Australian Greens' Dissenting Report
Over the last decade Australia has witnessed a huge community campaign
of resistance against coal, coal seam gas (CSG), shale gas and other
unconventional gas which has united city and country, farmers,
environmentalists, scientists and Indigenous Australians. The Lock the Gate
movement and many other local groups and individuals have resisted the
destruction of our land, water and climate in the public interest. The
Australian Greens wish to place on record our support and admiration for this
grassroots movement. Very few predicted its success, but the campaign has
upended the old certainties to challenge the fossil fuel industry and shown
that organised people can defeat organised money. It is in their honour that
the Australian Greens introduced the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and
Coal) Bill 2015 (the Bill).
The purpose of the Bill is twofold—to allow all landholders including
farmers, graziers, residents, local councils and native title holders to say
"no" to unconventional gas and coal mining on their land and to ban
hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") for unconventional gas,
because of the extraordinary risk to our land, water, climate and healthy rural
communities from this industry and extraction method.
Right now, the balance between multinational mining companies and
landholders is hopelessly skewed towards big coal and gas. The Bill would give
landholders the right to say "no" to coal mining and unconventional
gas, including CSG, shale gas, tight gas and underground coal gasification.
This would include both exploration and production, and would apply to any
land where activity has not already commenced.
The Australian Greens believe that Australia must rapidly transition
away from polluting fossil fuels like coal and gas towards clean energy. We
therefore do not support any new coal or unconventional gas approvals.
One step in the right direction would be giving landholders the right to
say "no" to coal and gas mining on their land, and to immediately ban
the dangerous process of fracking. That is why the Australian Greens introduced
this Bill for the third time. Last time this Bill was introduced, it was voted
down by the Liberal, National and Labor parties in the Senate on 6 March 2014.
The community supports this Bill. The Committee heard from 377
individuals and organisations, with around 95% of those supporting the Bill. The
Australian Greens would like to thank all those who made a submission and
appeared at public hearings.
Giving landholders the right to say "no" to coal and gas
During the inquiry the Committee heard extensive evidence at public
hearings and in written submissions that the current system of land access
arrangements created by the States is failing landholders and local
communities. The chronic power imbalance between landholders and wealthy
multinational coal and gas companies underpins every interaction, and
hopelessly disadvantages landholders.
Landholders must be given the legal right to decide that they would
prefer to be able to keep farming or living on their land, and for their
children and grandchildren to have that option, rather than be forced to
negotiate merely the price of entry with big coal and gas companies. Without
the right to say no, this David and Goliath situation forced upon families and
communities across Australia is even more weighted in favour of big coal and
Farmers and community groups from every State where coal and
unconventional gas activity is occurring or proposed have supported this Bill.
These include landholders struggling to deal with the toxic CSG industry in
Queensland, Lock the Gate, SOS Liverpool Plains, Groundswell Gloucester and
others in NSW, the Limestone Coast Protection Alliance and Livestock SA from
South Australia, No Fracking WAy, Frack Free Tas and many other groups and
Drew Hutton from the Lock the Gate Alliance said:
The first assumption is that there is some sort of equality
in the negotiation that goes on between mining companies and farmers. In fact,
as far as we are concerned, there is no equality. It is negotiation with a gun
at the head of the landowner.
Lynette Nicholson from the Basin Sustainability Alliance summed up the
...the claims by industry and government that the 4,500 to
5,000 [land access agreements] already signed by landholders and the fact that
very few landholders have utilised courts were somehow evidence that
landholders were happily coexisting with the resource companies. Nothing could
be further from the truth. Landholders are compelled to sign the CCA. There is
nothing voluntary about the process.
Rosemary Nankivell from SOS Liverpool Plains said:
...the bill uses the term 'agreement'. I can tell you
unequivocally that, when dealing with a resource company, there is no such thing
as an agreement. In some cases, perhaps, a painful type of coexistence
results, but it is the farming community that does the giving.
Kirsty Kelly from People for the Plains said:
All the power lies with the coal and gas companies; the
landholders' only position is to accept or go to legal challenge. There is much
discussion about coexistence between coal and gas and agriculture. But how can
you have coexistence when all the power lies with one party?
Lestar Manning from P&E Law who has represented landholders in land
access negotiations said:
That comes from a lack of ability by many farmers to actually
understand the information that is being put before them and the quantity of
information that is being put before them...The clients get left in the position
that they have to trawl through these documents to try to work out what
information is there, what is relevant to their land, without the expertise
that the companies have. If you put yourself into the position of a farmer, he
is running a business; his business is operating his farm. He is given this
material, and the party on the other side has myriad experts to assist,
facilitate and explain. That is a significant imbalance of power.
The Committee's report starts out by saying that:
The committee supports the principle that an agricultural
landholder should have the right to determine who can enter and undertake gas
or coal mining activities on their land.
After making what sounds like a bold statement of principle, the
Committee then fails to make any recommendations to actually implement that
principle. It applauds the voluntary arrangements such as the Agreed
Principles of Land Access and the wholly ineffective COAG process being carried
out through the COAG Energy Council. In other words, the Committee is
endorsing the Liberal‑National government's headlong rush to expand the
unconventional gas industry even further. It is clear which side the Liberal-National
government has chosen—the gas companies.
Rather than supporting the Greens' Bill, or proposing any other solution
which would actually grant landholders the rights which it claims to support,
the Committee recommends that the Bill be rejected.
The Greens will continue to push for landholders and local communities
to be given the right to refuse coal and unconventional gas on their land, and
will continue to support communities who stand up for their land, water and a
The Bill also bans fracking for unconventional gas, including CSG, shale
gas and tight gas. This ban is warranted due to both the unprecedented level of
risk and scientific uncertainty associated with fracking and due to the groundswell
of community concern in the face of those risks. Fracking presents an
unprecedented risk to surface water, ground water, clean air and a safe
climate. The evidence from across Australia and around the world has been
mounting over recent years.
Threats to water resources from fracking are not adequately understood,
but the evidence is building that they are severe and have potentially
devastating consequences. Huge coal seam gas projects in Queensland were
approved with minimal baseline data and hopelessly inadequate groundwater
monitoring. Both of the major parties have approved huge fracking operations
without adequate scientific certainty about their impacts. Even though federal
approvals for the Santos and British Gas Group gasfields were given in 2010,
and further approvals were given to Arrow Energy in 2013, the scientific work
to assess the risks of those projects has not been done. The CSIRO, the
National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) and
the Environment Department's Office of Water Science have not even commenced
scientific work on the impacts of fracking chemicals on deep aquifers.
The current round of studies will not establish with any certainty the
risks associated with mobilising naturally occurring BTEX carcinogens.
Officials from the agencies concerned freely admit that the work on those risks
Risks associated with aquifer contamination, fracture growth, leaks from
well casings and earthquakes caused by fracking are all poorly understood but
potentially very grave.
During this inquiry, the Committee heard evidence from CSIRO and the
federal Department of Environment confirming that these studies are in their
Alarmingly, the human health impacts of fracking are also very poorly
understood although mounting evidence shows that they can be severe. Gas leaks
caused by faulty equipment and fissures in the earth, as well as contaminated
drinking water are unacceptable risks for our rural communities to endure. In
the gasfields of Queensland, at Tara and Chinchilla, residents have reported
headaches, nose bleeds, skin rashes and nausea amongst children. During the
inquiry, the Committee heard directly from landholders affected by the CSG
industry. Shay Dougall and Narelle Nothdurft from the Hopeland Community
Sustainability Group provided powerful evidence:
Narelle's family have got documented problems with eyes, nose
and throat. They have problems with chronic headaches and migraines.
My seven yr old boy[...] has been suffering fast onsetting
headaches for a few years now. They are so severe he bangs his head into the
wall the floor anything to make them stop.
The Committee heard that that Queensland Department of Health
investigation recommended that further studies be conducted including air
quality monitoring, but that they were discontinued for no discernible reason
and no such studies were carried out.
Two years later those residents are still waiting. Evidence like this ought to
ring warning bells.
Studies in the USA have shown that the fugitive emissions of greenhouse
gas from fracked shale gas are vastly higher than for conventional gas. The
claims of the gas industry that CSG, shale and tight gas are low-emissions
alternatives to coal simply are not supported by robust Australian studies.
The CSIRO's preliminary study of fugitive emissions from CSG found that
further work was required. During this inquiry, the CSIRO confirmed that no
investigation is planned to examine fugitive emissions from fracked shale and
tight gas, even though exploration permits have already been granted for these
activities by reckless State governments. The CSIRO also confirmed that even
after its current small scale and preliminary studies are complete, fugitive
emissions from several major stages of production including water treatment,
gas processing and gas compression will still be totally unknown.
The precautionary principle, to which Australia has committed and which
is written into our national environment laws, demands that where an action
presents a risk of harm to the public or the environment, the absence of
scientific consensus is not an excuse for regulators to do nothing.
Unfortunately the Committee has adopted a deeply flawed interpretation
of the precautionary principle.
The committee also does not consider that it was provided
with sufficient credible scientific evidence during the inquiry to justify a
ban on hydraulic fracturing.
This is precisely the wrong approach. The EDOs of Australia argued that,
'at a minimum', a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing should be implemented
nationally 'until such time as the significant list of knowledge gaps
highlighted in reports and peer-reviewed literature have been properly
This Bill properly implements the precautionary principle to ban fracking.
Moratoriums on fracking exist in Tasmania and Victoria. Local
communities—too many to name individually—from Queensland to Tasmania are
already leading the way by declaring themselves 'gasfield free'.
Even since this inquiry began, some members of the big parties have
started to heed the growing calls from the community and have begun moving
towards the Greens’ position. The Western Australian Labor Party has adopted a
platform calling for a moratorium on fracking, and the Victorian Coalition
Opposition has called for an extension of the moratorium on onshore gas
exploration to be extended to 2020. At the same time, Coalition and Labor
State and Territory governments in NSW, Queensland, South Australia, the Northern
Territory and Western Australia continue to press ahead with plans for
expansion. The Australian Greens have long advocated for a ban on
unconventional gas, so we welcome this newfound support and hope that it
translates into action rather than more empty words.
This Bill would align Australia with the growing international movement
against this environmentally and socially reckless extraction technique. Bans
or moratoriums on fracking are in place or imminent in Canada in Quebec, Nova
Scotia and Newfoundland. In Europe, they are in place or imminent in Germany,
Wales, Scotland, France, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands, and in regions and
cities in Switzerland and Spain. In the USA, New York State and Vermont have
banned fracking. Cities and counties in California, Colorado, Texas, Hawaii,
Delaware and Washington DC have also imposed bans or moratoriums.
Fixing the system – banning mining donations
Throughout the course of this inquiry the Committee took extensive
evidence about the failure of State and Federal governments from both the Labor
and Liberal-National sides of politics to regulate the coal and unconventional
gas industries adequately. The massive expansion of CSG in Queensland and the
unconstrained proliferation of coal mines in the Hunter Valley in NSW, the
Bowen and Surat Basins in Queensland are each examples of a total failure of
This failure of regulation has been consistent across both federal and
State governments, and it calls for systemic reform. The Greens believe that
reforming our democracy to curb the influence of corporate donors, especially
those involved in extractive industries such as coal and unconventional gas, is
vital to securing adequate protection for landholders, a healthy environment
and a safe climate.
The Greens' Bill, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donations
Reform) Bill 2014
would ban political donations from mining companies, developers, tobacco,
alcohol and gambling companies. The Australian Greens believe that passing that
Bill would go a long way towards addressing the many failures of regulation
identified during this inquiry.
That the Parliament pass the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal)
Bill 2015 in order to give landholders the right to say 'no' to coal and
unconventional gas on their land, and to ban fracking.
That the Parliament pass the Greens' Commonwealth Electoral Amendment
(Donations Reform) Bill 2014 in order to ban political donations from mining
companies, developers, tobacco, alcohol and gambling companies.
Senator for Queensland
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