The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, speaks to an urgency motion in the Senate calling on the Minister for the Environment to suspend the approval for the Maules Creek coal mine and to protect the critically endangered vegetation in the Leard State Forest.
Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (16:03): I rise this afternoon to call on the federal Minister for the Environment, Mr Hunt, to immediately stop the Maules Creek Coalmine in New South Wales. The date of 15 February marks what will be an act of ecological vandalism and economic stupidity. It is of national significance as we have in New South Wales Whitehaven Coal, with the full blessing of New South Wales Premier Mike Baird and the Leader of the Opposition, Luke Foley, together with Prime Minister Abbott, Mr Shorten and no doubt Mr Turnbull-the whole lot of them-keen to recommence smashing down the critically endangered white box gum in Leard State Forest and to destroy the habitat of at least 396 species of plants and animals, including owls, koalas, birds, bats and parrots. Of course, the bat species are renowned in that particular area. Of those species, 34 are threatened species, including three that are critically endangered. The number is so high because they are dependent on the box gum woodland, of which only 0.1 per cent survives nationally. I will say that again: only 0.1 per cent of this vegetation type survives nationally. Yet the Premier of New South Wales, the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales-the Labor Party-think it is fine to go and smash down that remnant vegetation.
The Department of Premier and Cabinet in New South Wales has recognised this forest as having irreplaceable, ecologically unique values. But it took a land and environment court case to stop winter clearing. But now they are about to start again. I have heard endlessly from the Prime Minister and Treasurer Hockey that we must not be stealing from future generations. If there is one thing that they are stealing from future generations it is critically endangered habitat, plants and animals, and of course a safe climate.
It is hard to believe the stupidity, the backwardness, the ignorance of knocking down the Leard State Forest to build a coalmine in an age of global warming, when the coal should be staying in the ground. That is the fact of the matter. That coal needs to stay in the ground. We cannot afford to burn that coal because of the climate. Yet we have got this ridiculous situation where we are going to lose this critically endangered vegetation. We will lose sites that are of cultural significance to the Gomeroi people. We will see precious water resources all wasted and all to facilitate what has been a corruptly approved-I say that again, 'corruptly approved'-Whitehaven coalmine. It is likely to be not only an ecological disaster but also an economic disaster.
The only thing that is standing behind future generations actually being able to enjoy this forest, ensuring that this threatened vegetation community-and the plants and animals that it supports-can remain and that is preventing this intergenerational theft is the community.
Today, I really want to pay respect and give absolute encouragement to people who have been prepared to stand there in Maules Creek and put themselves on the line. They have done that. More than 250 people have been arrested there. We have alliances like the Leard State Forest alliance and the Front Line Action on Coal out there. We have had all the conservation groups out there. We have had incredible support from people as varied as Bill Ryan, who is 92 years old and a veteran of the Kokoda Trail; Cliff Wallace, who is a property owner there, who has facilitated and helped the protesters make the stand that they have; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lead author Colin Butler, who was arrested there; and of course former Wallabies captain David Pocock was arrested as well. All of these people have made a major stand for the forest, the environment, the climate and against corruption. We will see more of those people putting their lives on the line this weekend and calling out the Baird government in New South Wales and the Abbott government federally, because all of this should not be happening, because it was all corruptly approved.
Now we find that Whitehaven is trying to squirm out of even the minimal biodiversity corridor, saying it presents:
... a material risk to the project's success ...
And the company cannot accept it. This is how marginal the coalmine is. They are saying that they cannot even meet the minimal biodiversity corridor, because it jeopardises the project. The fact is that the project is jeopardised anyway because there has been a complete collapse in the coal price globally and that is going to continue. There is a structural change here and it is not going to recover. We are going to see the stupidity of smashing down the Leard State Forest to put in a coalmine which will never be viable.
This is a disgrace in a country like ours. People pride themselves in Australia. They look at other countries and say, 'Look at the corruption that goes on there,' and they never recognise that the corruption goes on here just as much. In fact, it has been even worse in New South Wales. I want to go to that in terms of the offsets, and my colleague Senator Waters will talk about this a bit later. The offsets never, ever offset the critical vegetation type and yet the mine was approved. I make the point that it was former Labor Party environment minister Tony Burke who approved it, but they are up to their neck in it in New South Wales and the approval by the Liberals.
There should have been a judicial inquiry. When ICAC got right into what happened, they found that Nathan Tinkler was central to a series of corrupt dealings in New South Wales and that it involved this mine. There were political donations to the Liberal and National Parties and there has never been a proper investigation into what actually went on. It is totally disgraceful. You cannot believe that, in this day and age, this mine was not stopped the minute they found out that it had been corruptly approved. There were a whole series of events: donations went from Aston Resources, Boardwalk Resources, Chris Hartcher and the Free Enterprise Foundation eventually to the New South Wales Liberal Party and then the ministers in New South Wales assisted in various approvals. What sort of corrupt behaviour is that? Now a whole community has to fight for their land, for their water, for biodiversity and for their forest. Why should they have to do that?
It is even more shocking that a former leader of the National Party and former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Mark Vaile, is the chair of Whitehaven Coal. This really sends an appalling signal to people around the country: get yourself involved in corrupt dealings, hand over the cash in back rooms to make prohibited donations, get it through things like the Free Enterprise Foundation, absolutely hide it from the public gaze, get it through to the Liberal Party and you will get it back in approvals.
The Labor Party is not exempt from this, as the Obeid cases in New South Wales show. This should have been stopped. It should have been stopped by a proper judicial inquiry. The corruption goes on to this day. The fact that Mike Baird, the Premier of New South Wales, could stand there last week opening this mine and saying what a great thing it is shows you the extent to which corruption has seeped into the body politic of New South Wales.
The Greens are going to stand with that community. The Greens are going to stand with everyone in New South Wales who turns out in Maules Creek to stop the destruction of the Leard forest, the logging that will start there and the bulldozing of that forest as it continues, because the people there deserve to have decent, democratic representation that is honest and transparent, not corrupt. We, along with the next generations, have to do what we can to save the critically endangered species that the Leard forest contains. If Minister Hunt was really a Minister for the Environment he would step in and say now that he will not be a party to final federal approval of the plan that will see Whitehaven go broke after having destroyed the environment.
I wish the very best of luck to everyone who turns out this weekend to stop this destruction. We stand with you and we will articulate this in the Senate.