Coal Seam Gas- Q&A ABC TV, 15 Aug,2011 transcript

Social, legal and health issues related to air and water toxic pollution in Australia.

Coal Seam Gas- Q&A ABC TV, 15 Aug,2011 transcript

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Coal Seam Gas- Q&A ABC TV, 15 Aug,2011 transcript

Interesting, but there is more at stake then just water. There are also questions about the air pollution, fracturing of agricultural land, social license to operate and the whole model of the self-regulation under which the gas companies operate. None of these have been mentioned.

HELENA BERGSTROM: Tony Abbott's comment last week that farmers had a right to deny miners access to their properties was later modified when he said "Expansion of coal seam gas should be in harmony with the rights of land holders and the protection of prime agricultural land for food production in the years ahead." And there are many different views out there what constitutes this harmony so I want to ask the panel: where do you believe that the right long-term balance between these two opposing interests lies? And I there want to emphasise on "long-term".

TONY JONES: Okay, let's start at either end of the panel. I'll go to Lachlan Harris first. Farmers versus miners. Where is the balance? Can you get a harmony?

LACHLAN HARRIS: I think this country is very long on fluoro and very short on moleskin at the moment, so I'm all for the farmers, I'd say. Every time a farmer finds new coal seam gas seam somewhere – I mean, a miner finds a new coal seam gas somewhere, Glenn Stevens' finger just gets a little bit closer to the interest rate button, so I say bring back the farmers. I've had enough of mining and high interest rates.

TONY JONES: Now, Tony Abbott really struggled with this issue over the weekend, after his comments to Alan Jones. Your take on the politics of that?

LACHLAN HARRIS: Oh, look, I think in the end Abbott's a follower, he's not a leader. He tells people what they want to hear and so that it just...

TONY JONES: I'm just going to go to the other end of the panel now.

JACKIE KELLY: Yeah, well, I think given it was interviewed Alan Jones and Tony Abbott, and Tony Abbott stood his ground, I think that's more than credit to the guy really.

TONY BURKE: Well, he stood his ground by agreeing with Alan.

LACHLAN HARRIS: (Indistinct)

JACKIE KELLY: No, I mean Alan gets a bee in his bonnet and he takes it and he runs with it, you know, and I think often, at the end of those interviews, you feel a bit pummelled and you sit there going, "Oh, okay, did I really say that?" and it's clarified.

TONY JONES: He actually, among other things, he said, "An Englishman's home is his castle." I don't know why Australians weren't involved but "An Englishman's home is his castle," says Tony Abbott.

JACKIE KELLY: .(Indistinct)

TONY JONES: But he's actually suggesting that farmers should have the right to say no to miners. Then he seems to have changed his mind.

JACKIE KELLY: Yeah, well, I think I'm with Lachlan on this. I mean obviously the politicians can't be on the – they have to, you know, keep the miners happy and the farmers happy. But I'm a bit over the miners too. I just think that, you know, they are coal seaming out at the Nepean River, out where I live. There's that many fish kills. You don't know what's happening. You just had a serious mining company allow how much ammonium or the hexavalent chloride through the air three days before Stockton even knows they've been affected. I mean, you know, farmers you kind of know where you stand on this and I just think unless you're prepared for a big Kalgoorlie super pit there, why are you bothering exploring?


JACKIE KELLY: Are you seriously going to, you know, rape the landscape? If you're not, why are you exploring and I think there's got to be a relevance of this is open to become the next Kalgoorlie super pit or why are we poking around?


TONY JONES: We've got a web question on this and I'll go to it before I bring the other panellists in. It's from Lisa Apsland in Fitzroy North, Victoria: "The process of fracking inarguably devastates and poisons the local ecology. Why should rural land owners be forced to put up and shut up?" Malcolm Turnbull?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, look, I think there is some very, very big issues here with mining and prime agricultural land. We have a lot more coal in Australia and a lot more gas than we have prime agricultural land. Our best agricultural land is very scarce in truth, not just in Australia but globally. The world food task - the task of feeding the world - is getting harder and harder because we are running out of water in many parts of the world, partly because of climate change and also because of the unsustainable extraction of groundwater, particularly in China. China's ability to feed its own population is diminishing. So, you know, we should regard our prime agricultural land as a very high priority. That's the first point. The second point I want to make is water. When we think about coal seam gas extraction or, indeed, mining that affects groundwater systems, and remember the groundwater is what feeds the rivers, the groundwater is where most of our water in Australia is located, beneath our feet. That can affect water resources hundreds of miles from the location of the coal seam gas bore or, indeed, the mine. So it goes beyond, in answer to your question, not just the interest of the farmer. Because a farmer may agree, he may say "Fine, I'll take the money and you knock yourself out. You know, drill, do whatever you like in terms of fracking and coal seam gas extraction on my land", but what if that affects the watertable and the groundwater for the neighbours, not just next door but hundreds of miles away? What if lowering the water pressure to get coal seam gas out results in mound springs and bores and rivers, hundreds of miles away, losing their access to water? So the critical thing, I think yes, there are big issues with land access and I have spent time up in the Liverpool Plains and sympathetic to the views of the farmers but the big...

TONY JONES: So can I interrupt you there?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: ...the big - the big issue there is water.

TONY JONES: Can I interrupt you there? No, I want to find out how sympathetic you are. Do you agree with Tony Abbott's original position that if you don't want something to happen on your land, you should have the right to say no?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: No, I don't think that's what he was saying and I think...

TONY JONES: That's what he said.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: No, I don't - well...

TONY JONES: That's actually a direct quote.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: No, I think he's - look, I think he clarified that today and the bottom line is nobody is suggesting we...

TONY JONES: Are you saying that's not what he is saying or not what he was saying?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, look, I...

TONY JONES: Because it is what he did say?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: I always - Tony, I always try to be up to date, particularly when coming on the ABC and so I'll deal with the remarks of today. We are not seeking to overturn the laws that allow mineral exploration on people's land and so forth but clearly there are big issues in terms of the terms on which it is given. There's obviously some mining companies have treated land owners very badly and alienated them and I - look, you know, Lucy and I have got farming properties in an area where there is a lot of mining. So I'm very sympathetic to this...

TONY JONES: So is an Englishman's - is an Englishman's home his castle or not?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Look, Tony - Tony, this is...

TONY JONES: Or an Australian for that matter?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Tony, this is an issue that is more serious than that flip remark would suggest. We are talking about our most precious resource is our water. We are the driest continent on earth. Now, I can tell you this, if you damage your groundwater sources, if you contaminate aquifers, whether it's by chemicals or whether it's by allowing contaminated water from a coal seam to get into a fresh water aquifer, you cannot fix it. You can't rehabilitate it. You can dig a hole in the ground and fill it in and put the topsoil back and over time perhaps you will get back to something like you had to begin with. But if you muck up the groundwater, you've got a long term problem and that is why the critical element that has been missing is the scientific work, the groundwater science, the hydrology. That is what needs to be done. We know very little about our groundwater in Australia and we need to know more.

TONY JONES: Okay, I'm going to have to...

MALCOLM TURNBULL: That's the big issue.

TONY JONES: We have to wind you up because - okay, Deborah, you go first then we'll bring the Minister in.


TONY JONES: No. No. Go ahead.

DEBORAH CHEETHAM: I'd just like to know if Tony Abbott feels the same way about what's happening in the Kimberly. I mean, we're talking about farmers here, people who can drive tractors into town and protest, but you'd know more about what is happening in the Kimberly, Tony.

TONY JONES: Nice try to take over.


TONY JONES: I'm going to get him just to stick for a moment to coal seam gas, the question about whether it's potentially going to poison the watertable and what we know about coal seam gas extraction is the fracking process sends chemicals underground, along with water. Now, are you worried about that? Are you going to do the scientific work that Malcolm Turnbull is demanding?

TONY BURKE: Well, the advice that I had from Geoscience Australia on exactly the questions that Malcolm has raised - and I think they're the right questions, I do - is that some coal seams will be watertight. Some of them will be connected through the - be it the Great Artesian Basin or whatever the groundwater is. If they're watertight, you have a very different situation because what's in there stays there. If you have them where they're porous and you've got connectivity through to your groundwater, then you have to have, in those circumstances, a very high level of precaution and you need to treat them differently.

TONY JONES: Can I just say, I mean, it's maybe a cautionary tale, but the people who ran the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant said everything was fine, no problems, we've got the scientific proof nothing could happen. How do we have this kind of proof about fracking, which could actually poison the watertable?

TONY BURKE: And this is why it was put to me "Oh, no, it's all probably okay. They're probably all watertight," and my view was, no, you test every seam.

TONY JONES: So are you going to stop it until they're all tested?

TONY BURKE: The approvals that I gave for Queensland were precisely the principle that I just referred to. Not everything comes through me. Not all of it requires Federal approval. But my view is in a coal seam if there - you can test it, seam by seam, you do it every time. If it is watertight, you don't have the problems with groundwater. If you test it and you find that it's porous, then you have to treat it completely differently.

TONY JONES: Yeah, okay, Lachlan.

LACHLAN HARRIS: Tony, could I just say in response to both Malcolm and Tony is I don't this is a question of science. This is a question of power, in the end. And I think mining companies have too much power in Australia and, unfortunately, that means bad policy decisions are taken.

JACKIE KELLY: And no supervision. How do you know their testing is true? There's no ICAC over the top of them.

TONY BURKE: There's an independent scientific panel.

TONY JONES: Can I just hear from Stella on this? You've been sitting in the middle of this discussion.

STELLA YOUNG: I have been.

JACKIE KELLY: (Indistinct)

TONY BURKE: (Indistinct)

TONY JONES: There is another discussion going on here but I'm just inviting Stella to take part.

STELLA YOUNG: I actually grew up in rural Victoria and the work farmers do is really, really tough and it's really, really hard and I don't think that we should be doing anything that makes life harder for them because it is already a really tough and very important job so I'm kind of on the side of the farmers.

TONY JONES: Okay, I'm going to go to a video question now. We're going to change subjects and we'll go to a video question from John Clarke in Coramba, New South Wales.

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