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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2845

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaDeputy Speaker) (18:41): I rise to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013 tonight with a very direct interest and to be the voice of my electorate on this issue. The resource formations in my constituency are the Surat Basin, the Galilee Basin and the Lake Eyre Basin, which has not been referred to tonight. It is often overlooked but is one of the very early formations where gas and oil were extracted, which has benefited much of Australia's energy and resource needs. There is the Moonie oil field as well. In your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker Livermore, there is the Bowen Basin, one of the largest coal reserves and formations in Australia. All of those fields create enormous wealth, as you and I well know, as well as jobs for families and businesses associated with the communities where the extractions take place.

The electorates of Maranoa, Flynn, Capricornia and Dawson in Queensland are four electorates that in my lifetime have seen unprecedented growth with the development of the coal seam methane gas industry and the natural gas industry. I might add that my hometown of Roma is where the very first oil was discovered in Australia. So we have a long history and understanding of resources under the ground in the various formations, where they have been trapped for millions and millions of years.

I support regulation. I was a voice of concern in the early development of coal seam methane gas extraction and treatment, particularly regarding water. I worked with the previous Labor government, for heaven's sake, to improve the legislation. There were great concerns. One of the problems with coal seam methane gas was that some of those who were proving up tenements—we called them cowboys—were really only proving up tenements to on-sell to a larger company. The regulations in the early days were deficient, very deficient. But, progressively, under the former Labor government of Peter Beattie and then of Anna Bligh and now under the Liberal National Party government of Campbell Newman, we have locked in these strict regulations. This is, after all, the constitutional responsibility of state governments. But we have locked in these strict guidelines, guidelines which impose severe penalties for noncompliance on these companies.

I know we have to get it right and I am on the record as a voice of protest on this—but not a voice of opposition. Part of the regulations we put in place allowed for no-go zones—areas where the coal-seam gas industry just cannot go. These included prime agricultural land and some areas where there are key aquifers—the Condamine alluvium in particular. These sorts of areas are very problematic and there are still concerns. We do not know what the impact would be on that Condamine alluvium aquifer across parts of the Darling Downs if the industry were allowed into that area.

I can assure you that I do not need anyone in this place to lecture me about the importance of water. I grew up in western Queensland and the water we received on the property where we lived and grew up was delivered to the overhead tank of the house by a windmill. If the wind blew, you got water off the house. So you really respected the value of water. If there was no wind, there was no water in the tank. There were many days when you all shared the same bathwater—and then the bathwater would go out onto the lawn. So I have enormous respect for the value of water, unlike so many of our urban counterparts who have grown up in an era in which water comes out of a tap.

I also have enormous respect for the water in our underground aquifers and the different formations that exist there. In my own constituency, we have the Springbok sandstone formations, the Mooga sands, the Gubberamunda sands, the Hutton sands, the Precipice sands—these are all formations going down to 4,000 and 5,000 feet below the surface. They all date back to before the Jurassic Period—they are hundreds of millions of years old. They are all separated by various formations of hard rock—some in a coal seam, others with sandstone. But all of them are important. My own home's water supply comes from the Gubberamunda sands—beautiful water. The water of many towns in western Queensland comes from these various aquifers down as deep as 4,000 and 5,000 feet below the surface.

The Great Artesian Basin, which so many people talk so loosely about, is not some great basin of water. It is not one basin. There are aquifers separated by formations of sandstone and the water is of varying quality. The deepest aquifer is the Precipice sandstone formation in my electorate. Its great relief valve is out in the Dalhousie Springs in South Australia. Water has been extracted from it for more than 100 years, much of it out of free-flowing bores across far western New South Wales and into western Queensland. Thankfully we now have a program—and I would like to think we could accelerate that program—to cap the remainder of those free-flowing bores. That is a great conservation measure which shows that we understand the importance of the water—that we cannot just continue to waste water and let it run down as it has for more than 100 years in many parts of western Queensland and western New South Wales. At the time it was of course the cheapest way of providing water for livestock over hundreds and hundreds of kilometres.

The coal-seam methane gas industry in my constituency has been operating for more than 15 years. It did not just turn up last year; it has been operating for 15 years. It now provides 90 per cent of the domestic gas used in Queensland. Some 15 per cent of Queensland's power is now generated from coal-seam gas, and I know that there are three or four more projects for combined cycle generators in the works. These generators will all be using coal-seam gas. They are intended to replace coal fired power stations which would otherwise have been built. They will increase the capacity for power generation in Queensland to be driven by gas from coal-seam gas extraction.

Let us go to the next step of this coal-seam gas industry. Something like 30,000 jobs right now in Queensland depend on four major projects aiming to export LNG from Gladstone, noting that some of the gas extracted will be going into domestic gas supplies—some for heating and cooking and the rest for power generation. The value of those projects is $77 billion. They are probably one-third constructed right now. These projects do not yet have approvals for the full number of wells they will need—bores to provide the gas they need for their LNG projects. They will need further approvals. Some of them are being processed now. This bill will hold that up. These four major projects represent jobs for 30,000 people—nearly all Australians. If these projects are held up because they cannot access sufficient licence agreements to drill the bores they need to feed the gas pipeline being put through to Gladstone to produce LNG, it may mean that these projects do not meet the very critical time line imposed by the forward contracts they have signed to deliver LNG into Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the Asian markets. This is critical. But what we have got with this government is another layer of red tape.

Many of these workers in the 30,000 jobs across my constituency, across Flynn into Capricornia and as far north as into Dawson, live in our coastal areas and in our cities. They have families. They have a stake in this industry because their livelihoods are dependent on these projects continuing to be rolled out and not held up because of more red tape that is going to be imposed on them by this federal government. I have family that are involved in this. I have family that decided they are not prepared to coexist with the coal-seam methane gas wells that would have been on their property. They would have been very near one of the major hubs—that is, where the gas is collected and then pumped through to Gladstone. But they were able to negotiate with the gas company and they have moved to another property. I know for many it has been difficult, but they have a very satisfactory outcome. Their personal and financial arrangements are their business, but I know from my own observation that they have a larger property. They are happy. It was a very big decision for them but they have been able to relocate within the Roma district and were able to negotiate a successful compensation package to move from the land that they had purchased when they first got married and built a new house. They had ties to the land. It was part of their life. They developed it and showed what they had achieved with their own hard work and their own initiative. They have exited that farm and moved elsewhere to a bigger farm. I am quite certain it is not in a coal-seam methane gas area where in the future there could be a tenement granted. So I have personal contacts with people who have had coexistence issues and water issues that people are concerned about.

One of the regulations we put in place with the former Labor government, which was pushed by the LNP when they were in opposition, was to make sure that the water that was extracted as part of the process was made use of. Additional water that would otherwise have been coming out of the overland flows from the Condamine River is providing for the growth of the town of Chinchilla. They are also selling water allocations to farmers, to melon producers. Chinchilla is the melon capital of Australia, as we all know—we should know. I am sure the minister at the table is well aware now. They are getting greater security for water entitlements because the companies must make good with the water that is being extracted as part of the gas extraction process.

Madam Deputy Speaker Livermore, I know you are in the chair and you cannot interject from there but I am sure you are witness to the huge development and the wealth that comes out of the coal industry. I have a number of coalmines in the Surat Basin around Wandoan down through to the Darling Downs that are just sitting there waiting for the Xstrata project to proceed. This Xstrata project would mean there would be a new rail line from Wandoan to Gladstone. I hear today that Xstrata are putting that project on hold. I can only suggest it is because of this legislation. There is too much uncertainty. The other coalmines that would have been developed for export of that coal are going to sit there in limbo because of this legislation.

In conclusion, I was a voice of protest but not a voice of opposition. I realise the benefit of the resource sector, the jobs it has created and the job potential for young people to have a future in western Queensland. I also note that this is just putting— (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.