Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 308


Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (16:39): I have had the pleasure of sitting in the chamber on whip's duty and I must say I am amazed by some of the comments that have come from the Greens in particular. The Maules Creek Whitehaven coalmine is a project that has been talked about for some time. It was approved in accordance with environmental law. As we mentioned, it was approved by the member for Watson, the Hon Tony Burke, who was the responsible minister when the Labor Party was in government. The mine is subject to appropriate conditions—some 40 of them—which Senator Waters seems to think are a waste of time. These conditions have been put in place by a robust planning process, including the preparation of a biodiversity corridor. I note that the senator, in her contribution, said the offsets plan was a complete waste of time. But when you consider that we are talking about 550 hectares being affected by this particular project, and that the offsets that have been proposed are nearly 10,000 hectares, even if there was some level of error in the offsets you would have to question whether the senator is not just going to pick on anything that she can possibly get her hands on to complain about—because she and the Greens do not like any mines whatsoever.

This government, like those opposite when they were in government, obviously understands that you have to run a country on a number of bases. You cannot just run a country thinking that the environmental considerations are above and beyond all other considerations that take place. We understand that we have to have a robust economy. We understand that we have to have social things in place. We understand that we have to have a multifaceted economy—because there are lots of different things that happen in Australia, not just the environment. Therefore, the responsible approach to these things is to accept that there are some things that are going to have to occur that may actually require a tree to be cut down or a whole to be dug. So what I would say to the Greens, who have come in here today and had a lovely little grandstand about this mine—and I am sure they will continue to grandstand about every project that they do not like—is that I do not think anybody in this place is disputing the fact that this mine will have an environmental impact. But what we have to understand is that, right now, we do not have the capacity in this country to have an entirely clean option for our energy. We do not have the capacity at the moment to deal with baseload power from clean energy sources.

You often hear those up in the top corner of this chamber, in the area where the Greens sit, carrying on about the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and refusing to allow the government to pursue its economic agenda to get the budget back in shape. But all we seem to have seen is a lot of wind farms being approved by these kinds of organisations. If, instead, we had started to invest in things like how we are going to store some of this clean energy that we purportedly will need into the future, then maybe we could be arguing that perhaps we do not need to pursue coal. But, right now, the Australian community has no choice whatsoever but to continue to use fossil fuels for the delivery of energy in this country. I think it is a bit rich for us to suggest that this mine, and every other coalmine—which the Greens hate so terribly much—needs to disappear. I would be really surprised if every one of the 10 Greens who sit down at the other and of the chamber does not use a significant amount of energy; and, given that we do not have the capacity to provide baseload power without fossil fuels, I am not quite sure how they intend to turn the light on in the morning or use their electric toothbrush.

One thing that annoys me more than anything else in these sorts of debates is the outrageous comments that come out. When Senator Milne opened this debate this morning, she commented that the whole approval process had been corrupt.

Not once in her contribution did Senator Milne actually describe in any detail what evidence she had that would be the basis of 'corruption'.

She also said that this mine will never be viable. I am not quite sure where Senator Milne got her evidence to suggest that the mine would never be viable. I accept the comments that Senator Waters made that the price of coal has dropped. There is no question that, at the moment, the resource sector is in a very depressed state. But, unless Senator Milne has some sort of crystal ball and can see into the future and tell us what the prices of these fuels are going to be in the future—and I would be delighted if you were able to, Senator Milne—unfortunately, I do not think that we have any evidence. Senator Rhiannon, when she gets up to make her contribution to this debate, may well be able to provide us with the evidence of this specifically 'corrupt' behaviour that Senator Milne refers to, and also the evidence for this mine—and I quote from Senator Milne—never being viable.

So what I would say is that it seems a little rich that senators come in here and carry on in this sort of way. I was quite astounded, actually, during the discovery of formal business today, to hear Senator Waters get up and ask to make a one-minute statement after Senator O'Sullivan had put a motion before this place and to hear her being critical of Senator O'Sullivan 'wasting the Senate's time on business motions'. I thought, 'My golly gosh! I have never seen any party waste more of the Senate's time on motions that have no relevance apart from giving them the opportunity to grandstand about something that is factual. I'm surprised they don't come in here and move a motion that the sun's going to come up tomorrow morning!'

As to this sanctimonious and hypocritical rubbish that we hear from the other end of the chamber, I am quite happy to have a sensible and reasonable debate about the clean energy future that I think this country deserves; I am more than happy to have that debate. I am more than happy to sit down and work through the relevant committees. I am the chair of a standing committee on the environment. I am happy to sit there and work through what the options are so that we can get Australia to the position we want, where we have the cleanest possible future when it comes to energy. But to just say that everything and anything that is on the ground at the moment that burns any fossil fuel element whatsoever should not go ahead is just absolutely ridiculous.

But the thing that probably annoys me more than anything else is that we have crocodile tears in here for the farmers. If the Greens were really genuinely interested in looking after Australia's farmers, what they would do is to start to support some of the initiatives that we put in place to enable our farmers to be more profitable and more competitive on the economic stage, and to support us in some of our trade activities to make sure that Australian businesses are competitive, instead of continuing to put more and more compliance and regulatory burdens on them, duplicating the things that they have to do. I think that, if you were genuinely interested in the future of Australia's farmers, then you would not be in here carrying on about—

Senator Waters: About coal-seam gas?

Senator RUSTON: The fact of the matter is that in Australia we do rely on energy. There is no question about it: we rely on energy. And, sadly, if we want to have energy, we have to produce it. So, for those people who obviously do not like this mine—and I understand that there are quite a number of them where the mine is being located who have some concerns; I also understand that there are quite a number of them who come down from Sydney who don't like it either—the fact of the matter is that New South Wales actually imports the majority of its energy from Queensland. So there is this whole nimby idea: 'Not in my backyard'. We are quite happy for the Queenslanders to dig up their backyards so that they can send the energy down south. But Senator Waters probably would not like that. She would probably prefer it to happen in Western Australia, Senator Sterle, because we can dig up your backyard so she can have the energy—just like we will dig up Queensland backyards. I am not quite sure where Senator Milne wants to get her energy from, but, given that more than 50 per cent of Tasmania is tied up under wilderness arrangements, I do not imagine that there is much opportunity to get it from there either. So I think that we just need to be a little realistic about the total picture. (Time expired)

Senator Singh: Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Ruston said that 'more than 50 per cent of Tasmania is tied up' in wilderness; that is an incorrect statement. She may like to retract it.

Senator Ryan: That is not a point of order!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Lines ): Thank you, Senator Ryan. That is a debating point, thank you, Senator Singh.