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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2835

Mrs ELLIOT (Richmond) (17:57): I am very pleased to rise today to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill. This is a very important bill for the country and, indeed, for my area on the North Coast because for the first time it will allow the federal government to apply the provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to yet-to-be-approved coal seam gas and large coalmine developments that have the potential to impact on our nation's very precious water resources. The activation of the new Matter of Environmental Significance as part of the EPBC Act will enable the federal government to assess developments, to approve or disapprove as the case may be, or to acquire additional information or compliance with additional requirements before approval can be granted. So this really is a major step forward when it comes to environment protection. Indeed, the government has ensured these new requirements are economically responsible, with the addition of appropriate transitional arrangements as well, which is important. It is believed the new arrangements will provide an additional level of protection to local water resources through a very meticulous evaluation process. It is important to remember that currently there are no specific protections for water resources under our national environmental law. With this bill we will be changing that, and it is very important that we are doing that. I would certainly like to commend the minister for this action and for listening to the concerns that many people have raised right across the country in relation to this.

Let us be clear about what the government's amendments to the EPBC Act will do. The amendments apply to coal seam gas and large coal mining developments where an impact on water resources is likely, and will allow the federal government to assess those projects which could potentially affect our water resources. It will also create punitive measures for those companies that may seek to avoid their environmental responsibilities under the act. It is important to note that it does not affect those projects that already have Commonwealth approval and it does not affect those projects that already have state approval, provided that Commonwealth approval is not pending.

The legislation is important as it addresses so many concerns that so many people have raised, particularly in my electorate of Richmond and the North Coast. A lot of these concerns relate to the extraction of coal seam gas, the processes involved in the extraction of that gas, and the potential effects upon our lands and, in particular, water resources and the ongoing effects it can have on the land.

The process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, commonly used in the CSG industry is what is behind many of these concerns. The practice of pumping water under pressure and the assortment of chemicals used for the purpose of fracturing the rock layers to allow the CSG to flow come with so many problems. People have raised concerns about the impacts of the extraction process, including the contamination of water from the various chemicals used. The excessive deposits of salt as a by-product are another concern. Those concerns are very widespread. The impact on agricultural land is another major issue that has been brought up. I have certainly heard the concerns, particularly of New South Wales farmers, in relation to the potential impacts of coal seam gas mining. It is very important that we continue to take on board the concerns that communities raise.

There is no doubt that in my area on the North Coast people have been very vocal. I would like to commend the member for Page, who has raised these concerns on many levels. We continue to work together, as our community is very outspoken about this. Community groups of various backgrounds have voiced their concerns and worries about the impact of coal seam gas mining. The campaign we have on the North Coast is a grassroots, community led campaign which involves diverse sections of our community. The credit for this lies with those many local groups whose tireless campaigns of endless protests, marches and forums and indeed the manning of many picket lines really have to be commended. I would like to list some of those groups here today because it is important that they are recognised for the incredible work they have done.

There are groups like the North Coast Environment Council, which is the peak body for organisations across the North Coast; CSG Free Northern Rivers; the Tweed Lock the Gate Alliance; the Nimbin Environment Centre; the Caldera Environment Centre; Transition Byron Shire; in particular, the Knitting Nannas Against Gas; and the North Coast peak council for local councils, NOROC, which has also given money for research into the effects of CSG on the environment. They have all expressed concern that our water security could be jeopardised if we leave the CSG industry uncontrolled.

Similarly, a vast number of local communities have declared themselves CSG free: Uki, Burringbar, Crabbes Creek, Mooball, Tyalgum, Crystal Creek, Doon Doon, Mount Burrell, Kunghur, Chillingham, Tintenbar, Main Arm, The Channon, Nashua, Teven, Knockrow and Dunoon. That is just to name a few who have declared themselves CSG free. This is in addition to local councils in my electorate, including Tweed Shire Council, Byron Shire Council and Lismore City Council, all declaring themselves as concerned about the potential impact of CSG and expressing their rejection of CSG mining in their local government authorities.

Indeed the strength of concern regarding CSG on the North Coast is really clearly demonstrated by a referendum that was held in Lismore, with 88 per cent of the 15,000 voters saying no to the question, 'Do you support coal seam gas exploration and production in the Lismore City Council area?' It is a massive result. There are also many people who have been very important in putting forward the arguments against coal seam gas mining, individuals including Michael McNamara, Boudicca Cerese, Ian Gaillard and Annie Kia of the Local Lock the Gate Northern Rivers Alliance; Tom Driftwood of the 100% Renewable Campaign; and Sam Dawson of the Caldera Environment Centre. I would like to mention some of our local mayors: Tweed mayor Barry Longland, Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell and Byron mayor Simon Richardson. All have made very important contributions and I thank each and every one of them.

The concerns for these groups and communities are very real on the North Coast. There are currently licences permitting CSG mining activity right across this area. Indeed, in my electorate of Richmond we refer to PEL445, which permits coal seam gas mining activity in an area that extends from Lennox Head in the south to Tyalgum in the north, from Byron Bay in the east to Nimbin in the west. It is a huge area. There is an application for a further licence being considered by the New South Wales state government which would cover Tweed Heads, Murwillumbah and the Tweed coast, which would mean they would also be subject to a licence to permit coal seam gas mining activity. Those areas cover a massive area of my electorate.

It is these real concerns for the protection of our environment, particularly our water resources, which have seen all this action, with around 7,000 people participating in a march against CSG in Lismore. Additionally we had a further 4,000 people march against CSG in Murwillumbah and a day of action against the whole CSG mining industry expansion, called 'Rock the Gate', in October 2012. Many people have continued to protest in many other ways. I recently visited some of those protestors at the Doubtful Creek site, where there was an exploration underway. They were there for many days, making sure their voices were heard. It was great to catch up with them and quite inspirational to hear the extent some people went to to ensure it was kept on the front foot in making the media aware of their concerns. These issues are very real and they are very justified.

One thing I want to be really clear about with CSG is that it is regulated and licensed by the New South Wales state government. So, whilst in this instance the federal government have done what we can, I always want to continue to keep spotlight on the state government. It is important to acknowledge what we have done, particularly through establishing the $150 million commitment to the independent expert scientific committee, which demonstrated our understanding of the concerns people had. Through COAG, the new national partnership involves taking into account the committee's assessments when granting approvals. It was important that we took that action. Of course, it falls within the great Labor tradition of protecting the environment and our long-term commitments to that. We are very proud of what we have done in the past, as well as this latest action in amending the EPBC Act.

It is unfortunate that many people in our area, particularly in the National Party, do not have that commitment. In our area they are committed to the growing expansion of the CSG industry. In fact, the National Party has a five-point plan to roll out coal seam gas mining into local communities. In my area, I see the National Party continuing to be the voice and doing the bidding of the CSG mining industry, much to the disillusion of locals, who are very disheartened by state National Party members who continue to support the industry vigorously—despite those many individuals and community groups who oppose it stridently.

It is really time for the National Party to stop this pro-CSG agenda and to stop CSG mining on the North Coast. That is why the member for Page and I have a petition which calls on the state government to make the following state seats CSG-free: Tweed, Byron, Ballina and Clarence. We have had that petition running for only for a short while and have already received hundreds and hundreds of signatures. Many people are out walking the streets with copies of it because they feel so strongly about it. The member for Page and I are committed to ensuring that we keep it at the forefront. The reality is that those state National Party members could go and see Premier Barry O'Farrell today and tell him: 'This is what we want. We want the CSG-free area on the North Coast.' But they will not do that because they are unwilling or unable to take that action. They are not listening to their constituents. We constantly see how committed they are to CSG mining.

Saturday's edition of the Tweed Daily News carried the headline, 'MP backs government CSG stance'. It reported that Tweed MP, Geoff Provest, 'makes no apology about the government's coal seam gas stance'. Mr Provest said that the New South Wales government had world's best practice in the industry.

Mr Coulton interjecting

Mrs ELLIOT: I note some comments from across the chamber in relation to some of the information pages I have put out—

Mr McCormack: Information pages! Information pages!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Rishworth ): Member for Riverina, please stop interjecting.

Mrs ELLIOT: which really does highlight the fact that the National Party does in fact support the CSG industry. We see that all the time. I make no apologies to anyone at all that I will at every chance highlight the fact that the National Party will continue to do the bidding—and they are doing it now—of CSG companies.

Mr McCormack: Who's paying for it? Taxpayers are paying for it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I am going to ask the member for Riverina to cease interjecting.

Mrs ELLIOT: It is the National Party that is stopping this happening. As I say, they could do it tomorrow; they could walk in and see Premier Barry O'Farrell and they could make sure that that happens. We will keep raising that at every opportunity that we have.

Whilst I say it is the state that regulates and licenses it, we are very proud, from a federal Labor government level, about what we have done. We have listened to the community and taken action. We have worked very closely to make sure that happens. This new legislation really is an important step. It effectively means that, for an area like the North Coast, coal seam gas mining could potentially be stopped if it is determined to be a risk to our very important water resources. It does allow, for the first time, for the federal government to apply the provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act to water. It really is a major step forward and it is one that people within the community have called upon for a long period of time. We are very pleased to be at this stage, where we can say we have heard the concerns and we have acted.

There were other concerns that many individuals and groups had. One of them is about future proofing into the coming years in terms of what action can be taken. If only we could future proof that the Liberals and Nationals would not get in and tear this up, that would be a good thing. It is our concern that they will do that, that they will change it if this does go through; it will be interesting to see what happens. If we could future proof the Liberal and National parties' environmental vandalism, that would be a great step forward. It certainly is a concern to people in our region when we look at the extent they will go to in terms of our precious environment.

Mr Turnbull interjecting

Mrs ELLIOT: We see it every day with the actions of the National Party in our area, and we know they are environmental vandals. We look across the board. It is not just when it comes to CSG; we see it in so many other areas in how they are acting in terms of their councils.

Mr Turnbull: Bring back the administrator of Tweed Shire, I say!

Mrs ELLIOT: I hear the member for Wentworth referring to Tweed Shire Council. Indeed, the New South Wales state government's actions in calling in their local environmental plans and not letting them properly assess their environmental areas are another concern and another issue where we see the New South Wales Nationals' environmental vandalism. It goes on and on. I do not think there is enough time for us to highlight the extent of it at state level. We see the concerns that they have and we have right across the board.

What is really important with this legislation is that currently there is no direct protection for water resources under our national environmental law, but with this legislation we are going to change that, because we have listened, we understand and we certainly get those concerns that many people have had. We understand how important our water systems are and how they have to be protected.

In closing, I would like to commend this bill to the House and particularly acknowledge the environment minister for the wonderful work that he has done in relation to this and in listening to so many members of this chamber and so many people right across the community that have continued to raise this. It has been the federal Labor government listening to those communities, and it has been the federal Labor government that has acted and continues to listen to this. That is across the board when it comes to protecting our environment, and we have done that. We have taken action on so many levels when it comes to protecting our natural resources and putting a price on carbon—a remarkable achievement that only this federal Labor government has achieved.

Mr McCormack interjecting

Mrs ELLIOT: We still hear, despite these protests from the National Party here defending their CSG mates again—

Mr McCormack interjecting

Mrs ELLIOT: I am very proud to be standing up for the concerns of North Coast residents.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Rishworth ): Order! I ask the member for Riverina not to interject.

Mrs ELLIOT: In closing, I am very proud to be supporting this bill. Yet again it has been eye-opening, but I am not surprised that we have seen the National Party yet again doing the bidding of the CSG-mining company right here in the chamber, as they do every day on the North Coast of New South Wales.