Thursday, 1 August 2019
Great Australian Bight Environment Protection Bill 2019; Second Reading
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)
I rise to oppose the Great Australian Bight Environment Protection Bill 2019 because it's unscientific and would unnecessarily threaten the health and security of our nation. I want to start my contribution by telling a story of the great history of the development of oil and gas resources in this nation. Back in the 1950s, the then Menzies government felt that we had a real issue in Australia with the lack of oil and gas developed or produced here. We had a security issue with the fact that we had to import all of our oil and gas needs, and so they set up a variety of different support mechanisms to try to help support the production of oil and gas. They introduce a subsidy scheme for exploration in frontier areas. They introduce a price support mechanism for the sale of domestically produced oil in Australia. As a result of these initiatives, they encouraged a company called BHP to make their own investigations.
At the time, BHP looked around the world for the expertise that could perhaps help them develop resources here in Australia. They hired who was described at the time as the best geologist in America, a gentleman called Lewis Weeks, who was a celebrated geologist around the world. Lewis came out to Australia in 1960. He had a famous lunch with the then chairman and CEO of BHP. At that lunch, he was asked, 'Where in Australia should we drill for oil and gas?' Apparently, without hesitation, Lewis Weeks immediately said, 'The Bass Strait.' And so BHP started the exercise of drilling in the Bass Strait. It was a highly risky activity at the time. At the time, the technology was just developing for drilling in what are rough seas; the Bass Strait is a rough marine environment. The technology for that was only just developing in California at the time, but BHP hired not only Lewis Weeks, the best geologist, but some of the best people in the industry in developing offshore oil and gas. Eventually, they partnered with Esso, now ExxonMobil, to develop these resources.
I tell that story because to think about that showed great foresight from the Menzies government. Most of us would know today that, as a result of those investigations, as a result of that science, as a result of that human endeavour, one of the greatest oil and gas finds was made in the Bass Strait. Victoria in particular benefited from and was lucky and fortunate to be close to one of the best oil and gas provinces in the world. In fact, over the subsequent decades, about two-thirds of our crude oil needs were met by the resources in the Bass Strait itself.
It also came at an incredibly opportune time. The Menzies government and BHP wouldn't have known when they started this endeavour that, in the early 1970s, an oil crisis would hit the world. What had been an abundant supply of oil and a relatively cheap source of energy suddenly become massively expensive and scarce. They weren't to know that. They made those investments and the government supported those investments because they wanted to secure supplies of such an important resource; it wasn't so much around price and availability per se. But that 1970s oil crisis did hit the world, and the fact that Australia had significant domestic Indigenous resources significantly protected and insulated Australia from the effects of the global oil crisis of the 1970s relative to other nations, like the United States, who were in a different position. They were largely importers of oil at the time.
I tell that story because I think it's important that we never close ourselves off from opportunities, that we never unnecessarily say, 'Let's not do this or do that because of the circumstances that might exist today or otherwise.' I do think we have a great need again to search for domestic oil and gas, which I'll come to. Regardless, even if we had abundant supplies of oil and gas right now, we shouldn't unnecessarily say: 'No, let's not do the science here. Let's not do the exploration. Let's take a narrow view where we just don't do things and don't explore.' It would certainly have been the case if we'd had the Australian Greens here in this chamber in the 1960s. They would have been moving bills to oppose gas drilling in the Bass Strait, and, if the government supported that, in line with this bill, Australia would have been a much weaker nation in the 1970s than it ended up being. So we should never be afraid of endeavour; we should never be afraid of enterprise; we should never be afraid of exploration to see what is available here in Australia and right around the world. That's why this bill should be opposed. Ultimately, this bill is an anti-scientific bill. It is a bill that seeks to shut down science; it is a bill that seeks to shut down questions; it is a bill that seeks to shut down exploring some of the more unexplored and undiscovered parts of our nation.
I listened to Senator Hanson-Young's contribution intently but I didn't hear much from her about the history or the experience of drilling for oil and gas in Australia. You would expect that, if this bill were based on science, it would refer to some of the experience and exploration that occurred in the past. Science, if nothing else, is the accumulation of knowledge through testing, experience and running experiments in the real, physical world. Not in this world, not in rhetoric is name-calling, as Senator Hanson-Young engaged in significantly in her contribution, science. Calling people names is not science. Calling people 'big oil' is not science. Calling into question people who don't live here in this country and who don't have businesses here in this country, as Senator Hanson-Young did, is not science.
Just a small segue: the Greens often like to put themselves out as a welcoming and multicultural, global party and then they come into this chamber and start slagging off people from Scandinavia for no reason at all. Senator Hanson-Young didn't present any evidence on the records and practices of Equinor. I've had some significant dealings with Equinor and found them to be an extremely professional company. Indeed, they're probably recognised as one of the leading companies, globally, in this space in terms of their professionalism, their practices, the seriousness with which they take their business and the protections they put in place for the environment, their staff and their scientists. To call into question a company without evidence just because they are foreign—and that is exactly what Senator Hanson-Young was referring to—is well below the level of debate that should occur in this place. And it's certainly extremely hypocritical coming from the Australian Greens.
We know, from the science that has been done, the actual experimentation and the actual experience with drilling around Australia, that we can safely regulate, monitor and oversee the exploration for and the production of oil and gas in our nation. Indeed, this bill does refer to the Great Australian Bight, but, although it is a frontier area, drilling has occurred there. It's instructive and reflective of Senator Hanson-Young's position here that she referred to none of that history in her contribution. I'm not sure if she's aware of it, but you'd think, if you are proposing a bill to carte blanche ban activities across such a large swathe of Australia, that you'd make yourself familiar with the experience of oil and gas drilling in the area you're seeking to ban them.
I've asked our experts about that experience and I've made myself aware of what has occurred in the past. In fact, we have drilled 13 drills in the Great Australian Bight since 1972. All of them have proceeded without incident. Unfortunately, none of them have made the kinds of discoveries that have led to larger investments and the production of oil and gas, but, as I say, that is how science progresses. It progresses by us experimenting on the natural world. Just as those explorers did in the 1960s in the Bass Strait, I think it is important for us to explore these other areas of our country. And we should do this in a safe, sustainable and regulated fashion, as we have done so in the past—quite clearly as we have done in the Great Australian Bight.
The Great Australian Bight, as I said, is a frontier. It's not a producing oil and gas province at the moment. Thirteen wells is more than Senator Hanson-Young referenced in her contribution but it's not a huge number in the scheme of things. We've drilled thousands of wells just in Australia in our offshore areas—almost all without incidents. There have been very few major incidents across Australian waters over the decades of experience. That is because we have extremely robust, independent and rigorous regulation of this sector. That is what we should do. That is what we should have. But, again, Senator Hanson-Young completely ignored that. She completely ignored any consideration of discussion of what is in place right now to ensure that things happen safely in our offshore waters.
No-one is denying that these are difficult circumstances and challenging environments to work in. But they are also highly rewarding ones for the scientists involved, for the extremely hard-working men and women who put themselves in these positions. I want to place on the record my great respect for the workers who go out there on offshore oil and gas rigs on platforms spending months, at any one time, in a remote environment away from their families. I have been out on these rigs and I've got enormous respect for those men and women who put themselves in this position. They are great men and women who do that. They deserve our respect, because it's their hard work, their isolation and their resilience that helps us to enjoy so much of the products in the modern world that come from the production of petroleum products.
We have those robust environments in place through the independent regulator NOPSEMA, who I meet with regularly to discuss these matters. They are a great organisation. They have, as I said, presided over the safe drilling for oil and gas across all our waters. They don't just regulate the environmental matters of importance here or pay attention to the Australian Greens. They also make sure that workers' health and safety is protected. We have had, fortunately, a significant reduction in incidents and fatalities in the last decade in this industry. It's something I always discuss with industry to make sure we maintain. We have those arrangements in place for a reason, to make sure that the industry does meet the high standards that the Australian people expect, and they do that everywhere across Australia.
While I've mentioned southern Australia and the Bass Strait, the history there and the potential opportunity in the Great Australian Bight, we must also not forget the other areas of our country that produce enormous amounts of wealth and opportunity for Australians and continue to be very strong oil and gas provinces.
What concerns me about this bill is that while it talks about the Great Australian Bight—and takes, as I said, an unscientific, narrow-minded view in reference to that—if this bill were to pass it would establish an extremely unfortunate precedent and example for those other areas of our country. If the Greens are saying, 'We don't think the risks of doing the proper science, regulating it properly here in the Great Australian Bight, are worth the potential billions of barrels of oil, wealth and jobs for our country,' why wouldn't they apply the same test into the Barrow Basin or the Carnarvon Basin, or the onshore areas—the coal seam gas areas—Surat and Bowen Basins in Queensland or the burgeoning and fledgling Beetaloo Basin with enormous opportunities in the Northern Territory. Potentially the same principle would apply, and that would be and extremely dangerous precedent given that Australia now benefits to the tune of more than $40 billion through the export of our gas resources. We are now the largest LNG exporter in the world. It is an enormous industry for Western Australia, and Senator Hanson-Young has no reference here about the potential effects on that great state. It's become an enormous industry for onshore resources in Queensland, where Senator Scarr and I are from. There's no reference there. There's no reference from the Australian Greens about how reducing our production of oil and gas would affect the domestic economy.
We have had an experience of high gas prices in the past couple of years. I do not have time to go through all the reasons and the wherewithals of that issue. But, clearly, if we are to reduce our supply of domestic oil and gas, that is going to have an impact on the price of oil and gas here in Australia, particularly gas, which would threaten thousands and thousands of jobs in our manufacturing industry that I want to keep and fight for. I want to keep those jobs. I want to make sure that we can continue to have a manufacturing industry in this country, and to do so we need to use our natural resources in a safe and sustainable way.
In the time I've got left, I do want to return to the theme of our national domestic security. With that history that I mentioned of the Bass Strait, and the development of the Carnarvon Basin subsequently, we were actually able to maintain a self-sufficiency in petroleum products to a greater degree than I think most Australians realise. We obviously operate in a global environment, so oil and gas resources are traded across the world, some are exported from Australia and some come back as refined products. But when all is taken into account, on the eve of 11 September, almost 18 years ago now, Australia produced 95 per cent of its petroleum product needs here in Australia. We had enough petroleum production to meet 95 per cent of our domestic needs—as I said, some of that was exported and some was re-imported back. But, if the worst happened, we could meet almost all of our petroleum product needs from our own production. Eighteen years on, that figure now stands below 50 per cent. So in 18 years we have dropped from almost self-sufficiency in the production of petroleum products—that includes oil, gas and other products on that spectrum—and we now are not self-sufficient by a long way. Less than half of our needs are met by our production of those products.
We live in a volatile strategic environment. Notwithstanding the dreams, wishes and fairytales of the Australian Greens, the need to have access to oil and gas is a key requirement, and a necessary condition for us to be able to adequately defend our island nation, out here on the outskirts of the Asia-Pacific region. And, while I don't have a magic wand to make sure we can produce more oil and gas, in this strategic environment we should not be closing off any options to potentially jump back up to that level of self-sufficiency, of which the Great Australian Bight is, potentially, one option. It is commonly seen as, perhaps, the most prospective frontier offshore area in the world, and we do not know exactly what will be there. Perhaps, if approved through our independent process, future wells in the Great Australian Bight may not produce and may not lead to discoveries and investment. But there are a lot of people who think that they may. And, if they did, it would revolutionise and change our domestic security environment. It would make sure our country was safer and more secure. And I don't quite understand the abandon with which the Australian Greens come into this chamber and threaten that national security, with very little consideration for that issue at all—with no attempt to rebut and say, 'What would we do if production remained insufficient here?' Or, 'what would we do, if we look back in 10 or 20 years time and say that maybe we should have made different decisions then?'—that is, if the Australian Greens get their way. I fundamentally reject this bill, because it is unscientific, and would threaten our own security.
I also want to finish by commenting on the continuing hypocrisy of the Australian Greens. If only we could capture, bottle and use the hypocrisy of the Australian Greens to produce electricity in this country, we would never have another blackout! There are abundant renewable resources of hypocrisy from the Australian Greens, because they come into the chamber and talk about climate change and talk about the need to reduce fossil fuels, and I see no evidence from any of them that they're reducing their own use of these products themselves. It's fine to come in here and talk about the evils of global corporations. It's a different thing to do that and then continue to use the products that are produced by those global corporations, with gay abandon. I don't see them reducing their car travel; they certainly keep coming up to Queensland annoying us about different issues, as they like to do in country areas. They're still doing that. I don't see them reducing their use of plastics, Tupperware, mobile phones—all of these things have petroleum products in them. I see protesters in Brisbane, right now, supergluing themselves to streets and other objects around the CBD, with little understanding—I think none of them would actually know—that most, or almost all, modern superglues come from the production of fossil fuels, and come from hydrocarbons. You do not have modern superglues without petroleum products. That's how they're generated. They just use these things. They don't get it. They want to impose morality on others without leading the moral life themselves. It is hypocrisy. This bill should be rejected. It's inane and unscientific, but it is also a mass array of hypocrisy.
It's always good to make a contribution on Thursday. I used to be able to get up on a Thursday afternoon, following former Senator Macdonald from Queensland, and throw my notes out, because he gave so much ammunition in his contribution that you didn't need any notes. Now I note that Senator Hanson-Young has taken up that mantle. Where do we start?
As I sat in the Deputy President position and listened to the contribution, I thought: were Senator Hanson-Young to repeat a number of these items outside the chamber, there would probably be a competent jurisdiction she could be brought to. I thought the contribution was completely over the top and demeaning of people who have a right to operate their business throughout the world. They shouldn't be brought to account—in a chamber where they have no recourse—inaccurately and unfairly.
By way of further preamble, my duty electorate for the last eight years has been the seat of Grey. The member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, is a hardworking rural member. It's a huge electorate—85 per cent of South Australia. I try and make him work very hard by visiting as many places as I can so he's got to back that up. We talk to a lot of people, and there is clearly widely-held, deeply-felt concern right throughout the community. But it's not even. It's not one way. It's not 100 per cent. It's as normal. It's people thinking about their livelihood, their future, their operation and their particular circumstances and how this either opportunity or threat could affect their communities or themselves personally, their grandchildren and their opportunities.
So I accept there are widely held and deeply felt views about this. But what I don't accept is that we need to change a system that has worked for us. If you look at the contribution from Bass Strait, 54 per cent of Australia's crude oil and liquids and 40 per cent of eastern Australia's natural gas has come out of that development, creating 370 full-time-equivalent job years of employment throughout Australia and half a billion dollars worth of taxes in every year of operation.
I'm an evidence based person. I don't get convinced by the last person I spoke to. I like to listen to everybody's contribution, seek the evidence, test the evidence and go forward. We've had an inquiry in this space. Witnesses like the Australian Conservation Foundation gave their evidence and were professional about that, citing examples and putting evidence forward, and we tested that evidence. But one direct question at the end of their appearance was, 'Is there anything that will convince you that this should go ahead?' And they honestly answered, 'No, we cannot be convinced.' So sometimes you're faced with implacable opposition.
The evidence is that this is not easy business. But we have a successful track record. We have a fully professional independent regulator, which came out of the Montara spill—let's not forget that. It came out of the spill in the Timor Sea, which wasn't good. It's been created, enhanced and refined and it's operated successfully. And we have a track record of, I think, 3,800 wells drilled around the country, most of them on the North West Shelf. The entire coast of Western Australia cohabitates with oil and gas exploration. The whale populations are allegedly increasing; people tell me that. There are sanctuaries—Barrow Island, I think, is a World Heritage area—in amongst oil and gas exploration.
So the Australian record is that we can coexist. We can have the dual benefits of good exports, safe operation and beautiful beaches. And, more importantly I suppose, we've got the economic wellbeing to be able to enjoy those activities, in four-wheel drives, caravans, boats and, dare I say it, even planes. I do know—it's probably a pretty low shot—that Senator Hanson Hanson-Young took a chartered plane to go and have a look at the area of activity. Presumably that wasn't a glider; it was powered by avgas or something similar.
The Labor Party is always going to take a scientific, evidence based approach to this. We don't believe there needs to be too much fine tuning—or blunt tuning, with Senator Hanson-Young's bill—in this space, because demonstrably it has worked. Independent regulators do their job forensically. No-one says they're an easy mark. The plans that you have to go through and all of the requirements are extensive and comprehensive. I am told, from briefings I've sought, that these are industry professionals. They're not—I don't want to denigrate bureaucrats in Canberra, because there are plenty of them here. They're industry trained professionals who would have done this sort of safety assessment for private sector companies, and they're now looking at those private sector companies with a very, very critical lens and making sure it's right. I think—and it's fairly clear to me after talking to NOPSEMA a couple of times—they value their reputation. They're not going to get anything wrong here. They're not going to go down any low road at all. It's going to be to the highest environmental standards and the companies are going to be held to account.
I actually don't mind driving a car. I really enjoy the fact that there are fuel stations around the place so that if I got up one morning and wanted to drive 3,000 kilometres in Australia I could go from service station to service station and make my way around the country, free and independent. We're not at the stage of abandoning fossil fuels in any part of the world. If you go to Europe, you will get a diesel car. There are electric cars coming; we know that. We know there is change on the design chain. There are intelligent intersections and autonomous vehicles. But in my view we're not going anywhere away from combustion engines in the short term or in the next 25 to 30 years. It's not going to be a light-switch moment where we go to electric vehicles. So we're going to need to find fuel and fuel sources. Senator Canavan's right: we have low security. We've got 20 days. We have four ailing refineries, with little or no investment going into those. Coincidentally, we're probably running the dirtiest fuel. We're running low-octane fuel. Europe is moving to high-octane fuel. Engines are moving to high-octane fuel, lower emissions and hundred parts per million of sulphur.
All of these things are happening and we're worrying about whether we should take a small 60-day operation into the Great Australian Bight, 400 kilometres off the coast. That is not going to be the end of anybody's world. There'll be a 60-day drilling operation 400 kilometre out into the Great Australian Bight. It is not going to challenge a child on Brighton Beach, on Glenelg Beach, down on the Fleurieu Peninsula or over at Kangaroo Island—and I visit all of those places. They are beautiful and wonderful. They should be protected and they will be protected under the relevant legislation. We need to go to all of the Indigenous communities who have a view in this space and we need to do the appropriate thing, as we always do. There is legislation that requires that. The Labor Party believes that that should always be complied with.
My experience with this company and the predecessors, Equinor, BP, and Chevron, is that they've gone out of their way to talk to oyster fishermen and tuna fishermen. I've spoken to people at Streaky Bay. One group of fishermen said, 'Yeah, we could handle that,' and another group of fishermen said, 'Oh, we don't really know.' The communities have been consulted by these people. Equinor and the predecessors have been all over the place talking to people. It is widely held and deeply felt, but I reject the assertion that it's one-way traffic.
The scattergun approach that Senator Hanson-Young takes is that, even if you've got something right and you could drill a well, we don't want it, because we're warming the planet. You can't conflate these issues. You're either trying to bring a bill in here that deals with the Great Australian Bight or you're going to the United Nations to say that we should do something else. The blunderbuss approach: everything is wrong; it'll blow the whole world up; you won't be able to surf in Coolangatta, because of what's happened in one well in the Great Australian Bight—it's not really borne out by evidence. Like I say, 3,800 wells drilled around Australia and, as Senator Canavan's pointed out, 13 of 16 drilled in the Great Australian Bight without incident or problem. I don't know how we get to the stage where, if we let this happen, the world will end in terms of the environment, children enjoying their time at the beach and warming of the planet. I have to say that, if Equinor don't drill there, someone else will drill somewhere else. We can't fix it with this one-stop shop here. The Great Australian Bight is pristine and wonderful. I visit it as often as I can. I know communities are concerned, but I don't think it is one-way traffic. I think the genuine economic opportunities here will eventually outweigh the environmental concerns.
With those few short comments I want to go back to this being an example of exploitation of genuinely deeply held feelings for purely political purposes. Really they're not being entirely honest here. They have an ideological view—and they're entitled to that—but they bring a bill into this chamber and allege that people are doing things that are brutal. Some of the allegations Senator Hanson-Young made couldn't be made outside the chamber without potential recourse to another jurisdiction. I think that's a low road to start. Then she conflated all of the issues. If my granddaughter listened to the contribution from Senator Hanson-Young and said to me, 'Does that mean, Grandad, that I can't go to Glenelg beach?' I'd say, 'No, it doesn't.' But that is what she said. How do you explain it to impressionable people who may be swayed by this type of rhetoric? So it was completely over the top. I reject a lot of the assertions there. They're not based on science or fact.
We believe that we should be consulting widely with everybody and watching very carefully as these companies actually do that. We know they do the consultation. There is ample evidence right through the inquiries that have been held in this space. Nothing will go ahead without a proper tick off from the regulator. Nothing will go ahead that the communities are not aware of. There is no smoke and mirrors. People will seek to take what is a prudent evaluation of risk and a prudent plan for dealing with the eventuality if the risk occurs and then say, 'That's why you shouldn't do it.' They avoid the fact that it's a minimal risk in the first place.
There hasn't even been an approval granted as yet. We don't even know whether this 60-day operation 400 kilometres off the coast of South Australia is actually going to be approved. This is pre-empting what the regulator may say. We can't instruct the regulator. They will come down to make their decision. But there will be science. We are sure that science is going to make this decision. Based on the available data and science that we see, I'm hopeful that there will be a favourable decision made.
A community right outside the area is Ceduna. I've visited Ceduna on a number of occasions. That's an area where the Greens have taken some particular interest in social policy, with the cashless welfare card and the like. I know that Ceduna Airport benefited from some investment in some helicopter facilities. When BP attempted to go through this protocol and procedure they invested in Port Adelaide and in Ceduna. I know a lot of people in Ceduna were looking forward to the economic opportunity that might come out of some fly-in fly-out workers. This is work that's done quickly. It's very expensive work. An incredible amount of logistical effort goes into it. Money is spent in the surrounding areas. I know from talking to the mayor and other people over there that there was an indication that it would be a good boost to the economy and it might help alleviate some of the problems that they've had there for decades in terms of low employment and underemployment.
You go over to Port Lincoln. Port Lincoln is an interesting town. It's a very wealthy town in a lot of ways. It has its own economy. It's got tourism, it's got farming, it's got tuna, it's got fishing and they're very independently minded. There are views there, very strong views. If you talk to a tuna fisherman like I often have to do, they've got very strong views about the world and how we in Canberra should be doing this and that and the rest of it. But they are people who've gone out there and created something in that wilderness, in the Great Australian Bight, and the tuna fishing and farming industry is world leading.
They have concerns. I don't think they'll be relying on Senator Hanson-Young advocating for them. They will be advocating very strongly and professionally through their relevant associations and their politicians or representatives in this place, and they'll be making sure their concerns are taken note of. They will not be held back by anybody. I've got this great confidence that the region is so robust and well represented through their associations, their industry associations and their participants that we don't have to do a lot. Equinor's got to do a lot. The regulator's got to do a lot. We just have to make sure that the process is working.
In earlier contributions, there were attempts to say that this would go back to ministerial discretion. I don't think that's the way. I think this is proven process working properly. I'm more confident: (a) that the world's not going to end if we drill in the Great Australian Bight and that it won't cause automatic global warming and the shutdown of the planet; and (b) it probably will cause the economy of that region to become more diversified and successful. What we do know in South Australia is that we do need more diversity and we do need more success. If you add another layer to the grain, the wine, the mining and the renewables—we do a lot of renewable leadership, so we've got three or four pillars to our relatively small state economy. If we were to add this initiative as a success, it would be greatly beneficial to South Australia. It may well be that the newspapers who run the polling, which nobody in this place will ever believe after the 18 May result, would take a slightly different view about the economic opportunities and impacts.
What we know is that, with almost every mining opportunity, drilling opportunity or expansion opportunity in regional and rural Australia—and it goes to coal seam gas exploration and the like—there is always angst and community concern up-front. That needs to be dealt with appropriately and properly. I think that's what's happening here. To the great credit of the regulator, they will not be rushed. No-one will rush them. You will tick all of the boxes and satisfy all of the concerns or you'll just have to keep doing it.
I take great comfort from the process. I don't know that there is a great swell in South Australia to race out and protect the Great Australian Bight. I think people appreciate it is a pristine area. It does have migratory whales and the like. I visit Kangaroo Island and watch the sea lions. You can imagine standing there how you could be living on Kangaroo Island, enjoying probably one of the more pristine places in the world, and someone says: 'Well, if there's a well drilled over 400 kilometres away, it's all going to come here and wash up on your beach.' Interestingly enough former Senator Back used to say in this chamber: 'It already does.' I would say, 'Senator Back, what are you saying?' And he'd say, 'Oil comes up from the seabed and it does wash up on Kangaroo Island. Not in great amounts, but it has done.' He was always enthusiastic about the Great Australian Bight because he said, 'There is oil there. We've just got to find it.'
Look, it's an opportunity, I think, for South Australia, for Australia. I don't subscribe clearly to the proposition that's been put forward and advanced in Senator Hanson-Young's contribution. I want to go to perhaps asking that, in any other contribution, if she's going to be fairly brutal with people, they should really have the right of reply. I can't recall coming in here and using this chamber to have a shot at someone that I wouldn't do outside the chamber. I think that's a good standard for us all to have. Potentially, people do things under parliamentary privilege but, really, if you've got a strong view, it should be couched in such a way that it's not actionable. I'm not sure that some of the earlier contributions from Senator Hanson-Young were in that vein. But that's her decision—no doubt about that.
In the few seconds I've got left, I hope the regulator makes a good decision for Australia and I support whatever that decision is. If the regulator says that it's too risky to do that, then I would support that. If the regulator comes out and says, 'You've ticked all the boxes. You can go, for 60 days, 400 kilometres off the coast of South Australia and drill a well,' then, if it's successful, it will be better for South Australia. (Time expired)