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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 2658

Senator WATERS (Queensland) (17:54): I rise to conclude the debate on my Landholders' Right to Refuse (Coal Seam Gas) Bill 2012. I would like to start by thanking Tony Abbott for the original inspiration of this bill. I may not get the chance to do that in the next 5½ years that I have in this place, hopefully more. He said six months ago that he thought farmers should have the right to say no to coal seam gas, and we thought: 'Great! Finally someone is listening to the concerns of the community. Let's get this bill in and try to get it through the parliament to give landholders the right to say no.' Unfortunately, it was a pretty short-lived approach by Mr Abbott—the next day he changed his mind and said, 'Mining company should respect the rights of farmers.' Well, farmers do not have any. That is why we need this bill to give them some. It has all been downhill from then on with Mr Abbott and the LNP. And I note with great disappointment, but perhaps no surprise, that we do not have any members here of the Nationals, who profess to care about coal seam gas when they are out in the bush but when it comes to putting bums on seats in this place to vote against coal seam gas they are never here.

Senator Ronaldson: That's a cheap shot!

Senator WATERS: It may well be a cheap shot, but where are they on this issue? They continue to vote against standing up for the community on coal seam gas. I think people should be fully aware of that, particularly when they vote on Saturday.

There are a litany of problems with coal seam gas, which is why the Greens have opposed it from the outset. There are the problems with the long-term damage to our aquifers. There are the problems with the vast amounts of salt that are produced. There is the fact that it will affect our food productivity and export ability into the future. And then there are the false claims made about how supposedly clean it is and how great it is for the climate, without a shred of independent Australian evidence that actually looks at coal seam gas. So we have massive environmental concerns and there are also huge social issues because of the fact that farmers and other landholders have no rights to say no to coal seam gas. That is precisely why the Greens and the community want a moratorium on coal seam gas until we have a better grasp on what this industry is doing to our land and to our water and to our climate and to our reef, for that matter, which is being dug up for coal seam gas exports.

The rest of the parliament does not want a moratorium on coal seam gas. Twice now they have voted down motions that I have put for a moratorium on coal seam gas, blocking their ears to the 67 per cent of Australians who do want a moratorium on coal seam gas until we know whether it is safe. I think that is a very reasonable position and it is consistent with the precautionary principle, which we supposedly have on our law books but that everyone always ignores.

I have other bills before this place to try and address the problems with coal seam gas. One is to give some power to the environment minister to better protect water from coal seam gas, and we have just had a Senate committee recommend against supporting that bill. This bill we are debating is specifically directed to protecting landholder rights and allowing farmers the right to say no. It does not purport to solve all of the environmental problems with coal seam gas; I have other legislation which does that. But with this bill the whole point is to allow food-producing landholders to say no to coal seam gas. When authorities like the National Water Commission and the CSIRO are both saying we do not understand the long-term impacts of this industry, why should we be taking the risk with what precious little food-producing land we have in this dry country? Why shouldn't farmers be able to say that they do not want to take the risk with their land and that they want to give the opportunity to their kids to keep producing the food that we all rely on? That is precisely what this bill would do.

I have heard some very spurious reasons from the other parties on both sides of politics as to why they do not back this bill. There have been some constitutional claims which are just nonsense. There have been some claims that the state laws are somehow properly regulating this industry. I wish they were, but, unfortunately, they are not. You just have to look at the evidence. In Queensland landholders cannot say no to coal seam gas; they have no right to do that. All they have is 28 days to negotiate an agreement with a big coal seam gas multinational corporation, and if they cannot reach agreement after 28 days they end up in court and the companies can still come onto their land anyway. So there is absolutely no equality of bargaining power there and no right ultimately to say no.

The strategic cropping land laws that were brought in by the state Labor government late last year do not stop coal seam gas either. They wrongly say that coal seam gas does not permanently alienate the land. That is not what the CSIRO and the National Water Commission think, and it is not what the Greens think either. The LNP are, very sadly, no better. They want to stop coal seam gas in the Scenic Rim, and we welcome that, but what about the rest of Queensland? What about the rest of the country, for that matter? They have proposed a gasfield land and water commission to develop a better land access agreement. Well, the best land access agreement is one that says farmers can say no, and that is what this bill does. That is why the many communities across the state—in the bush, but also in the cities, because we have had concern expressed about coal seam gas right across the state and the country—are going to vote for the Greens. They know that we are opposed to seam gas and that we are for protecting our water, protecting our food-producing ability, protecting our climate and protecting our reef.

It is a disappointment to me that I only had five minutes today to speak on these issues. I look forward to continuing my remarks when we next have the chance to discuss this bill. In the meantime, if people want action on coal seam gas they will be voting Greens on Saturday.

Debate interrupted.