Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Environment and Communications References Committee; Reference
I rise to contribute to this debate on what is an important motion to establish an inquiry into seismic testing. I'd firstly like to associate myself with the comments made by my colleague Senate Whish-Wilson, who has outlined all of the very, very good reasons why a Senate inquiry into seismic testing is needed and why even the suggestion that the Senate inquire into this issue has already helped push along some response from industry and from the government agency and departments involved.
Why am I particularly influenced by and passionate about this issue today? Because as a senator for South Australia I now know, as of last Friday, that the government agency NOPSEMA will, in the first half of next month—so in three weeks time—hand down a decision as to whether the Norwegian company PGS can undertake seismic testing in the Great Australian Bight in March next year. That's why this inquiry is urgent.
We heard from Senator Pratt, representing the Labor opposition, a lot of weasel words as to why Labor were not prepared to support this inquiry. They said it was because none of it was urgent; it could be done next year; none of this was important. I can tell you that it may not seem urgent to a senator from Western Australia but it is important to those of us in South Australia who are absolutely horrified that the Norwegian company PGS want to, during March, send blasts through the waters not far from Kangaroo Island, not far from Port Lincoln. We know that the last time this occurred in the Great Australian Bight dead whales washed up on the coast at Ardrossan, right onto the beach. There were seven sperm whales found dead on the beach in South Australia last time seismic testing occurred.
We know, of course, that the fishing industry in South Australia is also very concerned about this testing happening. They're concerned firstly because of the impacts it had last time—dead whales, a decline in scallops, a decline in rock lobster and a decline in types of plankton—but they're also very, very concerned, as is the majority of the South Australian voting public, that seismic testing will be the first step towards drilling in the Great Australian Bight. The application currently before the government agency for approval is to do this type of loud, dangerous testing and blasting in the water, affecting the dolphins, whales and other marine life, is only 90 kilometres from Kangaroo Island and 80 kilometres from Port Lincoln, right in the heart of South Australia's tourism jewel. We're worried. We're absolutely worried that if this testing is to go ahead, it is the first step to drilling these areas as well. We've already got an application for drilling in the Great Australian Bight from the Norwegian company Equinor, and these tests are to set the path for new applications for drilling as well. We don't want it in the Great Australian Bight and we don't want it just off the coast of Kangaroo Island.
Some people might suggest, as we heard the minister do in this place, that the Greens are just scaremongering. I tell you what: most South Australians are scared and terrified of what will happen if we allow drilling in our precious bight. We've got every right to be scared; we've got every right to be terrified, because there was a report from the company, Equinor, with their own modelling, leaked today into the public. Of course, they never wanted it to be seen by the voters in South Australia or by the communities. This report shows that if there were a spill in the Great Australian Bight our entire coastline would be devastated, and not just in South Australia. This report from Equinor themselves shows that oil would drift beyond the South Australian coastline all the way up to Bondi Beach in Sydney and all the way up to Port Macquarie. Every Australian who loves our coastline, who believes in our beautiful beaches, who spends time fishing and swimming, whose industries, jobs and businesses rely on a healthy coast should be terrified that this government, backed up by the opposition, is willing to tick off on an operation that is going to put this at risk.
This isn't just some kind of Greens scaremongering. This is the company's own internal document that has been leaked. Of course they didn't want it getting out to the public. They don't want people to know how dangerous drilling for oil would be in the Great Australian Bight if there were a spill. They say: 'We don't want there to be a spill. It's just that, if there were one, this is what would happen.' It's not a risk worth taking. What this document shows is that, even in the oil company's own full-scale oil spill maps, there is no way they would be able to contain the oil and the sludge and the muck and prevent it ruining our coastline, ruining our beaches and devastating our fishing and tourism industries.
I love South Australia's beautiful beaches, but I also grew up on the coast in Victoria. When I was a kid, I used to go swimming down at Cape Conran. That whole area will be devastated. Further up the coast—the South Coast of New South Wales, Bondi Beach in Sydney, Port Macquarie, South West Rocks—will be devastated, covered in oil and sludge and muck. It wouldn't just cost billions and billions of dollars and thousands of hours of people power to clean up. Some places would never recover. In South Australia, where our coastline is so pristine, there is no way it would ever recover. There is a reason these big multinational foreign companies don't want to have to pay for the insurance of our tourism and fishing industries if they undertake this drilling: they know that the payouts would be so huge that it just makes the whole project unviable. South Australians are absolutely terrified that our coastline, our tourism industry and our precious Kangaroo Island are, right now, being hung out to dry.
This inquiry is the first step in trying to put a spotlight on what is going on. If the seismic testing happens, there will be even more companies drilling for oil and gas, not just Equinor. We already know how devastating one oil spill would be. Imagine if there were more wells popped around the Great Australian Bight, where there are very, very deep seabeds and incredibly deep and rough seas. All of the experts say how difficult it would be to ensure that this could be done safely and without accident. All we need to do is look at what happened in the Gulf of Mexico, where it was much shallower and there were much calmer waters and much more experience; yet BP's oil spill still hasn't been cleaned up from over a decade ago. The fishing and tourism industries in that area have been absolutely decimated. That is what will happen in South Australia if we do not put a stop to this once and for all.
It is extremely disappointing to see the Labor Party and the Liberal Party today voting down a mere inquiry into seismic testing. What are you afraid of? What are you afraid this inquiry might uncover? What are you afraid the Australian people will find out? I heard Senator Canavan, the minister, talking about this issue and saying that people in South Australia don't care about this. Well, he is dead wrong. Labor and Liberal senators in this place from South Australia know that he's dead wrong. There is a reason they are not in here today defending the gutless positions of their parties. Not one representative from the South Australian Liberal Party or the South Australian Labor Party have come in here today to defend this gutless position of their parties. That is because they know that they will be turfed out if the South Australian community gets wind of just how dismissive their parties are being to this issue in South Australia and to our coastline, our beaches and our industries. But it is not just their parties being gutless on this issue; they should be in here standing up for their state—and they are not. They are not standing up for their beautiful beaches. They are not in here defending our environment, and they are not in here defending our tourism and our fishing industries. Instead, we have members of their party accusing those of us who are trying to stop this horrendous activity from happening of being scaremongers.
The company's own private internal documents show that it would be a wipe-out if there was an accident, even if we just allowed that seismic testing to occur, as the first step to more oil or gas wells being drilled closer to Kangaroo Island and closer to Port Lincoln. The last time that happened, dead whales washed up on the beaches in South Australia. That is what happened in December 2014. I don't want to see that happen this summer. I don't want to see anymore dead whales washed up on South Australian beaches this summer because this government and the Labor Party are too gutless to stand up to big oil and big gas in this country. Stop the weasel words, get out of the pockets of the oil and gas industry, and do something for the voters and the community in South Australia. That's what I am here doing. That's what the Greens are doing. We will stare down the interests of these big oil and gas companies, and we will stand up for our marine life and our environment.