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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 554

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (13:06): The opposition supports the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment (Significant Incident Directions) Bill 2011. We continue to support the measures being implemented in response to the 2009 Montara oil leak and the subsequent commission of inquiry. Incidents of this nature are always complex, and, as a result, the response should be multifaceted. Several related measures have been brought before the parliament as the government, the opposition, state governĀ­ments and 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 the environment in which it operates. The provisions of this bill are the next step to ensuring that Australia's regulatory regime is as robust as possible, with a clear view to taking all appropriate precautionary measures to prevent the recurrence of a similar incident. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 to enable the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental ManagĀ­ement Authority, known by the acronym NOPSEMA, to issue a direction to a petroleum titleholder in the event of a significant offshore petroleum incident occurring within the title area, which has caused or may cause an escape of petroleum. The direction would require the titleholder to take an action in relation to the escape or possible escape of petroleum and its effects. It may apply either within or outside the titleholder's areas. The direction may among other things require the titleholder to take action to prevent or eliminate the escape of petroleum or the potential escape of petroleum and/or to mitigate, manage or remediate the effects of an escape of petroleum.

The proposed amendment will help ensure the Commonwealth has the full capacity to provide for the remediation of the effects of all escapes of petroleum in the event of an oil spill. 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 benefits of the oil and gas exploration and extraction industry and the protection of workers and the environment.

Australians generally view the expansion of the gas industry positively or at the very least consider it a benign development. However, the Montara incident—the first incident of its type in Australia for 25 years—as well as the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico have changed the way offshore oil and gas exploration and development is viewed in this country. The industry is now subject to a higher level of public scrutiny and concern, but this intensified scrutiny is not something the industry or the government should shy away from. It represents an opportunity to improve 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 which they create. Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment are at stake.

In the wake of the Montara and Gulf of Mexico spills there is a compelling need for improvements to the regulation and oversight of the offshore oil and gas industries, both here and globally. People must have confidence that the authorities responsible for the oil and gas sector are able to perform. Offshore exploration and drilling are essential to Australia's economic growth and energy security. A solid and comprehensive national framework for regulation and response is a necessary component. As I have made clear, the coalition supports the government in ensuring 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 shackle the sector with unnecessary regulatory burdens, but to ensure that it can grow and develop in a way that does not harm the workers in the industry or the environment. The coalition has taken a cooperative and constructive approach to this issue, as we do to all issues, and supports the government on this measure.