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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5249


Senator FORSHAW (11:47 AM) —I rise to say a few words in respect of the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Amendment Bill 2002. My colleague Senator O'Brien has indicated that the opposition will support this legislation. I rise to contribute to this debate because it is an area in which I had extensive interest and involvement prior to coming into the Senate. As an official of the Australian Workers Union, I was directly involved for many years in representing workers employed on offshore facilities around Australia. That extended from the initial stages of surveying and oil exploration and offshore oil-drilling activities on rigs through to the operation of the production platforms such as exist in Bass Strait and the North West Shelf—for example, the North Rankin platform. Also in the latter years of the development of the Australian offshore oil and gas industry we saw the introduction of the floating facilities—namely, the Jabiru Venture and the Challis Venture in the Timor Sea. I had the opportunity, as I said, to represent the employees in that industry for many years and to visit all of these locations.

The future of the petroleum industry, particularly the production of our own oil and gas within Australia, both onshore and offshore, is of fundamental importance to the economy of this country and to its future. We have seen its importance in more recent times with the signing of the contract with the Chinese for the LNG project on the North West Shelf. The fact is that much of the oil and gas produced in Bass Strait is utilised within Australia, and many of our refineries and production facilities around Australia had to be upgraded some years ago to take Bass Strait crude. In contrast, much of the gas that comes out of the North West Shelf is exported. These issues again have arisen in respect of theSunrise venture off the northern coast of Australia.

The legislation that regulates our offshore oil and gas industries is complex. Indeed, this is an area where there has to be, and there is, cooperation between the state governments and the Commonwealth government. As we know, the Commonwealth's power—and Australia's right to explore for and to extract the oil and gas resources off our coastline—has its origins in international conventions covering the rights to explore the resources on our continental shelf. Indeed, that was the genesis of the very legislation that was passed in the sixties—the petroleum legislation—and the Seas and Submerged Lands Act.

I particularly recall in 1994, after the great tragedy that occurred on the Piper Alpha platform in the North Sea, having the opportunity to go to an international conference in Geneva which was looking at the occupational health and safety of offshore oil and gas workers. At that time it was decided that we needed to implement international best practices. Arising out of the Cullen report in the UK and that conference, federal and state governments in Australia all agreed to improve the whole area of offshore health and safety regulation. It was a great cooperative effort at that time. It raised a whole range of legal questions that needed to be resolved.

I make these points because I welcome the commitment by the government to have a review of this legislation. I think that, in doing so, it will pick up some of the environmental issues that have been raised by Senator Bartlett. The legislation as it stands goes a small step towards that ultimate goal of reviewing all the associated legislation. I think that is certainly something that should be welcomed. It is, as I said, crucial to the future of our economy and of the industry, and it is particularly important to all present and future employees of this most vital industry.