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Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Page: 8204

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (18:31): The government will not be supporting this motion. It won't be supporting this motion, because, as was clearly outlined in Senator Whish-Wilson's contribution, this is not an inquiry that is being established to get to the bottom of the best science on these very important matters. It is not an inquiry to do a consultation in good faith. It is an inquiry that is intending to try and shut down a very important Australian industry. That's the objective of the Australian Greens.

For the Australian Greens to come into this place and try to present themselves as somehow a defender and supporter of the proud Australian fishing industry is taking the hypocrisy of the Greens to a whole new level. We've seen their hypocrisy time and time again in this place, but today they have taken it to a new level. This is the party that has tried time and time again to shut down Australian fishing. They try and shut down Australian fishing. They've moved motions this year to try to lock out more Australian family fishermen from their grounds to try and provide for their families. That is their agenda.

We in the government support all Australian industries. We want to see Australian businesses flourish. We want to see Australian families be able to provide for themselves in our fishing industry, in our resources industry, in our agricultural industries and in our small businesses right across the length and breadth of this country. We have a very proud history of oil and gas production, including in the areas that Senator Whish-Wilson outlined. I note, and I'll make some comments on, the proposals for seismic testing off the Victorian coast that Senator Whish-Wilson referred to.

What Senator Whish-Wilson failed to refer to in his lengthy contribution on this debate—this goes to his agenda to shut down the industry; he's not approached this particular issue in good faith and he has decided to ignore clear facts that are inconvenient to his particular arguments. What Senator Whish-Wilson has completely glossed over is that just north of the state where he lives, near the seismic testing Senator Whish-Wilson has referred to, is the Bass Strait, where we have produced oil and gas in this country for more than 50 years, including through the use of seismic testing to explore areas. That has supplied Australia with hydrocarbons for half a century. It was of great assistance to this nation, particularly in response to the OPEC oil crisis. We were very, very fortunate that that particular field started to be developed just before the OPEC oil crisis in the 1970s. That was more luck than planning, but we were very lucky that it came online in the 1970s. It meant that during that period we were not affected as severely as countries like the United States were, because we were self-sufficient or almost self-sufficient in oil and gas thanks to the Bass Strait. And of course we benefited from the higher oil prices as a large oil and gas producer. So our economy was insulated in the 1970s thanks to the production in the Bass Strait. Since then, we've continued to produce a significant amount of, largely, gas these days—not oil—from the Bass Strait, and we've done so in an incredibly safe way.

If Senator Whish-Wilson had real evidence, he would be able to point to areas where our regulations and our oversight of the industry in the Bass Strait have been inadequate, and that evidence is simply not there. It is not there, because we have in this country a very robust regulatory process that we take extremely seriously, and it has served our nation well. We've been able to protect our environment as well as provide the essential inputs for a modern economy, which include oil and gas.

I would take a bet that at least one of the Greens senators here in the chamber right now, probably all three of them, got here today not on a horse and probably not on their own legs—

Senator Steele-John interjecting

Senator CANAVAN: but in a car powered by oil and gas.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator CANAVAN: They hopped into a car powered by oil and gas.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Williams ): Order!

Senator CANAVAN: I see them all the time getting into Z-sleds out the front of this place.

Honourable senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Canavan!

Senator CANAVAN: They don't have horses hitched to the front of Parliament House!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Canavan, resume your seat.

Senator CANAVAN: They don't have any horses—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Canavan, resume your seat, please.

Honourable senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Could I have a bit of silence in the chamber, including from those talking to my left. I'm trying to listen to Senator Canavan. And, those down the end, please cease your interjections. It's disorderly.

Senator Urquhart interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Because I can't hear, Senator Urquhart. Continue, Senator Canavan—in peace and quiet, hopefully.

Senator CANAVAN: All of us, all Australians, rely on oil and gas. Unfortunately, because we are not producing as much, particularly oil, from the Bass Strait anymore, our reliance on overseas imports to serve those needs have increased rapidly, particularly in the last 20 years. At the start of this century, on the eve of September 11, we as a nation produced enough petroleum products to supply 95 per cent of our nation's needs—95 per cent of our nation's needs in 2000-01. Sixteen years later, in 2016-17—the latest figures we have—we only produced enough petroleum to serve 48 per cent of our nation's domestic needs. Most of that comes from northern Western Australia. It is exported, too, because of its proximity to those markets. But the fact is, in the space of less than 20 years, we have gone from being effectively or almost self-sufficient in petroleum products to being able to supply only half of our domestic needs. That is a serious issue. It is a serious issue for consumers in Australia. But it is probably more of a serious issue for the security of our nation, given our vulnerability now due to the need to import such important products as oil.

We should continue to search for new areas like the Bass Strait, which has served us so well for 50 years. We should bring the best science to bear to do that. And, of course, in doing that, we should make sure we consider, listen to and protect other Australian industries that might be affected by that search. That is why we are actively engaged in this. Senator Whish-Wilson touched on this and glossed over it a bit.

As I said, we have a very robust independent regulatory process. All applications to conduct seismic testing or petroleum production in Australia require approval from NOPSEMA, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority. It is an independent agency. It is incredibly robust. I think it is staffed with extremely well qualified and diligent public servants, and they independently assess all of these plans. Again, Senator Whish-Wilson just glosses over the facts that aren't convenient to his cause. He didn't mention that one of the large seismic proposals he was speaking about, a proposal by CGG for off the coast of Victoria, was recently sent back by NOPSEMA. NOPSEMA thought that CGG's plans, their proposals, were not up to scratch and NOPSEMA sent them back to CGG—which they do all the time. They are very diligent regulators. And, by the statute NOPSEMA operate under, they must not accept environmental plans that pose a risk to the environment which is not as low as practicable, and they take that very, very seriously. This of course includes assessing the risks to other industries, including our very important fishing industry.

That's why we as a government are very actively engaged with international researchers and the science on these matters. We have funded a number of research projects in recent years on the impact of seismic surveys, including their impact on zooplankton, marine invertebrates, rock lobsters and others. These have been funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, the industry and government. In 2016, Geoscience Australia, another fantastic independent government agency, published in its marine pollution bulletin a comprehensive review and evaluation of existing research on seismic impacts on fish and invertebrates. In 2017 the CSIRO, an extremely respected research institution in our country, completed an independent zooplankton modelling study. All of those are available publicly. As Senator Whish-Wilson outlined, funding has been provided to the Australian Institute of Marine Science to undertake further research into the impacts of sound from seismic air guns and vessels on benthic fish and pearl oysters.

This research, as I said, is publicly available. I regularly catch up with those doing this research and with NOPSEMA, as I mentioned, to make sure that they are properly assessing this. All of this science factors into their decision-making.

Senator Whish-Wilson: The minister for oil and gas!

Senator CANAVAN: I am perturbed sometimes that the Australian Greens seem to often disparage the diligence and professionalism of the Australian Public Service. When they get a decision from the Australian Public Service that they don't like, they come out and cast all sorts of aspersions about motivations and say that it must be because of the oil and gas industry. I think it's an absolute disgrace. Our Australian public servants do a fantastic job and take their role extremely seriously. I don't believe they're influenced by such motivations as those often ascribed to them by the Greens.

We are also continuing extensive consultation with the industry over these issues. My understanding is that Minister Colbeck will be convening a meeting and a roundtable with the oil and gas sector and the seafood industry later this week on these matters. In fact, I have recently caught up with the oil and gas industry to stress how important these matters are. I know they are taking them very, very seriously. In November last year I announced a series of reports to improve the consultation practices and transparency of the offshore oil and gas sector. New measures will include the full publication of draft environmental plans and a mandatory public comment period on plans relating to exploration activities. The department has released draft amendments to the environment regulations to implement these measures, along with an explanatory document to provide further information on the proposed changes. All of that is available on the industry department's website, and we are consulting with the seafood industry as well to make sure those new consultation requirements will meet their needs.

I do note that even before we will formally require these greater consultation practices, Equinor, the Norwegian state oil company that has acreage or leases in the Great Australian Bight, has committed to publishing their environmental plans. They have already been conducting consultation, although they have not submitted an environmental plan for the Great Australian Bight. But the Great Australian Bight is an incredibly prospective oil and gas district. It is often characterised as perhaps the most prospective offshore oil and gas area in the world. Wouldn't it be fantastic if we can develop and open up a new oil and gas basin that can secure oil security and national security for this nation, and, of course, provide enormous economic wealth and prosperity to South Australia and other parts of the country?

I note that this certainly seems to be the view of locals on the ground in South Australia, with a number of mayors being elected over the weekend in regional South Australia who are supportive of development of the Great Australian Bight. The Greens and green activist groups have been running a scare campaign over these issues throughout these areas, and that has clearly fallen flat—fallen absolutely flat. Michael Pengilly has been elected as the mayor of Kangaroo Island. He was asked about the Great Australian Bight this week and said:

I don’t oppose it, my view is very strongly that the environmental lobby have successfully run a great fear campaign against it. Everybody is environmentally conscious these days but you need to have some clarity and common sense. Our economy revolves around the oil industry, we have to have energy.

I think Mr Pengilly, the new mayor of Kangaroo Island, is speaking common sense there—something that there's a distinct lack of from the Australian Greens. Common sense is something you generally do not hear much from the Australian Greens. I'd also mention the new Port Lincoln mayor, Brad Flaherty, who's also agreed that it's not an issue for local government. Mr Flaherty says that he's pro-employment and pro-business—

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Senator CANAVAN: and he would make sure that these sorts of things are a priority for—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Williams ): Senator Whish-Wilson, when you were speaking I quietened Senator Canavan down for interjecting. This is about the fourth time I've had to stop for you to cease your interjecting. There will not be a fifth. I will name you under standing order 203 if you interject again while I'm in the chair. I ask you to be quiet and let the minister have his say without interjections.

Senator CANAVAN: Thank you. As I was saying, I think the people of South Australia have spoken over the weekend. They support economic development. They support sensible and commonsense approaches to this issue. We must have environmental rigour and robust regulations around this, which we do have in this country. We must strive to continue to improve those regulations, as I did last year, requiring more information and transparency from the oil and gas sector. We do of course have a serious national security issue, where we have only 21 days of petrol available at the moment in Australia. We have only 19 days of diesel available at the moment. That is a serious concern that the government is taking action to rectify. One of the more important, or certainly more effective, ways we could better handle that issue and secure safety for the Australian people in our country is to increase our own domestic production of oil and gas if that proves possible to do.

We support appropriate regulation of this industry. As I've said, it has a proud history: 190 seismic surveys have occurred in the Gippsland and Otway basins since the 1960s. We've robustly regulated those in the past; we will continue to do that in the future. We support continued efforts to increase that robustness and increase consultation but not stunts from the Australian Greens, which are simply about trying to shut down Australian jobs, Australian industry and Australian national security, not improve the environment. We are focused on the commonsense actions we can take to continue to do that. We will continue to defend proud Australian industries like the Australian seafood industry, the Australian fishing industry and the Australian oil and gas industry. All of those industries provide jobs and enormous wealth to our country. We are proud of them and we'll continue to work with them for the best results for the Australian people.