Senator Larissa Waters
Senator Larissa Waters, The Greens Party

I rise to speak today about what a complete waste of money and a foolish idea spending $1 billion of public money on the largest coalmine in the southern hemisphere would be. The Adani mine is the best and the most appalling example of the way in which the big parties are working for the big end of town and not actually for communities or, for that matter, for the planet. Australians know that our political system is broken and that our economic system is rigged against everyday people. The same system that lets greedy bankers rip off everyday people, with the full protection of politicians, is the same system that is going to let—over our dead bodies—Adani take unlimited groundwater from Queensland when about 90 per cent of the state is in drought. This is the same system that lets property developers steamroll local residents with insider deals, and it is the same system that wants to hand a billion dollars of taxpayer money—your money—to a multinational mining company. And this is the system that allows political donations to buy influence and to buy policy results, which is exactly why we see the dominance of gambling, alcohol, tobacco, property developers and, of course, the mining sector. They tend to get their way, and the community is utterly forgotten. Adani, the banks, insurance companies and the big end of town have got their well-paid lobbyists and they have got their well-connected former politicians. We know about the revolving door between MPs in this place, or their staffers, and the resources sector; it goes back and forth, and it is a very cosy relationship which borders on corruption. All we have got is people power. But, thankfully, I think that is going to be enough.

When ordinary people stand up, we can win, and the growth of the community movement in the last few months, with a new coalition of environment groups launching the Stop Adani campaign, has really generated some interest in this issue, and people now know what a foolish and ridiculous spend $1 billion of taxpayers’ money would be on a polluting coalmine that will further endanger the Reef, which has just faced back-to-back bleaching episodes. Never before in the Reef’s history has so much of it bleached, and never before has it happened two years running. Yet this government, with the full support of Labor in Queensland, are happy to bend over backwards to fast-track approvals, and now want to give $1 billion to this project. You could not design a more ridiculous situation. It is clear that, for the donors, it is payday; they have made their donations, and now they are getting the results that they want.

Unfortunately, no-one has done as much to grease the wheels for this coalmine proposal as Queensland Labor. They have given a water licence, with unlimited and free groundwater, for the life of the mine. Nobody else gets that sort of special treatment. Farmers and other water users are asked to be very careful with their water use. They have multiple levels of bureaucratic process to go through. They have to tighten their belts in a drought situation; the mining industry do not. They get free and unlimited groundwater.

The Queensland government also want to offer Adani a royalty holiday. They have been very cagey about this. They will not actually tell us how long the royalty holiday is going to be for. Nobody else gets a holiday on their royalties, but they have, once again, picked up a Campbell Newman idea that the first mover in the Galilee Basin would get a freebie and not even have to pay for the pleasure of ripping coal out of this planet’s core and burning it, worsening climate change. Again, you could not think of a worse deal.

To silence the community, the Queensland Labor government have also created a special legal loophole for Adani in relation to their water licence. The community can no longer have a say on whether they think that is a good use of our precious water and, hence, they cannot go to court even if the decision made is a poor one either on the merits or on the process.

They have approved the mine at every level, they have lobbied for federal taxpayer funding to come out of this Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, the NAIF, despite going to the election saying that they would both save the reef and not spend taxpayer dollars on this project, and they have gone to India recently to beg the head of Adani to build the mine. What is less well known than all of those appalling facts is that the Queensland government has the power to veto the billion dollars that Mr Malcolm Turnbull and this government want to give to Adani. Queensland Labor could block that $1 billion loan to Adani, and they could announce that today, if they so wished.

Before the election, Labor said that they would not give any money to Adani’s coal railway to nowhere, and now they have been actively facilitating that loan. As a Queenslander and as someone who cares deeply about the reef and about a safe future for the generations to come, I think that Queensland Labor needs to veto that NAIF money. If, indeed, the Liberal government is going to insist on giving free taxpayer money to this overseas company with a billionaire at its helm to trash the reef, then Queensland Labor needs to stand up and say, ‘We will not accept that money.’ They have that power under the NAIF Act and they need to use it.

Of course, federal Labor could also weigh in on this issue, and should do so. They have been quite prevaricating. One minute they are saying they love the coal industry; the next they are saying, ‘Oh, but it’s got to stand on its own two feet, but we might think about giving them taxpayer money.’ They are all over the shop on this one. We know that the Liberals have thrown their lot in with the coal industry. That is beyond question. We know Labor often do that also, but they need to come clean on what their actual position is, and Mr Bill Shorten needs to announce that if his lot were to form government he would require a review of the environmental approvals for this company, because what has come to light in the last few months is their appalling environmental track record.

Our environmental laws need reform, but they do at least require that sort of thing to be considered, and when the track record is so appalling and when new information has come to light now, since the approvals have been issued, there is the ability to reconsider those approvals. So, in short, Labor need to come out and say that they would reconsider those approvals and they would look at the dodgy environmental history of this company. That would send a very strong message and could help to kill this mine.

We know that regional Queensland is crying out for jobs. We know that it is crying out for jobs that will last, that are not subject to a boom-and-bust cycle, that are not killing workers with black lung, which is resurgent in Queensland. We thought we had killed that off decades ago, but black lung is back and it is here, in a Queensland coalmine, coming to you. We need jobs in those areas, but we need jobs that do not kill the workers and do not kill the reef. It is not that hard to think about positive, this-century options for job generation, but Labor are blinded by the money coming from the coal sector, and the donors continue to get their way.

Other, lesser heard voices in this debate have been the voices of the local Indigenous people. The Wangan and Jagalingou mob, whom I meet with regularly, and their lead spokesperson, Adrian Burragubba, who is a deeply honourable man, have been opposing this mine from the outset. There have been all sorts of dodgy tactics, which have meant that the group has been infiltrated, there have been attempts at bribery of the process, and people who are not even from country have been ferried in to stack the process. What is really clear is that the legitimate traditional owners of that area do not want this mine. They do not want their groundwater ruined. They do not want their sacred spaces trashed and dug up and turned into an open-cut coalmine. No means no, yet this government is completely deaf to them, such that we now have a bill to ram through a reduction in native title rights just so the Adani mine can get up. What an absolute farce—and what a real abrogation and an insult, once again, to our first nations.

There is a lot of talk about job creation, and we love job creation. We also love the 70,000 jobs on the reef. They are at risk from a continued bleaching episode, driven by climate change, which will be made worse by this coalmine were it ever to proceed. So it is a bit rich of Minister Canavan and others on that side to be trumpeting the potential for jobs from this proposal when the company itself has massively backtracked and said: ‘Oh, actually, we weren’t telling the truth when we first told you it was going to be 10,000; it’s going to be more like 1,464. Soz about the arithmetic error.’ Yet we hear nothing from that side about the 70,000 reef jobs that are at risk from climate change, which will be turbocharged by this mine. So do not buy the lies from that side or from the company, who distance themselves from their original projections anyway.

If we think about jobs, there are some recent proposals for solar thermal plants for Queensland—in fact, up to six, by a company that has a demonstrated positive environmental track record offshore—that could generate 20,000 jobs in clean renewable generation in Queensland. That is the sort of job creation we want to see. Those jobs will last. They will help us keep the lights on. They will not trash the reef. And they will not kill their workers with a disease that we thought was eradicated decades ago. That is the sort of positive planning that needs to be done, rather than the dog whistling to One Nation with this propping up of last-century so-called technology in an effort to pander to people who are desperate for jobs. They do not want promises of fake jobs; they want real jobs, and they deserve that.

We know that our reef cannot withstand another bleaching event. And, as Terry Hughes has said, it is a choice between the reef and new coal. The decision is pretty clear to the Australian Greens. It is now over to the government and to Labor to cast their lot.

Chamber Senate on 9/05/2017 Item MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – Mining Industry: Adani Speaker : Waters, Sen Larissa

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