PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I am very pleased to rise to speak on the Resources Legislation Amendment (Fracking Ban) Bill 2016. I will not restate the purposes of the bill, because I think they have been covered in great detail and very well by previous speakers.
I have always supported a ban on fracking, and I note that everyone, with the exception I think of Mr Somyurek, agrees with that position. The Sex Party has had a policy on it since its inception but we did not have a policy on conventional gas, so this has been a really interesting process for me to learn more about this. I have read a lot more about it, and I note today that that is the fractious issue we are dealing with.
Ms Shing — Fractious!
Ms PATTEN — See what I did there? It is the extraction of onshore gas here in Victoria. It has been very interesting to see what the last 12 or 24 hours has brought out in this debate. To our left the government wants to extend the moratorium on onshore conventional gas until 2020. The Greens are in favour of a permanent ban. Over to my right the coalition’s position on onshore conventional gas extraction has been a little less clear because last night you supported the moratorium on conventional gas. Mr Ramsay and Ms Bath, I listened closely to your contributions, yet the minority report says:
In these circumstances the coalition members of the committee proposed a further five year moratorium on onshore gas exploration and production in Victoria.
Mr Ramsay — That was before Hazelwood was closed.
Ms PATTEN — Thank you for clarifying that, Mr Ramsay, because I was not able to understand how yesterday you could support a moratorium but today you do not. I am pleased that now we have worked that out.
It was interesting to look in Hansard at some of the lower house debate on this bill. Some of your colleagues and members actually took credit for the moratorium.
I actually received an email from Mr Rich-Phillips about the reasons for your sudden change. This was at quarter past 11 this morning, so it was a very sudden decision.
We also heard from Mr Purcell. I thought his long history with this issue was very interesting. His position on onshore gas exploration was also interesting.
It is not a protectionist position I would support, but it certainly seems that the coalition was going some way towards a protectionist approach. But I will speak a little bit about that a little bit later. After seeing the coalition’s amendments this morning I actually did do a little bit of a ring around to some of the companies and stakeholders that have an interest in the gas reservation amendment. Now, none of them seemed to be very supportive of the gas reservation amendment. In fact they did not think that it would be a good business proposition, and I will raise a couple of other examples in a minute.
All of the flux in the positions and everybody going from one position to another I think really highlights what we have here and also what the parliamentary inquiry found, which is uncertainty. We are very uncertain about onshore gas. We are very uncertain about the size and the extent of our onshore gas reserves. I have had some companies saying, ‘We could drill tomorrow’, and then the next day saying, ‘Well, it’d probably take four years. If we got rid of the moratorium, it would take us at least four years to get there anyway’. So there seems to be an enormous amount of uncertainty around this — uncertainty in this chamber, uncertainty amongst the stakeholders and uncertainty certainly in our community. And this is not about fracking. As we have stated, there is complete certainty on unconventional gas exploration, coal seam gas and fracking. We are all in furious agreement about that, and we have heard at length how much we are in furious agreement about that.
I would like to note that — and I am certainly learning a lot more about this — when I spoke to the department and when I spoke to the federal department about this as well, learned that there are significant programs investigating conventional gas. They are going to be looking at the Otway Basin, and the geological surveys are suggesting that that will be a prospective place for onshore gas. So my friends and colleagues here with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party need not worry; we will still be able to heat our pizzas and cook our duck using gas. These studies tell us what resources are out there, what the risks are, what the benefits are and what the impacts of those extractions are, and I go back to saying: we are having this debate because of the uncertainty. We will be looking at baseline environmental analysis, including soil and groundwater studies. At the start of Ms Bath’s contribution she talked about her farm and the importance of the soil and the water in helping her grow those beautiful, healthy cows for that milk they produce, and I thought that she would be supporting greater research into this issue, before we go down that hole, literally.
I am satisfied that during the moratorium, which will go until 2020, the time will be used effectively and that we can look at where we can do this. What are our water resources? What are our gas resources? Where are we going to do this in the future, and what do we need in the future? So I reject the amendments. In my notes I wrote that they were premature, but they were so quick and they came so late, I am getting completely confused. Again, I do not consider the analogy of wind farms and gas mining as being the same. I think they are very different, and as we have all said, there are large water tables down there, so if one landholder decides that it is all right on his land, there is no reason to suspect that it is not going to affect neighbouring landholders. This is why, again, I would like to see the moratorium.
Something that I took a genuine interest in when I heard about it was the reservation on the future use of gas. We heard a lot about international companies in the offshore gas industry piping their gas off to other countries causing us to have to buy it back and pay a higher rate. I had some considerable sympathy and interest in that section, but again, how are we going to keep it in Victoria?
Prior to being in this house I had considerable interest in section 92 of the constitution, which is about free trade between the states. The implications of these amendments I think really do question whether this would be in conflict with particularly section 92. But then when I went on to read about this, I got to new section 182B — the exemptions from restriction. The first exemption is if we have enough gas and we say, ‘Okay, we’ve got enough. You can give it to Tasmania’. The second exemption is unless it is not commercially viable to adhere to this restriction. So in actual fact there is no restriction if you can argue that it is not commercially viable to meet that restriction. The information I have from stakeholders is that it would not be commercially viable to meet that restriction.
I am looking forward to us moving away from coal towards renewable energy production, but it may be that we will still need gas-fired electricity in the near future. It may be that we will still want to bake our duck in a gas-fired oven. We may continue to do that in the future, but equally those reserves may not be sufficient. They may pose an environmental risk, and that is what I think this moratorium allows us to investigate. We were looking at the advances in technology — and I am optimistic about those advances — but this moratorium affords us the opportunity to give due diligence on this. I support the three-year moratorium on conventional gas extraction just as I support a permanent ban on fracking, and I commend this bill to the house.