Bight ban legislation all at sea

March 31st, 2017

The ongoing campaign by activist groups and the Greens to ban offshore exploration and production in the Great Australian Bight has been dealt a blow, with a strong Senate Committee report recommending legislation to implement a ban not proceed.

The Environment and Communications Legislation Committee has recommended that the Senate not pass the Greens-sponsored Great Australian Bight Protection Bill 2016.

The legislation – essentially a scattergun collection of the collective wishlists of Greens and enviroactivists – was strongly criticised by a wide range of stakeholders for its potential impact on the economy:

“Submitters argued that the bill would have a negative impact on the economies of South Australia and Western Australia. For example, the Western Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum noted that though state jurisdictions only extend to the outer limit of coastal waters, oil and gas activities in adjoining Commonwealth waters can provide benefits to states. These include benefits from ‘land based petroleum processing and reticulation of energy, provision of support, facilities (e.g. ports) and associated employment opportunities’.

 The legislation copped criticism on the regulatory front as well, with submissions pointing out the detrimental effect that it would have on investment certainty and on energy security. Geoscience Australia (GA) told the Committee:

“Whilst Australia’s gas resources are extensive, domestic supplies of oil are limited and production continues to decline. It is expected that the trend of decreasing oil resources will not change within the known oil basins, making the discovery of a new oil province or provinces essential to maintaining Australia’s future energy security”

GA also outlined the impact of the legislation on Australia’s world leading research on climatic, environmental and oceanic change, pointing out that a ban on any exploration activity in the Bight would diminish Australia’s international scientific reputation.

And if the practical implications weren’t enough, the Law Council of Australia had their turn, detailing half a dozen instances where the drafting of the legislation fell short, concluding that:

“the Bill as presented in its current form has a number of deficiencies and uncertain elements”

In recommending that the legislation not proceed, a majority of Committee members found that:

“If passed, the bill would result in the first offshore oil and gas moratorium in Australia. This would follow moratoria on onshore petroleum exploration in Victoria and the Northern Territory. Together, these measures place Australia’s investment reputation at serious risk, and may impact the future viability of major investment projects.

 Regulatory certainty is fundamental to Australia’s appeal as an investment destination and this bill would create a perception of uncertainty. Australia’s reputation as an investment destination for oil and gas companies would be severely damaged by the bill.”

Unsurprisingly, Greens members of the Committee submitted a dissenting report, seemingly ignoring the expert evidence given to the inquiry, instead focussing on the same, hackneyed arguments of enviroactivist groups.

While this should be the end of the debate, it probably won’t be.

No doubt activist groups will continue to push a disingenuous agenda and seek a sponsor for another Private Members Bill to try and further frustrate responsible exploration and development in the Bight.

Hopefully the Senate will deal with the next attempt in the same way they’ve rejected this one, and this previous attempt by the Greens.

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