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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2843


Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (15:50): I feel as if I have given three speeches on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013. The issue is that the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act will be utilised to give greater oversight over protection of the aquifers. It is something that we are supporting. I think this is very important for former Gunnedah mayor, John Lyle, for his wife, Suzie, for people such as Xavier Martin, and for other people on the plains around Breeza and other places east of the Condamine River—people who have a serious concern about that. So let's clearly state that we are supporting this. After debate, after lobbying and after working hard on their behalf, we are supporting this.

But I think it also needs to be stated that you can understand the frustration that is held by the government when one of the so-called champions of this, Mr Windsor, seems to want to sit on both sides of the fence. That is clearly understood because he sold his place to a coal miner. He sold it not just for an ordinary price but for an extremely good price—almost $5,000 an acre. He has been highly sensitive about this. We could see that the other day when I was accosted in the media gallery about this issue. He wanted to, as he said, take it outside. Obviously, the impending threat of litigation, which of course you just do not have the resources to do—

Senator Wong: You should resign. If all you're going to do is campaign for a New South Wales seat—

Senator JOYCE: Senator Wong, you should not interject. You should be polite. Quite clearly, Mr Windsor never went outside of parliament when in the past he accused the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, John Anderson, of bribery. He did not go outside and make that allegation because it was fallacious, wrong and stupid; nor did Mr Windsor go outside and reassert allegations he made about Senator Sandy Macdonald. So it is a bit rich for him to be making statements about a coward's castle, because it is a place where he has resided quite happily a number of times.

I noted in Mr Windsor's letter to the editor on 28 July 2010 that he gave a number of points in seriatim and they run completely counter to the arguments that he is spreading around the district. He gives an explanation for why they could mine coal on his family's place. It has been in his family for I do not know how many generations, but they grew a very good crop of sunflower there, so it must be decent land. He runs this explanation of why coalmining is quite appropriate there but just down the road it is not. The argument was on the premise of the EPBC Act and water aquifers. In fact, he states himself in his letter to the editor:

10. A gravel ridge is the type of land that should be mined, not the fertile land of the Liverpool Plains.

The problem with that is that Shenhua and BHP were looking at mining on gravel ridges and he was one of the people protesting against it. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot decide one day because it works in your favour financially that you agree with mining so you can get paid $5,000 an acre for country which sales data of about that time indicates should get you, at best, $2,000 or $3,000 an acre—so you got way above the market for it—and then stand literally down the road and have a completely different position. It just makes you look like a total and utter hypocrite.

Point 7 of his letter to the editor says:

It is believed there will be an application to extend the Coal Company's mining area at some time in the future—that application may impact on "Cintra" land if approval were to be given. The Coal Company has a legitimate right to make such an application.

So he knew full well that his family's place was going to become a coalmine. It is a point of interest as to how that application went. Who approved it and why? A fair question to ask is: which state ministers at that point in time were part of that approval process? There might be nothing to answer for or there might be further questions to ask, but I think that is a fair question that can be asked in this chamber; it is a fair question that needs an answer. If the answer makes sense, the issue rests; but, if the answer does not, further questions need to be asked. That would be fair enough as well.

Mr Windsor says:

4. The Coal Company has purchased a number of properties within what is called the "zone of affectation" of mining activities.

5. Most of these properties will not be mined.

Why does he say that? Coalmining companies generally buy country because they have an expectation that there is coal somewhere around it. There may be buffer areas, but most of them will be mined. If you go through Werris Creek now, what you see is a massive mine. If someone had concerns about water tables, they are certainly not showing much concern there. It just seems peculiar that you could say, 'We'll just close our eyes and pretend that mine on the edge of Werris Creek doesn't exist. We'll pretend it's not there.' If you stand behind the mining industry, that is well and good. I believe in the mining industry. I think Australia would be broke without the mining industry, but I have no coalmine on my family's place. There is not one there.

To return to this piece of legislation, we need to make sure that we afford these people protections. A principle that we stand behind with coal seam gas, because a lot of this is pertinent to coal seam gas, is that there will be no coal seam gas extraction on primary agricultural land. If you are getting $5,000 an acre—if that is its true value; if that is really what it was worth—that sounds like primary agricultural land to me. That is a pretty good price. In other areas, you would have to be buying irrigation country for that amount. I do not know how you would go right now—if you were willing to buy land at $5,000 an acre, I reckon you would be buying the best land in the district. In fact, I think you would be buying the best land in the district with a lot of change left over. I do not know why someone would pay you $5,000 an acre. They get the land and you get the money—but anyway.

You should not be mining on primary agricultural land. You should not be destroying aquifers. When they put a coalmine down on a place, they never really questioned it much then. You should not be near—and this is pertinent—to domestic dwellings. I can assure you that this mine on Mr Windsor's place is right on the edge of town. It is right next to a residential area. I used to live there. I lived at 31 Gordon Street, Werris Creek. That was my house—it was the first house I bought for myself and my wife. My local member was Tony Windsor, in state politics at that time, I think. If you are on the land—

Senator Wong: So the Senate is just where you give campaign speeches?

Senator JOYCE: If you want to make a speech, Senator Wong, you should stand up and make one. Otherwise you are just a rude person.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order!

Senator Wong: Why won't you resign if you can't represent the state of Queensland?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Wong, stop interjecting.

Senator Cormann: Touchy, touchy—worried about the Labor Party in New South Wales!

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order on my left too! Senator Wong, please desist. Senator Joyce, direct your remarks to the chair.

Senator JOYCE: Thank you very much, Mr Deputy President. I can understand why some people might want to protect their colleague in the Green-Labor Party-Independent alliance. They have worked very closely together for a number of years. They have been very close, at a state level and at a federal level—at a state level in trying to make sure that their interests are looked after, and at a federal level in making sure that their interests are looked after.

We do not believe it should be on prime agricultural land. If you are selling something for $5,000 an acre, that would sound to me like prime agricultural land, because I do not know where you would be buying land, I really do not, for $5,000 an acre, even today—not for dryland farming. I would say that that would be one of the top prices you could possibly pay. Would that be a fair comment, Senator Heffernan? Senator Heffernan nods. He knows this country.

As far as aquifers go, I reckon putting in a coal mine would raise a few questions. Now, the big one is: should it be next to towns? This mine is on what was Mr Windsor's place. He has got it back now on a peppercorn rent. He also got the next-door neighbour's place on a peppercorn rent. It is an awfully good trick, except the neighbour wanted it back himself on a peppercorn rent—but I think Mr Windsor has got it. It is right next to town, so that is a bit of a problem. The final thing is: a fair return should go back to the landholder. I must admit, he ticked that box. He got that one right. He got a very fair return back to the landholder. So maybe on one issue, a fair return to the landholder, we and Mr Windsor are on the same ticket. We have to make sure that in dealing with this industry we acknowledge that.

Mr Windsor is working with mining companies. He has sold his place to a coalmining company. He got a very good price for his place and has obviously of late had a very strong working relationship or has been in discussions with Mr Palmer. Good luck to him! That is all right; I have no problems with that. It is clear to see that having a strong working relationship with mining and being the strong benefactor of what has happened in mining makes sense. This is obviously one of the questions that people ask: who were the ministers at the time?

Senator Cormann: We have seen a bit of mining in New South Wales lately.

Senator JOYCE: Yes. If there is nothing that needs to be answered, that is fair enough. We just need to clear the air; that is all. We just need to clear the air and get it off the cards. It is now very important that this piece of legislation goes through and that the people around Kiruna, the people around Breeza, the people around Nea, the people around Werris Creek and the people around Quirindi clearly understand that we support this legislation—because they will be reading this; you can bet your life on it—and that Xavier Martin, John Lyall and even Tim Duddy understand that we are in support of this legislation. They can communicate to the people of the area that we support this legislation and, in supporting this legislation, that we clearly show that the coalition in New England are trying to work to resolve issues. Hopefully, they will have a strong hand in a future coalition government to continue the work that needs to be done to make sure that we get the proper balance right.