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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 611

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (13:13): I indicate that I have concerns in relation to the Environment Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 about the retrospectivity of the measures in schedule 1, although I note that the government introduced amendments in the House to limit its applications. While these amendments improve the schedule to some extent, they do not fully address my concerns in this regard. I note the Australian Greens have circulated an amendment in this regard and I indicate that I will support that amendment. However, I do believe it is incredibly important to acknowledge the increased protections this bill will introduce for sea turtles and dugongs. I also indicate that I will be supporting the Greens' amendments in respect of these provisions. I believe they are worthy measures relating to the protection of Australia's wildlife and the Great Barrier Reef. I am also proposing amendments to this legislation in relation to fracking, because fracking is covered by environment legislation, and I do not believe that we have done enough to address these concerns.

My proposed amendments alter the provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act relating to the protection of water resources to include fracking activities. The amendments will introduce fracking activities into the purview of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development and the associated advice and reporting requirements. I do not believe that these requirements are unreasonable. I do not believe that these requirements are overly onus when one considers the impact that fracking can have on water tables and on prime agricultural land in this country. If the amendment does not pass I will be pushing for an inquiry by the Environment and Communications References Committee into fracking activities and the protection of water resources and agricultural activities. I hope my colleagues in this place will acknowledge the need for significant policy development in this area. I believe that a committee inquiry will play a key role in this. I believe that these issues are vitally important and they must be addressed.

I hope that a Senate inquiry will lead to a bipartisan position that will give us a path to move forward and to ensure that fracking activities are appropriately overseen from an environmental point of view. Linked very closely to that is the impact that fracking can have on water tables and on prime agricultural land. The very serious concern that I have is not done enough on this. The current legislative framework, as it deals with coal seam gas, does not include fracking, and that is of particular concern in my home state in respect of the Limestone Coast. The Limestone Coast Protection Alliance—Dennis Vice is one of the leaders of that group—and the many other people I have met extensively in relation to this have legitimate concerns. They are not against development. They are not against appropriate mining activities, but they do have a concern that there does not appear to be an appropriate risk based approach to this. We ought to use precaution if we are going down the path of fracking, which could affect the water table and prime agricultural land. Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher you as a South Australian may or may not be familiar with the fine wines of the Coonawarra region. I hope I will not be pulled up by you on this, but your smile indicates that you are. I am very proud of the South Australian wine industry, indeed of the Australian wine industry. They have genuine concerns—for instance, what benchmarks are there to ensure the fracking activities do not impact on the environment and do not impact on future agricultural production and the quality of that agricultural production?

We need to have a comprehensive national approach at the Commonwealth level to ensure that fracking activities are appropriately vetted and overseen. I understand that companies seeking to undertake fracking activities are concerned about what they feel could be an unnecessary additional burden of compliance, when they are already subject to state based approval processes, but, as we have seen with the Murray Darling basin, environmental resources and agricultural resources do not end at state borders, and the states do not have a track record of putting the national interest above their own—indeed, they are not obliged to. The changes I have put forward in my proposed amendment are vitally important in ensuring that we do not end up with the same infighting and neglect we have seen in previous years regarding the Murray-Darling Basin.

I look forward to debating these measures in the committee stage, but I think it is important that we acknowledge that a risk based precautionary principle approach in respect of fracking needs to be undertaken. All I am seeking to do, effectively, is extend the whole issue of an independent scientific panel going beyond coal seam gas to fracking activities more broadly. I note that I am in good company, the company of people such as Alan Jones, who has been outstandingly outspoken in respect of fracking. It might bemuse some in the coalition that Alan Jones is not on side with them on this issue, but I do not think they can afford to ignore Mr Jones and his views, which I think reflect widespread community concerns.