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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 7673


Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (21:07): I rise to speak in support of the government's reform in the area of offshore petroleum and greenhouse gas storage. I commend my colleague the member for Capricornia for her contribution to the debate. She gave a very lucid explanation of much of the detail of these bills. The reforms that are proposed here this evening are contained in five bills that previous speakers have alluded to. All of these bills make a significant reform to the manner in which our offshore petroleum industry is regulated.

The first bill I will speak to, and one of the most significant in my view, is the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment (National Regulator) Bill 2011. This bill reflects an initiative in cooperative federalism because it enables a national system for the registration of national offshore petroleum titles. This bill establishes a new agency, the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator—NOPTA—which will administer national titles in relation to offshore petroleum, mining and greenhouse gas storage activities.

It is an economic reality that, although there are national and international initiatives to move to an international clean energy economy, we do still currently rely on fossil fuels for our economic wellbeing and we will continue to for some time. Indeed, our dema­nd for energy will increase. In that context, there is the need to enable responsible and careful exploration of offshore sites for drilling. Many of us have witnessed events around the world and we are naturally apprehensive about offshore drilling, but responsible management of the industry is the task with which this government is charged and it is up to the task.

It is appropriate that this offshore petroleum industry should be well regulated under a comprehensive national system. These bills establish just such a system. In addition to the establishment of a national administration for titles, this government has also reformed the manner of safety, integrity and environmental approvals to ensure that they are administered well in offshore petroleum, mining and greenhouse gas storage activities.

The existing independent National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority will be expanded to become the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Man­agement Authority, which my colleagues earlier alluded to and which is likely to be known by the name of NOPSEMA. NOPSEMA as an authority will be there to ensure that there is a single agency that regulates the safety of Australia's offshore petroleum workers and the environment to ensure that both the environment and the workers are prevented from being exploited, including from when works are being decommissioned. A single accessible regul­atory agency will ensure that there are consistent standards applied throughout the Commonwealth, and that only seems fair and sensible in the light of what we have seen around the world.

We witnessed last year in the Gulf of Mexico the tragic consequences of the mismanagement of offshore petroleum extraction. It is a tragic reality that hundreds of thousands of people's lives and livelihoods were affected at that time, and will continue to be affected for decades, by a failure to provide adequate and proper protection of the environment and the workers. Apart from the long-term environmental impacts that this oil rig explosion had, we need to think about the impacts on the human presence in that area, including the workers who were so terribly affected by the disaster. We need only to think back further to the terrible images that Australians saw of the Exxon Valdez disaster to understand that the long-term ramifications of petroleum spills in our ecosystems profoundly impact on communities at all levels.

As I have stated in previous speeches, this type of legislation before the House, about which the entire House is so incredibly animated, is the kind of legislation that often does not make the front pages or even maybe some of the middle pages of the newspaper. It is certainly not the stuff of the daily broadsheet and I doubt that we will see a headline about it tomorrow. But this is part of the core work of responsible government and governance. It plays a fundamental part in the operation of this parliament because it is our obligation to act. It is our respons­ibility to protect one of the most treasured resources of our nation—our oceans.

For generations, Australians have relied on coastal areas for their livelihoods; in fact, most of us live near the coast. We are deeply connected to it. Our coastline wraps around our island nation and the image of that blue water meeting the landmass is imprinted on our national sense of identity. It is part of how we see ourselves and it is part of how the world sees us as well. That is another part of why this legislation is clearly so important. It will ensure that the operating standards of our offshore petroleum remain the best and safest in the world. It is also a key measure in ensuring that the seamless framework for a national economy is developed by this parliament to ensure that we benefit from our economic potential. This notion is also reflected in the Offshore Resources Legislation Amendment (Personal Property Securities) Bill.

This bill addresses the decisions by the state governments and the Northern Territory government to exclude operation of the Personal Property Securities Act 2009 from the operation of this legislation. One of the reasons why the PPS Act has been excluded is that retaining the register of dealings and interests can enable proposed dealings and interests to be rejected. This represents an important control mechanism in the management and security of our national resources. As stated, this is an area of policy where the regulation needs to be measured, appropriate, effective and consistent. In this regard, the existing system of having a register of dealings has been proven to be an effective means of regulating dealings and interests. Because of this exclusion from the PPS Act, it is important to ensure that there is consistency between onshore and offshore mining regimes.

It is also important to recognise that this bill reflects extensive consultation with the offshore petroleum industry and reflects the Montara Commission of Inquiry recomm­endations. Australians listening to this broadcast might recall the Montara oil spill, which happened in the Timor Sea just off Australia's coastline in 2009. The commission that followed was naturally called the Montara Commission of Inquiry. The commission of inquiry reflected a real and pressing need for appropriate regulation in this increasingly important component of our energy supply. This bill certainly addresses the advice from the commission of inquiry for the need for a comprehensive national system of regulation in response to the offshore oil extraction industry that is part of the economic fabric of our nation. This bill reflects the Gillard government's desire to secure and strengthen Australia's future. It is another step in achieving this goal. I commend the bills to the House.