Thursday, 12 November 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia. The minister will be aware that Northern Endeavour, a floating production storage and offloading vessel, is sitting off the coast of Darwin in lighthouse mode after the government forced the operator into liquidation. NOPSEMA's refusal to direct the company as to what safety issues needed to be addressed to get the vessel back into production, a criticism levelled at the government in the Walker review, is now costing the taxpayer $1 million per week—that is, 34 ICU beds per week. According to evidence provided at estimates, the government has spent more than $60 million thus far. By my estimation, the government is shortly going to run out of the offensive $76 million budgeted to deal with this. Have you got enough money in the budget to deal with this blunder? How much is the total cost to the taxpayer going to be? What is the plan to deal with this government induced money slick leaking from the vessel?
I thank Senator Patrick for his question and acknowledge getting advance notice of the topic of his question. It is the absolute priority of this government to ensure the safety of any crew on these types of vessels whilst also protecting the marine environment. When there are breaches in relation to safety, this government does not shy away from making sure that those are our two priorities. The government also has been very clear and very transparent about the process that it has put in place to ensure the safety of individuals and the protection of the environment.
As Senator Patrick would know, the Commonwealth has contracted UPS to ensure the safe operations on board the Northern Endeavour and to undertake critical works, while planning a permanent solution for this particular facility and the field in which it is currently operating. We've also ensured that the necessary insurances and memberships are in place. These include memberships of the Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre and Oil Spill Response Limited and insurance through Lloyd's Ship Emergency Response Service. As part of developing a longer term solution, we have been engaging with industry more broadly, understanding that this matter needs to engage everybody whilst making sure of the commercial viability of restarting the program and meeting the requirements of the complete decommissioning or remediation projects associated with making sure that this facility is safe for people and for the environment. I can assure Senator Patrick that the government will apply whatever resources are necessary to ensure the safety of the crew and to protect the marine environment.
Minister, what happened to Northern Endeavour could well happen to some of ExxonMobil's assets in the Bass Strait, which it is trying to offload. ExxonMobil has earned $42 billion in revenue over the past five tax transparency years and not paid a brass razoo in tax and would be seeking to devolve itself of responsibilities for the assets that were used to generate this tax-free revenue. The cost to the taxpayer could be billions. What is the government doing to prevent this from happening?
The government take very seriously responsible stewardship of Australian taxpayer resources and also operating in a manner that is in the best interests of Australia. But, in doing so, we also make sure that the security and safety of Australians and our marine and terrestrial environments are of the utmost importance.
Senator Patrick, in relation to the specifics around that particular issue that I was not aware you were asking about, I am more than happy to take that on notice. But, in an overarching way, I would absolutely commit to you that all of the behaviour of the government of which I am a member in relation to protecting the interests of Australians when it comes to the sovereignty of our country and protecting the resources that belong to all Australians is something that we take extraordinarily seriously. We will continue to make sure, through the appropriate independent regulation and oversight, that they are well looked after.
In October last year at estimates I foreshadowed this bungle. I asked NOPSEMA:
What happens if they go into liquidation, so the asset has to be sold off or the company is not able to operate?
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The taxpayer now bears the cost. That's ultimately what you're saying is going to happen?
The response from Mr Smith at NOPSEMA was:
We won't be taking anything over. That's not our role.
Yet here we are—the owners of an FPSO and a $300 million bungle. Who got fired, Minister? Who is being held accountable for this?
There are a number of things I would say in response to that question from Senator Patrick. Firstly, nothing in the operation of the commercial world is without risk, but of course the government does whatever it can to mitigate against and minimise that risk. That is why the role of NOPSEMA is so important. It's because of their independence around safety and the environment and the oversight that they undertake. Certainly the role you just suggested that NOPSEMA should have been undertaking is not their role. They are the safety and environmental oversight body.
But, certainly, as I said, it is absolutely essential, when we're dealing with any commercial activities that are redeeming the assets of the Australian public, such as in the oil and gas area, that we understand there are risks and we operate to mitigate against those risks. I can absolutely guarantee this chamber that the safety of the Australian public— (Time expired)