Safety is the No. 1 priority of myself as the Minister for Resources, and I believe it is a No. 1 priority of all resource ministers around the country as well as for the trade unions that represent workers and the vast majority of business leaders as well. It should be the No. 1 priority to protect people in the industry.
Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (14:52):
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan. Can the minister please inform the Senate how mining safety practices help improve stability and certainty in the mining industry? And can the minister outline what steps are being taken at a Commonwealth level and in other jurisdictions to improve safety in the industry?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:52):
I thank Senator Rennick for his question and I want to say up front that safety is the No. 1 priority of myself as the Minister for Resources, and I believe it is a No. 1 priority of all resource ministers around the country as well as for the trade unions that represent workers and the vast majority of business leaders as well. It should be the No. 1 priority to protect people in the industry. The most important things people can leave a mine site with is their life and their health. I would like to recognise that tomorrow is the Miners Memorial Day in Queensland, which does mark the state's worst mine disaster at Mount Mulligan in Far North Queensland in 1921, where 75 miners died. There is a memorial service in Moura tomorrow to mark that anniversary.
In my area of responsibility for the offshore oil and gas sector, it is good that we have had six consecutive years now without a fatality. We can never rest on our laurels, though. In the first half of last year, we had a surge in near misses that could have caused a death or serious injury. So at last year's APPEA conference I convened a roundtable with leaders in the oil and gas sector to remind them of their obligations to protect health and safety and I also mentioned the issue in my speech to the conference. It has been a welcome result that, in the second half of the year, we had a major drop in those incidents and, in fact, by the end of 2018 we had recorded the lowest number of near misses that could have caused a death or serious injury since 2010.
I also recognise there has been a surge in tragic fatalities in the Queensland coal industry over the past year and, while this is a matter for the Queensland government, I fully support the efforts of my good mate Minister Lynham there in Queensland, who is working hard to make sure that safety is reset to be a priority for the industry there. The Australian government fully supports the safety reset that is occurring in the Queensland coal industry and encourages all businesses to make sure they meet their obligations under that policy.
Senator Rennick, a supplementary question.
Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (14:54):
Is the minister aware of any incidents at mine sites and mining facilities that put at risk the safety of hardworking Australians going about their business?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:54):
We have seen, unfortunately, a number of examples where activist groups, sometimes irresponsibly encouraged by people in this place, have put worker safety at risk. Since the federal election, in particular, a number of environmental activist groups have been throwing a long hissy fit about the results of the election and are out there supergluing themselves to streets in capital cities and, sometimes, putting themselves in extremely dangerous positions at mine sites or ports. This puts at risk not only their own safety but also the safety of the workers there.
In fact, at a rally of the Extinction Rebellion group in Brisbane earlier this year, in August, attended by Senator Larissa Waters and Greens—
Honourable senators interjecting—
... activists were encouraged to illegally blockade—
Order! Senator Canavan, please resume your seat.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I am not drawing attention to Senator Canavan here, but I would like to be able to hear the answer. The interjections across the chamber at the rear of the chamber are utterly inappropriate. Senator Canavan, please continue.
They're obviously shamed by the fact that Green senators in this place are encouraging people to illegally blockade freight lines in Queensland, putting at risk worker safety—not just the safety of those involved in the activism but also of people who are just trying to make a buck for their families. Their lives are being put at risk thanks to these irresponsible actions.
Senator Rennick, a final supplementary question?
Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (14:56):
Is the minister aware of any organisations seeking to benefit from inappropriate and dangerous actions around mining facilities?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:56):
We have heard in the last couple of weeks, through leaked documents from the student strike for climate group, that so-called activist groups are also encouraging people in campaigns that they've sent around to people, saying that they 'encourage people to join your union. Join today and encourage your colleagues to do the same.' That email communication links to the Australian Council of Trade Unions recruitment website, and the ACTU have been out there encouraging people to take action and to be out there in this strike on Friday. They are also encouraging people to take this kind of unsafe action. How can a trade union, which is meant to be there to protect worker safety in this country, align itself with people who are directly encouraging people to put worker safety at risk? It is irresponsible and reprehensible and should be condemned by all in this place who stand up for worker safety and protect the right of Australians to go to their job and go back home safely.