Coal Seam Gas Moratorium Bill 2011


I lead for the Opposition in debate on the Coal Seam Gas Moratorium Bill 2011 and indicate that Labor will support it. We will move amendments in the Committee of the Whole to improve and strengthen the bill. John Robertson, as New South Wales Labor leader, announced in November that New South Wales Labor is calling on the Government to suspend all current coal seam gas exploration licences to protect the State's precious water resources. On 10 November John Robertson said:

The Government must immediately suspend all Coal Seam Gas exploration licenses before irreparable damage is caused to ground water and aquifers. The NSW Opposition is also calling on the Government to cease issuing Coal Seam Gas extraction licences and refuse any applications to expand existing operations.

Until a water-tight regulatory framework is in place based on independent scientific research and conclusive evidence, we should not be allowing Coal Seam Gas mining to proceed unabated.

Mr David Shoebridge made some very critical comments of Labor's record in government with respect to the coal seam gas industry. John Robertson, as Labor's leader, has acknowledged that Labor was too slow in government to address growing community concern about the impact of coal seam gas mining on our water resources, on our agricultural lands and on our high conservation value lands. John Robertson has said that repeatedly. When your political party has suffered the heaviest defeat in its history, as New South Wales Labor did in 2011, you would have rocks in your head not to look at where you went wrong, and John Robertson and the State Labor Opposition has been candid enough to say that in government we were too slow to address growing community concern about coal seam gas mining.

I say to those who wish to harp on about Labor's record in government: What would you prefer? If you are serious about addressing the impacts of the coal seam gas industry on our water resources, our lands and our environment would you really prefer that the State Opposition—a major political party in this State—did not move its policy position closer to yours? I often say that Mr David Shoebridge attacks the conservative side of politics out of duty but the Labor Party for pleasure. We know that the agenda of Ms Lee Rhiannon's faction of The Greens is to grow at the expense of the Labor Party.

The Hon. Jeremy Buckingham: You are on a unity ticket on that one.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: I acknowledge the interjection of the Hon. Jeremy Buckingham. I think the Hon. Jeremy Buckingham has approached this issue in a constructive way. In his second reading speech introducing his private member's bill he welcomed the change of direction by State Labor on this issue. I say in response to Mr Shoebridge's over-the-top attack: We yield to nobody when it comes to our environmental achievements in government. I quote one of this State's leading environmental groups, the Colong Foundation for Wilderness. In March last year Keith Muir, the foundation's director—not a man who lightly praises governments—wrote:

It is fair to say that the major conservation achievements of the last sixteen years of Labor rule will probably never be equalled. Three million hectares of national parks added, a tripling of the wilderness estate by the addition of 1.5 million hectares, stopping the clearing of native vegetation, new threatened species legislation, and water and energy conservation schemes.

The Colong Foundation for Wilderness is the successor to Myles Dunphy's National Parks and Primitive Areas Council and is Australia's longest-serving community advocate for wilderness. They are the words of the group's director, so the Labor Party certainly will not yield to the likes of Mr David Shoebridge when it comes to environmental achievements.

I foreshadow that Labor will move amendments to this bill that we believe will strengthen and improve the moratorium advanced by the Hon. Jeremy Buckingham in his private member's bill. The amendments will do two things. Currently the moratorium proposed in the bill by the Hon. Jeremy Buckingham will be for 12 months. The bill is silent about what will happen in 12 months when the moratorium expires. The Labor Opposition proposes a moratorium that will apply across the whole State and will link to the work of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Coal Mining that has been set up by the Commonwealth Government. The committee will commission regional water assessments for priority areas. It is proposed that all research findings, including regional water assessments, will be made publicly available and should provide a valuable resource to continually improve the information base and provide further support to decision-making processes. My source for those comments is the independent expert scientific committee's guidelines for research that have been produced by the Commonwealth Government.

The moratorium proposed by the Labor Opposition would apply to the whole State, but when the independent expert scientific committee that has been established by the Commonwealth does its work and produces regional water assessments for various areas that will govern how New South Wales regulates the development of the coal seam gas industry. If the independent scientific committee produces a regional water assessment that gives a tick to coal seam gas in a particular region of New South Wales the moratorium will be lifted for that region. But until that expert scientific work is done by the Commonwealth a moratorium will apply. The Labor Opposition believes that is a better way to proceed than simply applying a catch-all 12-month moratorium. A simple 12-month moratorium prompts the question: What happens in 12 months time? The Labor Opposition is proposing a clear pathway whereby the independent expert committee of the Commonwealth Government is charged with producing regional water assessments, and those assessments will guide us in relation to where coal seam gas should be out or in.

In relation to the second matter, which is the proposal by the member who introduced the bill to prohibit the coal seam gas industry within the Sydney catchment, the Labor Opposition simply says that if, as the mover asserts, coal seam gas is a bad thing, why treat the rest of the State differently from Sydney? The Labor Opposition says we should treat the whole State the same. We will obtain regional water assessments from the independent expert committee and let its work govern where, if anywhere, the industry ought to be allowed to proceed in this State. The Labor Opposition welcomes this bill. I acknowledge the determined and conscientious work and campaigning done by the member who introduced this bill, the Hon. Jeremy Buckingham.

The Hon. Steve Whan: He is far nicer to you than I am.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: I acknowledge the interjection by the Hon. Steve Whan. It might just be that I am a far nicer person than he is.

The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: Point of order: Is it appropriate for the Leader of the Opposition to mislead the House?

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

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: We all have our moments. In the time remaining for my speech I will make some remarks about the draft strategic regional land use plans released this week by the O'Farrell Government. Two nights ago in this House I made a contribution about coal seam gas exploration in Putty Valley, which is in the upper Hunter region and part of the draft strategic regional land use plan for the upper Hunter that was released this week. Prior to the election the Liberals and The Nationals presented some very strong wording to the voting public regarding the future of coal seam gas in this State. They spoke explicitly about the notion of no-go areas and some areas simply being ruled out. I acknowledge that the Liberals and The Nationals, in the policy they took to the election, were hearing the voices of community concern across regional New South Wales, in particular about the coal seam gas industry and its impact.

The Liberal Party and The Nationals were very responsive to community concerns—perhaps more so than my party at that time—but it appears this week that that responsiveness lasted to 26 March 2011 and not beyond. This week we have seen draft rules that give no certainty of protection of environmental and agricultural values. The protection of strategic agricultural lands and high conservation values is left to a process that can sideline water protection and can be sidelined itself if the Government deems a project to be exceptional. There is no certainty for sustainable agriculture or threatened habitats. As shadow Minister for the Environment I take a particular interest in the impact of coal seam gas on high conservation land, as did the Liberals' and The Nationals' pre-election policy.

As we heard from Government members, the Government set up an independent gateway process for strategic agricultural lands, but of course not for areas with high biodiversity values. The Government's draft land use plans for the upper Hunter and New England's north-west do not meet the reasonable expectations of landholders and local communities. They do not provide clear and certain protection for iconic natural areas, public lands and water supply catchments. The plans carefully map high conservation value areas but then offer no clear legal means of ensuring their ongoing protection.

At estimates committee hearings I questioned the State's Minister for the Environment about coal seam gas mining in high-value conservation areas. I was disappointed that the Minister for the Environment, Robyn Parker, refused to rule out approving coal seam gas mining in high-value conservation areas. Of course, that places the iconic Pilliga forests at risk. I have been to the Pilliga with the Hon. Steve Whan. We met with miners, conservationists and farmers. It is the case that polluted water has been released from coal seam gas operations in the Pilliga into the Bohena Creek system, which flows into the Murray-Darling Basin. A report provided by Santos only two weeks ago admits that coal seam gas and water had been spilled, native bushland had been cleared, and creek systems that flow into the Murray-Darling had been polluted. Under questioning, Robyn Parker refused to rule out approving coal seam gas mining in State conservation areas. Coal seam gas mining has never been approved in any New South Wales State conservation area, yet this environment Minister refuses to rule it out.

Prior to the election the Liberal-Nationals members raised community hopes that they would address community concerns regarding the impact of coal seam gas mining operations. Those hopes have been dashed because what the Government released this week falls a long way short of its pre-election promise. The Labor Opposition supports a moratorium on coal seam gas mining in this State until more conclusive scientific evidence is available. New South Wales Labor is calling for all coal seam gas exploration licences to be suspended and no new extraction licences issued until we can be sure that the mining process is safe. We will support this bill and vote for a moratorium on coal seam gas mining. I flag that we will propose amendments that we believe will improve and strengthen the moratorium.