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Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Page: 8146

Coal Seam Gas

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (14:52): My question is to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that the National Water Commission's review is quoted in today's Australianand is warning the government:

… the impact of coal-seam gas on water quality has become a pressing matter … there are also significant potential risks to water and our water management as a result of the scale of the development … there is a level of uncertainty … as a result of the less-than-perfect information …

Opposition members interjecting

Mr KATTER: There is a fellow up here constantly interjecting and I would ask for the time to be taken off my time for the question. The gentleman is in the middle over there.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Kennedy will resume his seat until the House comes to order. Now that the House is in order, I will call the member for Kennedy. I remind all that the member for Kennedy has a long memory and he will get his own back. He will be heard in silence.

Mr KATTER: I only have two names down so far, Mr Speaker. Is the Prime Minister aware that there is, outside the Murray-Darling, negligible surface water above the Great Artesian Basin? Kangaroos, emus, birds, half of Australia's cattle and sheep, even tourism and elements of mining are therefore dependent upon this aquifer. In light of negligible employment and overwhelming foreign ownership, could the Prime Minister meet stakeholders and consider a moratorium on all drilling and intrusion into the GAB?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:54): I thank the member for Kennedy for his question. In answer to the member for Kennedy's question, as he would be aware, constitutional responsibility for the regulation of these onshore resources rests with state governments. On the issue he raises, the Commonwealth government has been closely monitoring both the debate about coal seam gas and concerns about impacts on water.

The role of the Commonwealth government becomes enlivened when a project comes to the minister for the environment through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—that is, it is a project of a major scale and it has got some environmental significance and consequence. When those things have happened the minister for the environment has taken the best of scientific advice and has placed large numbers of conditions on projects, including conditions which go to the underlying water and to monitoring the water condition. To give you an example of that, the government imposed more than 300 detailed conditions each on the Santos and British Gas coal seam gas projects and 270 conditions on the APLNG proposal that I believe the member referred to. So, yes, when these matters do come before the Commonwealth there is a clear understanding that we do need to take the best of scientific advice. We get that expert advice from agencies like Geoscience Australia. We always ask for detailed water management plans and monitoring regimes to avoid or minimise impacts on groundwater and on surface water.

On broader debates about coal seam gas, I do understand the member is concerned. He is not on his own there; other members of the parliament have raised some concerns. In managing these sorts of questions, it is very important, I think, to recognise we have a constitutional position which gives a state government a particular role. We are talking about an industry worth billions of dollars to this country, with billions of dollars of investment in the pipeline. We are also talking about farmers, some of whom have profited from the identification of coal seam gas on their land and some of whom have had concerns about the question.

In order to deal with this issue—billions of dollars of investment, a constitutional position and some farmers with concerns—what you need to do is to be studied, methodical and careful. You have got to make sure that you understand the situation, that you act consistently and that you give the same message to all parties. It is certainly not appropriate to get on a radio station one day and say something which would void constitutional law and then ask for a serve of humble pie at a press conference on another day. That will not be the approach that we take. We will continue, under Commonwealth law, to work these issues through methodically with the best of scientific advice.