Senate debates

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Bills

Great Australian Bight Environment Protection Bill 2019; Second Reading

4:14 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise this afternoon to speak on the Greens bill that would protect the Great Australian Bight from big oil and make sure that we can celebrate what is great about our wonderful, our beautiful, Great Australian Bight by giving it World Heritage protection. Australia is the ocean-going nation, with most-beautiful beaches right around the country. We have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We know how to enjoy them. Many Australians grow up spending their summers on our beaches and enjoying them all year round. I certainly did, and I try my hardest to make sure my own daughter gets to spend time on our beautiful South Australian beaches whenever we get a chance. But we know that our oceans are under threat, from overfishing to warming to sea level rise and pollution. We are putting our oceans in even more danger.

When I first introduced a bill very similar to this one to protect the great Australian Bight, back in 2016, the company that wanted to drill at that time was BP, and then it was Chevron. Now it is the Norwegian company Equinor, formerly known as Statoil. This is a company that has had 20 serious incidents in the past eight years alone. You might wonder why it would be that a company from Norway, majority state owned—owned by the Norwegian people—would want to come and drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight, particularly given the recent decision of the Norwegians to divest from fossil fuels. I suspect it's because they don't think anyone down here cares too much—and boy are they wrong.

The Great Australian Bight is one of the world's most great oceans—coastlands, beaches. Eighty per cent of the species in the bight are found nowhere else on earth. It is unique. It is beautiful. It deserves to be protected. It is an essential calving sanctuary for the Southern right whale and a feeding ground for threatened sea lions, sharks, tuna and migratory sperm whales. Some would say it's the Galapagos of the Southern Hemisphere. In May the UN released its latest biodiversity report that warned that a million species face the threat of extinction. The official modelling from big oil companies that want to drill in the bight indicate that a spill would impact many matters of national environmental significance.

Even the companies that want to get in there to destroy this pristine wonderland know how dangerous it's going to be. This includes 177 marine species, 57 species classified as vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered, and 50 coastal wetlands; 38 marine reserves would be covered in sludge if there were a spill, resulting in the death of thousands and thousands of seabirds and thousands of marine animals, including endangered Southern right whales, blue whales, killer whales, dolphins and many other animals, including the critically endangered Australian sea lions, a special part of South Australia's natural wonderland. Hundreds of sea turtles would be dead. Potentially thousands of kilometres of shoreline would be covered in oil, causing extreme harm both to birds that live on the coast and to those that visit nearby. The destruction would be obscene.

If this disaster is not enough in itself, we know the impact that an all oil spill would have not just on the local environment but on tens of thousands of South Australian fishing jobs and tourism jobs. These industries would be decimated, and many may never recover. And of course if the spill modelling is correct—modelling released by the company themselves, backed up by other independent modelling—it wouldn't just be South Australian coastlines and South Australian jobs and South Australian environments that would be at stake. It would stretch as far as Albany in WA, right through to Port Macquarie on the New South Wales coast.

Just think about that economic impact for a moment. It would be 10,000 direct jobs at stake, if a project like this went ahead and there was an accident. Just imagine what would happen to the South Australian economy. We lost 600 jobs at Holden a few years back and our state economy was decimated. Imagine the impact this would have on South Australia and the ripple effect throughout the nation if tens of thousands of fishing and tourism jobs were destroyed because big oil just didn't care.

The South Australian community know all too well that these risks are not worth taking. The traditional owners in the area, the Mirning people, are strongly opposed—horrified that their special place is under threat. And they're backed up by more than two-thirds of the South Australian public, who oppose drilling in the Great Australian Bight, and they are angry that big oil is ignoring their community concerns. There is no social licence for drilling in the Great Australian Bight—and nor should there be. It is time in this place for us as politicians to listen to the concerns of the community, to our constituents, and to stand up for them here in this place.

But it is also important for us to stand up for the future of the planet and the environment. South Australia is a small but canny state. We make the most of the resources we have. We've embraced renewables more than any other part of the country has, because we know that our success depends on making decisions with the future in mind—not just in the short term, not just for short-term gain, but to make sure that the decisions that we make improve the lives of future generations of South Australians and the rest of the country. South Australians know that big oil is a step backwards for our state. No-one wants it, and we wish big oil would just bug off.

We know that the associated risks are just not worth it—the wells so deep and remote, the ocean so rough. Professor Tina Soliman Hunter, a professor of petroleum law and director at the Aberdeen University Centre for Energy Law, has said that it just doesn't stack up. To cap it all off, it will create very few jobs. So, not only is it a risk to our economy, not only is it a risk to thousands of jobs, but it is not really going to create any, either. It is in no way a beneficial outcome for South Australia. It's not a beneficial outcome for the country as a whole. And it's not just South Australia's problem. The same spill modelling shows, as I've already referenced, from Port Macquarie in New South Wales right through to Albany in WA. It is not worth destroying these precious, beautiful coastlines, our beaches and our tourism and fishing industries.

And this company isn't going to spend their money here, being foreign owned. They'll take their profits offshore. They won't employ the locals to do the work. They've already told us that. We risk our jobs and our environment and we don't even get any backing for the buck. I come back to this question: why would Norway, who have said so proudly that they want to divest from fossil fuels, come down here to South Australia and want to drill for oil in our backyard? I put it to you that it's because the government of the day and the opposition have not been doing their jobs. They have not stood up to big oil. In fact, they've rolled out the red carpet.

In a time of climate breakdown, what happens in the Great Australian Bight affects us all. We've talked about the risks of the oil spill, the risk to jobs and the fact that this is such a pristine marine wilderness that must be protected, but, in an age of grappling with global warming and climate change, we must face reality: that a big oil well like this one would mean we would never arrest dangerous global warming and climate change. We're to keep temperature rise to two degrees. We've been told by scientists that we have to do much, much more than that. The IPCC report says we have to phase out fossil fuels. At a time when we're already grappling with how we will transition—and we know it's going to be a hard road to go down but that we must do it—why would we make the job harder for ourselves by opening up new oil wells right here in the Great Australian Bight?

We cannot keep playing games with our environment and the climate, if you accept the science of climate change and if you understand what that really means. I believe most, if not all members, in this place do. We're all learned individuals. Our parties have access to resources of briefings and experts. It doesn't make sense to open up a whole new frontier of fossil fuel extraction at a time when we have to be transitioning out.

It's time to get serious about what needs to be done. We have to reduce our carbon emissions and we have to stop further extraction of fossil fuels which are only going to make climate change worse and more dangerous. There is absolutely no way we can allow a huge amount of oil to be sucked out of the Great Australian Bight and burnt, if we are to deal with climate change and to keep temperature rise to 1.5 or two degrees.

Many people, many in government, will tell you that what Australia does on the global sphere just doesn't make a difference. I put it to you that that is just spin and bollocks. We all know that Australia's role on these issues is crucial, whether it's our continued exportation of thermal coal or whether it's letting big oil come in, ride roughshod over community concerns and put our tourism and fishing industries at risk just to extract more oil that will be burnt and make climate change worse. Of course Australia has a role in what happens in the global sphere. We can be a leader when it comes to renewable energy and technology or we can be a climate villain that simply turns a blind eye to the real impacts that these expansions of fossil fuels are having on our environment.

We are already seeing the real effects of climate change, and we are the last generation of policymakers and decision-makers who can actually do something about it. While I stand in this place today and say, 'I want to protect the Great Australian Bight because it is precious to my home state in South Australia,' I also urge you to understand that it is our moral obligation to not squabble the hard decisions if we're to secure a safe climate and a healthy planet for the next generation. It is our job in this place to stare down those big foreign, multinational companies when all they want to think about is how to make a quick buck in the short term. Big oil has no right to come and lobby and push and bully our local communities, our local industries or, indeed, this parliament.

Equinor, the Norwegian company that wants to come and start this process, knows that if it gets the tick the next lot of applications from other players will come in thick and fast. That is the real risk to the Great Australian Bight; to our climate; to our beaches right across the country; to our communities that rely on a beautiful, pristine coastline; to the kids who want to go swimming and walking along Brighton and Glenelg Beach in my home town in Adelaide. Big oil doesn't care about them. Big oil doesn't give two hoots about what happens if there were an oil spill. Let's not forget that, in BP's own application only two or three years ago, they said that, if there were an oil spill, there'd be an economic boom because they'd have to employ people to clean it up! It is absolutely shameful that they were trying to bully the South Australian community, the industries and even politicians in this place to simply give them the green light to go ahead.

South Australians have made their voice heard very clearly. They don't want big oil in our state; they don't want big oil in the Great Australian Bight. And, increasingly, Australians right across the country are agreeing with them as well. We know that, at the recent election, this was an issue that dominated political debate in South Australia, but it also dominated discussion and debate elsewhere: in Corangamite, in Victoria, on that beautiful Victorian coastline. Residents there are rightly worried about what would happen if big oil came in and made a mess. Don't let people tell you that this couldn't happen, because we've seen the devastation of what an oil spill can do. The Gulf of Mexico and Deepwater Horizon is enough to scare anyone. Look at what happened there—the destruction of industries far and wide. The unemployment rate is through the roof, the sludge is still not cleaned up and the environment is destroyed. In the Great Australian Bight, where they want to drill for oil, it's rougher, it's deeper—it's much, much more of a risk. It's not a risk worth taking.

This bill, today, will protect the Great Australian Bight from big oil. It will send a very clear message: it doesn't matter how nice your foreign government spin might be or how nice your corporate glossy brochures look, you won't get the green light to drill in the Great Australian Bight. But this bill does one other thing: it celebrates how wonderful this place is, because it is beautiful, it does deserve to be protected, it deserves to be celebrated. That is why the Australian Greens have put forward a bill that protects the Great Australian Bight from big oil and forces action to make this special place World Heritage listed. It should be protected by the significant listings by the UN. It is that important. It is pristine. It deserves to be celebrated. It deserves to be something that, as Australians, not just South Australians, we should be proud of. World Heritage protection for our bight is where we should go. Bugger off, big oil, and bring on World Heritage protection. (Time expired)

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