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Motion: Gas exploration

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
13 October 2021

I now move:

That this house, pursuant to section 40(6) of the National Parks Act 1975, revokes the minister’s consent to Beach Energy Limited conducting operations within Port Campbell National Park under the Petroleum Act 1998.

The purpose of this motion is to disallow the consent that has been granted by the Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change to allow gas and oil company Beach Energy to undertake gas drilling on Keerray Woorroong country in the Port Campbell National Park. To ensure that all members can make an informed vote on this motion I will take this opportunity now to explain why the Greens are moving this motion and why all MPs in this place should support it.

Beach Energy is an Australian Stock Exchange-listed oil and gas company. They are the second-biggest oil producer in Australia after Woodside. Beach Energy is 28 per cent owned by billionaire Kerry Stokes’s Seven Group, and until just a few weeks ago Ryan Stokes, Kerry Stokes’s son, was on Beach Energy’s board. Why is this relevant? Over the years Beach Energy, the Seven Group and Kerry Stokes have made extensive political donations to the Liberal, National and Labor parties federally and in a number of states. While recent donations do not include Victorian parties, it is not difficult to see how money paid in federally or in a different state can nonetheless have a potentially corrupting influence when the same parties are involved. Bear this in mind as we listen to the contributions of MPs from those parties today.

In 2018 Beach Energy was granted approval by the Victorian Labor government to explore for new gas in Victorian state waters. This includes several ocean blocks. One is directly adjacent to the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park; another is alongside the first block, just off the coast of the Port Campbell National Park. Beach Energy has now undertaken exploration using seismic blasting and has located a source of gas beneath the ocean floor.

As an aside that I wish I had more time to discuss, the process of gas and oil exploration itself is not benign. It is now known to have serious consequences for marine life, including causing hearing loss in dolphins and whales and disturbing feeding and breeding. This is something else to bear in mind if you hear from MPs today that there is no environmental impact from oil and gas drilling.

Coming back to Beach Energy and this project, now that the company have located a gas reservoir and they plan to start producing commercial gas, they have installed a gas drill named Enterprise-1 onshore on private land just beyond the Port Campbell National Park. This will be used to drill the gas from below the ocean floor and beneath the national park. It is because the drilling is to occur beneath the national park that the environment minister’s consent was required, and it is that consent that the Greens are today seeking to disallow.

It will be no surprise that our number one objection to this project is the climate impact of drilling and burning gas from a new gas well. Victoria is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, with more severe fires and weather events and rising sea levels damaging coastal areas. I know some of those opposite wilfully ignore the truth and want to pretend that climate change is not happening, but it is, and it is the reason we are experiencing such devastating bushfires more frequently in this state. Burning gas, along with coal and oil, is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Climate change causes more severe weather events. That is a fact. To deny that truth is to join the likes of the flat-earthers.

Just a few short months ago the world’s climate scientists made it very clear that there is no more time left for new fossil fuel projects if we are to limit catastrophic climate change. From this point on all coal, oil and gas must stay in the ground. But here we are with a Labor government that has publicly stated its support for Beach Energy’s new gas project. Labor MPs have downplayed the significance of this project in terms of climate emissions. The implication is that it is small, that we are overblowing it and need not be concerned.

There are two big reasons I reject this. First, this Beach Energy project alone would produce 161 petajoules of gas. That is equivalent to 10 per cent of Victoria’s total emissions from 2019 or the equivalent of 600 000 cars on the road. Let us be clear: it is not small, it is not benign. Second, the Greens are deeply troubled that this project paves the way for many future oil and gas developments in the Otway Basin. Again, Labor MPs have downplayed our concerns. They say there is already some gas production in the region and therefore adding this project is not such a big issue. They say it will not be visible from the Twelve Apostles and it will not actually threaten them—so it is okay, they say. But it is not okay. What this ignores is the sheer scale of oil and gas production on the table for the Otway Basin. When I briefed MPs on this motion, I provided a map detailing all current areas of gas and oil production and exploration and new areas recently opened for bidding. This is publicly available information. The area at risk is vast and mind boggling. It extends right along our west coastline, from South Australia to Tasmania, and it entirely surrounds the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park.

If this project is allowed to go ahead, it paves the way for the next and the next and the next. It builds the new infrastructure, like pipelines, that future projects can use. It is one step on the slippery slope to the industrialisation of our precious oceans. It is one step closer to the climate collapse. That is why we must draw a line now and say, ‘No more’. This Beach Energy project must be the project where we finally say, ‘No. Enough is enough. Drilling for fossil fuels in Victoria stops here’, and the MPs in the room here today have the power to do that with just one simple vote.

In addition to climate and amenity impacts, the Greens and I remain concerned that the environmental risks of Beach Energy’s project have not been fully canvassed. The Greens have sought information from the Minister for Resources about what environmental assessment has been or will be undertaken. So far we have received vague non-answers. We have submitted a freedom-of-information request to gain access to the environmental report and have been denied this on spurious grounds. We are continuing to pursue that and will use legal mechanisms if required. So to the resources minister and any other Labor MPs who dismiss the Greens’ concerns about the potential environmental risks of this project within close proximity to a marine park, please make the evidence you are relying on public, and let us let the experts decide. With possible risks such as methane leaking into the ocean, it would be sensible to take a precautionary approach. We need to understand what these risks are, and the community and especially traditional owners must be consulted.

No doubt we will hear from Labor MPs today that we need this project because apparently Victoria needs new gas so that people do not have to shiver in their homes over winter. When I briefed MPs on this motion, I took the opportunity to share independent modelling conducted by Northmore Gordon that demonstrates how Victoria can meet its gas needs over the coming years without having to increase new supply. We know it will take a bit of time to get Victorian households off gas and ensure everyone has sufficient heating, hot water and cooking, which are vital for all our lives, but the fact is the experts say that we do not actually need to drill for any new gas and no-one, not one person, will lose their heating, their stove, their hot water—not one. All it requires is for the government to put in place some modest programs that help people switch their heaters and hot water to electric and heat pumps, and that would avoid the need to drill for any new gas.

Right now, the government has a choice. They can act quickly to reduce our dependence on gas, negating any need for projects like the one planned by Beach Energy, or they can fail to act, instead locking us into decades more of expensive and polluting gas use, which is also damaging for our health, as recent research has shown that using gas for cooking inside your home has a huge impact on our health, especially for children and people with conditions such as asthma.

Now, I want to acknowledge that the government has taken some positive initial steps when it comes to the gas transition. There is a gas substitution road map being developed, and some low-income households are being supported to replace their expensive and dangerous gas heating. That is a good start, but this gas substitution plan is lacking ambition. It is aiming to gradually reduce gas use up until 2050, but actually we must do the bulk of the work getting off gas in the next five to 10 years. And the good news is we can. The government need to go much further and much faster, so I call on the government not to dig their heels in on this Beach Energy project and future gas drilling but instead to show real climate leadership. This government could act right now to ban new gas connections to new homes and developments, instead making rules that connect homes to electric appliances, which are actually a lot more efficient, healthier and which save people money. They could expand the existing gas heater replacement program to provide access to all Victorian households. And Victoria can lead a revival of manufacturing, powered by clean energy, not expensive gas.

The Greens are excited about the opportunities that come with getting off gas and electrifying everything. This transition will generate tens of thousands of new jobs. It will save homes $4000 a year on energy bills, and of course it is what climate action demands. I welcome debate on this motion today, but given how close both the Labor and Liberal parties are to the fossil fuel industry I do not hold much hope that we will see a sensible debate about the issue at hand, which is fundamentally a question of whether you accept that we are in a climate emergency or not. You cannot believe in climate change and the urgency to act and still support the burning of more fossil fuels—you just cannot.

I suspect we are going to hear a lot of weasel words and excuses in the debate to come. We are going to hear what Greta Thunberg recently foretold in her speech at the Youth Climate Summit, where she called out leaders for their hollow words. I quote:

Build back better, blah, blah, blah. Green economy, blah, blah, blah. Net zero by 2050, blah, blah, blah … This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far has led to no action. Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty … promises.

She goes on to say:

We can no longer let the people in power decide what is politically possible … We can no longer let the people in power decide what hope is. Hope is not passive. Hope is not ‘blah, blah, blah’. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.

So for all the speakers who will now get up and tell me to believe their self-delusions, all I am going to hear is ‘blah, blah, blah’. When you tell me that gas is a transition fuel that we can keep burning for decades, all I will hear is ‘blah, blah, blah’. When you tell me that the environmental damage is not that bad, all I will hear is ‘blah, blah, blah’, and when you complain about the Greens, the CPRS, the ETS, ‘blah, blah, blah’. ‘You Greens have done the campaign wrong, blah, blah, blah’, ‘We are committed to act, but this is complicated, blah, blah, blah’—empty, hollow, meaningless words. So save your breath, everyone. We are in a climate emergency. Stop the ‘blah, blah, blah’ and pluck up the courage to act now. I commend this motion to the courageous amongst us.

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
13 October 2021
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