Bill seeks National Heritage Status for Great Australian Bight

Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie on Kangaroo Island. File photo
Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie on Kangaroo Island. File photo

Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie has introduced a Private Member’s Bill to grant National Heritage Status to the Great Australian Bight to protect this pristine environment from risky mining activities.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Heritage Listing for the Bight) Bill 2018 was tabled on Monday, December 3 with the Centre Alliance MP telling Parliament her community and the communities across the south coast of Australia stood to lose too much from an oil drilling disaster.

“I believe that my Bill strikes the right balance between sovereign risk and social, economic and environmental protection,” Rebekha said.

“In recognition of that balance, Whilst my Bill does not outright ban oil drilling in the Bight, it does set a significantly higher environmental impact threshold when the regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), assesses offshore oil and gas activities in this biodiversity hotspot and major fisheries resource.”

Rebekha’s Bill would require NOPSEMA to assess that all proposed mining and exploration activities carried out in Commonwealth waters in the Bight do not have unacceptable impacts upon:

  • the national heritage and environmental values of the Bight;
  • upon the ecological character of a declared Ramsar wetland such as the Coorong and Murray Mouth;
  • upon listed migratory species, listed threatened species and ecological communities; and
  • upon the environment in a Commonwealth marine area or on Commonwealth land.

Rebekha’s Bill comes in the wake of last month’s leaked ‘worst case discharge scenario’ in Equinor’s draft Oil Pollution Emergency Plan.

Equinor (formerly Statoil) currently holds two exploration permits in the Bight and its worst-case scenario showed a spill could go further than Tasmania and spread two-thirds of the way up the New South Wales coast as far as Port Macquarie.

“I realise Equinor’s draft environment plan is still a work in progress but their extreme scenario is even worse than the previous modelling by former permit holder BP which showed a Bight oil spill could release more than twice the amount of crude oil that entered the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, considered to be the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry," Rebekha said.

That modelling was only released after a two-year legal battle by Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

“It is not alarmist to say that my community of Mayo and the communities along the South Australian shorelines do not want to see this scale of disaster unleashed upon them,” Rebekha said.

“My community and the communities across south-eastern Australia would be devastated.

“Every swimmer at the beach, every fisherman and fisherwoman, every bed and breakfast, every fish and chip shop, everyone anywhere near the coast, would be affected.

“My own community has been polled by the Australia Institute as having 74 per cent support for World Heritage Protection of the Bight, and majority support from voters across all political parties.

“I would like to see such risky deep-water drilling in the Bight banned altogether but I understand the political concern regarding the abdication of Australia’s sovereignty to avoid so-called ‘sovereign risk’.

“Centre Alliance are not anti-development, but we believe that the Government must manage catastrophic risks at the appropriately high threshold.

“My Bill, if taken up by the Government, also opens up the pathway for the Bight to become World Heritage listed and join its rightful place as one of the natural wonders of Australia that includes the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and Uluru.”

Comments