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Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Page: 630


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (13:21): I rise today to speak on the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Amendment (Support for Infrastructure Financing) Bill 2019. Let me say right from the outset that the Australian Greens oppose this bill. We think it is the wrong way to go about supporting our Pacific neighbours, and we're extremely concerned that under this amendment Australian taxpayers' money may indeed be going to worsen climate change with the expansion of fossil fuels in our region. And it's not good enough for the government to spend taxpayers' money on their own domestic coal pet projects. They now want to spend taxpayers' money on these projects in our region as well.

We are extremely concerned that this is not the right way to support our Pacific neighbours and play our role in the region. We hold deep concerns about the role of Efic in using taxpayers' dollars to fund fossil fuels in the era of climate breakdown and climate change. This is the moment when we need to start grappling with the real impacts of climate change and the destruction of our climate from the burning of fossil fuels. The IPCC report tells us that we have only a decade if we are to arrest the dangerous elements of global warming, and we are not going to be able to do that while we have political leaders talking about climate action and, on the other hand, taxpayers' money rolling out the door to fund more fossil fuel projects.

The passage of this bill has been rushed. We've experienced that already this afternoon. It was read a first time and then—bang—went straight to the second reading. Of course, this is all being done on the cusp of the federal election. We don't know when the Prime Minister is going to call the election. It could be Thursday. It could be Friday. It could be Saturday. It could be Sunday. It could be sometime next week. What we do know is that this government is obsessed with spending taxpayers' money, funding coal, gas and oil. We know that. That's all it seems to be able to come up with every time there is a debate around this matter: 'Just spend more taxpayers' money on it.'

It is absolutely shocking to me that in order to facilitate this bill being rushed through the parliament we have the Australian Labor Party lining up to tick and flick this bill through. It's not the way we should be engaging with our regional neighbours and it is not what we should be doing if we are serious about climate change. The Labor Party, of course, announced their climate policy only yesterday—only yesterday! Now, today, they're lining up to tick off on more taxpayers' funds and open the door to prop up coal and gas projects in the Asia-Pacific. Not so serious about climate change now, are we, less than 24 hours later.

This bill hasn't been allowed to have proper consultation. We know that the Prime Minister first announced the policy in November 2018, and it passed through the House of Representatives in February this year before coming to the Senate today. The speed at which this bill is being propelled leaves little time to consider some of the real concerns over its appropriateness.

As Stephen Howes points out in his submission on behalf of the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University:

2. There is a risk that that the Efic reforms will undermine governance in the Pacific by encouraging a supply-side, project-proponent-led, non-competitive approach to infrastructure. This is widely perceived to be a problem with Chinese export credit to the Pacific.

3. Efic projects, even if commercially viable, may be against the national interest of the recipient country in a poor policy environment. But Efic lacks both the capacity to make policy assessments and the mandate to promote policy dialogue and reform.

4. Efic will be mandated to pursue infrastructure projects that are in Australia's interests, and to maximise Australian participation. In other words, it is required to put Australia first—

That means, ultimately, that our Pacific neighbours will lose out—

which is bad for the Pacific, and inconsistent with our official position of backing openness and competition.

The risks should be thoroughly explored before this bill passes the Senate. They should have been thoroughly explored properly before this bill was even brought to the floor.

I want to go to a couple of specific concerns that we have. The Australian Greens believe that Australia should be stepping up its engagement with the Pacific and doing far more to support its Pacific neighbours. The best way of doing this is by boosting our aid budget from its lowest ever levels as a proportion of gross national income to put us on a trajectory of reaching 0.7 per cent of GNI by 2030. The Pacific region would reap the benefits of a decent Australian aid budget alongside an increase in Australia's contribution to climate finance and Australian government policies to wean Australia off dangerous fossil fuels.

Today is budget day. We've got a lock-up that's about to start. Do you think that this government is going to put any more money into the aid budget? I think not. Every year, year after year after year, this government—the coalition government, the Liberal Party—cuts our foreign aid budget. It thinks that's its own piggy bank. Rather than investing and doing what needs to be done to support our Pacific neighbours, the government is more interested in supporting the fossil fuel industry than doing anything that supports those neighbours in our region through what would be a more legitimate and more appropriate use of support—through our foreign aid budget. I won't hold my breath that there'll be any increase in our foreign aid budget this election. No, this government will be more interested in giving tax cuts to the rich. That's what will be in the budget tonight: more tax cuts for wealthy people and less aid money for our Pacific neighbours. But, if it comes to bankrolling coal, oil and gas projects, whoa, there'll be plenty of money to go around. That is what is fundamentally wrong with this bill before us today.

The Greens fully support the submissions made by a number of development sector stakeholders who overwhelmingly have expressed serious concerns regarding the substance of the bill as well as a lack of consultation and the scrutiny surrounding it. As Oxfam notes in its submission:

In line with the Boe Declaration, and with best practice globally in providing development loans as well as Australia's obligations under both the Paris Declaration and global human rights standards, any loan facility increasing Australian funding for infrastructure to developing countries must:

have Pacific Island nations' views, needs and interests at its heart.

We know what's at the heart of this: it's the coal industry, it's the oil industry and it's the gas industry. Of course these standards should also operate with a high level of transparency and accountability. Again, what is this bill doing but just formalising more secrecy around the spending of Australia's taxpayers' money.

Other standards, of course, should apply best practice. We should have best practice standards, due diligence and safeguards, including in relation to gender, human rights, climate change, and community consultation and consent. The Oxfam submission continues, saying that standards must:

be sustainable, both from an environmental and social perspective, especially with regard to climate change being "the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific" …

And, lastly, the submission continues, saying that any type of loan facility like this must:

be actively inclusive of small and medium scale infrastructure, particularly in areas of agriculture and water infrastructure, which are proven to be pro-poor.

That's not what this bill is being rushed through the parliament for. There's nothing in here about what's going to help our Pacific neighbours when it comes to agriculture or water infrastructure or dealing with the issues of climate change—no. This is Australian taxpayer money being rolled out the door to prop up the fossil fuel industry. The Oxfam submission continues:

At present, EFIC does not have the mandate, operational framework or expertise that would enable it to accommodate these core elements. The draft legislation does not include provisions that would change EFIC's governance, structures or processes to ensure that any of these core elements are taken into account in the future.

There is no surprise as to why this bill is being rushed through this place today. It is the Liberal Party and the coalition delivering for their fossil fuel mates. And, sadly, we now have the Labor Party lining up to do it with them less than 24 hours after the Labor Party announced their climate policy—how pathetic.

Furthermore, the Australian Council for International Development notes in its submission to the rushed Senate inquiry into this piece of legislation that:

There is insufficient evidence that Efic's standards of governance; capability; risk management; environmental and social safeguarding; and transparency and accountability can effectively deliver on its proposed expanded mandate constituted in this Bill and will be commensurate and aligned with the high development standards and principles employed in Australia's development cooperation program by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Basically what the experts are saying is that Efic has no idea how they're going to do this and no idea how they're going to consult with the local communities properly. Indeed, they might be doing more harm—probably will be doing more harm—than good. That's before you even take into consideration the impact on climate change and global warming because of the high chance that this money is going to be spent on the fossil fuel industry.

Efic has a mandate to put Australia first—not the Pacific. The Australian Greens are deeply concerned that this bill will allow Efic to compromise the needs of our Pacific neighbours. It will mean that the needs of our Pacific neighbours will not even really be considered—they'll come off second best. I don't want to hear, after I sit down and we hear from the minister, the minister stand up and say how great this is and that it makes Australia so wonderful that we're doing all this for our Pacific neighbours. If you actually cared two hoots about how we engage in our region you would have an increase in the aid budget in tonight's budget papers, but it won't be there because this government doesn't actually care about how we engage with the people of the Pacific. They just care about what's going on with the corporations, with the mining industry and with the fossil fuel lobby.

We need Efic to strengthen its own accountability practices before it contemplates expanding its powers. It is notoriously secret, it has a lack of transparency and it just doesn't have the expertise to understand the needs on the ground in these local communities. It must get its own house in order. Efic has repeatedly demonstrated a failure to conduct due diligence, evidenced by human rights and environmental violations in Efic-sponsored projects overseas. Our Pacific neighbours should not be paying the price because this government wants to sign another cheque for their fossil fuel mates.

One of the most damning examples of Efic's poor decision-making is its decision to support the ExxonMobil-led PNG LNG project in 2009. It was the largest single loan Efic has given. Much of this transaction was done on its own national interest account and was thus undertaken with the cooperation of DFAT. Nevertheless, it could not have happened without passing Efic's due diligence standards, which clearly have been found to be wanting. In 2009 and again in 2012, Jubilee Australia found two major shortcomings of the project. Firstly, from a macroeconomic point of view, the expected financial impacts on the PNG economy were likely to be mixed and poor governance in PNG would likely undermine any predicted widespread benefits for the ordinary people of PNG. Secondly, Jubilee warned that the unrealistic promises combined with inadequate landowner mapping and political pressures on the landowners to sign onto the project agreement would eventually lead to landowner discontent. So we're causing more problems than we're solving.

Jubilee Australia went further and said that this discontent caused low-level conflict in PNG. It was suggested that the PNG government might send in the military, which could lead to the escalation of bloody civil conflict in the area. Despite all of these warnings, this is precisely what then happened. Efic was grossly incompetent in addressing the social, economic and political risks. Now we have a bill before us in which they want to expand their ability to participate in this nonsense, dressed up as some type of help to our Pacific neighbours. Well, it's bollocks. This is about supporting the fossil fuel industry—nothing more and nothing less.

This example further highlights our deep concerns about the possibility that this funding will finance fossil fuels. This government has repeatedly shown they will attempt to use every cog in the machinery of government to spend taxpayers' money on coal, oil and gas. As the Australia Institute pointed out in their submission, the government has made it explicit that Efic could fund projects to promote Australian fossil fuel exports. The Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Mr Coulton, said:

In the energy sector, Efic's new power would enable it to finance the construction of LNG receivable terminals, leading to increased energy exports or engineering services.

Oh. So that's what this is all about, then? Thanks, Minister. The Australia Institute in its submission says, 'While the minister's quote refers only to gas, this could equally apply to coal infrastructure.' And we know just how obsessed this government is with coal and spending taxpayers' money on coal. Just imagine the high-fives and the yippees that would be going on in the National Party room right now if this bill got through. We could have Mr Barnaby Joyce ringing up Gina Rinehart and saying, 'Look, more money for coal.' That's what this government is going to the election on. They have no plan to reduce carbon emissions and no plan to help our Pacific neighbours, but they want to rush this bill through today so that they can spend more of the money of hardworking Australians to prop up the fossil fuel industry. That's what's going on here and it's a disgrace that the Labor Party is standing by and letting them do it.

The Australian Greens attempted to move an amendment to this bill in the House on 20 February. This amendment would have prevented Efic from facilitating and funding the mining and export of thermal coal. You'd think at a time of climate action—with the desperate need for reducing carbon emissions and the phasing out of fossil fuels, like the IPCC has said—that this amendment would have passed without any problem—but, no. The Labor Party did not support this amendment. The Liberal Party, the coalition, did not support this amendment. And so now we have a bill before us today that is able to spend Australians' money on facilitating the export of climate change and fossil fuels overseas.

The Labor Party insist that they do not support taxpayer funding for the Adani coalmine, despite, of course, what some of their Queensland colleagues say. Well, here is an opportunity to prove it. I will be putting up these amendments again in this place to ensure that Australians' money cannot be spent on further expanding the coal industry. You're either with us or you're not. You can't stand up on Monday and say that you care about reducing carbon emissions and then come into this place less than 24 hours later and vote for a bill whereby taxpayers' money will be spent on making climate change worse in order to prop up and fund the coal industry. You can't do both.