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Oil Exploration

Speeches in Parliament
Sarah Hanson-Young 15 Sep 2016


I rise today to speak about a very special and precious place in my home state of South Australia. Last week, I was lucky enough to spend two days on the west coast in my home state, from Ceduna to the beginning of the Nullarbor region—a very, very precious and special spot, indeed. I was on a fact-finding mission, talking to local environment groups, traditional owners and industry representatives about the very real threat of BP's plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

The concerns of the community that I heard were serious and widespread. The people and organisations I spoke to charged me with the job to come back here to Canberra and make sure people know just what is at risk if BP get the opportunity to drill for oil in what has already been earmarked, agreed and legislated to be a marine park, a protected area.

From primary industry groups to ecotourism operators, traditional owners and environmental activists, there was one clear message coming from all of them: the Great Australian Bight is a national environmental treasure that is too precious to put at risk. The parliament has to step up here because at the moment there is no opportunity for the people of South Australia or indeed for the rest of the Australian community to stop this devastating project from going ahead. The parliament must step up and step in to make sure that this national treasure is protected for generations to come.

I will be introducing a bill later this week to ensure that we have the laws to ban this type of operation from happening, to protect this very special and spectacular marine park that BP wants to put at risk. If BP is given approval, it will not just be BP—and I think this is really important to understand—but it will be Chevron and it will be Santos. There will be a long line of oil-drilling companies that want to get into that marine park and drill for profit, putting at risk the local fishing industries, putting at risk the protected marine life and indeed putting at risk the very important tourism industry which is a key aspect of South Australia's economy. Seriously, what is the point of having a marine park if it is not actually protected? What is the point of it? We have a marine park where we have a whale calving sanctuary, with whales that were endangered finally starting to reproduce in numbers that can be sustained, and we could have an oil company able to just go in and start drilling for oil.

Of course BP has not a very good record on keeping things like this safe. This is the very same company that is responsible for the Gulf of Mexico spill which, billions and billions of dollars and many years later, still has not been cleaned up. An entire fishing industry and the marine life in the Gulf of Mexico have been decimated because of the inability of BP to keep its drilling safe. Now we hear that BP wants to put at risk the Great Australian Bight, including the whales, the dolphins, the fishing industry, the oyster growers, the tuna industry. All of those will be put at risk if this company gets a foothold inside the Great Australian Bight.

The regulating body, NOPSEMA, is due to report back on one of BP's applications on Monday, 19 September. That is less than a week away yet still in this place we have not heard enough. We have not seen enough of a fight from either my fellow South Australians senators or indeed from the Minister for the Environment and Energy or from the shadow minister for the environment to make sure that this operation is put to a halt. The Greens are calling for the decision to be delayed because it is important that everybody understands what is really being put at risk and for there to be greater scrutiny on the proposal.

This precious marine ecosystem and the numerous local industries, including fisheries and ecotourism operators, deserve the right to know what is going on, what is at risk. They deserve the right to protect their precious environment and to keep their own industries afloat. The bight is an essential sanctuary for the southern right whales. It is a feeding ground for threatened sea lions, sharks, tuna and migratory sperm whales. We cannot afford to put any of that at risk yet here we have BP knocking at the door, demanding that it gets its slippery operations, its oily operations right in the middle of what is already meant to be a protected marine park.

It was said recently that oil rigs poised to be used in BP's operations in the bight could potentially use faulty equipment that even the US regulators say is very likely to cause yet another catastrophic incident. This revelation in itself should be enough to put the brakes on approving this disastrous project from going ahead. NOPSEMA must delay its decision. We must know exactly what is going on with the use of these dodgy bolts. You would not get on a roller-coaster if you knew the bolts were dodgy yet that is what BP is asking us to do.

I tell you what, South Australians are not going to stand for it. South Australians right across our state are terrified of the idea of our fishing industries being destroyed if indeed there is a catastrophic incident. Our tourism industry is terrified of what will happen if BP and the rest of the oil companies get approval to start drilling in this very precious area.

The Greens, along with Senator Xenophon and some others, are trying to re-establish a Senate inquiry which would be able to get some of this information out into the public arena. But actually it is essential that NOPSEMA delays its decision this coming Monday before it risks the environment, our marine life, the fisheries and our tourism industry by just ticking off on this approval without giving South Australians and the rest of the country all of the facts and information.

This essential ecosystem must be protected. The extremely vulnerable southern right whale population is only just starting to rebuild. While I was on the Nullarbor last week, I was lucky enough to see the whales with their babies in the calving sanctuary, a very special place on the head of the bight where you can see from land many of these whales playing and swimming in the water. This is an incredibly special place. There is nowhere else in the world where from land you can count 98 of these magnificent creatures with the naked eye and be proud of our country's environment. Our state should not be exposed to a Gulf of Mexico style disaster, and the Greens will continue to stand with environmental groups, local communities and industry organisations and groups to stand up against BP drilling in the bight and in our state.

A lot of the locals in this area are frustrated that they have not been consulted or given all the information. I met a lot of great people in Ceduna and along the west coast. I want to make special mention, though, of Deb and Leon Kloock, who operate Coorabie Farm Stay. It is a sheep farm, but they have now had to diversify and they allow tourists to stay on the farm with them. It is a wonderful initiative and a gorgeous place in South Australia. They are both fourth-generation farmers, and they are worried that they do not have all the information and that people have not been totally up-front about the risk that BP wants to put their community and their environment under. It is important that these local communities and all other South Australians are not left in the dark. That is why I call on NOPSEMA today to delay the decision and start being straight with the South Australian community.

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