That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Senator Conroy) to a question without notice asked by the Leader of the Australian Greens (Senator Milne) today relating to environmental laws.
Clearly there is something rotten in the state of New South Wales when it comes to mining regulation, whether that be Eddie Obeid's empire or the failure to properly regulate coal seam gas
This week we have seen revelations that New South Wales is late on agreeing to consider the advice of the coal seam gas agency that the Commonwealth set up under pressure from the Independents. That could not be a clearer statement of the New South Wales government's lack of desire to actually listen to the science when it comes to coal seam gas. They have not signed up to listen to the advice from this committee, nor will they deal properly with coal seam gas.
My concern is that the federal government is trying to distract attention from the fact that it too does not want to deal with coal seam gas. It is trying to say that the New South Wales government is hopeless. It is on this issue. This is to distract from the fact that the federal government refuses to tackle the concerns of regional communities seriously—concerns about groundwater and concerns about the climate.
This week we have seen Minister Tony Burke dragged to the table. Suddenly overnight he is really concerned about coal seam gas because it is going into Western Sydney now. Minister Burke did not seem to care so much about Queensland residents or the other regional New South Welsh folk until it was on his own doorstep. This is faux concern because this is the same minister who approved three massive coal seam gas minefields and the associated port facilities, the first two within six weeks and the third one within about five months of becoming environment minister. All of a sudden he is concerned about coal seam gas. I am afraid I will not buy it.
This brings me to the point that the failure of New South Wales to sign up to pitifully weak advice from a committee is yet more evidence that the states simply cannot be trusted to live up to their environmental responsibilities. This is the same government criticising the New South Wales government that a few months ago wanted to give them even more environmental responsibility. I am afraid it is absolutely hypocritical. It simply does not add up. Minister Burke cannot grandstand and say how awful New South Wales is on coal seam gas when he is the very guy who wanted to get rid of all his powers and have the states do his job. I do not quite know what he thought he would be doing around here without the responsibility to approve major projects that significantly impact matters of national environmental significance which, by their very title, should be kept within the realm of the national government.
I have a bill to address this issue. The government, of course, have prevaricated. It was clearly put to Senator Conroy: 'Is this on the table or off the table, what are you doing with your environment powers? Do you still want to give them away to retrograde governments like New South Wales and Queensland, where Premier Newman is repealing most of our environmental laws as quickly as he can and turning us simply into one big coalmine?' Minister Conroy could not answer that. Thankfully, someone thrust a piece of paper at him halfway through Senator Milne's questioning, but I am afraid he was still not able to clarify what the government's position is. Tomorrow is their chance to make it clear to the Australian people. Do they actually want to protect the environment or do they simply want to give all of their powers away to the states?
The hearing on my bill to force them to do their job will be tomorrow, and we will hear from all sorts of experts who will talk about the terrible history of the states in protecting the environment—states who have been willing to put oil rigs in the Great Barrier Reef, to dam the Mary River, where the endangered lungfish lives and to put cows in national parks. We will hear tomorrow from folk who are saying that clearly the states are not up to the job of looking after the federally significant parts of our environment.
The government have the chance, and they should take this opportunity to clarify with the Australian people what on earth their stance is. There has been a whole lot of confusion since COAG. The Prime Minister has rightly said there are some significant challenges in palming off federal powers to the states. She should accept that those challenges are insurmountable and that the states cannot be trusted to do the job, and that instead of weakening our federal environmental laws by simply giving them over to state governments, the federal government should actually strengthen those laws. They should stand up for our environment, which supports this economy that we still hope to have and which supports all of these beautiful places that are internationally significant and bring tourists to our door time and time again. This is the government's chance, but I am afraid we will see that only the Greens are committed to standing up for regional communities and our environment.