Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

BILLS - Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2015 - Second Reading

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (11:30): As Senator Waters said, the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill is the most recent bill in a series of bills that she has brought forward on this issue. I think it is important, particularly after the last contribution, to indicate that the Senate has taken the bill extremely seriously. The Environment and Communications Legislation Committee-I am sorry I was not on this particular legislation committee-looked into the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2015 over several months in 2015. There were a wide range of submissions received by this committee, as well as individual statements by many people. I think well over 200 people contacted the Senate to talk about their views on the bill. It is fair to say that there are widely conflicting views about this bill. Nonetheless, I think it is absolutely critical to understand that this discussion is important, it is valuable and it is serious.

Senator Waters, you will not be happy with the contribution that I am going to make, because Labor does not support the bill in its current form. In the 10 minutes that I am going to talk about it, I want to focus on two of the clear areas where there are differences of opinion. One issue is the use of Commonwealth laws in this space. This took up a degree of debate during the Senate committee inquiry. A number of organisations and people talked about whether using a Commonwealth act was the right approach to an issue which is very personal and very important. I know people hate to hear politicians at the federal level say this, but we do believe it is the jurisdiction of the states to look at these issues. It is a problem when parliamentarians at different levels say, 'It is not us. Go to someone else,' but in this case we strongly believe that the issues around access to land in this space should be appropriately looked at by the states.

In fact, many states made this point very strongly in their submissions to the inquiry. South Australia came forward and questioned whether the bill would be constitutionally valid. They explained that, although there were laws in their jurisdiction that enabled landholders to object to unreasonable access and that provided compensation for economic loss, this must be owned at the South Australian government level. The Northern Territory government also spoke out very strongly in its submission, saying that the proposal in this bill would be:

undesirable and impractical because it would impact significantly on State and Territory budgets, and potentially remove primary producer families whose ongoing stewardship of the land is essential to its productivity.

You would be unsurprised to know, Deputy President, that the department of agriculture made a very strong statement about where the jurisdiction should lie in this space. They said:

The Bill is not an appropriate use of the Commonwealth's constitutional powers.

Importantly, they went on to say:

While the department supports better land access arrangements for landholders, we believe that this should be progressed at the state level.

A consistent theme in the arguments that the committee heard at the time was the need to enshrine very strong relationships between the landholders and the different organisations that were seeking to mine their lands for any purpose. The department of agriculture said that creating strong relationships between landholders and gas companies will help to not only address many concerns of agricultural stakeholders but also promote responsible development of gas resources in a way that can benefit regional communities. They talked about gas because this legislation is looking most clearly at gas. I want to restate the Labor Party position that we believe that strong relationships, open communication and, most importantly, respect for different points of view should be the basis of discussions about any use of land for mining.

Certainly, it is very clear that in the past there have been difficulties with the interaction between landholders and people who are wanting to mine on their land. Senator Macdonald talked about the people with whom he met who were so happy about the use of their land for mining and how they welcomed people into that process. It is clear that that welcome is not shared by everyone. Some of the submissions received by the Senate committee were very strong in their belief that they should have the opportunity to say no to anyone coming onto their land to access it for any purpose other than what the landowner wanted. This has been a longstanding and vexed point. It is clear that this is the situation that we have been facing in the Constitution from the start.

The effect of this bill is to change the basic premise of the way that we define resources in the country, and that is that resources below the ground belong to the nation, not to any individual landowner. By forcing companies, as this bill would expect, to seek the written permission of landholders to explore changes that dynamic. The implication that landowners own what is underneath the ground and not just what is on top could have unintended consequences in terms of the royalties paid to state and Commonwealth governments. The economic profits-and I know that Senator Waters referred to it in her contribution-in this process are very real. As we can see from the point that was made in the committee, the idea of unintended consequences in terms of royalties to governments was raised. There was significant evidence about the economic value of mining in our country. There was a quote from Deloitte Access Economics estimating that the minerals industry contributed $165 billion in company tax and royalties to Australian governments between 2004-05 and 2014-15. The argument around the impact on jobs in this area-and I know this, coming from Queensland-is very often quoted and the figures vary. And I am not always sure that they are accurate. The resources industry estimates that they employ around 200,000 people in Australia. Certainly, the mining industry is absolutely essential to our economy and the way it operates, and we need to be aware of that when we are looking at any legislation which would impact on that process into the future.

The committee accepted that this was a vexed issue, and I will not go into it any further because of the time for the discussion around fracking. Again, this has been played out in the community over very many years. The submissions tended to go down two paths. One group, which rejected the use of fracking completely, pointed out the environmental loss and, in particular, the threat to our water. Another group, which was in favour of the legislation, talked about environmental safety, the scientific advances, the strong restrictions around the usage and the differences between the way that fracking operates in Australia and the way that it operates in parts of America. That has been the subject of a lot of film commentary, which I think has caused a lot of fear and concern in the community.

Labor continues to support mining as it operates now. We put on record our concerns about the environment and the fact that any proposal needs to have the full environmental regulation and investigation process around it. We do understand the strength of feeling in some parts of the community about the fear that there could be longstanding causes of concern, but we believe that at the current stage there has been an effective balance established, and as long as the scrutiny continues we support access, with communication, to landholders' land. As such, we will again disappoint Senator Waters and not support her bill.