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Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Page: 7251

Senator SIEWERT (3:31 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Faulkner) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to the Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea.

I note with extreme interest that Indonesian officials have been taking part in the daily observation flights that AMSA has been running. This surely indicates that there is some concern that the oil spill may be impacting on Indonesian waters. Certainly satellite photos indicate that the oil slick is, in fact, in Indonesian waters. It has also been reported in the Indonesian media, and to me, that Indonesian authorities have taken oil samples from Rote Island and West Timor and are seeking to have them analysed, which seems to me to indicate that they do have some significant concerns around the impact of the oil spill on the area.

In fact, the Indonesian media has been reporting the oil spill. The Jakarta Post says:

Pollution in the Timor Sea caused by an oil spill from the Australian Montara oil field off Darwin, has damaged more than 1,000 hectares of ready-to-harvest seaweed along the coastal area of Rote Island …

At least 300 seaweed farmers have stopped harvesting seaweed in the past week as the oil spill has destroyed the plants along the coastal area of the island.

One of the local farmers is reported as saying:

The seawater that was previously clear is now a milky-like color and emits a rancid odor. The smell is probably caused by a lot of dead fish in the area …

The Jakarta Post also reported:

Sadly, a local fisherman, said that hundreds of fishermen in the area had suffered losses due to a significant decrease in fish.

“Usually, we catch hundreds of red snappers a night, now we only catch three or four. In fact, we have spent millions on operational costs,” Sadly said.

The point here is that we do not know.

The minister today was unfortunately unable to answer the questions as to when the Indonesian authorities had been notified, by whom and by which department. It is obvious that they have been informed, given that Indonesian authorities are on these flights. I acknowledge that at the moment it is unknown whether it is oil from the Montara oil spill that is impacting on these seaweed farmers on Rote. In the Indonesian media, fish deaths have been reported as well. It is unknown whether it is the oil and, for that matter, the chemical dispersants that have impacted on these fishers and on these seaweed farmers—and, in fact, whether they have had any other impacts in Indonesian waters.

The point here is that we should know and there should be some monitoring of the impacts on Indonesian waters. There should be some assessment of the damage, if there has been any damage, caused by the oil spill. Also, if the oil spill has gone that far, it would indicate that the slick and the spill are impacting on a much larger area than has previously been reported.

The question here is: who is liable for the costs of clean-up and for any compensation to seaweed farmers, local fishers and other people on Rote Island or West Timor if they have been damaged by this oil spill? It is very unclear to us whether the company can be held responsible for the oil spill once it has left Australian territorial waters. That issue, we believe, needs urgent following up.

We are seeking a commitment from the federal government to liaise with the Indonesian government about the potential impacts and to ensure that a thorough assessment of the impacts is carried out to see whether it is in fact the oil from this spill that is impacting on these activities. If it is, what is the extent of that? If it is impacting, what compensation is liable to be paid to these people, because it will have a significant impact on their livelihoods—potentially a devastating impact on their livelihoods, bearing in mind that their very livelihood is threatened, potentially, not just this season but into the future? What is the Australian government intending to do about that impact? Also, specifically, it needs to be talking to the company involved, PTTEP, to look at what that company’s liabilities are, what that company’s commitments are, to help the Indonesian fishers and those affected, if they are affected. The government needs to liaise with PTTEP and outline very clearly a commitment from that company to help those people and to pay them just and fair compensation, not only for the loss of their livelihood but for any environmental damage, both short and long term, that is caused in Indonesian waters. As far as we can see, it is extremely unclear that the company’s liabilities extend outside Australian territorial waters. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.