Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP moves amendments for environmental protection in offshore petroleum

25 March 2024



These amendments are important. Earlier today, I spoke in this House regarding my concerns in relation to the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment (Safety and Other Measures) Bill 2024. The amendments I am moving remove part 2, schedule 2 from the bill. Part 2, schedule 2 is completely off topic when it comes to the primary purpose of this bill, which is to improve the conditions of workers in the offshore gas industry. Instead, it is a sneaky attempt by the government to include in an otherwise noncontentious bill significant carve-outs for the gas industry from environmental regulations and the requirements of the offshore petroleum and greenhouse gas storage legislation and regulations themselves. It does this by providing, in part 2, a new clause, 790E, which enables existing projects approved by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, NOPSEMA, to undertake additional actions that may be inconsistent with future regulatory changes—a get out of jail free card delivered to the oil and gas industries. This get out of jail free card is being provided to a polluting and environmentally damaging industry in the midst of the government's major reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act outlined in its Nature Positive reforms.

This legislation is gaslighting the Australian public and making a mockery of the government's climate and environmental reforms. It undermines Federal Court decisions that have affirmed the need to consult First Nations people who have a connection with the land in environmental plans approved by NOPSEMA. It undermines the government's own referendum agenda to give a voice to and listen to First Nations communities. There is absolutely no reason or place for providing this carve-out. There is no justification for streamlining the approvals process for these polluting projects at the expense of our environmental and consultation laws and the improvements to them that we anticipate over the coming months.

In what appears to be a response to the inquiry of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee into this bill, the government yesterday circulated amendments. But it is understood that those amendments will not go far enough; in fact, they maintain this carve-out. They provide a sunsetting clause and a series of hurdles, it being at the discretion of the Minister for Resources and the Minister for the Environment and Water to determine whether future changes to the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act are consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development—the irony of it, when we are faced with this legislation! In the event that the regulations are deemed not to be consistent with those principles, the get out of jail free card loses its currency, but if those regulations are deemed to be consistent then we remain in this situation.

I do not accept that these amendments are sufficient to address my concerns. Firstly, there is too much ministerial discretion, particularly for the Minister for Resources, whose agenda often appears to be completely aligned with that of the gas industry and not with proper environmental protection. We need only remember the last parliament, when in fact the Prime Minister stepped in as minister for resources, which begs the question. It is not good environmental protection to hand this power solely to the Minister for Resources.

Secondly, the clauses, particularly the sunsetting clause, are convoluted and contain far too many loopholes to instil any confidence that existing endorsed projects and plans will be subject to future Nature Positive plans. The government could easily commence a series of reforms on time lines that would effectively cause the sun never to set. Therefore, this amendment to repeal part 2 of schedule 2 is absolutely essential to ensure proper scrutiny around offshore gas projects and curtail this carve-out that the Minister for Resources is seeking for herself.

It is telling that in this debate we have just seen the government gag second reading speeches from the crossbench. It is telling that not a single government member or backbencher has been willing to defend this terrible bill and its terrible provisions. It is telling that the minister for the environment has not stepped up to say that she is fine with the idea that the Minister for Resources will supersede her on offshore gas projects and that the Minister for Indigenous Australians has not stepped up to say she's okay with the voice of First Nations communities being silenced—especially in the aftermath of the Voice referendum. It makes a mockery of the government's position when it comes to climate action. It makes a mockery of its stated desire to listen to First Nations people.