is not working, because I will tell you it is. I have watched it happen. I have seen the money that companies spend in this area. I have seen the importance of these industries to this country. All we are seeing today is that 16½ thousand pages turned into 50,000 pages. All we are seeing today is those applications, which are already taking three to four years, turn into four- to six-year applications.

For those who sit over there and say, 'But we've got to do this or the member for New England will walk,' let me ask you this: what are you going to do when the lights go out? What are you going to do when New South Wales does not have enough gas to run its industries? What are you going to do when people who work in industries that rely on coal and gas, particularly gas, in the electorate of Newcastle lose their jobs? The view—yet to be totally confirmed, but let's watch this space in the next six months—is that this is going to happen in about 2016. But, instead of having a government who are responsible and want to work through and sort out the issues of coexistence in environment and water, we have a government who want to stop that industry dead. They can take the consequences of that. They will be responsible for what happens.

With a bit of luck and a bit of good judgment, there will be a change of government in Australia at the end of this year, and we will do everything we can then to make sure that there is a balance and that, when legislation is brought into this House, it is brought here for a purpose—because, as sure as hell, there is absolutely no purpose for this legislation other than to preserve the existence of the Prime Minister and her tenuous grip on government, which relies heavily on Independents, who take their pound of flesh whenever their political whim calls on that to happen.

We now have a situation where the coal seam gas industry in Queensland will be delayed, and that will have a very real effect on future projects because investors are thoroughly sick and tired of coming to Australia—not to invest $1 million, $100 million or $1 billion; these are $50 billion projects—and having the rules changed by a government that has no interest in securing investment and jobs in the long term, only an interest in hanging on to government. That will be the effect on the projects in Queensland.

In New South Wales there have been some very, very difficult issues—I accept that. Again, I have worked with the minister opposite to try to get around a number of the issues and I have said to the industry, 'Stay out of the highly populated areas and sensitive areas until we can prove up the science. Go out into the areas where you can drill and be confident of the geology.' But we need to be drilling. We need to be producing gas in New South Wales because in 2015-16—and I say this with a slight smile on my face because, in the end, I am a Queenslander—the people in New South Wales are going to hear an enormous sucking noise. That will be the sound of the gas that has been coming down to them from Moomba, from the northern part of South Australia, for the last 20 or 30 years disappearing north into the gas trains to be turned into LNG because the decision to build those trains was made five years ago in the expectation that the coal seam industry in New South Wales would progress as it has.

We have seen 21,000 jobs, now 31,000 jobs, and $50 billion worth of investment in Queensland, but in New South Wales we have seen nothing. This legislation will finish that industry in New South Wales. It will put so much red tape, so many roadblocks, in front of that industry's further development that it will simply stop, unless those people who are more tenacious than most I have ever met proceed in the hope that by 2017-18 they will be able to start drilling again. Too late. By then those who can get gas will be paying high prices. Instead of paying $4, $7, $8 or $9, which will be the east coast market price, they could be paying prices as high as $12.

How many jobs are going to survive in Newcastle? How many industries in New South Wales are going to be left without energy because this government brings weekly into this place legislation that makes it harder for the resource industry? This legislation is a classic example of that. It does nothing. It does not serve any purpose. It does not add anything to that which is already there. It was introduced by the minister for the environment. All the science is able to be done; all the expert panel advice sought; all the permits issued. But, no, it is more important to hang on to power than it is to be a good government.