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Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Page: 13484

Mr IAN MACFARLANE (Groom) (18:11): I rise today to speak on the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment (Significant Incident Directions) Bill 2011. I signal from the outset the coalition's ongoing support of the measures being put in place in response to the 2009 Montara oil leak and the subsequent commission of inquiry. Incidents of this nature are always intricate and, as a result, the response should be multifaceted. Also as a result, related issues have come before this place several times as the Commonwealth government, the opposition, the state governments and the industry have worked through the details of the national response and how best to implement a suite of measures to safeguard the oil and gas industry, the people who work within it and, just as importantly, the environment in which it operates.

The provisions of this bill are the next step in ensuring Australia's regulatory regime is as robust as possible, with a clear view to taking all appropriate precautionary measures to prevent such an incident from occurring again. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006, the OPGGS Act, to specifically enable the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, known as NOPSEMA, to issue a direction to a petroleum titleholder in the event of significant offshore petroleum incident occurring within the title area that has caused or might cause an escape of petroleum. The direction would require the titleholder to take an action or not take an action in relation to the escape or possible escape of petroleum and its effects, and may apply either within or outside the titleholder's area.

The bill will therefore insert new provisions into the OPGGS Act that will clearly enable NOPSEMA, as the regulator for the offshore petroleum industry, to issue a direction to a petroleum titleholder if a significant offshore petroleum incident has occurred in the titleholder's area that causes or might cause the escape of petroleum. The direction may, among other things, require the titleholder to take action to prevent or eliminate the escape of petroleum or potential escape of petroleum and/or to mitigate, manage or remediate the effects of an escape of petroleum. The proposed amendment will help ensure that the Commonwealth has the full ability to provide for the remediation of the effects of all escapes of petroleum in the event of an oil spill incident and is one of a number of legislative amendments being introduced to improve the regulation of the offshore petroleum industry following the Montara incident.

This issue has been the subject of an intensive and extended consultation with industry and its representative bodies as part of the Montara investigation. As I have indicated, there is full bipartisan support for the government's response to this incident. Indeed, there is a public expectation that the parliament will take all appropriate and necessary steps to preserve the balance between the important economic sector of the oil and gas exploration and extraction industry and the protection of workers and the environment.

To date Australians have generally viewed the expansion of the gas industry as a positive thing or at the very least have considered it as a benign development that does not adversely affect their own way of life. However, the Montara incident, which I should say was the first incident of its type in Australia for 25 years, and the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico have changed the way offshore oil and gas exploration and development is viewed in Australia. This industry is now subject to a greater level of public scrutiny and concern than ever before. But this intensified scrutiny is not something the industry or the government should shy away from. Rather it is an opportunity to enhance an industry that is fundamental to the energy and resources sector. Just as people are more aware of the nature of the oil and gas exploration and extraction industries, they are also increasingly aware of the scale of the projects, the level of investment they attract, the economic benefits and the job opportunities they create. Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment are at stake, which is why it is essential to get things right.

In the wake of the Montara and Gulf of Mexico spills there is a compelling need for improvements to the regulation and oversight in the offshore oil and gas industries both here and globally. The response of the parliament should be guided by the fact that the public demand and deserve to have the confidence that authorities responsible for the oil and gas sector and the wider resources industry in general are able to perform. Offshore exploration and drilling is something that is essential to Australia's future and to our economic growth but also to our energy supplies. It will continue to play that fundamental role, which is why a solid and comprehensive national framework for regulation and response is absolutely essential.

As I have made clear, the coalition supports the government in making sure that a robust and reliable set of measures is put in place to regulate the offshore oil and gas sector. The objective is not to unnecessarily shackle the sector but to ensure that it can grow and develop in a way that does not harm the workers in the industry nor the environment. The coalition have taken a cooperative and constructive approach to this issue and on this issue at least so has the government. That is why the coalition will support the government on this measure. I commend the bill to the House.