Subjects: coal seam gas, asylum seekers
CHRISTINE MILNE: Four Corners last night made very clear to all Australians just how inadequate the scientific base has been for the approval that has being given by state governments and the Federal Government for ongoing coal seam gas. Protection of Australia's agricultural land and water should be paramount. In this global age of food insecurity there is a growing recognition that food is the new oil and land and water us the new gold. And we ought not to be compromising those by allowing this wholesale destruction of farmland and aquifers by coal seam gas. This is the end of the fossil fuel age and we should not be driving a new fossil fuel industry at this time. And that is why the Federal Minister has to step up, he has been approving coal seam gas projects without adequate information.
LARISSA WATERS: We saw last night some really shocking revelations about just how bad Queensland's assessment process is when it comes to coal seam gas and large coal mines. Essentially the companies are running their own permits. Now no other industry gets a free ride like the mining industry does, and the people paying the price are ordinary Australians. So it's about time we had a pause on this dangerous industry until we properly understand what's at stake, and the long-term damage that it could do to our groundwater, our farmland, and even to our Reef with all of the dredging for new export ports.
So Tony Burke, our so-called environment minister, who has approved every coal seam gas project that's crossed his table, and who now belatedly is looking at increasing his powers to protect water, he needs to go back now and have another look at those approvals, have another look at the water impacts of those projects that he already ticked off on, and make sure that we actually have the information base to know what damage is being done to our water table, and use that information to inform future decisions.
CHRISTINE MILNE: It's also a very clear message to the Prime Minister not to devolve environmental decision making to the states. Prime Minister Gillard, at the behest of the Business Council of Australia, announced last year that the Federal Government would hand over environmental decision-making to the states. Well what a disaster that has proved to be already in the context of Queensland with what Queensland has been able to get away with with the Federal Minister, it's not only time to reject that idea of handing over more environmental powers to the states, but Minister Burke should retrospectively apply the water trigger to the big projects he's approved recently, and then retrospectively apply the science that's necessary, particularly in terms of assessing the water impacts on all of the other coal seam gas projects that he has approved.
On another matter, today there is a meeting of the Bali process looking at issues around what happens to asylum seekers. The Greens have argued always that we need to provide safe pathways and that is the only way that you are going to avoid people risking very dangerous journeys to Australia. We put that to the panel last year, we've argued we need to be taking people from the camps in Indonesia and giving them safe pathway to Australia, and what we find is that the Gillard Government has spent all of its time in punitive measures, trying to go with deterrence which has proved not to work. We now have three times more asylum seekers arriving in the first three months of this year than last year, now it's time to start listening to the Indonesians, listening to the people on the ground, and taking people from the camps in Indonesia.
Sarah Hanson-Young, my colleague, has done an enormous amount of work in this area and I'll hand over to her.
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you Christine. While this meeting is currently underway, we've heard directly from the Indonesians today, they want Australia to take more refugees, people who have already been found to need Australia's protection. Rather than letting them wait in squalor, in inefficient locations without access to medical support, without their kids being able to go to school, Indonesia is saying Australia needs to take more of these people. We've always known, as the experts have, the best way of reducing the pressure for people to have to board a dangerous boat is to give them a safer passage to Australia. The Indonesians are absolutely right. The Houston panel said that we needed an immediate boost of people that we were to resettle, and that simply has not happened. I got some figures from the Minister's office only last week, after asking after those numbers they finally came through. We have only resettled 266 people from Indonesia since August 13 last year, despite the fact that the Houston panel said we needed a boost of over 3800 people in the region if we were to stem the boats. We have had more boats come in Australia's history than since August 13, we have had more boats come this year than this time last year. The Manus Island, Nauru detention centre, the no advantage test has been a fundamental failure to stop those boats. We are having more boats, we're still having terrible tragedies and yet all the while there are people desperately waiting to be resettled out of Indonesia. It's time the Australian Government listened to our neighbours, they're asking us to take more people, we should do that, there should be an immediate boost of resettlement and I hope that's what comes out of these meetings today.
JOURNALIST: Just asking you about coal seam gas, is it the lack of process that you are opposed to or should the whole practice itself be scrapped or is the process?
CHRISTINE MILNE: In my view it is crazy to start a new fossil fuel industry at the end of the fossil fuel age, however what has gone on is a completely failed process and at the very least there should be a moratorium right now to prevent any additional or expanded coal seam gas operations and the Government ought to go back and retrospectively apply the water trigger, particularly for the Gloucester one that was just approved recently and also retrospectively apply the water assessment. I know that you can't apply the legislation retrospectively in total before approval because they've already been approved but at the very least we need to now have an accurate assessment of the volume of groundwater that is being used by all of the projects that have been assessed to date.
JOURNALIST: The livelihoods of farmers for instance, are they being ruined by this?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The livelihoods of farmers are being ruined by this, I have been to Queensland, I'm heading out to northern New South Wales this week. When I sit around kitchen tables with farmers their eyes water up and they say they have no capacity to stop them coming onto their land. Now this is prime agricultural land and this is what we need to be increasing our food production, we need to be protecting our water because this is the age when producing food is going to be so critical, and to actually undermine that as is occurring with coal seam gas is completely crazy politics, management and it undermines rural communities and that is why the Greens have a bill in the Senate which would give farmers the right to say no and that is already being debated and we want the Government to now come in and support it, and the Coalition as well if they genuinely care about farmers then give farmers the right to say no.
JOURNALIST: Are you surprised by the whistleblower's claims on Four Corners last night?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I am not that in the least bit surprised by the claims made by the whistleblower who came forward and said that the pressure she had been under to provide an environmental impact assessment on a major project in half a day, that kind of thing, that's the kind of pressure that is going on as we speak when the mining industry and the coal seam gas industry speak to state governments and they are happy to go along with it. If you just have a look at Campbell Newman in Queensland, he has said Queensland is open for coal, the coal business is out there, coal seam gas, anything goes. It really is cowboy territory in Queensland and these are the people, with the Business Council of Australia, who describe environmental protection and assessment as the so-called green tape. Well it's not green tape, it's about adequately assessing the real impact of what is a highly destructive industry. And on the issue of fugitive emissions, I have been persisting and following the Federal Government now for a very long time, forcing them to admit they cannot tell you what the fugitive emissions of methane from any of these coal seam gas projects are. All they have done is extrapolated formula out of the United States and apply it to the Australian wells, and they cannot tell you. My view is when you actually get that on ground survey work you will find that all of the claims about this being so-called green source of power is wrong.
JOURNALIST: Was the Four Corners report the first that you'd heard of these claims?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The fast tracking of claims? No, fast tracking of claims is something that the farmers have been complaining about for quite some time.
LARISSA WATERS: Yes well I might add to that - we've seen for many years that the regulation of coal seam gas in Queensland is inadequate and unfortunately the mining industry seems to write their own rules. That's happening with traditional mining, that's happening now with the coal seam gas industry. Unfortunately it's not just Queensland where the miners get to write the rules, it's right across the country. So this fast tracking is absolutely outrageous but sadly it's not uncommon. And it's just very interesting that this one industry gets a free reign whereas other industries and certainly farmers don't get those sorts of rights to abuse the process and to simply (inaudible).
JOURNALIST: Larissa it appears that the practice of fracking could extend to other states because we have been talking about New South Wales and Queensland but could it go to other states, including Victoria?
LARISSA WATERS: Look it could, we've got shale and coal seam gas right across the country so unfortunately nowhere is safe. And we know from many other jurisdictions how dangerous fracking is, it's bad for our water quality but also for the stability of the earth. We've seen huge (inaudible) happen, we've seen contamination of water with carcinogenic chemicals, and this is very serious business here, fracking is dangerous and it should not be permitted anywhere in Australia.
JOURNALIST: What should happen to the two Queensland projects while this approval process is being investigated?
LARISSA WATERS: Well look what we've said is given these companies have already had their approvals issued, albeit without the proper information that the decisions makers should have had, given that those approvals were issued such a long time ago, really the best thing legally that we can hope for is that those companies should now do that work to ascertain their impacts on water, the public and the Government should know what those impacts are, and then use that information to guide future decisions. For example the fourth coal seam gas big project in Queensland, that hasn't been ticked off yet, and we need that information about what will happen to our groundwater under those already approved projects before a decision is made about new projects. The Greens don't think they should be approving any more coal seam gas until we have that proper information about its real impacts, and as Christine referred to, the Government's not even looking at the climate impacts. We've had some independent university academics start to do some independent testing and they're finding that this stuff leaks. And it's methane, not only is it really bad for the climate but it's also flammable. So this is an incredibly risky and dangerous industry that should not be allowed to continue until we have better information.
JOURNALIST: And Larissa I understand it's only for the short-term anyway, they're not in there for the long haul, they'll move into an area and they'll operate in an area and then they'll move out - is that how it works?
LARISSA WATERS: That's right, wells have a lifespan and yet farmers have to live with a dried up bore for the rest of their existence. So we are really threatening the future of our rural communities and the future of our food production if we are simply extracting gas for short-term private profits, much of which go offshore anyway, and then leave these farmers without any water source to grow our food with, it's incredibly risky.
JOURNALIST: Do the Greens support Tony Windsor's call for rigorous independent research?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens have been calling for rigorous independent research from day one. We have argued that we should be moving in this country to 100% renewable energy and those embarking on a fossil fuel industry which undermines agricultural productivity and groundwater as well as our biodiversity is a very bad move and we are the ones who have been having legislation in the Senate a) to give farmers the right to say no, b) to introduce a water trigger, Larissa had legislation on water trigger since the last election, we have had that legislation in the Senate and if the ALP under Tony Burke said that that was a ridiculous proposition and they wouldn't support it, until of course the public clamour became so great, that he has now decided to support a water trigger but only after he has approved every single coal seam gas project that has come across him to date. The fact of the matter is that you cannot trust either Labor or the Coalition to look after agricultural land and water and we need an investigation not only into the science on the water and on the methane emissions but we also need to have an investigation into the relationships between the companies and the bureaucracy and the ministers who have approved these projects just as ICAC in New South Wales is raising eyebrows about the relationships with coal and coal permits then let's us have a look at the relationship with coal seam gas as well.
JOURNALIST: And speaking more generally, how should governments find a balance between economic benefits and environment impacts of coal seam gas projects?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the question is, whenever the world balance is used you know that that is about undermining environment and undermining environmental impact in favour of maximising profits to industry and that is precisely the kind of framing that the Business Council of Australia is using to get to try and get rid of environmental protection measures. The fact is extinction is for ever. Extinction is for ever. And we are losing Australia's biodiversity, we are compromising and contaminating our groundwater systems, potentially losing flow into our river systems as well, and they are impacts that go on and on long after the coal seam gas industry leaves town. What we need to do is make sure that we look after our environment so that it sustains us and whatever activities that we want to do into the future. What we are seeing here is that profit is overriding environmental protection and social cohesion, you only have to talk to those farming communities and see the stress in the faces of farmers as they break down about having been on their land sometimes four or five generations and feel like they are now being driven off because the coal seam gas industry has come to town and they have been given no choice. Is that really the way that Australia wants to move? A dig it up, cut it down and ship it away type economy, or do we want to value people that produce our food? And do we want to look after the land and water that actually sustains us?