Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


Montara Oil Spill

7:08 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Tonight, I would like to talk about an issue that I have raised on a number of occasions in this chamber. I would particularly like to raise this issue at this time, because 21 August was the fifth anniversary of the Montara oil spill. While we can be thankful that in light of that spill significant changes have been made to the Australian oil regulatory process, it is not the same for Indonesian communities, fishers and seaweed farmers, who are still being affected by this disaster.

I have followed this issue for the last five years and have had the opportunity to visit West Timor and speak to people who have serious concerns about the possible impacts of the spill on their livelihoods. Communities continue to report a loss of production in local fisheries and seaweed farming industries have also registered a decline since the spill.

On 21 August 2009, thousands of barrels of oil began spilling into the sea off the Kimberley coast, and it became one of Australia's worst oil disasters. While we had an inquiry into the disaster in Australia, which did lead to a change in legislation and changes about the way the industry is regulated, the oil also headed towards Indonesia, and there has been no major study into the mysterious illnesses that people have reported or the losses to fishing and seaweed production that have emerged.

In addition to the millions of litres of oil from this 74-day crisis, Australian authorities applied 184,000 litres of dispersant into the sea, and, of course, many of the dispersants used were toxic. According to reports by Indonesian universities, fishing and seaweed communities in the impoverished East Nusa Tenggara region have lost more than $1.5 billion since the spill. It has caused that amount of damage.

There remain very significant concerns that oil and dispersants have had a detrimental impact on the marine environment and those in Indonesian communities who depend on it. Concerns about the impacts on Indonesian fishers and communities were raised at the time but they were largely ignored by governments and the company involved. Not enough was done at the time to look into these issues and monitoring has not been put in place.

Three successive Australian governments have failed to take action on this. Governments have hidden behind the absence of a direct request from Jakarta as an excuse not to investigate the claims that followed the Montara disaster. The former federal resources minister, Martin Ferguson, said that the government was waiting for formal advice from the Indonesian government.

After failed bids to negotiate compensation with the company responsible, PTTEP Australasia, Indonesia's deputy environment minister urged the Australian government to help. He is backing efforts to have the company and both governments order a study into whether the illnesses and the loss of production is linked to the spill, because they just do not know. He hoped the Australian government would persuade PTTEP to take some corporate responsibility. The Indonesian deputy environment minister said:

PTTEP's activities are in Australia and Australia can pressure PTTEP to solve this problem. The government of Australia has the power, the authority.

Unfortunately, the government's response has been a little bit lacklustre. I do not think they see the seriousness of the impacts on the Indonesian communities and fishers. They just do not know whether it has impacted them. They want a study so that they can ascertain whether the impacts they have felt are in response to this spill.

The Minister for Industry, Ian McFarlane, said that Australia tightened its oil and gas industry regulations in response to the spill—which is true, we did. A spokesperson for the minister said:

Any further issues relating to waters outside Australia are matters to be addressed by the company in consultation with the relevant government.

We do not believe that is good enough. Indonesian fishers and seaweed growers are deeply concerned that they are still suffering the effects of this spill. In fact, all they are urging at this stage is for a study to be undertaken. They want to know whether the oil spill and the dispersants have had an impact on their livelihoods. I urge the government to reconsider this issue and to talk to the company to require a study to be done.


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