Second Reading

Resumed from 23 October 2019.

Comments and speeches from various members

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [2.26 pm]: I indicate that I am not the lead speaker for the Greens on the North West Gas Development (Woodside) Agreement Amendment Bill 2019; my colleague Hon Robin Chapple will have much to say about it later on. This bill ratifies the fifth supplementary agreement to the North West Gas Development (Woodside) Agreement Act 1979, and the supplementary agreement will terminate without either party having a claim against the other if the bill is not passed by 31 March this year, unless the parties otherwise agree; hence the apparent urgency of having to address this legislation.

One of the most significant things this bill does is to extend the term of the state agreement, as has already been said, by 25 years—from 31 December 2034 to 31 December 2059. I also note that the state agreement already contains a term that permits the joint venturers to provide notice to further extend the state agreement by up to 12 years longer. Again, the reason for the extension is that with the North West Shelf joint venture’s existing reserves declining, it is intended that the resulting spare processing capacity at the Karratha gas plant be put to use tolling gas from elsewhere. This is a way of getting Browse gas onshore, since the Browse gas participants are not the same as the joint venture participants. There is also the potential for the Karratha gas plant to toll gas from the Browse project, and also via an interconnecting pipeline with Pluto gas plant from the Scarborough, Pluto and Clio-Acme fields. Overall, there is the potential for a significant expansion of gas projects at the Burrup hub on a scale that has not been seen since the Karratha and Pluto gas plants were constructed by Woodside.

I note that supporters of this bill point to a number of things, including the jobs that it will create, the royalties that it will bring, and the domestic gas supply that it will secure. I want to make a few comments about the issue of jobs, because I do not for one second buy into the false dichotomy that if someone is opposed to this bill, it means that they are anti-jobs. I think that is a lazy and irresponsible argument. The reality is that a number of jobs can be found in a range of industries, including significant expansion of the renewable energy industry. I assure members that they will hear more about that from the Greens in far more detail in the future. It is really important that we do not try to falsely portray any concerns around the nature of this particular state agreement or state agreements more generally, which I will have more to say about in a moment, as being anti-jobs. That would be irresponsible to the point of misleading the house. I point out that opponents of the bill, such as the Greens and other environmental organisations in particular, are pointing to the enormous greenhouse gas emissions that will result. It will not be possible to enforce the environmental conditions that may be imposed to manage or offset them, regardless of the eventual outcome of the environmental assessment process, given the enormous size of the projects. I note that the Conservation Council of Western Australia also strongly opposes the bill for this specific reason. In November last year, the Greens moved a motion asking the house to note that the proposed Browse Basin and Burrup hub LNG development will become Australia’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, which it will, and also note that it would actively undermine Australia’s ability to meet its global commitments to reduce emissions and limit the effects of climate change, the risk of which, I believe, is absolutely real. We also asked the house to recognise that the cumulative impact on the environment was too great to justify proceeding, and we divided on that particular motion. Members will remember that it was only the Greens who supported that motion, with every other party opposed to it. What the government has not explained to either Parliament or the public is whether any of this project’s truly enormous emissions are to be offset; and, if so, by how much and by whom—in other words, the joint venturers or the rest of us. Nor has the government explained how it intends to meet its policy commitment for Western Australia to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, notwithstanding these gargantuan emissions. At this time of climate change when many Western Australians are personally at risk of substantial hardship from ever-worsening bushfires and drought, that lack of transparency is unacceptable.

I am reminded of Labor’s commitments on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The 2017 WA Labor platform includes the following statements, remembering how much the Labor government likes to say it meets its election commitments. The 2017 WA Labor platform states on pages 34 and 35 —

3      WA Labor supports the need for WA to develop strong mitigation and adaption plans to deal with the consequences of climate change.


5      WA Labor believes that:

a) Responding to climate change presents Western Australia with an opportunity to diversify our economy, create jobs and enhance our social fabric;


7      WA Labor reaffirms its in principle support for the Paris Climate Change Agreement and reaffirms its commitment to Western Australia undertaking fair and equitable efforts to reduce carbon pollution to ensure that global temperature rise is kept to 1.5 degrees.

On 28 August last year the government announced a new greenhouse gas emissions policy for major projects assessed by the Environmental Protection Authority. The policy and the accompanying media release committed to working with all sectors of the WA economy towards achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. On 4 September last year my colleague Hon Tim Clifford moved a motion on climate change and the Minister for Environment successfully moved an amendment to its wording to make the question that was eventually passed by this chamber that the house —

(a) acknowledges the reality of climate change and calls on the federal government to take action to ensure Australia meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement; and

(b) notes that climate change has increased the likelihood of extreme weather events, including more regular and intense bushfires and drought, and may cause extreme disruption to Western Australia’s biodiversity, coastline, water and food security, and economy, and its people, their health and livelihoods.

I note that, at the time, the Minister for Environment spoke passionately about the motion and acknowledged the community calls for a statewide approach. He confirmed that the McGowan government would work with all sectors of the economy to achieve net zero emissions for WA by 2050 because he said that the government apparently recognised that climate change is happening and that we needed to respond and there was no time to waste. He said that even in our energy intensive economy, we all have a role to play and that government expects industry to be accountable for the way that greenhouse gas emissions are managed when they do business in this state. Yet, in the very same month we debated that motion, the Premier introduced this bill into Parliament—the McGowan government’s very own bill for which this government, not the federal government, has responsibility. A bill that commits to hugely increasing the greenhouse gas emissions generated by this state was introduced by this government before the environmental assessment process was completed and without any information from government about how any of those huge emissions are to be managed or offset. The government had the opportunity to walk the talk and demonstrate the so-called sensible, balanced approach that it says it is committed to, but it did not. On 20 November last year the chamber debated my motion about the greenhouse gas emissions from this project and the government said at the time that all we have to do is our bit. However, it made the point that it was very unfair to pounce on one industry, even if that one industry is going to be responsible for 47 per cent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and eight per cent of Australia’s. Does that mean that the rest of us will have to make up that difference? Once again, there was absolutely no information about how the government proposed to manage or offset any of those huge emissions and it gave no commitment to provide that information in the future. It is just not good enough. The government, frankly, needs to be held to account for its lack of transparency.

Speaking of transparency, one ongoing issue with bills amending state agreements is that Parliament is never provided with a complete current consolidated version of the state agreement that is being amended when the bill is introduced. This makes scrutiny of the bill virtually impossible and makes a mockery of the parliamentary process. Parliament is not a rubberstamp and we should never be treated as though we are simply a rubberstamp. The Western Australian Legislation website publishes only ratified state agreements in the form of schedules to the principal act, whereby schedule 1 shows the original agreement and subsequent schedules show each supplementary agreement in the order it was ratified. The schedules are not in consolidated form; they are presented consecutively. Further, if the variation clause in the relevant state agreement permits variation to occur other than via a bill, even that difficult-to-read version on that website can become outdated and inaccurate, and nor is there a link on that website or anywhere else that I am aware of to state agreements in their complete current consolidated form. The only way to get one is by requesting it from the department. Not for the first time, the Greens had to make that request. I am pleased to inform members that it was provided, and because we made the request via the parliamentary questions process, a complete current consolidated version of the state agreement that this bill amends was tabled and is now available on the parliamentary website under “Tabled Papers”. However, I ask the minister whether, in the interests of transparency and to facilitate parliamentary scrutiny, because we are not here merely to rubberstamp state agreements, the government will please in future table the complete current consolidated version of the relevant version of the state agreement each time it introduces a bill to amend it. If the answer is no, I would like to know why not.

One question that keeps getting asked in this place—one member in particular likes to ask it rhetorically over and again—is: what is the Greens’ problem with state agreements? I am here to educate members about what our problem is with state agreements, and the one member in particular, whose name I am making a point of not mentioning. A huge problem we have is that state agreements effectively bind all future parliaments around a whole range of issues so that even if there is significant policy change—for example, around the mitigation of climate change— very little, if anything, can be done. One of the problems we have is that there are inherent corruption risks around state agreements. That is a strong statement to make. Let me draw members’ attention to some work that has been undertaken by Transparency International in particular. Transparency International Australia has been looking specifically at the issue of corruption risks in mining approvals. Particular attention has been drawn to this because state agreements are generally undertaken only by Western Australia and Queensland. State agreement instruments have a number of inherent risks, not the least of which is the risk that the negotiation process and the components of the negotiations, including what is negotiable and non-negotiable and what will be publicly known, is problematic. The report talks about the risk of policy capture and state capture by mining companies and the risk that there is inadequate due diligence of applicants’ integrity, such as past unlawful conduct and compliance. Transparency International scores that as a high level of risk. Transparency International has developed a tool called “Mining Awards Corruption Risk Assessment Tool”. If anyone is particularly interested in corruption around government decision-making, I suggest they take a look at this document and see the sorts of things that Transparency International is looking at. I will elaborate on some of the points it made about corruption risks with mining approvals within Australia. On page 22 of its October 2017 report “Corruption Risks: Mining Approvals in Australia: Mining for Sustainable Development Programme”, Transparency International points out —

State Agreements raise significant issues relating to accountability and transparency.

It made the point —

However, given that State Agreements are now rarely used for mining projects except where a railway is being built, the issues are not as pertinent as they once were.

That statement was made back in 2017, but here we are dealing with a state agreement in 2020. I am going to talk about the risks that Transparency International identified, because state agreements are apparently very much alive and well here in Western Australia, despite the fact that they are on the decline nationally. The report goes on to state —

Two vulnerabilities have been identified in the State Agreement Act approval process: lack of transparency in the negotiation and approval process; and the capacity for industry influence ...

That is discussed further on in the document when it talks about cross-cutting issues. It continues —

A significant vulnerability identified in the negotiation process for State Agreements is that there is no public notification of the terms of the negotiation or transparency of the negotiation prior to signing of the agreement.

It goes on to say —

Once Premier and the mining company sign an agreement, it is a binding agreement that operates for the life of the projects. There is no opportunity for public interest groups to have input into the terms of reference or negotiations or challenge the agreement in the courts.

Parliament can ratify agreements in a relatively short time, which provides little opportunity for parliamentary debate. Richard Hillman notes that controversy ‘arises concerning the role of Parliament and the perception that it can be a ‘rubber stamp’ for the executive’s will.

The report also states —

The lack of transparency creates the potential for government to be unduly influenced by a mining company, and can allow Ministerial discretion to be exercised without public oversight.

The culture of secrecy extends to the DSD website. The website contains a list of agreements but no links to the agreement, and no guidelines to State Agreements or process charts. In 2004, the Auditor General recommended that procedural guidelines should be developed for State Agreements. If they were developed they have not been made available to the public.

Transparency International then went on to point out that considerable ministerial discretion is available within state agreements. It notes —

When combined with a lack of transparency, and the ability of industry to negotiate directly with politicians regarding projects, considerable risk is created of state and policy capture, and the potential for corruption is increased.

That is what the report states. The Greens would add an additional risk factor, being our donations regime. The same companies that potentially enjoy state and policy capture through the instrument of state agreements may also be able to buy or curry some favour through our donations regime. That issue is raised consistently by the Greens. The fact that these sorts of instruments can also be used to curry favour serves only to exacerbate the fact that state agreements as a whole are generally not in the public interest, particularly if we are concerned about risks of corruption. The report went on to say —

The lack of transparency of State Agreement negotiations can lead to preferential treatment of mining companies and the perception of undue influence of industry on the approvals. It can create public unease and allows for ministerial discretion to be exercised without mechanisms of accountability.

The second major risk identified by Transparency International with the instrument of state agreements is industry influence and policy capture, as I mentioned before. It states —

The capacity for industry influence in the negotiations for a State Agreement has been identified as a vulnerability in the negotiation process.

It goes on to talk about the influence of industry, the culture of government and the difficulties that governments can have in enforcing the terms of state agreements. The report points out —

The application of Ministerial discretion, the ability for proponents to negotiate directly with the government, the lack of transparency and public accountability in the negotiation of State Agreement Acts can enable industry to influence the approval process.

I take this quite seriously. I understand that WA has a history of giving industry the security of state agreements so that it can expand, but I think it is about time we started looking at whether the state agreement process is fit for purpose. We need to start taking into account the sort of research and analysis that is being undertaken by international entities that deal directly with anti-corruption measures, such as Transparency International.

Getting back to the bill, more than anything, I am deeply concerned about the impact of this bill. I have already referred to the Greens’ motion from last November on the truly enormous greenhouse gas emissions that will be facilitated by this bill. As I said at that time, if this goes ahead, this area alone will produce 47 per cent of WA’s greenhouse gas emissions and eight per cent of Australia’s total emissions, and it will be impossible to fully offset all those emissions. The bill’s modernised standard clause on environmental protection confirms that the joint venturers must comply with any requirements imposed on them by the ordinary laws of the land relating to environmental protection, including the Environmental Protection Authority, and so they should. That is a welcome change. However, as we debate the bill today in this era of climate change, the Parliament and public have received no answers from government to really important questions. To what extent will the gargantuan emissions from this expansion be offset? How? By whom? Will it be by the participants in this project or is it meant to be borne by the rest of us? How will this be monitored and enforced? There will be two frameworks for offsetting the emissions. The first is the environmental assessment process. That is actually “processes”, because the project is broken up. Not all of the Browse joint venture comes under Western Australia’s jurisdiction; some of it is in commonwealth waters. The extension to the project has been referred for assessment to the EPA under WA law and to the commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy under commonwealth law. Even at a state level, there is not one single environmental process—there are multiple, because the arrangements are complex, with a variety of participants. The environmental assessment processes are not yet complete, so we do not know what, if any, offsets the joint venturers will have to make. It is highly unlikely to be 100 per cent, because the government made it very clear to the Environmental Protection Authority last year that its March 2019 guideline requiring all new large resources projects to fully offset their emissions was unacceptable to the government. Therefore, in December last year, the Environmental Protection Authority instead prepared a new draft guideline requiring project proponents to demonstrate how they will avoid, reduce and offset emissions to contribute to the state government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.

That brings us to the other framework that is available for offsetting the project’s emissions. That is the government’s policy commitment to work with all sectors of the Western Australian economy towards achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Premier reiterated during debate in the other place that whatever the EPA may do, that is the government’s policy. However, clause 33 of the state agreement requires only that the joint venturers comply with environmental requirements pursuant to acts—not government policy of the day; that is absolutely redundant. As I understand it, the government’s net zero emissions by 2050 policy applies to the joint venturers only insofar as it is embedded within our statutory environmental assessment processes. Insofar as it is not embedded in those processes, achieving net zero emissions by 2050 will become someone else’s problem; in other words, the rest of us will have to wear that. The government has not explained to Parliament, or to any Western Australians, how it will achieve its net zero emissions by 2050 policy outcome, despite the enormous emissions that this bill will facilitate.

I indicate, along with my Greens’ colleagues, my complete opposition to this bill. I refuse to be part of some rubber-stamping processes. I am concerned about state agreements more broadly because, as has been identified, they are potentially a corruption risk. I think it is about time we in Western Australia started to reassess how we will undertake these sorts of processes. More than anything, I am devastated that this government is looking to lock in for such an enormous period of time a degree of carbon emissions that is utterly incompatible with a net zero emissions rate by 2050. This will be devastating in terms of climate change. To be very clear, the days of LNG being an interim fuel option were 30 years ago. At the most, we should look at making sure we are completely out of the LNG industry globally within 10 years. That is the amount of time we have, maximum, to be able to keep pumping out the sorts of emissions that we are talking about, both here in Australia and globally.

This is a highly irresponsible act. I want to make sure that I, at the very least, put it clearly on the record for all time that I stood against and was opposed to this project, so that if at some point in the future, when I have to look future generations in the eye and they ask me what did I do, I can at least say I tried to make sure that this would not happen, even if it is being ignored. I will absolutely be opposing this bill.

Comments and speeches from various members

Debate interrupted, pursuant to standing orders.


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