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Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Page: 13486

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (18:18): It is always a pleasure to speak after the member for Groom and with you in the chair, Mr Deputy Speaker Sidebottom. I am pleased to rise in support of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment (Significant Incident Directions) Bill 2011. Around 95 per cent of Australia's petroleum resources are found offshore and some of it has been found offshore from the member for Corangamite's electorate. The search for oil offshore is very difficult, very expensive and often fruitless but it is obviously vitally important to our economy. And it is dangerous work, as anyone who has been to an offshore oil rig knows. That is why the isolated workers who work on these rigs are appropriately remunerated for that extra risk.

Since 1965, 3,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in Australian offshore waters. During the last 15 years we have averaged about 110 new wells drilled offshore per year. It is difficult and very complicated work and I commend the incredible expertise of our miners, drillers, offshore engineers and the like and the people who support them. The industry employs about 11,000 people and generates more than $22 billion in export income. Australia is the world's fourth-largest LNG exporter and in 2009 produced 559,000 barrels per day of crude oil. Australia also has an excellent safety record and a strong regulatory framework, but we have not been without incident. Most recently, many people will recall the Montara oil spill. Back in August 2009, petrochemicals began spewing into the Timor Sea from the West Atlas rig off the Western Australian coast. For more than 10 long weeks, the well leaked at least 400 barrels of crude oil and gas every day. The well owner, PTTP Australasia, finally plugged the leak by pumping 3,400 barrels of heavy mud down a relief well. Last year, in the United States, that shoreline also faced a major offshore disaster with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, when 11 men were killed in an explosion and oil leaked from the well for three months. It is estimated that at least 4.9 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico.

The risks in this very important industry are high and any major incident can cause significant harm to people and the marine and coastal environment. While Australia's offshore industry has a very good reputation, world leaders in fact when it comes to safety, we must do whatever we can to further minimise the risk in such a highly hazardous industry. After the two significant spills in the United States and in Australia that I previously mentioned, the community needs greater confidence in the industry to undertake offshore petroleum exploration in a safe way. Our marine and coastal environments are especially vulnerable to major oil leaks and we must do whatever we can to prevent these events. I note when looking at the North West Shelf particularly, the north-west area, that only about one per cent of this area has highly protected marine sanctuaries. The east coast of Australia, obviously with the Great Barrier Reef and down around Tasmania, has many more protected marine sanctuaries. Whilst it is not the Minister for Mines and Resources' job to look after these, I am sure he would agree that this is a very special region and more needs to be protected with marine sanctuaries. At the same time, it complements the safety legislation that we have before the chamber tonight.

This bill amends the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act to enable the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority to better respond to significant offshore petroleum incidents. It empowers the authority to direct a petroleum titleholder to take action in relation to the escape or possible escape of petroleum. These actions include steps to prevent, to mitigate, to manage or to clean up the effects of a petroleum spill. The current powers available to the authority only concern power to direct actions within the titleholder's title area. Obviously, currents being what they are, if there was an incident again, the pollution would not be confined to the title area. This amendment will ensure that titleholders will be held responsible for cleaning up damage beyond the title area—all of the damage. This bill makes certain that if a significant event occurs, such as the uncontrolled leak of oil into the ocean, the offshore petroleum regulator, the independent referee, has a clear and unambiguous power to direct petroleum titleholders to clean up and remedy the impacts of a petroleum leak. These new powers also come with tough enforcement muscle. Failure of a petroleum titleholder to comply with a direction will be an offence under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act. However, I would suggest to the minister that the penalties should be higher on top of the actual making good.

The measures in this bill give the community greater confidence in the safety of the offshore petroleum industry and they will ensure greater protections for the marine environment and complement the work of environment minister Tony Burke in terms of making sure the marine areas surrounding Australia are as pristine as possible. I commend the bill to the House.