ONE Nation leader Pauline Hanson has told Chinchilla locals she will follow-up “personally” with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the whereabouts of a Senate inquiry into unconventional gas mining instigated in the previous parliament by former Queensland Palmer United Party member, turned independent Senator, Glenn Lazarus.
That inquiry was due to hand down its report on June 30 this year but the process was interrupted by the calling of the July 2 double-dissolution election where Senator Lazarus failed to be re-elected.
It was subsequently called the “Bender inquiry” after Chinchilla cotton farmer George Bender who took his own life late last year, after a decade-long battle against Coal Seam Gas mining in his home area, in seeking to give farmers the right to prevent mining companies entering their land.
That cause has since been taken up by his daughter Helen Bender who spoke at a community meeting held last week in the Queensland farming district and was one of the landholders that Senator Hanson spent time with during her tour of the region.
Ms Bender told the forum - that was also broadcast on social media - the situation with her father was, “much harder to talk about now than ever before”.
“I’m pretty proud of my father, he said ‘no’,” she said.
“Basically games are played by the industry and basically through those games, it led to the death, of George, taking his life, that’s just over a year now.”
Ms Bender said Senator Lazarus had established the Senate inquiry in honour of her father but Mr Turnbull’s decision to call a double dissolution election had provided a “very convenient” method for him to “just basically push it out the back door, and under the carpet and let’s not deal with the real issue”.
“Hopefully Pauline, and for all the voices in the gas fields, we can have our voice back again, because we do need that,” she said.
Senator Hanson said she only learned about the Bender inquiry on the day of her tour of the area but pledged to follow through and see where it was now at and “speak to the Prime Minister himself personally”.
“Facts need to be exposed,” she said.
An email to the Senate Committee showed the inquiry lapsed when both Houses of Parliament were dissolved for the election and has not been re-instated.
While it’s not know if there are any moves to re-invigorate the inquiry, that outcome would depend on whether the Senate believed there was sufficient interest in continuing the examination.
Ms Hanson toured Chinchilla as a guest of the Western Downs Alliance and also thanked the anti-CSG and coal mining group, the Lock the Gate Alliance, for help organising the visit to hear the concerns of farmers and landholders about CSG mining impacts.
The Select Committee on unconventional gas mining held public hearings in Dalby Queensland in February, Narrabri in NSW in March and Darwin in the NT in April, with about 320 public submissions also published.
Senator Lazarus released an interim report in May ahead of the election in which he made 18 recommendations that were supported by the Greens.
One of his recommendations said the commonwealth government should appoint an Unconventional Gas Mining Commissioner to oversee the conduct, management, regulation and compliance of the entire industry on a national basis.
Another said a Resources Ombudsman should be appointed to support Australians affected by mining, in particular coal seam gas mining, and to provide an appropriate and independent dispute resolution service to those affected by resource projects.
Another called on the Commonwealth government to establish a community legal service to provide landholders and others affected by the resource industry and unconventional gas mining with access to free legal advice.
“The committee heard that there is a level of anxiety for agricultural producers around protecting supply chain integrity from potential contamination by chemicals used and released by unconventional gas mining activity,” Senator Lazarus wrote.
“The committee heard that no insurance is available for agricultural producers to ensure that if contamination did occur, their operations would be safeguarded from financial or legal liability.
“The stress placed onto agricultural producers by the operation of unconventional gas mining on or near their land is having a significant impact on their ability to plan their business and operations, and safeguard their products.
“It is having a significant effect on mental health - placing pressure on landowners to absorb the risk into their businesses and lives.”
The Greens made two recommendations in the interim report, with the first one calling on parliament to pass a bill proposed by the party to ban fracking and to give landholders the right to say ‘no’ to coal and unconventional gas on their land.
“We welcome the acknowledgement of the need for such reforms by Senator Lazarus, but remain frustrated that the Liberal, National and Labor parties continue to ignore the environmental, social and economic problems with unconventional gas in their blind dedication to their fossil fuel donors,” the Greens said.
The Greens’ second recommendation was to pass another bill banning political donations from mining companies, developers, tobacco, alcohol and gambling companies.
But a contribution to the report by government Senators said they believed State and Territory legal frameworks had the “constitutional jurisdiction” to manage the unconventional gas industry “as is already occurring in NSW”.
“The approval processes in each State and Territory must take into account the risk to agricultural land and local communities as is their constitutional responsibility, as is the responsibility for securing compensation to other land users for breach of the licence or permit conditions by gas miners,” the report said.
“The commonwealth government is clearly already working with the states and the territories in the overarching management of this important industry.
“Managed well, unconventional gas has an exciting future providing a significant contribution to Australia’s Gross National Product through vital energy supply and many meaningful and well paid jobs.
“Government Senators note that this is the committee’s interim report, and should the Committee have the time to do so, further examination of the issue relating to unconventional gas mining activity in Australia should occur.”