Standing Committee on the Environment and Planning


Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan) — The Greens will support this motion. However, we have some proposed amendments, and I am happy to move them now. I move:

1.     For “present an interim report no later than 1 September 2015 and a final report no later than 1 December 2015” substitute “present an interim report no later than 1 December 2015 and a final report no later than 1 March 2016”.

2.     After paragraph (3) insert —

“(4)  the environmental, public health, community, land and public safety benefits of a perpetual ban on onshore unconventional gas in Victoria;”.

3.     In paragraph (4) omit “(4)” and insert “(5)”.

4.     In paragraph (5) omit “(5)” and insert “(6)”.

5.     In paragraph (5) insert “best practice” after “(b)”.

6.     In subparagraph (5)(a) for “responses; and” substitute “responses;”

7.     After subparagraph (5)(b) insert —

“(c)  the capacity of existing regulators to undertake regular, intensive monitoring and risk management of unconventional gas projects;”.

8.     After paragraph (5) insert —

“(7)  the potential economic and social costs, in the short and long term, of environmental disaster response, pollution management, compensation to affected landholders, environmental impacts and site rehabilitation;”.

9.     In paragraph (6) omit “(6)” and insert “(8)”.

[Speech was interrupted. Click here to view the full debate.]

Mr BARBER — I gather that these amendments have been the subject of some discussion between other members of my party and the minister from the lower house. I hope they prove acceptable to the government in the form in which they have been drafted.

The Greens are very clear about their position on the issue of unconventional gas. Victoria does not need this industry, and Victoria does not want this industry. There are too many risks during the production phase, including potential damage to soil, water and air and loss of rural amenity. However, even if those risks were to be wished away, at the end of the day what we are proposing here is to open up a massive new fossil fuel-driven industry at a time when we must be moving to zero emissions as fast as possible.

We have seen some rapid evolution in the coalition's position on this issue. During its time in government it was well and truly on the move. It had a former federal Liberal politician, Peter Reith, out there talking to industry and reluctantly talking to the community, but that process and that particular piece of consultation had to be put on hold and replaced with another round of consultations. I believe the statistics Mr Drum was quoting earlier may have been statistics from his walk-in public consultation groups that were conducted in various parts of the state. More groups had to be added as community demand rose.

However, the fact is that there is another set of statistics that The Nationals have been poring over lately and those are the electoral statistics from New South Wales and Victoria. One of Mr Drum's Nationals candidates who had his hand up for the seat of Ballina is a statistic, with the seat having been turned over to the Greens. Elsewhere in Victoria, whether it was in the recent South Gippsland by-election or in the main election itself, it is absolutely clear that this issue has so many people concerned that they have switched their votes, in some cases directly from The Nationals to the Greens. They have good reason to be concerned. Until now all we have had is a series of assurances from the industry and various governments at various levels that everything is going to be okay. They have not met their burden of proof by any means.

While The Nationals are in rapid retreat on this issue, we know what Labor's position is. Its position is that it does not know, and therefore it is going to have an inquiry. When we first read the terms of reference for this inquiry we were very concerned that it appears to be implicit that the industry will be going ahead. A whole series of inquiries into how to regulate the industry were outlined, but nowhere was it explicitly stated that a threshold question for the committee would be: do we or do we not want this industry? That has been the Greens position. There has been a little bit of outflanking by The Nationals, and Labor is leaving it with us to have an inquiry. That inquiry better be a doozy, because Labor is under pressure from all over the place to hurry up and get on with developing unconventional gas across the land area of Victoria.

First of all Labor has its federal shadow resources minister, that notorious climate change denier Mr Gary Gray, who has now recanted and said that his previous views were all youthful indiscretion. When he was not bashing up the Greens he said:

Community concerns about coal seam gas activities have led to bipartisan CSG moratoria in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania.

This is a trend I understand, but the scientific evidence argues that the technical challenges and risks can be managed through a well-designed environmental regulatory regime, underpinned by effective monitoring and enforcement of compliance.

Mr Gray has made up his mind. He says we should have an industry. He says we can regulate all those problems and that it will be fine.

Hard on his heels of course is Mr Martin Ferguson, a former federal resources minister and now a bit of a free agent who chose to stick his nose in during the New South Wales state election on behalf of his clients, leading to a headline in the Sydney Morning Herald of 25 March that said 'NSW state election 2015: Martin Ferguson steps up attack on Luke Foley over CSG'. Luke Foley is the New South Wales opposition leader — Mr Ferguson's state Labor mate — and was trying to become Premier. The article says:

Martin Ferguson, a former trade union chief and resources minister in the Rudd-Gillard Labor governments, says he has no plans to exit Labor despite attacking his party's coal seam gas policies in NSW.

In the middle of the New South Wales election Mr Ferguson helpfully used a speech at a gas conference to make this suggestion, quoted in the article:

I have no intention of leaving the Labor Party …

The article goes on to say:

'Luke Foley's campaign has been tarnished by rank opportunism and blatant scaremongering', Mr Ferguson told the Australian Domestic Gas Outlook conference.

By threatening to kill the Santos Pilliga project, Luke Foley is sending a very clear message that he doesn't care about jobs or energy security for NSW …

'If Luke Foley actually loses on Saturday, then I think he should revisit his opposition to the sell-off —

of the power assets up there.

It was quite a deliberate attack and intervention in the election by Mr Ferguson.

If that were not enough, I have just read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that went online at 7.36 p.m. tonight that another ex-Labor figure has decided to join the debate on the pro gas side. The article is entitled 'Daniel Andrews, Treasurer Tim Pallas refuse to rule out gas talks with Theo Theophanous', and it states:

Premier Daniel Andrews's former cabinet colleague Theo Theophanous is working as a 'political adviser' to an energy company that is a vocal advocate for Victoria to abolish its onshore gas moratorium, and the former energy minister remains in communication with the highest levels of the Victorian government.

Lakes Oil executive chairman Rob Annells confirmed that Mr Theophanous, who served as energy minister between December 2002 and December 2006, had recently joined the company as a political adviser on energy.

Members will be gratified to know that Mr Theophanous is back and ready to exert his influence on Victorian politics yet again. In a cursory glance I could not locate him on the lobbyist register — which is not that easy to search, by the way.

The article goes on to state:

Mr Theophanous has spoken to both Mr Andrews and Treasurer Tim Pallas at separate events within the past fortnight, but Mr Theophanous declined to comment on his role or those talks when contacted on Tuesday.

It just has a familiarity about it. The article further states:

Mr Andrews and Mr Theophanous are believed to have spoken at the A-League grand final on Sunday, May 17, but the Premier's office declined to clarify whether the two men had discussed oil and gas or geothermal energy policy since Mr Andrews came to power …

Mr Theophanous spoke to Mr Pallas one day later, on May 18, at a major gas conference in Melbourne, shortly after Mr Pallas had given a speech about Victoria's plans to hold an inquiry into onshore oil and gas.

Maybe I should just stop there and allow members to read the article for themselves if they are interested.

On behalf of major shareholder Gina Rinehart, Lakes Oil had previously had Alexander Downer on its board.

[Speech was interrupted. Click here to view the full debate.]

Mr BARBER — I absolutely think we should have an inquiry into unconventional gas in Victoria, and along the way we may very well learn about a certain cast of characters if this motion of Mr Jennings is successful. These people may not necessarily turn up and give submissions to parliamentary inquiries, but nevertheless their influence is felt, and of course with a change of government in Victoria and Labor's position, the thesis I am putting forward is that Labor's position is very much up for grabs. Even the motion in front of us makes that very clear. As long as Labor's position is up for grabs, it is certainly better to have a lobbyist on your side who speaks Labor than one who is as closely aligned with the Liberal Party as Mr Downer was.

That is why we ought to have the broadest possible terms of reference here, and it is very important to the Greens that we inquire into the environmental, public health, community, land and public safety benefits of a perpetual ban on onshore unconventional gas in Victoria and not merely have a discussion about how it might best be regulated. It is important that all factors and indeed the threshold issue of a permanent ban be brought into it.

I will briefly address the amendment moved by Mr Drum. I think the aim of Mr Drum's amendment is to ensure — if there is any grey area in the questions of conventional gas and unconventional gas, of what drilling is occurring onshore and offshore, inside Victoria's waters and in commonwealth waters, or whatever it might be — that the committee — —

[Speech was interrupted. Click here to view the full debate.]

Mr BARBER — I think the aim is, if there is any particular grey area as to exactly what sort of exploration or development activity we are referring to, that this inquiry be in a position to sort all that out.

Labor may be of the view that there is no confusion about the line between conventional gas and unconventional gas and therefore may oppose Mr Drum's amendment, but when I moved a motion about unconventional gas in the previous Parliament the then Leader of the Opposition in the Council, Mr Lenders, lined up to explain to me that the term 'unconventional gas' is very unclear. I will quote briefly from Hansard to illustrate what Mr Lenders informed me. He said:

Mr Barber says three things in his motion which I am uncomfortable with. Firstly, his motion says 'unconventional gas'. In his introductory remarks he sought to define 'unconventional gas'. If you are doing an inquiry into unconventional gas, I accept that there will be grey areas, but the difference between conventional gas and unconventional gas has no science behind it.

If the Labor Party now argues there is a clear dividing line between conventional and unconventional gas and that neither this committee nor anybody who submits to it nor any other stakeholder in fossil fuel development in Victoria could possibly be confused by these terms, then we will all feel a bit more relaxed, but I am just going back to the view the Labor Party previously put forward in this chamber, which was that there is potentially a grey area around unconventional gas, conventional gas, tight gas, shale gas, coal seam gas and all the other types of gas that are being looked for, talked about and explored at the moment.

On that particular question I will wait to see whether another speaker, perhaps one even more informed than the rest of us on these matters, can explain the difference between conventional and unconventional gas to everybody's satisfaction. Perhaps Mr Jennings in his reply will state his position, and then the Greens can decide how to vote on Mr Drum's amendment.