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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 5379

Senator WATERS (Queensland) (15:38): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and to have the second reading speech incorporated in the Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows

Landholders' Right to Refuse (Coal Seam Gas) Bill 2011

The Landholders’ Right to Refuse (Coal Seam Gas) Bill 2011 will provide Australian landholders with the right to refuse the undertaking of coal seam gas mining activities on food producing land without prior written authorisation.

The intent of this bill is to allow farmers to say no to coal seam gas mining on their land. When Australia has so little good quality agricultural land, only about 1-2%, we must protect it from all other inconsistent land uses.

While ever we have uncertainties about the long term impacts of this new industry on our underground water resources, there will be concern within the community about impacts on food security. Queensland farmers in the Darling Downs, for example, rely on the aquifers of the Great Artesian Basin for their water source. Without detailed understanding of the connections between underground aquifers in the Great Artesian Basin, coal seam gas activities risk a drop in the groundwater table from dewatering of coal seams to allow gas extraction, or contamination of aquifers with hydraulic fracturing fluid. Farmers should have the legal right to decide that they would prefer to be able to keep farming on their land, and for their children to have that option, rather than take the risk of possible long term groundwater depletion or contamination.

The Greens believe that we need a moratorium on new coal seam gas approvals until there is full scientific understanding of the impacts on groundwater, food security, rural communities, threatened species, the climate and the Great Barrier Reef. However, even if that information is gained and the evidence finds that coal seam gas is safe, farmers should still have the right to say no. The surface and amenity impacts may be too great an interference with their farming operations. This bill facilitates their right to make that decision, by requiring coal seam gas corporations to gain their written authorisation to enter their land to conduct coal seam gas activities. That written authorisation must contain an independent assessment of the current and future risks associated with the proposed coal seam gas mining activity on, or affecting, the land and any associated ground water systems. The farmer must also be informed that they should seek independent advice and that they may refuse to give written authorisation.

If the corporation unlawfully enters the land, they commit an offence for which a significant penalty accrues daily, and the commonwealth may prosecute them. The farmer may also seek an injunction from the Federal Court to restrain the entry, and the corporation must pay the costs of that application irrespective of the outcome.

This bill applies to all land that has produced food at any time in the 10 years prior to the first proposed coal seam gas activity on the land, from commercial primary production through to urban vegetable gardens. The bill applies to all persons with an ownership interest in the land, which is broadly defined to include all persons with a legal or equitable interest in or right to occupy the land. This would include native title holders or those with native title rights and interests. A corpora­tion must obtain prior written authorisation from all persons with an ownership interest in the land before they may commence coal seam gas activities.

Importantly, this bill does not alter the ownership of the minerals and gas, which remain vested in the States. If the federal or state government decide that those resources are so needed, they may seek to compulsorily acquire the land, paying compensation on just terms or in accordance with state acquisition of land statutes. Those existing laws are a sufficient safeguard against a landholder ‘unreasonably’ refusing access authorisation, so this bill does not seek to address that issue.

The bill would only apply to coal seam gas activities which begin after the bill’s commence¬≠ment.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

Senator WATERS: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.