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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMICS
28/08/2007
Offshore Petroleum Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2007 Tax Laws Amendment (2007 Measures No. 5) Bill 2007 Trade Practices Amendment (Small Business Protection) Bill 2007

CHAIR —I now turn to the provisions of the Offshore Petroleum Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2007. I welcome the witnesses. Have you appeared before parliamentary committees previously?

Mr Pegler —I have.

Miss Di Marco —I have not.

CHAIR —That is a pity, Ms Di Marco. These are public proceedings, although the committee may agree to a request to have evidence heard in camera or may determine that certain evidence should be heard in camera. I remind you that, in giving evidence to the committee, you are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness shall state the ground upon which the objection is taken, and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground on which the objection is claimed. If the committee determines that it will insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may also be made at any other time. Do either of you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Pegler —We do not need to make an opening statement. As the department that was responsible for the preparation of the bill we are fairly much across it. It is primarily technical amendments only.

Senator WEBBER —I am seeking reassurance and some discussion around the operation of occupational health and safety in the offshore petroleum industry under this legislation. My understanding is that under the old regime we had a number of acts that looked after occupational health and safety in the offshore industry and there was an interface between them. This legislation basically says that it will override all of them and take precedence. I am therefore looking for some reassurance that there will be no gaps or no weakening of occupational health and safety and maritime safety under this bill compared with the previous regime.

Mr Pegler —I guess you are referring to the amendment to section 348 and also the broadening of that in terms of the broader role of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority, NOPSA.

Senator WEBBER —Yes.

Mr Pegler —The specific amendment is purely a technical correction to amend a drafting error in the act as it stands. Basically, we are ensuring that NOPSA has the responsibility for pursuing all of the occupational health and safety issues that relate both to facilities and to the operation of and activities on those facilities. It ensures that they do have that interface in place—that they can pursue those—and that their specific role is triggered and operates whenever there is any occupational health and safety issue or potential occupational health and safety issue in terms of the activities of the workforce.

Senator WEBBER —Are you saying that NOPSA will take over in relation to all activities, including maritime safety? Where the old Navigation Act had some coverage, NOPSA is going to do the whole thing?

Miss Di Marco —The boundary for the NOPSA regime is the definition of a facility. Do you have an offshore petroleum bill in front of you?

Senator WEBBER —No, I do not—but I am from Western Australia, if that helps.

Miss Di Marco —That is no problem. The Offshore Petroleum Act disapplies the Navigation Act to the extent that the NOPSA regime takes over when it comes to facilities, so the boundary is where a facility is. Where a facility stops and starts is where NOPSA starts its work. When something is not a facility, the Navigation Act applies.

Mr Pegler —The Navigation Act will continue to apply for maritime activities. NOPSA will apply on the facilities that are in place in terms of being permanent structures that do not move.

Miss Di Marco —Or as it is defined under—

Senator WEBBER —It is not just a permanent structure that does not move, though, is it?

Miss Di Marco —It can apply to vessels as well if they are caught within the definition of a facility.

Mr Pegler —Yes.

Senator WEBBER —Absolutely—and that seems to be causing some of the concern.

Mr Pegler —If a vessel is a production facility, such as an FPSO—a floating offshore production ship—then it would apply but it would not apply to transport vessels such as oil or gas tankers.

Senator WEBBER —So there will be no gaps and no weakening in coverage or enforcement under this new regime?

Mr Pegler —If anything we will see a strengthening of the regime because it will mean that a full safety case, a full evaluation and a full audit will apply to all vessels that are captured by NOPSA.

Senator WEBBER —So when cases are bought to my attention about offshore facilities no longer being evacuated when there is a cyclone and when workers are being made to stay out there because people do not want to shut down production until the last possible moment and when no-one is querying the safety of the facility—they are just saying that, if they have an accident while they are in lockdown, they are not going to be able to be evacuated—I should not be concerned about that being allowed to happen under the current NOPSA regime?

Mr Pegler —I think everyone is always concerned for the safety of workers. I am not aware of any cases where evacuations have not occurred purely because it was not deemed necessary. There have been situations where, logistically, it has not been simple or easy or even possible to get helicopters to facilities or to have helicopters available. There are also provisions within the safety case relating to the assessment of that risk. It then becomes an issue between the offshore safety authority and the company involved in how that risk is assessed in the first place.

Senator WEBBER —Under this regime, who is ultimately responsible for the assessment of that risk?

Mr Pegler —If it relates to facilities, it would be NOPSA.

Senator WEBBER —And there is absolutely no change in the way NOPSA operates? I know I am labouring this point but there is a great deal of apprehension about this amongst people who work in the offshore industry. I have to say that I would not do it. I would not be stuck out on an offshore platform for a long time—although there are probably some people who think it would be a good idea for me to do that.

CHAIR —Not me!

Senator WEBBER —Of course not you, Chair. So there has been no change and no weakening at all?

Mr Pegler —In terms of the amendment that has been made, there is no change. It has been made explicit what NOPSA can and is required to do. One reading of the original clause would suggest that NOPSA may have been operating outside its ambit. Its ambit was not clearly spelt out in terms of the way the original clause was drafted. Another reading would suggest that NOPSA could have been assuming powers that it does not have for things beyond occupational health and safety: for instance, if somebody were painting graffiti on a facility, NOPSA would have to intervene in a normal policing role. Clearly that was never the intent. So it is making it quite explicit that NOPSA has full and complete authority to pursue the occupational health and safety issues.

CHAIR —Mr Pegler and Miss Di Marco, thank you for your evidence today. That concludes our inquiry into the provisions of the Offshore Petroleum Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2007 and completes the committee’s inquiries for today. I thank my colleagues most sincerely for facilitating the conduct of the inquiry to date. I thank Stephanie Holden, Lauren McDougall, Dr Richard Grant and Mr Andrew Bomm from the secretariat in Canberra. I also thank Hansard and Broadcasting most sincerely. It has been a difficult day for everyone. Stephanie and Lauren and Hansard have done a marvellous job to have this coordinated and up to date.

Committee adjourned at 5.10 pm