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Thursday, 28 February 2013
Page: 1295


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (12:48): The Greens too will be supporting this bill, but I want to take a few minutes to outline the Greens' ongoing involvement in this and concerns about it, but also remind the chamber about the genesis of these particular series of amendments. As Senator Brandis pointed out, the Montara incident was a key genesis for this series of reforms that have been carried out to offshore petroleum regulation in this country. As the explanatory memorandum points out the Montara incident was part of it, but so was the Deepwater Horizon episode in Gulf of Mexico, which is to this day having ongoing adverse impacts on the environment and those that make their livelihoods in association with that marine environment.

There have been a series of amendments made following the release of the commission's report, but I point out the reason we need such strong environmental regulations and such strong regulation of the oil and gas industry. As the commission of inquiry pointed out in its report, it is unlikely that the actual environmental impact of the oil spill will ever be known as there was little pre- or post-oil spill evidence available to the commission of inquiry about its environmental impacts. The inquiry stated that the observed wildlife toll was only a proportion of the total fatalities because dead animals may not have stayed afloat long enough to be detected in large numbers. We do not know the total impact because there was very little monitoring done. There was certainly no adequate baseline data that was required for the development of the Montara platform, and monitoring did not start for several months down the track from the oil spill. Not only did we miss that potential initial impact but we also do not know what was there in the first place nor, as the report pointed out, did we have any idea how many animals were affected because they did not stay afloat to be counted.

One of the other long-term impacts that we are still concerned about is the impact of the Montara oil spill on the Timor Sea and on the livelihoods of Indonesian fishers. To this day, those fishers are still trying to keep this issue on the agenda and to get a study done of the potential impacts on the marine environment, on coastal environments and on their livelihoods. There has still been no compensation to those fishers, despite the fact that we clearly established that the oil went into Indonesian waters, that it impacted on the fishers and that they had to stop fishing. Those fishers in those communities still have not been compensated. We have written to both the federal government and the company to ask them to speed up this process, because it is those people who have suffered significantly.

In the rolling out of legislation, the government has taken a systematic approach to implementing the recommendations of the Montara inquiry, of which there were over 100. They took on board nearly all of them. There were two that they did not accept and 10 that they took note of, and they are progressively implementing the remainder. The government has undertaken a Commonwealth review of the legislation applicable to offshore petroleum. That, I understand, was completed at some stage last year. It was due in June last year. That overall review has not been released, so the government is implementing the findings of that review, and we support those—as I said, we support this bill and we support the establishment of NOPSEMA and other regulatory changes. It would be good to be able to see that. I have done a search and I have not been able to find it. However, I note that submissions close today on the issues paper that was released late last year on the environmental regulation and canvassing potential amendments, and the government has indicated that it will be bringing those on sometime this year. We will look at those and seek to ensure that they are implemented as soon as possible. It is very important that we get these regulations right because we have seen the catastrophic implications if we do not.

There are a couple of things that I suspect the government will not do and that still need to be reviewed—that is, the way that we release acreage in this country for oil and gas exploration. There is not enough consultation prior to the release of that acreage and we find that we have to mount rearguard actions to get these areas protected. Not long after the Montara incident, we saw the important Mentelle Basin, off the coast of Margaret River, released for exploration. That particular area is deepwater exploration and there is a very strong potential for an environmental impact there, because that is a very important area for species like blue whales and it is another area with very high marine biodiversity. That is not taken into consideration when we release these areas for offshore exploration. Of course, you do not explore if you if you have no intention of eventually producing from there if you find something.

Some of these areas are just too important. The Bremer canyons, off the south coast of Western Australia, near Fitzgerald River National Park, is an area of important marine biodiversity, as are areas off the Scott Reef. The government has now said some of those areas will not be released, but it should not be left up to the community to fight every time one of these areas is released. There should be a much more considered approach to the release of some of these areas. We also believe that, if no-one has applied for these areas, and mistakes have been made in releasing them, there needs to be a much faster process to ensure that they are considered for inclusion on the list of marine reserves around this country.

We are still planning the protection of our marine environment around oil and gas potential productivity, in particular, and we do not believe that is the appropriate way to plan. I have raised this issue in this chamber before. We need to be looking at an area's ecological value and not compromising marine protection because—as is the case along the north-west coast of Western Australia—it might be prospective. They have very important environmental values, and those values should be considered. The primary purpose of marine conservation is, of course, to protect those areas of high conservation value.

We will be supporting these amendments. We will be continuing to watch the implementation of those final recommendations, and I urge the government to look again at the issue of the Indonesian fishers who have been adversely affected by the Montara spill. It has been far too long a process. It will be going on four years this year since that spill occurred, and those fishers need to be fairly compensated.