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Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Page: 8209


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (18:47): Today, as we did on Monday when the Greens brought on an almost identical reference for debate, Labor will oppose this motion. That is not because of notice or any other reason other than that we don't support this motion for referral on its merits. We have our own proud record of protecting the environment and our precious oceans. We're very proud of our record in terms of the network of marine parks that we've put in place, and we're fighting very hard to restore these protections, which were stripped away by this government. We stopped the supertrawler and as a future government we will make this ban permanent.

What we have before us is the Greens being all at sea in managing the committee they propose to send this issue to. We in the Labor Party are very aware of the community and industry concerns in relation to NOPSEMA's processes and community concerns and consultation around seismic testing. Labor Party MPs and senators have had ongoing discussion with community and industry stakeholders in relation to their concerns about these impacts. But, as those in the Greens would know, NOPSEMA is at this very moment consulting on draft regulations. These regulations aim to improve consultation and the transparency of offshore oil and gas with respect to seismic testing. It would frankly be silly to duplicate this process here in the Senate, particularly in an environment where we won't see the experts work together directly.

We note the consultation page of NOPSEMA currently includes proposed changes which would require the publication of environmental plans by the titleholder on acceptance by NOPSEMA and also formalise a public comment period on environment plans for exploration activities, including seismic surveys. It's good to see this improved engagement from NOPSEMA with the seafood industry. They published an information paper in September this year for proponents of seismic testing for acoustic emissions to assist with the kinds of deficiencies that have been coming up in environmental plans when it comes to seismic testing. This information paper said:

A range of deficiencies have been commonly identified by NOPSEMA in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process for acoustic emissions from seismic surveys. These deficiencies have contributed to protracted assessment timeframes, reduced operational flexibility and challenges to industry’s social license to operate.

What we see now is NOPSEMA inviting stakeholders to provide feedback on these regulations to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science by no later than 16 November. Public consultations have already been held in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. We know there will be further consultation with the oil and gas industry and the seafood industry. What's really important is that these conversations are allowed to continue without the blatant politicisation that we see before us on these issues from the Greens.

We also note that, while these regulations are being looked at and the processes are being changed, there is indeed no seismic testing approved for this summer in the regions that the Greens have listed in their reference for this committee. We understand that NOPSEMA has been actively engaging with both the seafood industry and the oil and gas industry with respect to proposals for seismic testing this summer. Regions listed in the motion are: the Otway Basin; Newcastle, New South Wales; and Kangaroo Island. So why would we see a Senate inquiry from the parliament of Australia examine seismic testing in only one of NOPSEMA's regulatory regions and two very discrete subregions? I'm surprised to see that, despite Senator Whish-Wilson being a senator for Tasmania, he didn't include in his motion the Gippsland Basin off south-east Victoria and, indeed, north-east Tasmania. We know that there are issues of concern that have come from the local seafood industry in those places.

What I want to also highlight to the chamber today is that this proposal doesn't have merit in its duplication of processes and engagements that are already going on and that this reference seeks to be sent to the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee among its many inquiries and, frankly, its many Greens chairs. By 'Greens' I mean plural Greens. They have not been able to delegate responsibility for the committee to a single senator.

Senator Whish-Wilson: Oh, here we go!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Williams ): Order, Senator Whish-Wilson!

Senator PRATT: Four of their nine senators are acting chairs for the committee's seven inquiries. It's inquiring into seven matters, including the ABC governance reference that the Labor Party sought to send to the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee.

Senator Whish-Wilson: I have a point of order on that standing order you quoted earlier, Mr Acting Deputy President. Does that get a reset for a different speaker or does it apply to the whole debate?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I'm trying to keep you in order because there have been a lot of interjections since I've been in the chair. You know my tolerance for interjections is very low, so there's no reset. Please do not interject.

Senator PRATT: We have seven inquiries before the references committee, including the ABC governance reference. The Labor Party sought to send that reference to the finance and public administration committee. We can see that it has hearings scheduled for later this month. I have to say that this committee has little or no time this year for other hearings. If this were an urgent inquiry rather than a political stunt coming from the Greens, the Greens would have supported our reference of the ABC governance issue to go to a different committee. It is not appropriate use of the Senate's time, frankly, to create inquiries to attempt to score political points when the particular committee in question is bursting at the seams with inquiries already.

It is premature to initiate a Senate inquiry into community consultation on seismic testing, because there is significant consultation already underway, and it is through that process that people should have their voices heard. We in this place, on the Labor side, want to listen to all sides engaged in this issue: the industry doing the seismic testing, the fishing industry and broader community concerns. But we will not stand here to prejudge government- and industry-led consultation that seeks to resolve these serious issues that have both environmental and commercial significance.

We will stand up for our environment, and we have a proven track record of doing so—a proven track record of delivering reform and not stripping away protections or grandstanding to score political points while letting opportunities slip by. So today I would like to encourage the Greens to acknowledge that this motion has twice been unsuccessful in just three days. We need to let the oil and gas industry and the seafood industry, together with government regulations, get on with the job of resolving these issues first through their current rounds of consultation.