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Thursday, 24 November 2016
Page: 3178

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (11:40): I rise to support the Landholders’ Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2015. I am sure that will come as no shock to people in this place. The Greens have been calling for a ban on fracking nationwide and for the right of landholders and traditional owners to say no to coal and unconventional gas on their land for a long time. We seek to legislate this in this bill. We believe they should have the right to refuse the rampant expansion of what is a dinosaur industry across the landscape and across Australia. A large number of farmers and citizens across this country are extremely concerned about the impact that exploration and production of unconventional gas is having. Fracking threatens our land, landscape, wildlife, clean air, clean water, clean drinking water supplies, not to mention, of course, the impact on climate change.

Coming from Western Australia, and having been involved in leading an environmental organisation in Western Australia for a long time, I am well aware of the impacts of the oil and gas industry on our landscape and environment. It is important that we note in this debate that in Western Australia we are talking not about coal seam gas but about shale gas, much of which lies below the wildflower and key farming area in the midwest. If anyone has not been to Western Australia to look at our wildflower region, I would strongly advise people to do that. Our Deputy President will be well aware of the beauty of that landscape.

Our world famous wine region in the south-west of Western Australia is currently facing the onslaught of onshore gas, with some fracking in the mix there as well. I can tell you what—that is the biggest threat to tourism and production in the south-west. People do not want to be driving down to the south-west of WA to see a gas rig cutting up the landscape. They also do not want to be seeing seismic lines and our bush being hacked up any more than it already is in the south-west. Then there is the area around our truly beloved Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, and the Canning Basin that sits on top of hotspots in the West Kimberley. Not only is this very important land to the Aboriginal community, obviously—they have control over much of that area—but it is also growing in tourism value as well.

The Greens would hate to see these areas damaged or destroyed. Onshore gas development involves extensive land clearing, contrary to the myths that are perpetrated by the industry that the impacts are minimal. I myself have been there several times, most recently up into the midwest, and have seen the destruction that has been wrought in some of the most beautiful bushland in the midwest. There are seismic lines through Beekeepers Reserve and just north of Beekeepers Reserve. There are grids of clearing through that area, rampant destruction through creek lines, which is unrepaired, and spread of dieback. I have spoken at length in this place about the impact of dieback on our native vegetation in Western Australia and how there is the potential there for a large amount of destruction.

There is exploration with people wanting to produce and frack right near the Lesueur National Park. It is an area where the community—local farmers, environment groups and unions—combined successfully to campaign on in the 1990s to protect and stop a coalmine—a dirty, polluting coal-fired power station shock, horror!—which we did stop and got that area put into a national park. Now everybody up there would never even think of having a coalmine.

This is what we are saying: think of the future. Do not destroy this area that is so important. In fact, because of the Kwongan heath vegetation, there is talk by scientists and community of needing to list that area, for example, in a future World Heritage listing, because it is such an important vegetation type and landscape. That is for a significant period down the track, but that is how important that vegetation is.

The process of fracking uses an excessive amount of water, particularly for the shale gas that we are talking about in Western Australia. Each frack in just one well requires between nine million and 29 million litres of water. Let me tell you: in Western Australia that is a significant amount of water. With one well having the potential to be fracked up to 10 times in its lifetime and with the potential for there to be tens of thousands of wells spread across Western Australia, it is obvious that, in a state as dry as ours, you cannot sustain such a water-intensive industry. Fracking also has an impact on our air and has been linked to increased risks of cancer, asthma, headaches and nosebleeds. Air close to fracking sites can contain an alphabet soup of toxins, including benzene, toluene, hydrocarbons, methane, ground-level ozone and other elements. There is also the risk of groundwater contamination by radioactive mutagenic and carcinogenic materials. Even tiny amounts of these chemicals can make water toxic and can result in our critical and crucial groundwater resources becoming unstable. I repeat: in such a dry state as Western Australia, that is particularly important.

Some argue that unconventional gas can be a replacement energy for dirtier fossil fuels such as coal. That is a flawed argument. We are now moving ahead in leaps and bounds in terms of renewable energy. In fact, in April this year the Western Australian Minister for Energy, Mike Nahan, acknowledged that there is 100,000 megawatts of overcapacity in the south-west interconnected grid and that household PV would meet daytime energy demand within a decade. This is really, really important in WA. As I said, I used to be the coordinator of the Conservation Council. We worked for years on renewable energy. When the government in the 1990s was trying to build its next fossil fuel dinosaur electricity generator, we were saying: 'This is a flawed investment. PV is just taking off. It will go ahead in leaps and bounds.' The government of the day ignored that and went ahead and built a new power station. Shock and horror, now they seem to be shocked that in fact household PV will generate—I will say it again—enough energy for daytime use within a decade.

So why would you go ahead and continue to invest in more fossil fuel? Unconventional gas is a fossil fuel. The reason they want to rush this through is that they think they have a tiny window to make a little bit of money before renewables clean out fossil fuel energy. That is why they want to rush this through—they want to stampede landholders' concerns for climate change, because they want to squeeze every last dollar they can out of fossil fuel before renewable energy takes over the market completely, like it will in Western Australia within a decade. Given the evolution of photovoltaics, it could well be even before a decade is out.

The effects of climate change are already highly visible in my home state of Western Australia. We have always been the state that knew that climate change was going to hit us first and very hard. The models have been predicting that for a long time, and that has not changed. In Western Australia we are already experiencing extremely long, hot summers, more devastating bushfires, ocean warming and acidification, and changing rainfall patterns, which are accelerating. We are already seeing that in Western Australia.

The Paris agreement signed by Australia commits to holding the increase in global average temperature to well below two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit temperature increases. By facilitating—and this is what this government does and so do some state governments—unconventional gas and more production of other fossil fuels they are impacting on our ability to meet that commitment. Recent analysis indicates that most of the fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground to meet a two-degree target. They need to stay in the ground, which is also why we need this bill.

Farmers are deeply concerned about the impacts of this destructive industry on their operation. It is agriculture as an industry that we need to prioritise because we are going to need that into the future, whereas the fossil fuel industry will not be there into the future. This bill gives farmers the right to say no, and it bans fracking in Western Australia. It will stop our mid-west from being fracked. It will protect the Kimberley. It will stop areas in the southwest being fracked. It will give farmers and landholders right to stop oil and gas exploration. Committing resources to explore for more gas resources is nonsensical and should no longer be considered an option.

We should be investing in new infrastructure to ensure transition from coal and gas to renewable energy. The Greens in Western Australia have a plan. We call it Energy 2029. We can achieve 100 per cent renewable energy in Western Australia by 2029. We have costed it. It will work. It needs a commitment to achieve it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The time for the debate has expired.