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Impact of seismic testing on the marine environment

This is a report on the inquiry of impact of seismic testing on fisheries and the marine environment. The inquiry established by the Greens looked into the impact of seismic testing on fisheries and on the marine environment, with particular reference to the body of science and research into the use of seismic testing, the regulation of seismic testing in both Commonwealth and state waters, and the approach taken to seismic testing internationally. I acknowledge the work and the passion of my Greens colleague Senator Whish-Wilson, who chaired the inquiry and who, like me, cares deeply about our precious marine environment and about the protection of our oceans.

Many submitters and witnesses shared their concerns about the ongoing risks of oil and gas exploration in our oceans. I want to acknowledge the submissions made to the inquiry and thank everyone for their contribution and their strong voices to protect our oceans and marine environment from harm. In particular, I want to acknowledge Save Our Coast, whose founder, Natasha Deen, I worked with closely in fighting oil and gas exploration off the coast of New South Wales, and also the Surfrider Foundation. It's because of the effort of people like Natasha in the community that PEP 11 is basically dead in the water.

The inquiry made it clear the community does not want seismic testing. The hearings showed that big oil and gas are on one side of the debate, while multigenerational fishing families and communities who live by our beautiful and precious coastline are firmly on the other side. The inquiry heard from many in these communities who do not want our oceans turned into gas and oil fields. In addition to the intrinsic value and beauty of our coast and marine life, recreation and local fishing industries rely on healthy oceans. The rock lobster, oyster, scallop and blue fin tuna industries have all expressed grave concerns about the impacts of seismic testing, yet the federal government has refused to act decisively to rule it out.

Not only will the oil and gas exploration off the coast damage our environment; if these projects actually go ahead, the drilling and burning of fossil fuels will accelerate the climate emergency we are already in. We know that the Liberals and Nationals—and the Nationals especially, under the helm of their resurrected leader, Barnaby Joyce—only care about their mates in the fossil fuel lobby, not the community, not the environment. We know that big oil and gas have deliberately not funded research on the effects of seismic testing on our oceans and marine environments because they know the results would be damaging. They have been operating in the dark, with no science to back their false claims that seismic testing does not cause harm to our marine animals. We know that it does. We know, from recent reports, that rock lobster populations are being impacted by seismic testing in the Bass Strait. The report rightly makes several recommendations that significant funding should be directed towards additional research to study the short-term, long-term and cumulative impacts of seismic testing on marine animals and the marine environment. It would be extraordinary for the government to continue handing out permits for seismic testing before more is known.

In my home state of New South Wales, communities along the coast are rightly up in arms at the prospect of their beloved oceans and coastline being damaged. They are strongly opposing plans to locate and extract fossil fuel from Port Stephens all along our magnificent coastline to Wollongong. Like the many communities who have put up fierce opposition to drilling in the Great Australian Bight, they have come together to protect our precious environment and push for a sustainable future. Our oceans and all who thrive by their shores depend on this. At the very least, the risk of irreversible damage posed by seismic testing demands a precautionary approach. It's vital that we stop this destructive offshore blasting.

The report recommends that the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources improve the current public consultation process to include all relevant stakeholders and implement mechanisms to enable greater consideration. In total, the report has made 19 expansive recommendations. In addition to these excellent recommendations, the Australian Greens have suggested another recommendation. The Greens recommend that the Australian government amend the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 to allow for a ban on the issuance of any new permits for seismic testing for offshore oil and gas exploration. I hope that the government is listening to people who want to protect our oceans, to save our marine life, to protect our environment and to act on the climate crisis.


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