Speech

Legislative Council

GREENS BILL: Moratorium on Fracking in the South-East

June 6th, 2018

On the 6th of June, Mark introduced and spoke to the Greens Private Members Bill, Petroleum and Geothermal Energy (Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing) Amendment Bill 2018.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: In relation to the previous bill, I urged members to note the important distinction between underground coal gasification and other methods of extracting gas such as hydraulic fracturing or, as it is commonly known, fracking. This bill deals with that second issue; it deals with the issue of fracking. This is an issue that the Greens have worked on at state and federal level for the best part of a decade, including in South Australia in the South-East region of our state. To put it simply, the bill that I am introducing today gives effect to what the Liberal Party promised before the election—that is, that they would implement a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for gas in the South-East for a period of 10 years.

Members who have been paying attention to the rural media in the South-East would know that this is a hot topic and has been for many years. Members might also be aware that one of our colleagues in another place, Mr Troy Bell, the member for Mount Gambier, has also foreshadowed introducing a bill, which I expect will be either the same or very similar to the bill that I have introduced today. I give credit to the local member, Mr Bell, for listening carefully to his community and fighting for what they have been clearly saying for many, many years.

I make the point that the Greens have also been in this space. If people want to reflect on why it was that the Liberal Party implemented a policy of a moratorium before the election, they will go back to the inquiry that was undertaken by the Natural Resources Committee. One of the findings of that inquiry was that fracking for gas in the South-East did not have a social licence to operate. It did not have the support of the community. If we go back even one step further, how was it that the Natural Resources Committee came to inquire into gas in the South-East? Well, I put my hand up and say that was a Greens motion in parliament.

I will say that whenever people level criticisms at the Greens and say, 'You are not prepared to compromise,' we compromised a great deal in relation to that motion. The Greens originally had a more comprehensive inquiry, but we wanted to make sure that the people of the South-East got their inquiry, so when the Liberal Party made their support conditional on a number of factors, such as that it be the Natural Resources Committee and that I not be on it, then, at the end of the day, I swallowed my pride and said, 'Well, an inquiry is what the people want,' and it is what they got and they got the outcome they deserved.

The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: It was a very good inquiry.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: As the Hon. Mr Dawkins interjects, it was a good inquiry. It was well chaired, and it is a committee that I think prides itself on trying to achieve consensus in its work. As a result, the Liberal Party brought a policy to that last election saying if they won government they would introduce a moratorium on gas. But, a moratorium is one of those things that can mean different things to different people. Again, those who followed the local press down there, The Border Watch, ThePennant from Penola, the Stock Journal and those country papers, would realise that there has been a debate raging over whether—

The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: You better not forget The South Eastern Times.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: And The South Eastern Times, I am reminded. The debate that has been raging is whether it is sufficient for the government to simply declare a moratorium and instruct public servants to give effect to that moratorium or whether, in fact, legislation is necessary. This has been a bit of an impasse. Where the Greens and Mr Bell from another place are on the same page is that we have seen enough government decisions fall over when they are not implemented through legislation or not put in writing in some way that is legally binding. We have seen enough of those things fall over to know that a moratorium that is only as good as someone's word is really only as good as the time that they are in office.

It is difficult for any political party to promise 10 years of anything when we have four-yearly electoral cycles. If the government is serious about a 10-year moratorium, there is really no alternative other than to put it into legislation. That, in fact, is what local residents have been calling for. It is certainly what the Limestone Coast Protection Alliance has been calling for. It is what Mr Bell has flagged he is going to do some time next month and it is what I am doing today.

One of the questions might be: if the lower house is going to be debating the moratorium in July, why does the upper house need to be debating it in June? The answer to that is borne out of experience, where we know that this chamber attaches a great deal more value to private members' bills and private members' time than does the other place. At the risk of offending my colleague the Hon. John Dawkins, he has seen bills of his that have languished in the lower house because they have not been prioritised by the government.

The definition of 'government' is: those people who control the lower house. If you can control the house, you control the agenda and you can determine what gets debated and what does not. I am hoping that the government will give Mr Bell the opportunity to have his bill fully debated and fully tested, but I have no confidence that that will happen because history tells us that private members' business often languishes and very often dies in the lower house, without debate and without a vote. We do things much better in this chamber, so I brought this bill forward for our consideration now.

I will make one comment in relation to some recent criticism in the local press that the bill I am introducing today—and the introduction of which was foreshadowed by Mr Troy Bell in the other place—does not go far enough. I absolutely accept that criticism. If a person is worried about all the different impacts that come from all types of gas activity, and if we are interested in the impact that fossil fuel extraction is having on our climate, a simple 10-year moratorium confined to the South-East and confined to one particular technology does not really cut it. I fully accept that.

However, I am interested in getting results for the people of the South-East, and a bill that exactly reflects what the Liberal Party said its policy was before the election has, I think, the greatest chance of success. I am not saying that I will not be coming back with other bills that have a broader purpose—I absolutely will—but I have kept that separate from this bill. I do not want any excuses, especially from the Liberal Party now that they are government. I do not want them to say, 'The Greens bill has gone too far; we can't support it.' The Greens bill does nothing more than the Liberal Party promised.

The mechanics of the bill are very simple. It is similar but not identical to bills I have introduced in the past. In the past, I have suggested that what in this bill is a moratorium, should be a ban that should be permanent. In previous bills, I have called for it in relation to all farming land, all conservation land and all land where people live, that is, residential-type land. This bill does not do that. This bill confines itself to hydraulic fracturing and to seven local government areas, namely, City of Mount Gambier, District Council of Grant, Kingston District Council, Naracoorte Lucindale Council, District Council of Robe, Tatiara District Council and Wattle Range Council.

It is limited to those seven areas that are part of the South-East Local Government Association. There are possibly other ways that you could define the South-East, other geographical indicators, but I think this does it pretty well because all of those councils, over the last decade, have debated the issue of fracking, and every one of them has called for an inquiry, or a ban, or a moratorium. I think it was those calls that were largely responsible for the Liberal Party's position. So I am pleased, on behalf of the Greens, that we are bringing this bill into the upper house, where we are guaranteed that it will be given proper consideration and time to debate it.

If it turns out that there is a change of government in four years—I know the members opposite are just getting used to their new roles, and they do not want to contemplate that they might not be there in four years' time—and we have legislated the moratorium, it means that any new government that comes along will have to undo it through legislation. Certainly, they will control the lower house of parliament—whoever is in next time will be the government—but they will not control this chamber, as no government of the day has controlled it since the 1970s.

So enshrining this moratorium in legislation is absolutely the best way to give the people of the South-East the security they need and deserve, to allow them to invest in their agricultural businesses with confidence that they are not about to be interrupted by gas companies coming in and wanting to frack their back paddock.

I urge all honourable members to support this bill. I particularly urge members of the Liberal Party to support it because, as I have said, it exactly mirrors the promise they made before the last election. Whilst the Greens' position is that we do not hold governments to all of their election promises—they make some silly ones and we do not hold them to those—we do hold them to this one. This was a good promise and we want the Liberal Party to see it through by supporting this legislation.

For more information see a copy of the Bill

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