Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Environment and Communications References Committee; Reference
Centre Alliance will be supporting this reference today. It will be doing so not just because it relates to an activity that takes place in a Commonwealth jurisdiction and not just because the terms of reference are quite reasonable. I might go out on a limb here and say that, of all the senators in this chamber, I probably understand more about seismic testing than anyone else, having taught acoustics for the better part of a decade and having built seismic sonars—parametric sonars. So I do know a little bit about the topic. I've taught people in the survey industry and people in Navy how to make sure, when they are operating very powerful sonars, that they minimise the risk to marine mammals and other life forms in the ocean.
What I can say also is that the science on this is not settled. I appreciate what Senator Canavan said about a number of studies that are underway, and indeed they could be used as input to this particular inquiry. I also might point out that the technology is not settled in relation to these sorts of activities. There are all sorts of different technologies that come into play. There are very simple seismic guns. There are sonars that use directivity to make sure the sound is directed at the sea floor and not necessarily more broadly across the ocean. There are parametric sonars that are designed to give better penetration of the sea floor without necessarily causing harm to marine life that is in the vicinity.
One of the things that often doesn't take place with government funded inquiries is the gathering of perspectives from all sorts of different stakeholders. I know better than others that there are circumstances where seismic testing or loud sonic noises underwater cause harm. I know that, if you're a diver and you are near a loud acoustic source, it can be painful and it will cause disorientation. The Navy use it as a technique to prevent enemy divers getting near a ship. So there's no question that there are circumstances where this sort of activity can cause harm, but there are also circumstances where it doesn't cause harm, and an inquiry like this would be useful in understanding the bounds, where the danger lies, where the harm lies and, indeed, what different technologies might change the parameters.
Senator Canavan has raised perhaps a somewhat extremist view on the other side of the question from where he accuses the Greens of doing so, perhaps on the left side of the spectrum. The reality is I'm not necessarily suggesting that you stop this activity and prevent oil and gas activities going ahead, although I don't support them in the Great Australian Bight for other reasons. The point is that there are things you can do with technology that may make it better, may make it safer. We should explore those things and use that knowledge to potentially adjust regulations. So this is not necessarily about stopping seismic testing altogether; it's about making sure that, when it occurs, the least harm is caused.
I want to correct Senator Canavan, who suggested that the Mayor of Kangaroo Island Council has made a statement and therefore the people of South Australia have spoken. I just checked. He had 1,480 votes. I don't think that is the people of South Australia talking on it. I want to put that on the record.
The bottom line is: if we don't support this inquiry then we simply won't get to understand how we could perhaps do this better.