Senate debates

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Bills

Great Australian Bight Environment Protection Bill 2019; Second Reading

12:43 pm

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

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table an explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard and to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

GREAT AUSTRALIAN BIGHT ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION BILL 2019

When I first introduced a bill to protect the Great Australian Bight back in 2016, the company that wanted to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight was BP. Then it was Chevron. Now it is the Norwegian company Equinor, formerly known as Statoil.

The Great Australian Bight is one of the world's great wilderness areas. It is home to a huge array of marine and bird life, marine plants and invertebrates. Eighty-five percent of species found in the Bight are endemic, found only in the Bight. It is an essential calving sanctuary for southern right whales, and a feeding ground for threatened sea lions, sharks, tuna and migratory sperm whales.

In May the UN released its latest biodiversity report. This warned that a million species face the threat of extinction. The official modelling from Big Oil companies who want to drill in the Bight indicate that a spill would impact many matters of national environmental significance. This would include up to 177 marine species, 47 species classified as vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered, and 50 coastal wetlands. Thirty-eight marine reserves would be covered in sludge, resulting in the mortality of hundreds of thousands of seabirds and thousands of marine animals, including endangered southern right whales, blue whales, killer whales, dolphins, and endemic and endangered Australian sea lions. Hundreds of sea turtles would be dead. Hundreds—potentially thousands—of kilometres of shoreline would be covered in oil, causing extreme harm to both the birds that live on the coast and those that visit nearby.

This is disastrous in itself, but it would have knock-on effects. The Bight plays host to over ten thousand fishing and tourism jobs. These industries would be decimated and may never recover. That is why, all along the coast, local councils have voted against drilling in the Bight. We know traditional owners are also opposed, horrified that their special place is under threat. And they are backed by more than two-thirds of South Australians who oppose drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

But this is not just a South Australian problem; the same spill modelling shows oil could stretch from Port Macquarie in New South Wales to Albany, Western Australia. And, in a time of climate breakdown, what happens in the Bight affects us all.

If we are to keep temperature rise to two degrees—and we've been told by scientists that we have to do more than that—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says we have to phase out fossil fuels. We cannot keep playing games with our environment and the climate. It is time to get serious about what needs to be done. We have to reduce our carbon emissions, and we have to stop the further extraction of fossil fuels that are only going to make climate change worse and more dangerous. If we are to do what the scientists say is required—keeping temperature rise to 1.5 degrees or below—there is absolutely no way we can allow the extraction of fossil fuels from the Great Australian Bight. At the volumes being proposed, we would never arrest climate change: not here in Australia and not around the rest of the world. Just a fraction of the estimated oil reserves in the Great Australian Bight would amount to three gigatonnes of CO2. This is almost equivalent to one-third of our entire carbon budget between now and 2050.

Many people—many in government—will tell you that Australia is a small player, and that we would be exporting that oil so it wouldn't affect our totals. To them I say: we are already seeing the effects of climate change and we are the last generation of policymakers and decision-makers who can do anything about it. It is up to us to make the hard decisions to reduce dangerous carbon pollution. And the more we twiddle our thumbs, and the more we deny this, the worse the problem becomes.

The good people in the Bight Alliance and hardworking Australians from all walks of life have turned away BP and Chevron and are, right this moment, working to send Equinor packing. But this shouldn't be a one by one approach. The people have spoken. They do not want Big Oil, or any oil, in the Great Australian Bight. It is time for us to do our job and find a permanent way to protect this precious, important ecosystem and the climate we all depend on.

This bill does just that. During the election we saw the two major parties sit up and take notice of the Fight for the Bight. They promised 'reviews.' The time for reviews has passed; today I offer this Bill as a way to listen to the Australian people, do what is right and protect the Great Australian Bight and the future of us all.

Debate adjourned.