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Coal Seam Gas

Speeches in Parliament
Larissa Waters 19 Feb 2019

I rise to speak tonight on an issue that I think is emblematic of the struggle of communities in being heard by politicians in this place against the interests of big corporates. It's something that unfortunately this parliament doesn't talk a lot about. Certainly it's something that the Greens have tried to talk about a lot and have sought to introduce legislation on many, many times, but we're yet to receive support from either of the large parties. It's unconventional gas and fracking for unconventional gas. It is still, and has been for ten years now, threatening our best food-producing land, of course on top of climate change, which is the other threat to our food-producing land. It flies in the face of the science and it flies in the face of protecting that precious food-producing land.

Given that Australia is the driest inhabited continent on the planet and we have some of the worst soil on the planet, surely our food-producing land should be off limits for mining and gas activities. But the mining and gas companies make massive donations to both sides of politics, so naturally they get to write their own rules. I was reflecting on the history of this issue earlier today. It's been 7½ years since I first raised this issue in the Senate. I introduced a bill to give landholders the right to say no to coal seam gas mines and coalmines on their land. This is primarily to protect food-producing land, to protect the rights of traditional owners and to make sure that our water table—water being our most precious resource in this country—isn't going to be contaminated by those fracking chemicals which are blasted through aquifers to break open coal seams to extract the gas because this government doesn't realise that renewables can do the job. It's 7½ years on and we still don't have any decent laws to protect the community, our farmland, our water or our climate from the impacts of coal seam gas, shale and tight gas. Collectively, we call that unconventional gas.

I introduced that first bill back in July 2011. It got voted down. I introduced it again in 2013, from memory. It got voted down. I introduced it again in 2015. We haven't been able to bring that on for a final vote yet. It's very convenient for the big parties to make sure it can't come on for a vote, because they still support this industry. I am incredibly disappointed that our state administration, just last week, has been trumpeting the release of more precious land for gas companies, most of them multinational gas companies, many of whom make large donations to both sides of politics. The state government has been trumpeting the release of more land to be opened up for fracking. It seems that they've learned nothing from the science. It seems they continue to ignore the pleas of the community across Queensland, who are sick of the health impacts; who are sick of the intrusion on their way of life and onto their land; who are sick of their groundwater bores dropping, sometimes by up to hundreds of metres; and who are sick of being ripped off by these companies that they don't have the right to say no to who are trampling all over their land. So it beggars belief that we still have bipartisan support for the dangerous, experimental fossil fuel industry that is gas fracking for unconventional gas, much of which is for export in any case.

We in the Greens know that we don't have alternatives to food or water, but we have a multitude of alternatives for energy sources. We know that clean energy is more job intensive, will help us address climate change and won't threaten our food-producing land. But it's no coincidence that the renewable energy industry and, indeed, the farmers aren't making the big donations that the coal seam gas and other fossil fuel industries are making. We just did the figures, because the new donations data was released last week. Five million dollars went to both sides of politics over the last four years from fossil fuel companies, including coal seam gas and unconventional gas companies. That clearly has bought the support of both parties, because there's never been an unconventional gas application rejected by the federal government, no matter which party has been in power. All of those proposals have been waved through; they've been approved.

I still remember back when we were fighting to get protection for water into our federal environmental laws. That was in August 2011, a few months after I began the role of speaking for the community in Queensland. It then took another couple of years for us to convince one of the big parties—it was Labor in government at the time—to bring in that water trigger. We welcomed that. It wasn't as strong as we wanted, but it was certainly a step forward. But the tragedy at that time was that, about two weeks before they legislated the water trigger, the environment minister at the time ticked off on two of the big coal seam gas proposals. It was very convenient that they didn't have to consider the water impacts before approving these developments for companies that, incidentally, had made donations. Then two weeks later Labor decided, 'Oh, we'll tighten up the laws now.' Again, it's a very cosy relationship that we see between the gas companies and both sides of politics.

You might think that the community would lose heart given the consistent approach of parliament ignoring their needs and the big parties not listening to their concerns, but Queenslanders and Australians are strong. We are resilient and we're fighters. We don't give up. Tonight I wanted to pay tribute to the strength of those communities. Despite having their health impacted, their very ways of life being impacted, often their farm profitability impacted and their groundwater level impacted, despite facing all of these personal impacts on a daily basis from this industry—and I include in that, sadly, the loss of some family members and, in particular, I want to mention the Bender family, who lost their father, George, several years ago after the stress of dealing with one of these companies—and despite all of the threats that these communities face and the pressure that's been brought to bear on them, they are still strong and they are still fighting this industry.

Lock the Gate have been a real lightning rod in this regard. They started in Queensland—I'm very proud of that—and they've sprung up as a national movement to give voice to those communities who just want to keep farming their land and growing food for all of us, who just want their kids to have the opportunity to continue in their footsteps, who just want to make sure that they can continue to live their lives and not be bullied by these big, often multinational corporations that have bought off the big parties and are treating these communities like dirt, like they have no rights. Of course, sadly, the law says they don't have those rights because this parliament has not passed my bill to give those communities rights to say no to those coal and coal seam gas companies.

I know those communities won't give up fighting and neither will we. It's been 7½ years now that we've been trying to get legislation to give these communities rights to protect their farmland. We got success on that water trigger bill, and we will not give up trying to make sure that people can protect the land on which they grow all of our food. Of course, they export some of that food, too. This is simply a message of thanks to those communities that continue to stand strong against the pressure, the bullying and the awfulness of what this industry has been subjecting them to for years. And it's once again a call to the big parties to please stop letting the dirty donations that flow into your re-election coffers cloud your judgement. Please stop letting those donations get in the way of listening to what the community is calling for you to do—that is to protect their land, to safeguard their future, to protect the water that we all rely upon and to make sure that we've got community cohesion and a parliament that works for people, listens to the community and represents their interests. Surely that's what we're meant to be doing here in this place?

So we won't stop talking about this. We've got an election coming up, folks. I hope to still be talking about this issue in the next term of parliament, but, if I'm not, there will be other Greens in this place that will continue to talk about coal seam gas and unconventional gas. We will proudly continue to be the voice for communities against multinational fossil fuel companies that want to pillage their land because they've made very big donations to the major parties and bought the policy outcomes that suit their corporate profits, but rip off and ignore communities.

So I look forward to continuing the work that we started 7½ years ago. I do hope that, ultimately, we see some success here, because communities deserve that. They deserve decent representation, and our democracy deserves to be run by people, not by the interests of big donors. We saw in the donations data released on 1 February the extent of corporate influence over our democracy. It's no wonder that the Australian community is fed up with politicians. They don't feel listened to anymore, because they can see that big money is influencing both of the big parties. So not only do we want to clean up those donations laws but we want to give communities the ability to protect their food-producing land, to protect the water and climate that we all rely on and to just get on with living their life growing our food.

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