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Speech on Labor's plan to fast track gas approvals

On Tuesday 25 March 2024, I made a speech in Federal Parliament about Labor's appalling tactics to try and rush through legislation that would give the Resources Minister powers to approve offshore gas projects. You can watch the full speech here or read the transcript below.


The government's first piece of legislation since the Voice that directly affects First Nations people is one that completely strips them of their voice in the fight against Australia's powerful gas cartel. Despite their supposed commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and strengthening environment safeguards, the government is shamefully teaming up with the coalition to push through legislation that allows gas companies to completely disregard the concerns of traditional owners. What a disgrace.

Do you want to know how much corporations like Santos control our government? A few months ago, Santos CEO Kevin Gallagher, with a couple of other gas exec buddies, wrote a letter to the minister requesting a meeting because they want faster approvals for their projects. A few months later, the Labor government is here moving legislation to bypass environmental approvals for gas projects. I wonder what they said at that meeting. It must have been very persuasive—or perhaps it's just the hundreds of thousands of dollars Santos has donated to the Labor Party over the last few years. Here we are in a truly perverse situation where the Labor government is siding with the LNP to take powers that protect the environment away from the environment minister and hand them to the resources minister—a resources minister who is notorious for her full throated support of that gas industry.

Will everyday people see the wealth from these new mines? No. Santos hardly pays a cent in tax. All this money will go to wealthy shareholders. CEO, Kevin Gallagher, sits on an astronomical $8.7 million salary. Imagine if Labor listened to families struggling with the cost of living the way they listen to gas corporations. Imagine that. We'd have free school breakfasts and lunches for all kids; we'd have genuinely free GP visits and dental in Medicare; we'd have free uni and TAFE. But, evidently, unless you have billions of dollars in your back pocket that you can hand over come election time, the government doesn't want to listen to you.

Labor promised at the last election to strengthen environmental laws. Now they're siding with the coalition to hand over power to the pro-gas resources minister. What a sick joke. We're in the middle of a climate crisis, a cost-of-living crisis and a housing crisis, and the Labor government is spending its time doing everything it can to prop up the profits of gas corporations, not lifting a finger for everyday people. At a time when everyday people are absolutely struggling with housing and cost-of-living crises, the government should be collecting more revenue from big corporations and putting that into things like building quality public homes, making seeing a doctor actually free and, yes, wiping HECS debt. Sadly, we're heading in exactly the opposite direction.

Independent think tank the Australia Institute has shown that, while gas corporations in Australia made $164 billion in total revenue in 2023, they only paid $16 billion, or just 9.8 per cent, in taxes and royalties to federal and state governments. By contrast, in Norway the government's share of gas and petroleum revenue was 55 per cent. Part of the problem is that corporations in Australia are incredibly adept at artificially inflating their expenses to dodge tax. They do this in a number of ways. Often, they borrow money at high interest rates from related corporations in tax havens so repayment costs appear much higher. Likewise, they pay exorbitant fees to related corporations in tax havens for things like marketing services or access to intellectual property. Norway, with much better taxation laws, does not have this problem.

The other problem is that Queensland's royalty rate for gas is abysmally low, rarely reaching even 10 per cent. Even Texas has a 25 per cent royalty rate for oil and gas. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis showed that in 2021-22, as the gas price spiked, the revenue of Queensland gas projects surged to $22 billion but the state only took $1.2 billion in royalties, or less than 5.5 per cent—shame.
State and federal governments can fix this. They can fix tax loopholes, raise federal taxes on gas companies and raise royalty rates. They don't because Labor and the LNP are beholden to gas corporations via political donations, lobbyists and that revolving door between politics and corporations. Resources like gas belong collectively to all of us, to all Australians. Companies pay a royalty for the right to extract and sell them, but the resources do not belong to the corporations. They belong to all of us. Asking that they pay their fair share is only reasonable.

In an orderly transition away from coal and gas, we should tax the gas corporations properly to fund the future renewable energy infrastructure that we need, while helping fund the things that all Australians need to live a good, healthy and thriving life here. Any time a politician from the Labor Party or the Liberal Party says, 'We need more gas. It's a transition fuel,' watch closely. Watch to see the hand of the gas industry ventriloquist behind them, because that's the line they're running—that's the gas industry's spin—and it's complete and utter nonsense.

We don't need to open a new gas field. We don't need a new gas project—not a single one. Of Australia's current gas production, 84 per cent is used for export. That's only 16 per cent that we use for domestic use—households and industry. Australia is already producing a truly staggering amount of gas—far, far, far more than we need—but the gas corporations don't care one bit about whether Australian households have cheap and reliable energy. They don't care about ensuring our industry has the energy it needs. They care about making maximum profit, and that means more gigantic gas projects to export the maximum amount of gas overseas at the maximum price. It's not helping us. That's billions upon billions of dollars going to wealthy shareholders, so when the Minister for Resources—to whom Labor seem to want to hand control of all gas approvals—says we need gas as a transition fuel, look closely at whose talking points she's running. Look closely at whose interests she's actually serving, because they're not yours, they're not the Australian peoples', they're not those of everyday people around the world—they're the interests of the gas corporations.

The thing is, if you approve a gas well now, you approve it for a corporation who expects to generate profit who expects to generate profit out of exploiting it for the next 30 or more years. That's their model. That's 30 years of massively increased emissions—those 30 years being precisely the time period in which we have to reduce our emissions to zero. Labor talks about wanting net zero emissions by 2050. That target isn't even good enough; that should happen by 2035. But okay: even if we accept 2050 as a reasonable target for net zero emissions, how on earth do they think that's going to be achieved if we're approving massive new hugely polluting gas projects in 2024 which will be operational in the 2050s?

The thing about gas is the more we know about it, the more truly harmful and unsustainable we realise it is. The more research is done into the fugitive emissions from extraction and processing, the more terrified anyone paying attention becomes. The terrifying fact is, corporations and governments have been under-reporting gas emissions for decades now. The International Energy Agency estimates that methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are 92 per cent higher than previously estimated—that's almost double what we actually thought or were being told was going on. I'll tell you why that's so terrifying. When burned, gas is less polluting than coal, sure. But when leaked as methane before burning it—from a coal seam gas fracking well, for instance—it is 82 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year period. That means gas is cooking our planet in exactly the period that we need to be reducing these emissions and reducing this spiralling warming.

Thirty per cent of today's warming is caused by methane. That's not some distant problem. That's not some abstraction. We have been hovering dangerously, frighteningly close to a 1.5-degree increase in global temperatures for the last year or so. In fact, we've already gone over this, by some reports. All the records are being broken far more quickly than mainstream science had predicted. This means more frequent, more devastating floods, fires and droughts. It means skyrocketing food prices as production starts to falter. It means major shortages as a regular occurrence. This is what gas is actually doing.
Labor know this. They do. I'm sure there are Labor Party politicians who are very concerned about that. But, of course, we can't just stop all gas production and consumption in Australia overnight. Of course, we need some gas in our energy mix for the next decade or so in this century, but we already have far, far more than we will need to power this transition. Let me repeat that: we don't need a single extra gas well drilled, we don't need a single extra gas project approved, and we can't afford it. We can't afford the increasing devastation that comes from a warming world. My grandkids and others' grandkids will suffer as a result of this truly heinous support for the gas cartels. That's why I'm here. That's why I'm actually hear in this place. That's why Australians are crying out for greater climate action from this government.
Let's not hear that nonsense about the need for gas to export to other countries, that it's a wealth and jobs generator for Australia. Gas employs so few people in this country. Meanwhile, gas brings home to the Australian government so little revenue that we could see the gas industry phased out and hardly affect the balance sheet of the government's ability to pay for public services. And, in terms of exports—really? Are we seriously saying that our best exports are coal and gas? Are we seriously saying that? Is that the best we can do?

Firstly, countries around the world are shifting to renewable energy sources, and us flooding the market and keeping gas prices lower slows that process. Secondly, Australia used to be a nation that had aspirations to export things to the world that are useful, things that we could be proud of. We used to fund CSIRO to ensure that we could have high-tech industries and export valuable commodities and research to the world. But that seemed to end a few decades ago, and now we prefer to be an extractive economy, like so many Latin American countries that have been forced to be by their local oligarchs and by US led globalisation. Is this really what we've become in Australia? How can we possibly be proud of our country if this is our primary export—ripping up natural resources, shipping them overseas—not for us, but for the profits of gas cartels.

The window to becoming a high-tech renewables and green energy industry powerhouse—replacing our resources exports with things that actually help the world—is closing. Any further steps towards propping up this parasitic, destructive industry will only see that window close further and continue to entrench our reliance on gas and entrench the political stranglehold.
So, Labor, cut off your puppeteers' strings. Don't let the gas corporations be your ventriloquists. Don't design bills around what Santos wants you to do. Instead of shifting approvals for gas projects into the hands of the resources minister, it is time to substantially strengthen the environmental approvals required for new projects so that we can ensure no new gas projects go ahead, so that we have a shot at reining in the crisis of global heating, so that we have a shot at protecting and preserving this beautiful planet for our kids and grandkids.

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