The committee is a positive step forwards in improving public confidence in the environmental integrity of the industry, and the coalition will not stand in the way. The committee will provide scientific advice to government on relevant coal seam gas and large coal mining projects as well as commission and fund water resource assessments for prospective regions.
However, Deputy Speaker Georganas, I ask you today: would you want your home or your land or your future
and that of your family invaded by a mining company with no regard for how it will impact your livelihood?
I absolutely associate myself with the comments made earlier by the member for Groom, Ian Macfarlane, calling for the employment of committee members with industry specific and technical qualifications, including geology, hydrogeology and hydrology. As the committee's fundamental reason for existence is to provide advice on scientific issues relating to water associated with coal seam gas and coal mining, affected landholders need greater certainty that appropriate regulations will be put in place and provide them with the confidence to believe that the industry is sustainable and reliable.
On behalf of my constituents of Wright, I am concerned about the environmental integrity of the coal seam gas
industries that will be undertaking these developments. While I am not opposed to mining—in fact I support mining in the Surat Basin, the Galilee Basin and in Western Australia—I am making every attempt to bring my mind to the importance of greater economic commercialism between the landholders and the coal seam gas developers.
As some of you may know, coal seam gas is accessed via wells drilled down into and in some cases along the coal seams. Large quantities of underground water are removed to release the gas. The process is sometimes sped up using the controversial Hydraulic fracking method, meaning that a mixture of sand, chemicals and water is injected underground at high pressure to shatter the coal seam and rock. My electorate of Wright encompasses numerous agricultural industries, including horticulture, dairy, cattle and cereal crop production and is often referred to as the food and fibre basin of Australia. The farmers affected by these coal seam gas developments care for the environment —they know the importance of protecting it for future generations and, furthermore, they want to protect it because it is in their blood. Of utmost concern to
the people of my electorate is the protection of the watertable. We cannot afford to risk our water supply
as it is vital to our livelihood and, most importantly, to the food and fibre production of our farms. Farmers
are concerned that if water were contaminated by coal seam gas developments there would be no way to
prove contamination had occurred unless immediate scientific research were undertaken.
Failure by coal seam gas and mining developers to engage with the communities in which they are to operate has added to the increased level ofconcern among landholders. The Queensland Water Commission last week released the draft Underground water i mpact r eport, which has found that 85 bores were expected to be affected by coal seam gas developments within three years and 528 bores in the
long term. These were among some 21,000 private bores in the Surat Basin in western Queensland, and
the report is one of the first independent assessments of coal seam gas activity.
The delivery of reports such as this demonstrates the need for independent scientific assessment of coal seam gas developments because of the information they provide. Furthermore, the employment and advice of expert hydrologists and geologists is paramount in giving a scientific understanding to government and landholders of the long-term effects of coal seam gas mining and coalmining developments. We need to ensure that we know, if the risks are too great, what other options are available, because our food basin is simply too valuable.
We have been assured that the committee will produce scientific knowledge that will provide greater certainty
to regional communities around the coal seam gas and large coalmining developments. I question the interpretation of what 'certainty' means. To whom will it deliver certainty? To the constituents being affected by coal seam gas mining and other large coal mining developments? To the local landholder whose land has been invaded? Or is the government referring to greater certainty for the coal seam gas companies who will be making millions at the cost of our growers and rural businesses who are the primary targets of these developments? I am talking about those Australian farmers who put food on our table, often with little or no thanks.
According to the government, the establishment of this committee will provide local communities and other stakeholders with scientific information that will build confidence in government assessment processes. I hold serious doubts that the government is sincere in its commitment to providing accurate scientific information on how coal seam gas and large coalmining developments will impact upon affected regions. I am sure that many of my constituents in Wright will be more than willing to highlight their concerns, not for the sake of saying so but because it affects them and their families directly. I also raise the significant concerns of my constituents about the difficulties they will face with land access and about the lack of appropriate compensation.
The rights of development companies over the rights of landowners is an ever-growing concern with coal seam gas mining and large coalmining developments. I am referring to land which is precious to our farmers and the Australian community, who would rather not see their food supply destroyed. There may be some landowners who are willing to have work undertaken on their property and receive payment for that, and circumstances such as this are acceptable because they are on a cooperative and transparent basis.
However, the integrity of our underground watertable must be paramount and upheld, thus not affecting the neighbouring commercial farming practices. The affected communities need to be assured that the coal seam gas mining will not harm the environment and that the co-existence issues between landholders and
mining companies are open and transparent. If a mining company was to walk into your apartment on the 22nd floor and move into your third bedroom and start drilling, you would be appalled. So I ask you: why is it acceptable for mining companies to have legal access to prospective development sites?
As a final point, I draw attention to the issue of landholders not receiving fair compensation. As I have said before, protection of farmland is paramount and the region is not interested in tapping into the economic benefits of coal seam gas mining. However, compensation means affected landholders can make accurate and informed decisions about their future.
Furthermore it will provide opportunities for the local community, where the money can be spent. Australia has some of the most beautiful, iconic farming land, and I make particular reference to the seat of Wright. I believe that there seems to be an overall willingness in my electorate to protect that farming land. I take this opportunity to welcome the Queensland state government's election commitment to make sure that vital cropping land, such as in the Scenic Rim shire, is protected. I look forward to working with the committee to ensure that we shift away from accepting the 'unknowns' and replace them with 'knowns'.
I also take this opportunity to inform the House of why iconic farming land is targeted for exploration and drilling. To use an analogy, the mining or the gas exploration companies are picking the low-lying fruit.
You can see this if you juxtapose two positions. If the mining companies were going into country west of my electorate where it is heavily timbered, there would be the cost of clearing that vegetation and the cost of machinery and fuel to get into those sorts of remote areas. As well as the cost of clearing virgin scrub, there would be the time delays imposed by the state government—the green tape—and there would be the cost of pushing in access roads and of running in power, which I assume would all be part of the due diligence process. On the other hand, iconic farming land is mostly flat with very easy access, normally by bitumen roads, it is always cleared of vegetation and it is mostly in close proximity to power used in irrigation.
So, when making an argument about compensation, if the costs associated with extraction of coal seam gas in less favourable areas were to be amortised across the operation, those compensation costs should be shared with the farmer.
I do stress the point that protection of our watertable must be paramount. The integrity of the watertable must be maintained. If a compensation agreement is raised between a farmer and a gas exploration company where fracking is undertaken, it would be unwise for one farmer to exploit compensation payments and have the integrity of the watertable damaged to the disadvantage of neighbouring farmers. That circumstance would not have my support. I support the amendment so that the committee has the relevant skill set covering hydrology and geology.
Whilst I have in the Scenic Rim a very vocal community about their position on protection of the Scenic Rim, there are other sectors of my electorate— the Lockyer Valley and Gatton—that do not have the protection that was offered by the state government. The amendments we are putting forward will hopefully go to protecting the underground watertable for the businesses there, because we will have accurate data based on science to use in making assessments as to whether there should or should not be investment in coal seam gas in those areas. The watertable must be monitored prior to drilling and then after drilling, and the information on any impacts must be shared with the public and the landholders and must be independent, as opposed to being, as I believe it is at the moment, under the auspices of the mining companies.