Inquiry into Unconventional Gas

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 16:17 :16 ): I rise on behalf of the opposition to speak to what is now the amended motion, that is, to refer an inquiry into fracking, or hydraulic fracture stimulation, to the Natural Resources Committee rather than the Environment, Resources and Development Committee. As members would know, from the notice of motion that I moved today and gave notice of for the next Wednesday of sitting, that we are moving down this path to mirror the terms of reference proposed in the House of Assembly by my colleague the new member for Mount Gambier, Troy Bell, and also to have it referred to the Natural Resources Committee. So, it appears that we are on the same page, and I think that is an important position to come to.

By way of background, it was a pre-election commitment by the then candidate for Mount Gambier that we would have a parliamentary inquiry into these matters in the South-East. Also, it is interesting to recall that the member for Waite was our shadow minister at the time. I have never in the past, and I do not intend to today, talk about internal Liberal Party matters; nonetheless, a range of options were canvassed and the policy that we took to the election was to have a parliamentary inquiry into hydraulic fracturing in the South-East.

I think my comments over the years are well known. I was fortunate enough to be the shadow minister for mining some years ago, and I am now the shadow minister for agriculture and also energy, and I have had an opportunity to be the Liberal Party spokesman across all of these areas.

There being a disturbance in the strangers' gallery:

The PRESIDENT: Order! The cameraman needs to be reminded that you can only focus on the person on their feet rather than swinging the camera around the chamber. Thank you. The Hon. Mr Ridgeway has to call.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: It is important to recall and note that the Liberal Party believes that we need to have the coexistence of all of these industries. You cannot have one at the expense of the other, and we have done that in the history of this great state for 175 or more years. We started with an agricultural economy and then had various times of mining activity boom, shall we say. Of course, we had the 60th anniversary recently of Santos and its activity in the Cooper Basin. The great contribution that Santos has made to this great state is to be commended.

Nonetheless, this was an election commitment. The people of the South-East, as the Hon. Tammy Franks said, deserve to have their concerns heard in an open forum. As members would know, I am originally from the South-East and I have put on the record here a number of times that I am the only person I think ever elected to this parliament whose entire income was derived from accessing water from that aquifer, so I am well aware of concerns that a number of people in the South-East have and I think it is very appropriate that we have an inquiry that gives them an opportunity to put their concerns in a way where they feel they can be heard, and heard without any particular bias.

I think all of us in this place share some blame in relation to the community's low view of members of parliament because when the government comes along and says, 'We are going to do something and, trust us, we are from the government,' these days nobody believes them. This is an opportunity for the people of the South-East who have some genuine concerns. I have been down there and met with a number of them and this is a real opportunity for them to put their concerns in an open public forum.

I think the Hon. Mark Parnell and others have been saying that we have been trying not to have this inquiry but nothing could be further from the truth. We have always intended to have a parliamentary inquiry. We saw the Hon. Troy Bell—he is not honourable, but Mr Troy Bell, the member for Mount Gambier—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: I should not say that; he is a very honourable man but he does not have an 'honourable' title, shall I say.

Members interjecting:


The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: His preference, of course, was to hopefully have one in the chamber where he is a member. Up until very recently the member for Waite had been visiting the South-East and he gave no indication that his policy or his views had changed. Members would also understand that we do not have a member for Fisher, sadly, and we do not have a member for Davenport, and so for any chance of that motion being successful we needed to wait until those seats were filled. Now that the Hon. Martin Hamilton-Smith has indicated that he will not be supporting it, it is really irrelevant that we wait any further because we will not have the numbers. It was disappointing that he has obviously come to that new view.

It was a decision of the Liberal Party's party room that we give notice today that we have a Natural Resources Committee inquiry. When you look at the instructions, the guidelines or, if you like, the framework of the Natural Resources Committee, it certainly deals with underground water resources. It has already done an inquiry on Eyre Peninsula into underground water; all of the water allocation plans are dealt with through the NRM boards and they all report to the NRC, so it is quite closely linked to it.

It makes a lot of sense that the Natural Resources Committee look at this issue. It has already started taking some evidence. My understanding is that as recently as August the committee was receiving detailed briefings on fracking from the likes of Dr Dennis Cooke of the Australian School of Petroleum at the Adelaide University. It makes sense, when you look again at the functions of the Natural Resources Committee, and I will read them out: they are specific and appropriate to this cause; they are to review the protection, improvement and enhancement of the natural resources of the state. The natural resources include soil, water, geological features, landscapes, native veg, animals and other native organisms and ecosystems.

It was our party room's view that this was the best forum and, given that it had already started taking some evidence, the members were familiar with the issues. Having done the inquiry into the Eyre Peninsula water resources, it just made sense to us that this would be the most suitable committee. It is nonsensical, from the opposition's perspective, not to direct this inquiry to the committee which already has a foundation of knowledge and can, if you like, hit the ground running.

As I said and reiterate, it was always the opposition's policy to establish a parliamentary inquiry. We have not received support from the government, and the government are entitled to make their judgements, so today we have given notice that we will move this to the Natural Resources Committee on the next Wednesday of sitting.

I am pleased that the Greens have decided to amend their motion to align with our proposal. It means that, if the chamber supports it today, we will have an inquiry along the lines that Mr Troy Bell proposed, which was in the South-East. We were always nervous about the original terms of reference from the Hon. Mark Parnell, which were very broad and covered the whole state.

As I mentioned, we have had Santos working for 60 years in the north of the state. We have all the issues around geothermal, which I think everybody supports. If they can crack that geothermal nut and tap into that energy source, it will be a wonderful source of energy. We do not want to impact on any of that, but we have in the South-East a unique part of this state. It is a rich farming area. It has a unique system of aquifers that, as I said, I have accessed. They are vitally important to the future economic wellbeing of the South-East.

It is important that we have an inquiry so that all those issues, all the concerns of the community and all the evidence the mining industry would want to put forward are heard as well. I think it is important that this inquiry encompasses all views and that all the questions from those who are opposed to it are tabled for those who are going to answer those questions. It is important that it is done in a very professional and robust way, and the opposition sees the Natural Resources Committee as the logical place to conduct this inquiry. With those few words, I urge all members to support the motion.

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