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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 6040

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (12:21): When this debate was interrupted I was talking about the importance of protect­ing human health and safety and our marine environment in order to ensure that Austra­lia's offshore petroleum industry is the best and safest in the world and that it can continue to contribute to Australia's ongoing energy security and economic prosperity. These very strong standards do not appear in a vacuum. Government must insist on and uphold the very highest possible standards. There have been a number of other discuss­ions and inquiries that pinpoint the need for our legislation to be consolidated into a single national approach and a single nation­al regulator. I understand that the state government of Western Australia has a great deal of knowledge and expertise, but it is not really viable to keep separate regulatory bodies. This is a national and international industry and needs to be regulated as such. I certainly accept—and believe it is of funda­mental importance—that there is a need for a continuing state and territory role in major decisions and engagements.

Senators may recall the Varanus Island incident which had a devastating impact on the economy of Western Australia for quite some time. If this incident taught me any­thing, it was that one of the causes was the lack of clarity about who was responsible for the regulatory oversight of the accident site. The explosion actually took place at the watermark. Underwater is in the federal jurisdiction and land is in the state juris­diction. This highlights the nature of the complexities that we are dealing with in this legislation.

The reviews and the extensive consult­ation with jurisdictions and industry all point to one thing: that the continuation of the regulatory status quo is not an option for us anymore. The legislation before us today recognises the very important connection between the integrity of structures, the safety of people and the protection of our environ­ment. That is why, in creating a national off­shore regulator, the Gillard government importantly is expanding NOPSA's existing safety and integrity functions to include regulation of day-to-day operations and also the environmental plans of those operations.

The separation of offshore regulation and titles administration in this legislation is also significant, as we need to avoid any potential or perceived conflicts between these two functions. This will avoid any potential or perceived conflicts between the regulation of activities, on the one hand, and the protection of the environment and the promotion of exploration and development, on the other.

State and territory ministers will continue to have a key role in title decisions and full access to information about projects in Commonwealth waters offshore from their state or territory. State and NT ministers will also be able to access technical advice from NOPTA about title matters as well as seek advice from their own departments.

These reforms will have implications for all state governments, such as Western Aust­ralia, and the Northern Territory involved in oil and gas. Our government knows that. Regulator and administrative responsibilities and staffing and revenues will all be affect­ed. In developing these reforms, the Australi­an government has paid particular attention to the concerns raised by the Western Aust­ralian government. For example, we have made sure that the states have a role in deci­sion making in Commonwealth waters and these reforms will retain the role of the joint authority within them. Both NOPSEMA and NOPTA will be headquartered in Perth. This is especially important, given the high level of activity that is occurring right around the state of Western Australia and the fact that Perth is the base from which much of that activity occurs.

We can see from the lessons learnt from past serious and very critical incidents that there is a strong imperative to form a strong national offshore regulator that has at its very core the important functions of safety. That is the safety of people and safety for our environment. We must avoid potential, or even perceived, conflicts between regulation and titles administration and exploration and development. It is about streamlining to make clear just who is responsible at the end of the day for regulation. We have had many unfortunate incidents where that has not been clear to us. So that there can be a stronger and better future in the regulation and safety of the offshore oil and gas industry in Western Australia and right around the nation, it is really important that these bills before the Senate are supported. I commend the reforms to the Senate.