Mr FITZGIBBON (Hunter) (11:44): I begin by reassuring and guaranteeing the member for Lyons that many of my frontbench colleagues and I will be accepting his invitation to visit his electorate on a regular basis between now and polling day.
In addition, we will remind his constituents of all the measures he has backed since he has been here which have undermined their financial opportunities. I will be telling them that I was in the House the day he supported the repeal of third-party individual rights to appeal against Commonwealth decisions under the EPBC and that he was prepared to accept that his farmers, even if they are able to secure standing, would have to put their farms on the line to take legal action—the result of which could result in punitive cost orders against those very farmers. Of course the natural consequence of that could be the loss of the farm. That is what the member for Lyons just supported in this place, and I will be reminding his constituents of that at every opportunity.
To take the member for Lyons up on his point: there would be no greater supporter of the mining industry in this place than me. The coalmining industry alone directly employs some 11,000 people in my region, the Hunter region, and is crucial to about 50,000 more jobs. I invite members, including the member for Lyons—he was providing plenty of invitations for me to come to Tasmania; as I said, I am happy to accept the invitation—to my electorate where the majority of the people at the pub on a Friday night are either working in the coalmining industry or an associated sector.
I invite them to come to my supermarket on a Saturday morning where in every aisle they will find a coalminer, a coalmining family or a family working in a related sector related. I invite them to accompany me to my local end-of-year school presentations where, out in the crowd, you will see the hi-vis uniforms associated with the coalmining industry of those parents who have found time away from the workplace to come and support and acknowledge the achievements of their children.
Drive up through the Upper Hunter and witness the four-wheel drives with the iconic elevated fluoro flags that are so well known to the coalmining industry filling the car parks of local motels. Come to the local cafes with me and see them doing very, very well and full of people who are so obviously associated with the coalmining industry. Come to local sporting events on a Saturday and Sunday and see how the local sporting sides, particuarly the juniors, are typically sponsored by one of the coalmining companies that operate in the Hunter region. Come to the many community facilities around the Hunter electorate which have been constructed and developed with donations from the coalmining industry.
More broadly, the coalmining sector—or the mining sector—was the key factor in taking us through the global financial crisis. In addition to the very good economic management of the then Rudd government, the coalmining sector was crucial in Australia avoiding recession, and the pain and grief, experienced by so many other countries around the world, including of course the United States.
Those who want to accelerate the demise of the coalmining industry are fools. They may be well-intentioned fools but fools just the same. I include in that group those on Newcastle council who in their wisdom recently decided to resolve, as a council, to ensure that none of the money they raise from ratepayers in the future shall be invested in any bank which has investments in the coalmining industry—or fossil fuel industries, more generally. This is the council with the largest coal port in the world within its local government boundaries. This was just silly, and I have learnt this morning that, disappointingly, last night an attempt to rescind that dumb decision failed at Newcastle council. What a message to send.
The most disappointing thing about that decision is that the council has been used as a pawn in a much larger game. They were no doubt lobbied to take this action by an organisation known as 350.org—an international green group committed to divestiture in fossil fuel related sectors. This group have been very clever: they will be able to travel around this country and the world convincing others to do the same by demonstrating that they have had a big win in convincing Newcastle council, at the heart of the coalmining sector, to take this decision—the council are pawns in the game, and it was a very big mistake on their part.
Anti-coal activists everywhere are happy for Australia and the rest of the Western world to have grown rich on the back of fossil fuels but want to deny others as they strive to lift themselves out of poverty. Australia's coal is relatively clean and efficient. We should want the Chinese and the Indians, for example, burning our coal rather than the dirty alternatives. It is common sense, and we should be happy to take the export earnings. It is a win-win.
Like in Australia, over time, those developing countries will become less dependent on fossil fuels, but it will be a slow process over many decades. In the meantime, we should continue to provide them with relatively clean fossil fuels. Here in Australia, renewables will continue to grow at a pace, and coal's decline will continue as a proportion of the share but continue to grow over the coming decades. New technologies might enhance coal's future. We just do not know but we do not need green activists trying to determine what the market should do.
Of course my mind is not closed to the negative impacts of coalmining.
This Sunday, as I do every year, I will attend the annual memorial services at the offices of the United Mine Workers Union. There we will pray alongside the Jim Comerford Memorial Wall, which contains the names of more than 1,800 men and boys who gave their lives mining the coal of the northern coalfields. Thankfully, we have come a long way in recent decades, largely thanks to the work of the union, and we now have dramatically fewer losses of life. Sadly, they still occasionally occur.
The coalmining industry impacts on our air and water quality. It probably exacerbates local health problems like asthma. It is not unusual for residents to find a thin layer of dust on the car in the morning. Our sustainable industries live in constant concern about the potential impact of the mining sector on their own industries. Many of these sustainable industries are also very important to the Hunter's economy—the agriculture, viticulture and thoroughbred breeding industries, for example. These are crucial sectors to the Hunter's economy and provide us with much-needed diversity.
As the member for Hunter, I have lived with land use conflict all of my political life and I know it well. Managing land use conflict successfully results in jobs, wealth, economic diversity and a healthy local environment. Like with workplace safety, community tolerance for less-than-optimal environmental outcomes is in decline. So are our challenges in ensuring the sustainability of the fossil fuels sector.
The Commonwealth recognised these growing community concerns when it dealt itself into the environmental approvals process through the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the very act the government of the day is trying to undermine today. This was good because, amongst other things, people were losing and continue to lose faith in the capacity or will of state governments to get the balance right. I have got to say there has been no greater example of that than my own state of New South Wales. I say that with great regret.
The PM who introduced the EPBC Act was John Howard. Tony Abbott now makes John Howard look like Al Gore. That is the reality. This bill seeks to remove key components of John Howard's bill. These include the right of third-party appeal against decisions made under the EPBC Act—surely a natural right. They are limited appeals. In the 15 years since the introduction of the EPBC Act, something like 0.04 per cent of the decisions have been challenged. This amendment allegedly comes out of the Adani case. That is the successful challenge to the approval of the Adani mine in Queensland—a project I support. The problem with the Adani mine was not the act; it was the minister's incompetence. We should not be changing the act; we should be changing the minister if we are serious about the Adani mine.
My real concern here, of course, speaking as the shadow minister for agriculture, is that we are about to deny farmers, primary producers, growers et cetera the opportunity to appeal against decisions when they believe they are going to adversely affect their operations. On the eve of the introduction of this bill, the Attorney-General was running around, as was Minister Hunt, saying—no, I retract that. That is not true. On the eve of the introduction of the bill, the Minister for Agriculture was running around saying: 'We're going to protect the farmers. We're only going to repeal part of the act. The rest will remain, and farmers will be okay.' The very next morning, Minister Hunt introduced the bill, and guess what. All of section 487 is going. We are arguing rightly that that is going to deny farming groups and individual farmers the right to appeal under the EPBC Act. The government says something different, but many people disagree with them—including, it seems, the President of the New South Wales Farmers Federation and Mr Tim Duddy, a farmer on the Breeza Plains and Chairman of the Caroona Coal Action Group. They are very concerned.
We claim, I think very rightly, that, even if a farmer is able to take standing, he or she will face the risk of punitive cost orders in the courts. In other words, with the repeal of this section a farmer wanting to challenge a decision will put his or her farm on the line—risk their farm for the right to appeal against a decision which is going to adversely impact on their farming operations. This is of particular relevance at this point in time as we all see in the public domain the debate around the Shenhua mine on the Breeza Plains in the very heart of the electorate of the Minister for Agriculture. There are very grave concerns. The President of the New South Wales Farmers Federation and Tim Duddy are both from that part of the world.
Barnaby Joyce cannot run around on the eve of the introduction of the bill and say, 'Don't worry; only part of section 487 is going to be repealed, so you'll be all right,' and then the next morning repeal or temporarily repeal all of section 487 and say, 'You're still going to be all right.' He cannot have it both ways. Minister Joyce has to start standing up for his electorate. It has been revealed that he made no representations to Minister Hunt on the Shenhua project. I have seen some of the advice to Minister Hunt. It suggests very clearly that there were still many unanswered questions around the Shenhua project. I support the industry, but I want to make sure that every decision is made on the right basis, and there are unanswered questions. It is not good enough for Minister Joyce to go onto the Breeza Plains and say he disagrees with his own cabinet decisions but then do nothing about it.
They are lining up on the Liverpool Plains to lynch Minister Joyce because of his inaction, his small talk and his inability to get things done. When he votes—
Mr McCormack: Lynch?
Mr FITZGIBBON: Yes, lynch. Lynch would be the description I would give. There are a lot of very angry people in that part of the world. When he comes in—
Mr McCormack: That's a bit strong. Do you know what it actually means?
Mr FITZGIBBON: Metaphorically speaking. You know I am speaking metaphorically. When he comes in here—today, I suspect, or whenever the vote comes on—and votes in favour of this bill before the House today to repeal the right of his farmers to appeal against a decision like Shenhua, he will have driven another nail into his electoral coffin. Metaphorically speaking, I say to the member for Riverina.
I notice Minister Joyce has been speaking on the second reading of many bills. Is Minister Joyce on this bill today? I do not think so. Surprise, surprise. He was here on the water bill last night, unusual as it is for cabinet ministers to come in and do second readings. Minister Joyce needs to come in here today, add himself to this list and explain to his constituents—his farming communities in his electorate and right around the country—why he is denying them in the future the right to appeal against projects like Shenhua. We do not want any double talk. We want him to explain why it was he assured them that only part of the section was being repealed and, now that all of the section is being repealed, they are going to be okay. We look forward to hearing from the minister.