Fracking Banned in Victoria

Ms SANDELL (Melbourne) — It is my absolute pleasure to speak today in favour of a permanent ban on fracking and unconventional gas in Victoria. As anyone watching can probably tell, I am only two and a half weeks away from giving birth to my first child, and I am pretty tired. I should probably be at home, but I really wanted to be here today. I had to be here to cast my vote in favour of this bill, and I am really proud to do so.

First and foremost I wanted to acknowledge the incredible work of activists across the state who have made this legislation possible and have put up an absolutely epic fight for a permanent ban on toxic gas fracking and onshore gas in Victoria.

So while I have been proud to voice the Greens opposition to onshore gas, this victory really belongs to Lock the Gate, to the Gasfield Free movement, to Friends of the Earth and to all the community groups, farmers and locals across the state who organised tirelessly to protect their towns, their farms, their environment, their water and their health.

Without the incredible fight you all put up, this bill would never, ever have come before Parliament.

It is often governments and ministers who get the credit for the decisions that change the future of our state and our country, and I am sure the history books will record their names.

No doubt this government deserves some of the credit — they made the right decision in the end — but the lion's share of the credit on this one really belongs to the people who stood up and who said no to onshore gas and fracking right from the start, because this was a fight.

Make no mistake about it. The government did not just wake up one day and change its mind; it had to be pushed.

In order to make sure there is a record somewhere of how this happened, I would like to give a brief overview of some elements of the campaign. I will not capture it all — it was so big, it was so diverse and I do not even know some of what happened — but I hope to do justice at least to some parts of it.

For many this campaign started a long time ago. I first became aware of it in 2011, when more and more gas companies began sniffing around Victoria, wanting to drill and frack for gas. It is true what the coalition opposition says: the previous Labor government had approved 73 gas licences and 23 fracking permits.

Seeing the devastation that fracking and onshore drilling caused in New South Wales and Queensland, communities here understandably started to get worried, but they also started to get organised. Friends of the Earth, local communities and farmers started what would be a long campaign.

They borrowed tactics from New South Wales, such as surveying communities by doorknocking to gauge support or opposition to the gas industry. They got councils to pass motions against gas exploration. They ran tours by prominent activists like Drew Hutton and farmers from interstate who had already been affected by the gas industry. They ran film nights to spread the word and even threatened direct action by farmers and locals in places like Seaspray.

They built a campaign large enough to show the coalition government at the time that gas was not a popular industry, and the coalition government had to respond. Unfortunately, as we have heard, they responded with an inquiry headed by Peter Reith, an inquiry that did not have any farmers or community members or environmentalists as part of it.

Unsurprisingly this inquiry recommended opening our state to the gas industry. But the campaign was so strong, and the community was so strong, that they did not let them get away with it, and the coalition realised they needed to do some actual public consultation. This led the coalition to putting in place a temporary moratorium on fracking in 2012.

But as is often the case with wins like this, this win was just temporary. Although the campaign was strong enough to force the coalition government to extend the moratorium until after the 2014 election, the movement knew that in order to get a permanent ban, in order to get permanent protection for our land, our water and our environment, they had to make this a top election issue, an election issue that no party could ignore.

Unfortunately leading into the 2014 election, rather than seeing Labor, the Liberals and The Nationals try to outdo each other to extend the moratorium or to extend the permanency of the ban, both sides looked scarily as if they were going to give in to the fossil fuel industry's demands.

We had the shadow Treasurer, Tim Pallas, speaking to a gas industry conference, saying Labor was doing everything it could to fast-track industry's ability to hunt for more gas in Victoria and that an inquiry was a way to reassure the public of the industry's merits. We had the Liberals and The Nationals flipping and flopping, telling one thing to the community and another to the industry.

The situation looked pretty scary for farmers who might lose their prime agricultural land to gas wells, but the threat only motivated them.

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It motivated communities to campaign harder and stronger, and the movement grew. It consisted of groups across the state, from Portland and Torquay in the west to Mirboo North and Seaspray in the east, united in their view that the onshore gas industry would be toxic to our health, our farmland and our water.

Poowong became the first town to declare itself gas field free after a community survey in 2013, and an amazing 74 towns followed, with most towns showing support for a permanent ban of over 90 per cent. In some places I visited, like Macarthur and Bessiebelle, it was over 97 per cent in favour of a ban — in some places even higher.

The campaign used the media effectively and engaged in creative tactics, with one farmer spelling out the words 'ban gas' with his sheep in a lovely YouTube video I encourage everybody to watch. More councils jumped on board, passing motions against onshore gas, following from Colac Otway shire's lead in 2011.

The campaign was incredible; the campaign was unstoppable.

While all of this excellent, incredible work was happening in the community, in Parliament my Greens colleagues were keeping up the pressure. My upper house colleague Greg Barber worked with local communities to facilitate letters to Parliament and MPs on the issue. He travelled across the state speaking with those affected, especially those in Nationals-held seats, where the party had strangely gone silent on the issue — and I see there are none of them in the chamber today.

I was proud to see the Greens play a strong part in the campaign, though I am sure that Labor and the coalition will deny we had anything to do with it. In particular the 2014 state election was a turning point.

The Greens candidate for Western Victoria Region, Lloyd Davies, received calls from across the Western District from people who said they had never thought to vote Greens before but who were switching their vote because we were the only party that was actively campaigning against gas and had a clear policy for a permanent ban on onshore gas.

Our vote doubled and trebled in small towns across the Western District and in Gippsland — in tiny, tiny rural booths were we never usually got a look-in.

The Weekly Times declared onshore gas a top election issue, and the old parties started to catch on. In the lead-up to the 2014 election the then Labor opposition realised they needed to say or do something more or risk losing votes across the state, so they committed to a parliamentary inquiry and public consultation on onshore gas and fracking.

When they were elected and the inquiry began, over 1600 people and groups made submissions. It was the largest number of submissions to an inquiry in Parliament in Victoria's history, with the vast, vast majority in favour of a permanent gas ban. I want to thank my staff and volunteers who facilitated almost half of those submissions — more than 700.

I would like to commend all of those who worked on the inquiry from all parties, but I particularly name Samantha Dunn from the Legislative Council, our Greens representative on the committee.

This overwhelming support for a gas ban led to a split in the Labor Party on the committee on the issue, with one Labor MP coming out and saying he was in support of an onshore gas industry in Victoria while two others said they were in favour of a permanent ban. Thanks to those who spoke out in favour of a ban.

The Liberal and National parties also seemed a bit confused about their position on gas throughout the inquiry. Although they were the ones who had put forward the moratorium in 2012, in the inquiry their MPs seemed like they were not opposed to an onshore gas industry, particularly a conventional one. The Nationals were often still disappointingly silent.

But this changed over the course of three by-elections in 2015 in South-West Coast, in Polwarth and in Gippsland South. With no Labor candidates running, it was a contest between the Liberals and The Nationals, with both sides desperate for progressive Greens and Labor voters preferences to get them over the line.

I was pleased to help local Greens members and local anti-gas activists run campaigns, put ads in local papers, run events, spread the word and hand out anti-gas how-to-vote cards across these electorates.

No voter, no candidate and no party missed the message that in these elections gas was a top issue for voters.

Surprise, surprise, during the Gippsland South campaign The Nationals split from their Liberal colleagues and came out with a stronger position on gas, that of a farmer veto. Ahead of the South-West Coast and Polwarth by-elections, the Liberals eventually adopted a stronger position, realising it was political suicide to do anything else. They announced they wanted to extend the moratorium until 2020, effectively kicking the can down the road a little further.

I have travelled a lot to regional Victoria in my time as an MP, even though I am the member for Melbourne. I am the spokesperson for resources, the environment and climate change, and often with these issues the rubber hits the road in regional Victoria.

I was pleased to host two regional tours, bringing farmer David Quince and MP Jeremy Buckingham down from New South Wales to listen to communities, share their success stories and lessons, add national support to the campaign and get some much-needed media attention at the pointy end.

Let us not forget the contribution of those in the city. The Greens commissioned a poll of marginal seats in the inner north of Melbourne and held community events to show the Labor Party that gas was also a vote-changing issue for people in inner-city marginal seats, as well as polls in regional Victoria.

The city voters value Victoria's farmland, fresh food, water and environment as much as regional people and they are willing to change their votes away from the Labor Party if it did not have the guts to commit to a permanent ban.

The campaign grew and grew and grew. Thousands attended rallies on the steps of Parliament culminating in one glorious day when the community declared the whole of Victoria a gas field-free state.

It was all worth it, because now we are about to pass the first permanent ban on fracking of unconventional and coal seam gas and a moratorium on conventional onshore gas. I want to thank the government for listening to the community on this one. It took a long, hard campaign but it finally happened. We got there. Thanks for listening, thanks for taking action.

While it is sad that the Liberal and National parties have caused so much anger in the community by not disclosing how they would vote on this bill until the 11th hour yesterday, I am pleased to see they announced last night that they will vote in favour of it.

Of course we are disappointed that Labor has left the door open to an onshore conventional gas industry in future. We know this is harmful; just ask the folks down in Seaspray who are already being affected by it.

Putting off the decision about onshore conventional gas until after the next state election is not a good decision. It just creates more uncertainty and stress in the local community. It is also really sad to see reports of the coalition saying that they will look at ways of removing the moratorium on onshore conventional gas in three years time.

But we know that this movement is strong and that we can fight that in future too. I want communities to know that the Greens will be there right alongside them in this fight if it comes to that, because we know that if we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we simply must keep fossil fuels in the ground.

We already have untapped goldmines of renewable energy sources in Victoria that do not come with toxic warning labels. Solar and wind are primed for investment. It has never been clearer that our national energy market needs to turn away from the destructive industries of old like gas and coal and start powering the future with renewables.

If we want to protect our fresh food, our water and our farmland, we cannot have an onshore gas industry in Victoria. The two are simply incompatible.

Lastly, I want to send my thoughts to those in other states who are fighting the toxic gas and fossil fuel industries. In New South Wales, in Queensland, in the Northern Territory and in other places there are still serious battles going on.

But take heart. You can win. These battles are being fought by farmers, by Greens, by young people and by Indigenous activists. Make no mistake, they will win, because when the community rises up, when environmentalists join with farmers and with locals, when you have communities campaigning locally and allies inside parliaments, it can happen.

Take heart. Keep up the good work, and thank you to everyone who made this possible.

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