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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8315

Great Australian Bight: Oil Exploration

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:37): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, who I believe is Senator Cash, as Minister Canavan is away today. As if the climate impacts of extracting the oil reserves in the Great Australian Bight weren't bad enough—we're not going to meet our Paris agreements if we do that—yesterday we saw the release of modelling from Equinor, the foreign company applying to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight. Their own modelling shows scenarios where, in the event of a spill, it could spread from as far as Albany in Western Australia all the way through to Bondi Beach and up to Port Macquarie. Why is the government backing a foreign oil company rather than the millions of Australians who live, work and play on our beautiful beaches and rely on our coastline?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education) (14:38): I thank Senator Hanson-Young for the question. Senator Hanson-Young, I completely reject the proposition of your question. I have to say I think in all of the portfolios in this chamber we back the millions of Australians that you referred to. In relation to the specific issue that you have raised, you would be aware that the bight is one of the most promising frontier oil and gas regions in the world. Australians needs oil and gas from the bight for—as you might be interested to know; the Australian people you referred to would certainly be interested to know—energy security, but also to protect the jobs in manufacturing. And, yes, that is something that we're prepared to do.

Australia has one of the best and safest offshore regimes in the world. And, in fact, Senator Hanson-Young, your former partners-in-crime, in ALP senators Chisholm and Urquhart, said last year in a Senate inquiry into oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight, 'The Australian offshore oil and gas industry is subject to one of the most rigorous environmental and safety regulatory regimes in the world'—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Reynolds on a point of order.

Senator Reynolds: I'm sitting right behind the minister and I cannot hear what she is saying, so I suspect others cannot either.

The PRESIDENT: I was calling colleagues to order at the time. If they could keep quiet while I'm repeatedly doing so, that would be much appreciated.

Senator Sterle interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Take a breath, Senator Sterle. It is Thursday; you're going home soon.

Senator CASH: As I was stating, the government is committed to encouraging the safe and responsible development of Australia's offshore oil and gas resources. This includes the Great Australian Bight, where offshore petroleum exploration activities have been occurring since the 1960s and they've been occurring safely since then. You may be aware that 13 wells have actually been drilled in the region since 1972, and those were drilled in the region without any incident. Not only is the bight one of the largest underexplored basins in Australia, it is considered by many in the petroleum industry to be one of the most prospective new basins in the world.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young, a supplementary question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:41): Minister Canavan last week said that we needed to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight because petrol prices in Australia were too high, yet he has also said that oil wouldn't be extracted for at least a decade. So why is the minister pretending to the Australian people that putting the bight, our marine life and beaches at risk will lower petrol prices? (Time expired)

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education) (14:41): Again, Senator Hanson-Young, you will not be surprised that I am going to reject the entire premise of your question. Minister Canavan is incredibly well informed when it comes to these issues. In particular, his concerns, obviously, are for the drilling of oil in the Great Australian Bight. But, as I have stated, 13 wells have been drilled in the region since 1972 without incident.

You made some comments previously in relation to Equinor. I am advised Equinor is currently preparing its environment plan for its proposed drilling campaign in the Great Australian Bight. Senator Hanson, you may wish to note that before any drilling can occur, and before you make any other statements that are misleading, Equinor has to submit the plan to Australia's independent regulator, NOPSEMA, for assessment and approval.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young on a final supplementary question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:42): I'll point out for the record that other wells have never been drilled as deep as what Equinor's proposal is. That's why the dangerous situation—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young, it is not a time for debate; it is question time.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr President, could the minister please answer: you've thrown the Great Barrier Reef under a bus. You now want to throw the Great Australian Bight. When are you going to stop selling out Australia's natural resources for big corporate profits?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education) (14:43): Senator Hanson-Young, thank you for the theatrics. You are—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson on a point of order?

Senator Hanson: In the minister's last comment, she referred to 'Senator Hanson' in her answer, and I find that offensive. Please, if she could refer to the senator as Senator Hanson-Young.

The PRESIDENT: I will confess to having made the inadvertent error myself. I am sure the minister will keep it in mind.

Senator CASH: Yes, there is a fundamental difference between yourself, Senator Hanson, and Senator Hanson-Young. As I was saying, Senator Hanson-Young, thank you very much for the theatrics. In relation to the Great Barrier Reef, those of us on this side of the chamber, I can assure you, are incredibly proud of the work this government has done to ensure the sustainability of the great icon, the Great Barrier Reef, but, in particular, the tens of thousands of jobs that are sustained by our Great Barrier Reef. In fact, it was because of the policies of this government that the Great Barrier Reef was actually taken off the World Heritage watch list.

So, Senator Hanson-Young, in relation to your comments: I believe that those of us on this side of the chamber are the ones who've put in place the policies—you've opposed them every single time—to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef is sustainable for decades to come. And in relation to— (Time expired)