Thursday, 10 February 2022
Questions without Notice
Oil and Gas Exploration
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. In December last year, the Prime Minister made an unprecedented announcement of the Commonwealth's intention to refuse the application by Asset Energy to drill for oil and gas under petroleum exploration permit 11 off the coast of Sydney and Newcastle. Reading directly from the PM's statement, on the day he said:
This project will not proceed on our watch … this is not the right project for these communities and pristine beaches and waters.
Strong statements were also made on the day by six Liberal MPs on the need to respect community wishes, protect our environment and not put our coastlines at risk.
Minister, you would be aware that other communities are fighting against proposals for oil and gas drilling off their coasts, including King Island in Tasmania, off the Twelve Apostles in the Otway Basin in Victoria, Senator Thorpe's own Gunditjmara country and off the Ningaloo Reef in the Carnarvon Basin. Many of these people don't feel these are the right projects for their communities. Will you also make a political intervention to protect these communities and their environments? If not, how is that not utterly hypocritical?
I thank Senator Whish-Wilson for his—was there a question there? I will do my best to respond and to the highlight the fact around the process issues related to the PEP-11 decision that was taken. From those process issues, I think Senator Whish-Wilson will see that some of the assertions contained in his question are without basis.
PEP-11 was, and is, regulated, and decisions are made under the joint authority, which comprises the relevant NSW minister and the Commonwealth minister for resources. That joint authority approach advised the PEP-11 titleholder of the intent to, effectively, end the permit by not approving the application by the titleholder for a variation and suspension of the work program commitments and for an extension of the permit term. The Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 sets out the process for the cancellation of a permit which ensures a fair process—
My question wasn't about the process, President. It was about whether the Prime Minister will now make an intervention on behalf of other communities around this country that don't want oil and gas drilling off their coastlines.
I do know that, of course, nothing would give Senator Whish-Wilson more delight than to cancel projects right across the country. It's the Greens cancel culture. It goes in a range of different directions and 'cancelled projects' is right at the top of their favourite list. From cancelled projects, they like cancelled jobs, as Senator Cash says. Cancel business, cancel outcomes for Australia, cancel growth, cancel projects, cancel jobs: it's very much the Greens way. But the point I was making was that there is a process arrangement put in place in relation to how PEP-11 was considered. Those processes were followed, and that's how the decision was arrived at.
On the process: following the PM's announcement, Asset Energy announced that the regulator, NOPTA, had formally advised them that the PEP-11 permit would not be renewed and that Asset Energy had sought a review of this decision. There is no publicly available information on whether this process has been completed and a final decision made. Will your government recommit in the Senate today to the communities who fought for this decision that this project is now formally dead in the water?
Thank you, Senator Abetz—very droll. In terms of the appeal processes that may be available to Asset Energy, I will have to take those on notice unless I can ascertain the particularities of the status of that. I do note that estimates are next week, so I'm sure that, in terms of the status of any such appeals, authorities appearing before estimates can probably address those questions. Of course, the Prime Minister, relevant local MPs and others listened very carefully to communities as well and sought to make sure that all concerns were reflected as part of the proper decision-making process.
The minister may be aware that the International Energy Agency stated last year that, in order to meet our Paris commitment of 1.5 degrees of warming, we needed to leave all new fossil fuels in the ground and stop all new oil and gas exploration. Yet, following that report and statement, your government issued 80,000 square kilometres of new ocean exploration permits to your oil and gas donors. Are you insane? Were you wilfully ignorant, or simply totally corrupted and captured by the fossil fuel industry?
I don't think it's parliamentary to use those kinds of labels and language in a question. It's not an opportunity for a rant from Senator Whish-Wilson, and it is unparliamentary to be applying those sorts of labels in a question.
I asked a question about whether the minister's government was insane, and I don't think that's out of order. I think that's what most Australians feel. In fact, that's what most of the world feels when they look at what you're doing to this planet!
Senator Whish-Wilson, resume your seat! I will allow the minister to deal with the question. I believe that, in referring to it generally, towards a political party, it is not out of order; however, the minister can choose to answer the question as he sees fit.
Well, on the question of insanity, I just wish I had brought a mirror into the chamber that I could hold up to the Australian Greens. If you're looking for insanity, the policy platform of the Australian Greens offers a perfect model of insanity—economic insanity, job-destroying insanity, the type of insanity from those opposite that would see Australia close down industries and prematurely lose jobs in different sectors and industries whilst other nations would simply grow and fill that gap in different ways.
The way we are pursuing net zero and helping the world to get closer to addressing climate change is about making sure we get the technology developed in affordable ways so that other countries have affordable energy solutions. We want Australia to be at the forefront of those affordable energy solutions, but we're not going to shut down the industries we have now while we're still in the process of supporting hydrogen and other sectors to grow and develop. That would be insanity. (Time expired)