Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 16450

Senator BROWN (10:05 AM) —I might rescue the Senate for a moment, with this bill, the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Amendment Bill 2003, coming on so suddenly to the debating agenda. This bill is to do with, amongst other things, occupational health and safety. I am at this moment drafting an amendment to—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—Senator Brown, let me interrupt you for a moment. Would senators on my right either resume their seats or leave the chamber.

Senator BROWN —You will know, Mr Acting Deputy President Lightfoot, that just yesterday this bill was introduced; the necessary checks and balances to give time for reference to the community were swept aside and here we have the bill today suddenly. I have just issued drafting instructions for an amendment to the principal bill which would disallow seismic testing for petroleum off Australian shores. This is an urgent and critical matter that is confronting people in Victoria and South Australia at the moment. There is widespread distress at the prospect of seismic testing and the impact that will have on fisheries. It is known to disrupt fish hatcheries and it affects the whole food chain from microorganisms right through to the great whales.

Recently, there was some sound testing by Spanish naval vessels off the Canary Islands. As that testing occurred, some whales washed up and died on the beaches of the Canary Islands. For the first time, it was established that there was damage to their hearing apparatus. In fact, immediate autopsies demonstrated haemorrhaging and death of parts of the whales' brains and a clear connection between underwater sound activities, including explosions, and the death of these whales.

The same sorts of sonic booms are currently authorised by the Victorian government and, I think, by the South Australian government—up to 200 decibels—to penetrate the bedrock of the ocean to allow explorers to find the fossil fuel deposits beneath the ocean. If you are going to let off a sound like that, you can expect that there is going to be major disruption to the living marine ecosystems as a result, and it turns out that that is the case. Early evidence is that there is disruption, if not death, throughout the food chain—right from the smallest organisms to the greatest—and we should be more prudent than to allow that to happen.

The amendment that I will be moving, if given time, would require those who are using seismic testing to establish before they can proceed that it would not have a negative impact on the marine ecosystem. At the moment, it is anything goes. We know it is damaging, but there are no environmental assessments—in fact, there is no adequate assessment at all—and this is giving rise to increasing alarm in the fishing industry of Australia as well as amongst environmentalists.

We are way past the time when we just carry on until we see damage occurring before we stop and think about it. There is an urgent need for seismic testing—and, indeed, underwater activities by navies and commercial shipping—to halt until we understand the ramifications it is having on marine ecosystems. It is not a trite matter. A very major assault is occurring on those ecosystems off the Otways, in the western Bass Strait region of Australia and along the South Australian coast. I have spoken to South Australian Premier Rann about it. My office has communicated our concern about this to the Victorian Minister for Environment and Water. I am not aware of a response—there may have been one—but the opportunity to amend this legislation at national level by simply using the precautionary principle of not proceeding until you can show there is not an adverse environmental impact from massive noise explosions for petroleum exploration has to be implemented. It is reasonable, it is sensible and the Senate can take that action at this stage. We have had a truncated morning in getting to this piece of legislation. I am asking that the opportunity for my amendment to be considered be taken into account.