Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 September 2019


Timor Sea: Oil Spill

7:40 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to talk about an issue on which I have spoken on many occasions in this place, and that is the Montara oil spill. I'll continue to do that until this issue is finally addressed. 21 August this year marked 10 years since one of Australia's worst oil spills and ecological disasters. For 75 days—and I remember every single one of those days—the Montara oil rig spilled 40 million litres of oil into the Timor Sea. This caused immeasurable damage to our distinctive marine ecosystems and sea life, and it had impacts on the fishing zone and on Indonesian fishers and seaweed farmers. Ten years later, we still don't know the full ecological impact of the Montara spill, and now we may never know. We don't know how much oil spilled into the ocean. It's estimated to be anywhere from 4,750 tonnes to 23,630 tonnes. We don't know how many marine animals were killed. We don't know how far the oil spread. We don't know the impact that it had on Indonesian fishers and seaweed farmers.

The rig didn't suddenly fail—and I wouldn't call the incident an accident. There were a series of avoidable poor decisions and regulatory failures which caused the spill. In 2012, the then Thai-owned oil company PTTEP was ordered to pay a mere $510,000 fine for the oil spill. I say 'mere' because I ask: does that really reflect fairly the massive amount of long-term environmental damage and other harm caused by the spill?

During the crisis, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority sprayed a combination of seven chemicals, which were dispersants, totalling 184,135 litres, onto the slick to disperse the oil. We now use only one of those chemicals in Australia because of the severe consequences of the other chemicals on sea life, but they were used at that time. Two of the chemicals sprayed actually increased the toxicity of the oil. We don't know how far the oil spread when the accident occurred, and we don't know how far the dispersants spread. I make the point about the two of them because both can have impacts on marine life and on seaweed. This is a hotly contested issue, and it is at the heart of the deep concerns that continue to be felt by Indonesian fishers and seaweed farmers, particularly those who live on Nusa Tenggara Timur.

Governments over these 10 years—in other words, all of the governments during that time—have largely ignored this issue. It is estimated that this spill is having ongoing impacts on Indonesian fishers and seaweed farmers at a cost of up to $1.5 billion each year. I have met some of the Indonesian fishers and seaweed farmers who have lost their livelihoods to the Montara oil spill. I sat down and I spoke to them on Nusa Tenggara Timur. I have heard of the devastating impacts from the spill on seaweed farmers and fishers and the local economy. I think that I'm probably the only Australian parliamentarian to have visited Nusa Tenggara Timur to assess the impacts of the spill. The ecological studies examining the fallout of the spill have only examined the impact of the spill on Australia. The fact is that Indonesian fishers and seaweed farmers are currently taking court action to address this issue because our governments have not taken the necessary action. Our government could help these Indonesian seaweed farmers and fishers very strongly if they were to work with the Indonesian government to get the company responsible to fund a study to look at those impacts. The oil is still there underneath the soil on the foreshore. You can test that. You could find out. I beg the government to take action to work with the Indonesian government to actually just get the company in this instance to fund the study. (Time expired)

Senate adjourned at 19 : 45