Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Offshore Petroleum Bill 2005; Offshore Petroleum (Annual Fees) Bill 2005; Offshore Petroleum (Registration Fees) Bill 2005; Offshore Petroleum (Repeals and Consequential Amendments) Bill 2005; Offshore Petroleum (Royalty) Bill 2005; Offshore Petroleum (Safety Levies) Amendment Bill 2005

In Committee

6:10 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Senator Colbeck has just confirmed everything that I was talking about last night. He has conceded that with acreage release it is a process whereby the assumption is that the ocean is available for oil and gas exploration. Then there is a process of consultation, but the decision to issue a permit or licence is made by the designated authority alone with no reference to other sectors or agencies when that actual decision occurs.

In relation to environmental planning, Senator Colbeck talks about the EPBC Act; however, we all know that if you release an acreage you then put out the licence. What you rely on is the company to refer it to the minister under the EPBC Act, and they are not going to do that in many cases. Even if they do, the minister has total discretion to decide whether the action that is going to be taken in that area is a controlled action or not. If on the off-chance it becomes a controlled action, there has only been one case since the introduction of the EPBC Act where the minister has actually stopped anything. That was not because he wanted to but because the courts had determined that he should and he had to—that was in the case of the bats and the Queensland fruit growers in the wet tropics.

Let us get realistic here about where this fits in the hierarchy of decision making. The petroleum act is pre-empting the marine planning process, and I would like to inform Senator Colbeck what the government had to say when it produced its white paper on marine planning in 2004. It said:

Australia’s world-leading program of regional marine planning and management will be brought directly under federal environment law to provide a clearer focus on conservation and sustainable management of the marine environment and offer greater certainty for industry.

I would like Senator Colbeck to explain to me how this rewrite of the petroleum bill fits in with the marine planning process that has been set down in the white paper and which the government brags is going to give a better focus on sustainable management of the marine environment and greater certainty for industry. Why are we having this as a one-user piece of legislation in the absence of this world-leading program of regional marine planning?


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