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Monday, 17 June 2013
Page: 2899

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (10:06): In continuing my speech on this legislation, I would like to clarify some points made by the member for New England. He made a comment in the other place that the coalition had stopped this legislation from proceeding through the Senate. I do not know how we could do that. If people want to count the numbers, there are 34 coalition senators, which does not get you to 39 to control this place.

It was the government that brought on the legislation on the referendum of local government, so how could Mr Windsor say that this particular bill we are debating now has been delayed because of Senator Joyce and others? That is outrageous. I am sure Senator Fifield would agree with me. How is No. 34 greater than No. 38 or 39? It is ridiculous to suggest such a thing, given that Senator Joyce clearly stated in his speech that we would be supporting this legislation. I wanted to clarify that for the record. For the member for New England to say that we are holding this bill up is absolute rubbish. In fact, if Mr Windsor spent more of his time seeing what is going on over here and how the legislation is going through—and read some Hansards, instead of spending more time in the Prime Minister's office—he might have some idea of what is happening in the Senate.

Mr Windsor shed crocodile tears for our farmers. Just recently, there was an agricultural and veterinary chemicals bill. This bill includes a re-registration system that adds no extra triggers for chemical review but adds another expensive layer of registration, with a periodic recheck of the existing trigger funded by industry. The bill will add $9 million a year in extra costs. Our farmers are huge users of chemicals. You cannot simply grow weeds and wheat together; you grow one or the other. You cannot simply leave your sheep—especially in the northern areas, where it is wet during summer—unprotected from barber's pole worm and other worms. They are simply going to die. Their production will be reduced enormously.

Farm chemicals have been part of agriculture for many years and have increased our productivity and output enormously. Just last Sunday week I planted a small acreage of lucerne and oats to bale some hay. My concern is the ryegrass in that paddock. Because the rain came next day, I did not have time to spray. I wish I had. We will just have to hope for the best.

As far as Mr Windsor and his crocodile tears for farmers are concerned, he backs these changes by the government. They were driven by the Greens, who seem to have most control of the government. The bill will add $9 million in extra costs to farmers' chemicals.

The National Farmers' Federation, state farm bodies such as NSW Farmers and AUSVEG, all oppose the legislation. From what I am hearing, Mr Windsor gave every indication he would support the coalition to oppose the bill, but then the Prime Minister obviously called in a favour and he did what he had to do, and has done around 350 times in this parliament—he voted with the government. AUSVEG, which represent Australia's 9,000 vegetable and potato growers, were so incensed they put out a media release headed 'Tony Windsor sells out Australian farmers', and I will quote a couple of lines: 'In an exemplary display of putting personal politics before good policy, Mr Windsor has succeeded in punching every farmer in the country below the belt.' That is what it said in the media release. Not only will this bill increase costs for Australian farmers, it will also mean that the industry may lose access to essential crop protectants due to a re-registration system that will allow political pressure rather scientific fact to determine what treatments are available for farmers and their needs.

As I said, chemicals play a major role in the very survival of our animals, in the production of our wheat and cereal grains and many other crops. So, here we have this water bill in front of us which is designed to protect the underground water in relation to coal seam gas and mining industries. I have said all along that you cannot destroy the environment for future generations. In fact, it was the National Party in November 2011 that clearly stated that there was to be no coal seam gas on prime agricultural land. Of course, it is up to the states to determine the prime agricultural land. I am well aware of the old fact that possession turns sand into gold. Every farmer thinks their property is prime agricultural land, because they are proud of it, and that is why they perform and produce so well. As far as food security goes, this is what this legislation is about: to see that we do not damage our food-producing land for the future generations.

I would also make another note that Mr Windsor, if he is very concerned about food security, abandoned the farmers of the sea—our fishermen—when the coalition tried to get the marine parks disallowance through. Australia has the world's third largest ocean territory and harvests just 28 kilograms of seafood per square kilometre per year from our oceans. Compare that to other countries. I would like to see what they harvest in Thailand, probably about 700 kilograms per square kilometre. So, we have locked up more of our sea farm, if I can call it that, where we actually carry out our fishing to feed Australians. What does that mean? That means we will be importing more seafood into our nation, and, of course, jobs and wealth will be gone. The amount of seafood that we import now, especially from Thailand, is quite amazing, as I mentioned.

I notice that Mr Windsor and his cohort Mr Oakeshott, the member for Lyne, both proclaim 'the hung parliament has been a success'. Well, what a success it has been! Have a look at what is going on now. It is more about who is Prime Minister and the division in the Australian Labor Party than running the nation, and no doubt there will be more of that this week and next week until the guillotine does fall on the Prime Minister. Mr Oakeshott actually described this parliament as being 'alive'. Being 'alive' is an absolute embarrassment and a total disgrace to our nation. All we read in the papers is who is going to be Prime Minister next week. Perhaps Senator Feeney might be able to give us a clue. He might be able to tip us off as to which direction they are pushing. Are they going to push the Prime Minister over the cliff or are they going to keep her? Time will tell. I am sure all in this place will be watching this with a lot of interest. Do not worry about governing for the country, let's just line up another 130 pieces of legislation and rush them through. Whoever is the maintenance man or woman around this place, oil up the guillotine, because it is going to be overworked next week. It will be dropping and it will be up and down like a yoyo as the bills come through. I suggest they get the Innoxa and the CRC out and lubricate the sides of it, to prevent it from overheating with friction, because that is what we will see next week. What we will see next week is the guillotine—up and down it will go. Of course, it will be supported by the Greens. Their history of rushing legislation through this place without proper debate is already on the record.

At the weekend we had the state conference of the New South Wales National Party. The conference reaffirmed that the maximum benefit should flow to regional New South Wales from any royalties derived from coal seam gas production. It is amazing. As I said in the first part of this speech on 16 May, the Nationals are aware of the huge concern in relation to coal seam gas, but we will not get caught up in the hysteria whipped up by the Greens and the Independents. We have stated our position clearly on the protection of prime agricultural land and a financial return to the farmers, but we are also mindful of the need to ensure our future energy supplies. We have huge storages of coal seam gas and other gases in Australia, but what are we doing for energy? We are relying on imported fuels. New South Wales currently imports 95 per cent of the gas it consumes from interstate. The majority of contracts for the supply of gas to the 1.1 million New South Wales consumers will expire within the next five years. A report finds that, as early as 2017, New South Wales's traditional sources of gas, South Australia, from the Moomba gas fields, Victoria and Queensland, will increasingly be used to meet rising demand from both the Queensland LNG project and gas fired electricity generation.

So we do need energy, and we will not be seeing farmers return to the time of the draught horse, the Clydesdale or the single-furrow and moldboard plough; we need to grow food. We need to produce not only for Australians but for the world. But we need to protect our land to see that future generations can look back and say, 'When they entered into these energy-sourcing projects, they looked after the land.'

I was very pleased to recently visit a coalmine at Mudgee, where I saw the rehabilitation. The topsoil was put aside, the coal was taken out and then the soil was put back. The pasture was improved—it was actually better than when they started and I commended the miners on the magnificent job they did of rehabilitation. Of course, there are many areas in the Hunter Valley where I think the rehabilitation has been an absolute disgrace. So, if we are going to go mining, we must protect the land for future generations—that is my whole argument.

As far as this bill goes, it is based around more powers under the EPBC Act for the federal government, but they should be working with their state colleagues. We already have the EPAs and all the stringent regulations at a state level. Under the Australian Constitution, the land is in the control of the Crown, the state; but here we have more regulations coming in from Canberra.

As a fifth-generation farmer, I say that protecting our environment is vital, especially our land—and, sadly, it does not get enough attention. I believe the greatest asset in this country is its topsoil, the soil that is needed to grow the food not only for us but for millions upon millions of people in the years to come. The world will rely on Australia to provide food to so many people around the world and of course it is a huge export industry for us. So the whole idea is to protect everything for the future of generations of Australians to come. I say that as a grandparent now. We need to protect our land and keep it healthy and viable, especially the water under that land. That is what this bill is about—protecting the water to see that there is no pollution of that water because, if it is damaged, how can it be fixed? It would be a difficult problem to fix.

I know there are coal seam gas wells in Queensland that have been operating for many years, just like in Western Sydney. Thankfully, there have been no reports of any damage. I have spoken to Origin Energy and to Santos, and they are of the attitude that they will not go on to a farm if the farmer does not want them on their property, and that is fair enough in my book as well. The farmers own the land, although the banks might have a share in it, of course.

This legislation is not opposed by the coalition. Let us hope that it contributes to preserving our environment and our food-producing land for generations to come.