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Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (18:22): I rise to speak to the report of the Environment and Communications References Committee on the regulation of the fin-fish aquaculture industry in Tasmania.
I note Greens Senator Whish-Wilson's dissenting report and, in particular, I note that on page 137 it states that the Australian Greens believe that the precautionary principle should be the foremost consideration for the management of the Tasmanian marine environment. It goes on to talk about the EPBC Act in that context. Similarly, as with the management of fisheries, there is an overlap between state and Commonwealth regulation. He notes at point 1.59 that 'the Commonwealth does not have an active role in the regulation of fin-fish aquaculture'. It is on that overlap between state and federal regulatory responsibility and, indeed, the Greens' blind subscription to the precautionary principle in all things and all manner of issues that I would like to raise, in the context of this report, the issue of a landholder's right to refuse gas and coal exploration on their land.
This is a significant issue and we hear from Senator Waters time and time again of her interest in overturning our Constitution, if you like, so that states are no longer responsible for the mining that goes on within their own borders. Somehow it is the purview of the Commonwealth. I am a proud federalist and that is why I am a senator—as I know you are, Mr President—and I actually think the states should have control of that particular area. In the mining tax debate we looked at the issue of 'everybody owns the resource so we should get a return on that'. The reality is that during the gold rush Victorians owned the gold and we got the return on that. At the moment, WA is getting a great return on their mining interests. So I do not see a great issue in re-prosecuting that.
In a report handed down this week, Senator Waters did another dissenting report—similar to Senator Whish-Wilson's in the report I am speaking on—talking about the precautionary principle. Unfortunately, she states that the committee has adopted a deeply flawed interpretation of the precautionary principle in that the committee did not consider that it was provided with sufficient credible scientific evidence about fracking. She also made some comments about the committee report stating that 'the committee supports the principle that an agricultural landholder should have the right to determine who can enter and undertake gas or coal mining activities on their land.' Then she goes on to say: After making what sounds like a bold statement of principle, the Committee then fails to make any recommendations to actually implement that principle.
I love the way Senator Waters always goes to the 'principle' of the argument—the 'principle' that landholders should have the right to refuse gas and coal exploration. It is a pity the rest of her party does not back her up on that. The rest of her party, in my own home state of Victoria, this week walked away from Senator Waters principled position on a landholder's right to refuse. I really think she needs to take it up within the organisation and with the candidates at a local level, down in the seats of Polwarth and South-West Coast, which are currently undergoing by-elections as sitting people have retired. There are actually candidates in those by-elections right now that support a landholder's right to refuse. They are the National Party candidates.
I refer to a press release from the leader of the Nationals dated 25 February—so it has been out there for a while; this is no surprise. It states: The Nationals have heard the concerns of our communities and will demand stronger safeguards for landholders regarding onshore coal seam gas operations should the industry ever develop in Victoria. The Nationals support landowners having the right to say no to coal seam gas extraction activity on their property.
We also believe the regions where mining takes place should share the benefits from the activity. The Nationals support the introduction of a landowner and community benefit structure …
The Victorian Nationals will never support any activity that risks harm to our state’s water or land assets. Victoria’s agricultural industries are the lifeblood of our regional communities and are too valuable to jeopardise.
That sounds exactly like what Senator Waters calls for in this place—inappropriately, of course, because it is the federal parliament; we do not have the jurisdiction here to do anything about it. I also think that if she is really that passionate she should run for state parliament and do something about it. However, she raises it time and time again.
There are two candidates running in the by-elections, right now, who support her hands-down and have a policy platform that has been in existence for nigh on 10 months. Yet what is happening in those seats is that the Greens have actually preferenced other parties who do not hold that view—way ahead of the Nationals candidate. Michael Neoh, who is running in the South-West Coast electorate, belled the cat on the Greens' preference deal with the Liberals and said, 'We had a three-hour branch meeting at the start at the month where we decided our own preferences. There was no outside influence on this whatsoever.' That begs the question: either the local Greens branch believes the Liberal candidate who does not have a policy of a landowner's right to refuse is the better candidate and therefore—I am sorry, Senator Waters—is not backing up your policy position or, indeed, the local branch is not in control of their preference deals. In fact, it is done in Melbourne and this is all about Adam Bandt and urban interests—not regional communities and their interests in my home state of Victoria.
Once again the Greens are trading away the interests of rural and regional Australia, despite their bleeding hearts and the protestations that are made in this place and through committee inquiry after committee inquiry into the EPBC Act. The reality is: when you are called to make a decision and put your money where your mouth is, you fail. You trade it away every time for Fitzroy, Brunswick—inner city Melbourne. And, Di Natale, never go into—
The PRESIDENT: Senator Di Natale.
Senator McKENZIE: Senator Di Natale, I really am offended when I see you quoted in The Weekly Times—a great regional Victorian newspaper—talking about the interests of our communities out there, and yet you have backed away from your own principled position.