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Monday, 27 February 2006
Page: 106

Senator BARTLETT (8:22 PM) —I want to make a few brief comments on the Offshore Petroleum Bill 2005 and related bills. The broader issues that are raised by the proposed laws clearly touch on some of the longer term issues around our country’s reliance on oil and petroleum resources. When even President George Bush is talking about the need to break the addiction of the United States to oil, however genuine or otherwise that pronouncement is, it is a recognition of the significant problems that can occur when nations do not recognise the problems but plough ahead, business as usual, and assume that we will just continue to find more and more oil and petroleum resources to meet our ever-growing consumption—let alone issues like potential export desire.

A couple of aspects need to be emphasised. Other senators have already talked about peak oil. Regardless of different views about when peak might be or how it might be manifested, the simple fact is that we are dealing with a resource that is not renewable and the consumption of which continues to grow. We are also dealing with a resource that is a significant contributor to greenhouse emissions. These bills are a reminder to highlight the importance of putting just as much energy—renewable energy—vigour, and broader assistance into developing alternatives.

The other aspect that needs to be emphasised—and I note that there is an amendment dealing with this—is the environmental impact of petroleum exploration and extraction on the marine environment. Broadly speaking, we know a lot less about the marine environment than we know about the terrestrial environment. That includes knowing less about the total impact of some of the things we do in the marine environment. That should be a reminder about the importance of adopting a precautionary approach. One of the consequences of the continuing demand for oil and petroleum products is the continuing push for exploration in more and more remote areas where we do not know much about the marine environment that we are exploring or extracting from. Not only is there a risk of doing damage; there is a risk of doing damage to things that we do not even know are there. There could be a loss of biodiversity or other impacts before we even realise that it is there to be lost. There needs to be a lot more focus on that.

I take the opportunity to remind the Senate and those who are following this debate that the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee has an inquiry currently under way into the effectiveness of our protected area regime throughout Australia. I am pleased that that committee, of which I am the chair, is including marine protected areas in its examination. It is not looking only at how much more marine and land environments we can lock up, throw away the key, and keep people away from. It is also looking at how effective we are in protecting our marine environments, particularly those areas that we recognise as having special values, and designating those protected areas.

I have a particular interest in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, being from Queensland. It is a marine environment that is not only of mind-blowing biodiversity and spectacular beauty but also of enormous economic importance to my own state of Queensland. I have attempted in the past—and I have had a private senator’s bill introduced in this place—to try to expand the protection of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park from the potential risks of offshore petroleum exploration and extraction. It is a simple fact that waters to the east of the designated Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are not protected from exploration and extraction. Clearly, there is always a potential for flow-on negative consequences to the marine park if significant oil reserves are extracted in areas adjoining the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. That is an issue that deserves to continue to be explored. It is something that I have explored in this chamber and in committees over a few years, and I am pleased that an amendment has been circulated that touches on some of those issues.

I think it is important, with legislation like this, to raise these issues and make sure that we do not glibly brush them to one side. Obviously there is a lot of economic opportunity, prosperity and wealth to be generated from oil reserves. I am not blind to that, ignoring it, or saying that it cannot be of value, but we should not ignore the value—including the economic value—of the marine environment. It may be longer term and it may be harder to measure, but that does not mean that it is not there. We need to do a lot better at recognising that and factoring it into the cost benefit analysis of the various things that we undertake. With those brief comments I conclude my remarks and allow the chamber to proceed to some of the amendments.