Oil or gas production in the Great Australian Bight: A Precautionary
This inquiry has raised and examined a number of important competing
interests including resource security, economic activity, jobs, professional
and recreational fishing, tourism, environmental conservation and risk
management of a catastrophic event. The committee report has provided a
comprehensive summary and analysis of the issues under consideration and the secretariat
is to be commended for their work.
The committee has accurately spelt out the regulatory framework and
explained the roles of the National Petroleum Titles Administrator (NOPTA), the
National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority
(NOPSEMA) and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. It has also
described accurately the processes that BP went through to advance its drilling
endeavours in the Great Australian Bight.
Evidence given to the committee sets out the potentially catastrophic
consequences of an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight. My home state of
South Australia would suffer irreversible consequences to its coastal
environment, and deep and long term economic damage.
A commonly accepted definition of the 'precautionary principle'
(or 'precautionary approach') to risk management states 'that if an action
or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, or to the
environment, in the absence of scientific consensus (that the action or policy
is not harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those
taking that action'.
The concern I have in respect of the proposal to justify drilling in the
Great Australian Bight is that the burden of proof to show that it will
not be harmful has not been met by those who have proposed the drilling. This
must be considered in the context of the harm that could be caused if there is
an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight as against the potential benefits of
drilling. Consistent with this approach are the concerns that were raised in
the committee report about the lack of transparency by BP in respect of its
I accept that energy security is a critically important issue in
Australia, as well as the apparent failures of gas policies, which the
Government is taking steps to address. Along with my colleagues I have
advocated for a series of measures to deal with the gas crisis, including more
transparency in gas contracts, greater competition in the marketplace, export
controls and particularly a 'use it or lose it' approach. In relation to
the latter, there appeared to be significant reserves of offshore gas that are
tied up in retention leases. That must be reviewed as a matter of urgency for
that gas to make it to the domestic market.
I am not satisfied that the burden of proof that drilling in the Great
Australian Bight would not be harmful, weighing up the risks and benefits, has
been met by its proponents.
Drilling in the Great Australian Bight should not proceed as it fails to
meet the burden of proof required by the precautionary principle.
Senator Nick Xenophon
Senator for South Australia
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page