Friday, 21 November 2014

In which Labor's Walt Secord and The Greens' Jeremy Buckingham nail NSW Nationals' hypocrisy in relation to coal seam and other unconventional gas exploration and mining in the state

The NSW Legislative Council Hansard recorded a seconding reading debate on the Petroleum (Onshore) Amendment (NSW Gas Plan) Bill 2014 which began at 12.50am and ended just before 2am on 19 November 2014.

Here are excerpts from that debate:

The Hon. WALT SECORD  [1.24 a.m.]: As the shadow Minister for the North Coast I speak on the Petroleum (Onshore) Amendment (NSW Gas Plan) Bill 2014. My observations on the bill will centre on North Coast issues. On Thursday 13 November at 10.05 a.m., without warning, the Liberal-Nationals Government introduced this bill in the Legislative Assembly. For a start, the title of the bill is a complete and absolute deception. The bill does not abolish current coal seam gas [CSG] and unconventional gas production licences currently in operation and it does not protect the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. Furthermore, the Liberal-Nationals Government has put on the table the possibility of reopening the special area of the Sydney water catchment for CSG operations. 

If the purpose of the bill's title is to convey the Government's intention at law, then the bill should have been called the "Unlock the gate and roll out the red carpet for Metgasco on the North Coast after March 2015 bill". That is because that is the intention of this bill. It will allow CSG and unconventional gas exploration to return on steroids on the North Coast after the March 2015 State election. The bill provides no guarantee to the communities of New South Wales, particularly those on the Northern Rivers, that have made their views abundantly clear. But that is no surprise. The Liberal-Nationals Government has already flagged that it will back big corporations over the people of New South Wales every time.

That is why Labor will be moving a number of amendments to the bill to bring it into line with Labor's policy, announced by Opposition leader John Robertson on 29 October. Our amendments will ban coal seam gas from the special areas of Sydney water catchment and from the Northern Rivers, encompassing the local government areas of Ballina shire, Byron shire, Kyogle shire, Lismore city, Tweed shire, Richmond Valley and Clarence Valley……

If the Liberals and The Nationals were interested in responding to community concerns they would have proceeded with a second reading speech by the Minister and then adjourned the bill, allowing the Opposition and crossbenchers to consider it. But their motivation is simple. If the North Coast community had time to consider the bill they would find it lacking in any detail and teeth, and they would see that it was an attempt to dupe them. But what is even more shameful is that not a single member of The Nationals spoke on the bill. I say that again: not a single Nationals member of Parliament spoke on the bill. That is a big betrayal of their electorates—not a word from the member for Tweed, not a word from the member for Ballina, not a word from the member for Lismore, and not a word from the member for Clarence. And out of left field, on 14 November the member for Tamworth popped up in his local media and said he wants to protect the Liverpool Plains. After months of absolute silence, he enters the fray. It was like a scene out of Muriel's Wedding: "Deidre Chambers, what are you doing here? What a coincidence!" It is no wonder that the local community have dubbed The Nationals "Team Metgasco"……        

Mr JEREMY BUCKINGHAM [1.03 a.m.]: I contribute to debate on the Petroleum (Onshore) Amendment (NSW Gas Plan) Bill 2014. What a long and winding road it has been to get to this wafer-thin bill. After nearly five years of policy development, promises, posturing and touting their wares across the countryside the Government came up with a Petroleum (Onshore) Amendment (NSW Gas Plan) Bill that is nothing of the sort. There is no gas plan in this bill; there is no response to the Chief Scientist in this bill. This bill is a thin veneer of the Government's plan to sneak coal seam gas through the next election and launch it onto the countryside. This is more spin, more carpet-bagging, from a government that the people of New South Wales do not trust. 

The Hon. Duncan Gay: Take your koala suit off.

Mr JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: It did not take long to get a rise out of you. The Strategic Regional Land Use plan failed, the Aquifer Interference Policy failed, and the people of New South Wales do not believe a single word those opposite say on this issue. Not even the Government's backbenchers, parliamentary Secretaries or Ministers believe a single word Minister Gay says.

The Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox: Point of order: The member should direct his comments through the Chair and should stop pointing at people across the table. He should take a moment to take a deep breath, relax and be calm.

DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones): Order! The Minister was referring to relevancy. There is no point of order.

Mr JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: We are debating the Petroleum (Onshore) Amendment (NSW Gas Plan) Bill. Where did this bill start? It started with the Hon. Chris Hartcher introducing an onshore petroleum bill back in May 2013. Do members remember him introducing that bill and saying ad nauseam, "These are the toughest rules in Australia"? He went on to say, "These are the toughest rules in the world". What a joke that is! We heard announcement after announcement after announcement and that bill, which passed the Legislative Assembly on 28 May 2013, then disappeared; it was pulled off the Notice Paper on 10 September this year. It died an inglorious death; slowly and quietly culled—euthanased—because it was an absolutely pathetic bill that did nothing to placate the people of New South Wales who have concerns about coal seam gas.

The Hon. Steve Whan said this bill is not very broad. I have seen needles with more breadth and depth than this bill. Talk about pinpoint legislation—it is pathetic. The Government is expunging a handful of titles—and it very nearly could not bring itself to do that—when the people of New South Wales wanted substantive action in this area. They wanted, as the Government promised, areas ruled out of coal seam gas activity. We got some very sensible recommendations from the Chief Scientist that should be applied to extractive industries across the State.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: We're going to do the whole lot.

Mr JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: No you're not. There were dozens of pages in the Chief Scientist's report—I read them—and the Bret Walker report, but did their recommendations turn up in the gas plan? No they did not. Some key things are missing from the gas plan. One of the most important things missing is the recommendations of Bret Walker, SC: The rights of farmers, the rights of communities, to be empowered in arbitration and land access. It says in the Government's response to the review in the most Yes Minister type language I have ever seen:

On 15 April 2014, the NSW Government commissioned Mr Bret Walker SC to undertake an independent review of the land access arbitration processes relating to exploration under the Mining Act 1992 and the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991.

The Walker Report … made 31 recommendations to improve the arbitration land access framework. The NSW government has endorsed all the recommendations in the Walker Report relating to the current arbitration framework and committed to a process of implementation commencing immediately where possible."
The Government is committed to a process of implementation commencing immediately, where possible. What an absolute joke! This Government is a farce. No-one trusts this Government and no-one believes this Government. The gas plan is an absolute joke. It is just a blueprint to turn a beautiful State into a toxic gas field. No-one believes this Government.

Do Government members know who does not believe this Government, in particular? The Minister for Mental Health, and the Assistant Minister for Health and member for Wollondilly, Jai Rowell, Gareth Ward, Lee Evans, Mark Speakman, Mark Coure, Stuart Ayres, Chris Patterson, Brian Doyle, Russell Matheson, Rosa Sage, Barry O'Farrell, Don Page, Kevin Anderson, Thomas George, Chris Gulaptis and whoever the Coalition has running as a candidate in Ballina. They all rushed out within 24 to 48 hours of the announcement to state on the public record, "We're banning it. We're banning it." They knew what the community's interpretation of the NSW Gas Plan was. 

It is a carpetbagging exercise by snake oil salesmen who have come into New South Wales communities to sell them a story that New South Wales is running out of gas and this State must have coal seam gas. How many Holdens does New South Wales produce and how many mangoes? Are we completely self-sufficient concerning mangoes? Do we have to have a mangoes industry? We are a federation, a commonwealth, and this issue should be dealt with at the Council of Australian Governments [COAG], not through some carpetbagging exercise by the New South Wales Government. In the context of the most outrageous, erroneous and egregious untruths, I will refer to the Minister's second reading speech, which states:

For example, we appointed a New South Wales Land and Water Commissioner to provide independent advice to the community about exploration activities.
When referring to the framework for community engagement, the Minister stated:
We have also established the Gloucester Dialogue, chaired by the Land and Water Commissioner. The Gloucester Dialogue brings together community, industry and local and State governments to explore issues surrounding the exploration and extraction of coal seam gas in the Gloucester Basin.

This is this the first time in New South Wales this type of dialogue has occurred. Through the dialogue there is regular contact between senior departmental officers and Gloucester Shire Council. Any topic is up for discussion. A community liaison officer from my department operates out of the council chambers two to three days a week. The tenth dialogue meeting was held last Thursday. I commend the Gloucester Shire Council, particularly the mayor, Councillor John Rosenbaum …

Through the dialogue the community has access to all materials relevant to licensing decisions and approvals about AGL's Gloucester gas project.
That is unadulterated rubbish from the Minister because in that very week the man who had the idea for the Gloucester Dialogue, Aled Hoggett—a former councillor of the Gloucester Shire Council—resigned from the Gloucester Dialogue. He did that in the very week when the Minister was spruiking it as the way forward for engagement and the way to sell the Government's gas plan. Aled Hoggett stated in his letter of resignation, "The dialogue was initiated at my suggestion in February this year."…..

Mr JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: Thank you, Madam Deputy-President. "The dialogue was initiated at my suggestion in February this year", Mr Aled Hoggett stated in his letter of resignation from the Gloucester Dialogue to which the Minister referred in his second reading speech. "I hope that Mr Roberts' current assertions would become reality, that we could find a new path to coexistence between coal and gas projects in local communities. Instead I resigned my position on the dialogue early this month. In my opinion, the dialogue has failed and has become an overbearing monologue directed at our tiny and underresourced council. It is being managed to satisfy the requirements for consultation while delivering no such thing. More fundamentally, the dialogue cannot address three major problems in the New South Wales planning system that undermine coexistence between rural communities and the coal and gas industries. The first problem is that the New South Wales planning system disempowers local communities."

Mr Hoggett went on. He resigned from the committee that was his idea and that the Government enshrined in the heart of the Government's NSW Gas Plan because it is a farce—like the rest of the Government's plan. The gas plan is based on a false assumption around economics and on a belief that the Government can say just anything to the community and get away with it. I will read onto the record what Mr Jai Rowell declared in the Wollondilly Advertiser to his community in relation to the announcement of the gas plan: "'It ain't happening, it's over, we won', Wollondilly MP Jai Rowell declared last week", after the gas plan was released. Yet the gas plan refers to the very fact that the AGL gas development in Camden will remain an integral part, in the Government's opinion, of gas delivery in New South Wales. That completely contradicts what Mr Jai Rowell said—"It ain't happening, it's over, we won"; there will be no coal seam gas in Wollondilly. The community is not stupid.

The Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox: It is in Camden. It is not in Wollondilly, mate.

Mr JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: I acknowledge the interjection. The expansion plans of AGL are clearly into the Camden electorate. The member for Camden knows it. The community knows it and they are not being sold a pup on that one. Another very important element of the recommendations made by the Chief Scientist and Engineer that did not make it into the Government's NSW Gas Plan. It should serve as a warning to all people in New South Wales that the Chief Scientist and Engineer concluded her report with these words:

There are no guarantees
· All industries have risks and, like any other, it is inevitable that the CSG industry will have some unintended consequences, including as the result of accidents, human error, and natural disasters. Industry, Government and the community need to work together to plan adequately to mitigate such risks, and be prepared to respond to problems if they occur.
They are wise words by any measure in regard to risk management. How did the Chief Scientist and Engineer suggest that those risks be managed? By Recommendation 9, which states:
Recommendation 9
That Government consider a robust and comprehensive policy of appropriate insurance and environmental risk coverage of the CSG industry to ensure financial protection short and long term. Government should examine the potential adoption of a three-layered policy of security deposits, enhanced insurance coverage, and an environmental rehabilitation fund.
That is a very sensible recommendation. It is something that I would recommend in relation to any extractive industry, in all industries and most undertakings…..
Mr JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: Clearly, there is enormous concern in the community. Does the recommendation to which I have referred turn up in the gas plan bill? No. What we have from this Government is a suggestion that all this will be done after the election—just like after the 2011 State election the Government had strategic regional land use plans that covered the State and protected areas, such as water catchments—"no ifs, no buts, a guarantee". Where did that go? It went the way of the premiership of the Hon. Barry O'Farrell. Those promises were not kept and people will hold this Government to account on its word. People do not believe for one instant that this promise from the Government will be kept. That is clear from the words of Mr Kevin Anderson who, straightaway after the announcement of the gas plan, rushed out to say that he wants the Liverpool Plains to be protected. Other members on the North Coast have said that they want those areas protected. I join them in saying that those areas should be protected. This coal seam gas industry is unnecessary. As the Chief Scientist said, it has major issues in terms of risk.

The Government may argue that it did not have time to do this. Why has it not implemented the recommendations of the Bret Walker review? I would like to hear from the Minister in his reply why the recommendations have not been implemented. There is a massive configuration in the community about land access and arbitration. The Government commissioned one of the best legal minds in the nation to deal with the issue, and he made fantastic recommendations about how to deal with it. The recommendations are widely supported by the environment movement, people in social justice, the legal fraternity and all sides of politics. Yet the Government has not moved. That shows that the Government is not serious and cannot be trusted on the recommendations of the Chief Scientist; otherwise some of the low-hanging fruit in the recommendations would have turned up in this wafer-thin petroleum bill. All the bill does is set out to cancel or expunge—

Mr Scot MacDonald: Finally we can talk about the bill.

Mr JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: I will cover the whole bill in my remaining two minutes. The Government will expunge a number of petroleum title applications, which simply could have been rejected. Will the Government cancel the petroleum exploration licences [PELS] that are up for renewal? As promised, will it protect areas such as water catchments? No, it will not. With this bill, the Government thinks it can erect a thin veil and hide behind it and sneak through to the next election. However, the electors of Lismore, Ballina, Tamworth and Barwon do not want to be guinea pigs in the Government's toxic coal seam gas experiment. They understand that we are a country rich in natural resources. Former Federal Labor and Coalition governments have signed up to a massive export of LNG without proper socio-economic analysis. 

There is a parliamentary inquiry into gas supply and demand. I look forward to that inquiry. We have seen some of the submissions to the lower House inquiry from companies such as Jemena, which say there is no gas supply crisis, there is lots of gas in Bass Strait from conventional sources and all it needs to do is build a pipeline. There are other suggestions for pipelines, et cetera. The Greens are not opposed to fossil fuels…..

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