Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:02): The New South Wales Liberal and National parties line up with the Abbott government as environmental vandals. Premier Mike Baird and the coalition government are creating a legacy of environmental destruction and climate change inaction. New South Wales suffered under the previous state Labor government when it came to prioritising developers over local communities, which was one of their favourite activities. The coalition, however, are no better and in some areas worse.
The rate of national park establishment in New South Wales has collapsed. The state has the second lowest percentage of land protected in the national reserve system, at just nine per cent. It just beats Queensland, at 7.5 per cent. We can see a failure to protect the natural environment from the Leard State Forest near the Liverpool Plains to the Gardens of Stone in the iconic Blue Mountains.
And who are the beneficiaries of this failure on the environment? Of course, mining interests and developers. While it was Prime Minister Tony Abbott who declared that coal was 'good for humanity', we can see the same attitude reflected in the actions of the Baird government. Since last September, just six months ago, the Baird government has approved 1.3 billion tonnes in coalmining. At a time when our state, our nation and, indeed, our world face the destructive threat of climate change, we cannot afford governments like those of Mr Tony Abbott and Mr Mike Baird. We should be transitioning out of the coal industry and moving to renewables.
The decision by the New South Wales government in February to expand the Moolarben coal project north-east of Mudgee could increase the coalmine's output by over 100 per cent. This expansion, which includes open-cut, will leave a giant scar on the local landscape. Over 1,500 hectares of land are to be cleared, of which 123 hectares are deemed to be endangered ecological communities. That is why we say the Baird government is an economic vandal, and there are other examples.
If we look to the Hunter Valley, we see a community encircled by coalmines, with expansions and extensions approved for the Mount Thorley Warkworth coalmine near Bulga and the Bengalla mine near Muswellbrook. The Hunter Valley is a prosperous region for both its wine and its tourism and many other industries, and it should not be threatened by coalmining. Yet all of these mine expansions have been approved by the Baird government in just the last two months. Mr Baird needs to understand that coal is not good for humanity and that climate change is not good for humanity. What is not good for our planet is not good for the residents of New South Wales.
The community of Gloucester is one of many working hard to halt plans for coal seam gas and new open-cut mining right near its town. This story is repeated across New South Wales: the Leard Forest, the Pilliga, the Central Coast, the Illawarra. The mining industry is stomping all over communities, and the Baird government is putting down the welcome mat.
What is happening in New South Wales is by no means the legacy just of the Liberal and National parties. In 2005, the New South Wales Labor government introduced part 3A into the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. It became synonymous with bad, dangerous planning. This allowed the minister to take over approvals for any project deemed to be state-significant. In effect, it ensured the government would be able to wave through developments that communities and councils opposed, and that is just what it did. The power the minister had just to act on their own without taking advice from their director-general meant that they could disregard environment and heritage laws. In 2010, the Independent Commission Against Corruption noted that part 3A had 'loose criteria and the broad discretion that potentially give rise to perceptions of undue influence'.
So what did the Liberals and Nationals do with this information? Yes, they withdrew it: part 3A went. But all they did was repackage it as essentially the same policy and call it part 4B. Then they wonder why there are so many people around the state protesting. The fact is that the people are left with no choice. They have few rights under the current planning laws, and if there is a win in the courts for the community the government changes the law. The former New South Wales Carr government used this tactic, and now it is the favourite of the New South Wales coalition government. Change the law if their friends-coalmining, developer interests-have a loss. You change the law so they will not cop it next time.
At Bulga in the Hunter the community has taken Rio Tinto and the planning department to court. They have won twice, stopping the expansion of Rio Tinto's mine-and expansion which Rio Tinto wants to carry out on land they had previously promised they would protect as a condition of their lease. How has the New South Wales government responded to the community's success? They have removed the right of the community to appeal any further decisions while the New South Wales planning department holds Rio Tinto's hand through the planning process and then-surprise, surprise-recommends that the mine be approved.
Given the fact that the mine extension had already been through two court cases and lost both times, we might expect the community to be surprised by this outcome. Unfortunately, a number of locals at Bulga that I have spoken to are not surprised, because they have seen it happen to other communities. We can only hope that the Planning Assessment Commission, charged with the final decision, does not heed this damaging approval.
The horse breeders near Anglo American's proposed Drayton South mine share the concern of local residents. This mine has also been through the planning process and been twice rejected, yet the company say they are planning yet another resubmission. The company has actually said-this is on the record-that resubmitting cost them $60 million last time, so they are presumably expecting that at some stage the government will come through for them. It is understandable the locals would think it; who would put up $60 million to resubmit a proposal if they did not expect a favourable outcome? It is understandable that they would expect a favourable outcome; that is how New South Wales works. Once coal exploration starts, it really is the first stage of full-scale mining. Maybe a few court cases might come along, but that friendly government on Macquarie Street will help you out. Across the board the Baird government has delivered for mining interests in New South Wales. The coalition has increased the amount of water that can be extracted by mining and gas projects from inland groundwater systems and exempted the mining industry from rules that protect the environment and other water users.
Those left to pick up the tab are, of course, the residents of New South Wales. The mining companies, for their part, will make out that they donate to communities, yet in the last six months we have seen what this actually means. In December last year we found that the Upper Hunter Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Trust Fund, funded by mining royalties in order to compensate for the loss of Aboriginal heritage, has given $298,000 to the Office of the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, a government department, to establish a register of Aboriginal owners for the Upper Hunter. Then, early this year, the Aboriginal Resource Group, registered in late 2013, was revealed to have been granted $300,000. This government advisory board includes Peabody Energy deputy general manager Peter Roser and says it is a broker between resource companies and Indigenous people. There is very little accountability here. How did these organisations-one run by the government, one working with the mining industry-end up with money that is supposed to be compensating Aboriginal people?
But against all this the people of New South Wales are fighting back. Just last week in Gunnedah more than 700 people from 87 communities across the north-west of New South Wales declared themselves gas field free. They came together in a most inspiring action. At Leard Forest, Front Line Action on Coal has maintained for over a year the Leard blockade against the monster coalmines. Hundreds have been arrested, supported by people from all walks of life. These actions are continuing, and it is not surprising, because in the face of the current coalition government people have very few rights under the current law. It is not surprising that they engage in civil disobedience. That civil disobedience is peaceful, it is necessary to protect our environment and I do congratulate those communities who are taking the action to protect our local environment, to take real action on climate change and to push governments to wake up to themselves that when they are elected they should be serving the people of New South Wales and working with those people in full consultation to protect the environment.