Second Reading Debate: Resources Legislation Amendment (Fracking Ban) Bill 2016

I rise to speak on the Resources Legislation Amendment (Fracking Ban) Bill 2016 and reiterate statements I have been making for many years prior to joining this place. Our agricultural assets are significant and need to be respected and the value they provide our nation understood. Farming provides the foundation of the South-West Coast economy. Farmers are knowledgeable and skilled food producers who have been caring for the environment, some for generations and others, like my husband and me, for one generation, but all farmers want to pass on the land to the next generation in good condition.

Australian farmers pride themselves on producing a product that is in demand all over the world because of quality, taste and safety. Members of my community are strong in their conviction on the importance of agriculture. The message ‘no fracking’ has been received loud and clear. Farmers understand risk and take calculated risks every day, but the risk that fracking presents is not one my community wishes to take.

My husband and I bought our first dairy farm 19 years ago and have gone on to invest in more land. We are now a large operation, and our eldest son, Tom, took over the management of the farm last year. Sustainability and succession are not new words to farmers. We understand that our farm business is successful because we have rich, fertile land where our cattle can graze on clean, uncompromised pastures. The milk we produce in South-West Coast and across Victoria is of world-class quality, and the products made from that milk are in demand across the world because international markets know that anything that comes from Australia is going to be high quality and free from risk. That is a reputation we as a nation cannot afford to lose and a reputation that I worked hard to strengthen as a dairy representative on the national body, the Australian Dairy Farmers board, as the chairman of the markets, trade and value chain policy advisory group.

My electorate covers the rich agricultural lands from Warrnambool through to the South Australian border. During my campaign to join this place, I was told by many people that they felt there was not enough evidence for them to be convinced that fracking is safe. They felt that the environment would be compromised and the ability for farmers to continue to produce clean, green products that are in demand globally would be destroyed. Their message was clear: no fracking. The community appreciates the result of this legislation.

It is good to see farmers finally being listened to, but it cannot stop there. To truly value the farming economy, we need to invest in finding a solution to rising costs of doing business. There is a food and fibre plan developed by the Great South Coast Group that Labor could fund tomorrow, and that would assist in improving the growth and profit opportunities for farmers. Many of the costs are imposed domestically. To assist farmers to produce food, we must develop policies that enable farmers. Banning fracking is one step. The next action the government needs to address is the skyrocketing power prices, or we will not be part of the countries that produce food for export like we do now. We may even compromise our ability to feed our own. Farmers will not keep farming if they cannot make a profit.

The world is about to embark on the greatest challenge ever faced by mankind. The equilibrium between supply and demand of food produced and food required is going out of sync. It is predicted that shortly demand will outstrip supply. There is a problem facing the world, the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. In the next 50 years we will be required to produce the same amount of food that has been produced for the last 500 years by the collective global community.

My electorate has huge advantages which will enable it to be part of this challenge. It already is the leading milk producer in the country, with the ability for further growth. We also have huge water advantages — not only secure rainfall, but uncompromised underground water. South-West Coast successfully produces so many agricultural products: beef, lamb, seafood, grain, fibre and timber. The ability for increased productivity with the right policies to facilitate this is enormous. The food and fibre plan would assist in developing these policies further. Each of these commodities, though, is based around having access to clean, uncompromised water, and there is huge potential for our region to become a food bowl for Asia. Again, we cannot do anything to jeopardise this.

Whilst the government has been quick to talk this bill up as showing support for farmers, the reality is that there are a number of other issues that it could address to truly help farmers, like the issues of affordable energy and energy supply. This government has, without adequate planning and forethought, closed Hazelwood overnight, rather than in a staged process. The result is market chaos. Milk processors are already concerned there will not be enough baseload power to dry milk into powder for export. I have quotes that a dairy business has supplied me that show power prices have skyrocketed by 300 per cent — not 4 per cent, as claimed by this government, but 300 per cent. This is a farming business. The cost cannot be passed on, and the farmer will just be sent further into desperation. Other businesses, like abalone farming businesses, which also cannot pass on costs, are reporting to me enormous increases in their power costs.

This government claims it had nothing to do with Hazelwood closing, but if you put a $252 million tax on a business, you are sending them a clear message that you are not welcome here, and that is why Engie is leaving. With Hazelwood’s closure looming, I also have fears that the grid will lose the cheap baseload energy, a base load that cannot be supplied at this time by renewable energy alone in a cost-effective and reliable way. Renewables are important, and South-West Coast can play a very major role in the expansion of renewable energy with the proven prowess in this field of Keppel Prince in our electorate, but that does not detract from the fact that, even under this government’s renewable energy target that it predicts for 2040, coal will still provide 60 per cent of Victoria’s energy needs.

So whilst renewable energy needs to form part of the mix, the technology and science are not up to a standard where energy needs can be met efficiently through renewable energy methods. The government must invest more money in research so that renewable energy can become more efficient and cost effective and technologies can be improved. Until such time as renewable energy is efficient enough to provide a suitable base load, coal will need to form part of the energy generation mix. We cannot simply just stop using it. We must look at ways that it can be used in a more environmentally friendly way that meets our social obligations.

If energy supply is not reliable and is a massive cost burden, then large businesses will be forced to send their business offshore to countries where the environment is not as highly valued and there are less stringent guidelines. While that will make Australia’s and Victoria’s emission rates look good, it is simply shifting the problem elsewhere. That is what would have happened if Alcoa in Portland had closed. Aluminium would still have been made, because it is in demand, but probably in a country that does not prioritise the environment nor invest in the research to continue to improve like we do here in Australia. I am pleased it has been supported and will stay here in Victoria, where environmental concerns are taken seriously.

Across the chamber members are trying to claim they support farmers, but what are they doing to ensure that farmers have access to power? Many farmers in South-West Coast have no access to three-phase power. They rely on archaic infrastructure, which is holding back the industry.

I am pleased fracking is banned, there is no question about that, but I cannot help but feel it is rather hypocritical of Labor to be saying that we on this side have been silent on this issue when the previous Labor government issued 73 licences for unconventional gas exploration and approved 23 fracking operations — without public consultation. No fracking has ever occurred under a Victorian Liberal-National government.

My position on this is one I have held for many, many years. Victoria’s reputation as a clean food producer is far too important to my electorate and the state’s future prosperity to be damaged. But supporting farmers to do business goes much further than the one bill, and I hope this government gets on with the job of doing the necessary work to address the policies to enable farming and fixes the rising costs like power that it has caused.