SECOND READING SPEECH | Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment (Fight for Australia's Coastline) Bill 2022

09 February 2023



Senator AYRES (New South Wales—Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) (09:16): The government, of course, doesn't support the bill that is currently before the chamber. I want to come to PEP-11 in a moment but the coverage of the bill is much broader than PEP-11. It would apply to petroleum exploration leases right across eastern and southern Australia. It would have a profound effect on our $90 billion oil and gas sector. The proposition that his government would support a blanket ban on oil and gas exploration and development is completely utterly unacceptable to the government. I want to make a few comments about why then I want to come to the issue of PEP-11. I respect the fact that Senator Whish-Wilson not only had a number of other particular potential developments in mind in his own contribution today but also other matters that he's brought to the Senate in relation to some of these developments.

We don't support a one-out approach of making special measures in Australia of knocking over fossil fuel development or oil and gas projects in Australia and that's because we support the global framework. That's because the position of the Australian government is that we, like the previous government and future governments, are signed up to the Paris framework. That means that we have to take measures for our own domestic emissions. Other countries, other companies, are responsible for the emissions that are created through their consumption of Australian oil and gas and coal and other products. It's an attractive slogan to put to people who are legitimately deeply concerned about the impact of dangerous climate change on our environment, on our welfare, on our security, on our safety. Its impact is felt very differently around the world. It's felt most dramatically in the Pacific and South-East Asia where efforts are focused on managing the impacts of changing temperatures, changing patterns and rising sea levels.

I spent some time last year in the Mekong Delta, where the impact of ever-rising sea levels in the flat, low delta is having a profound effect on food security, rural poverty and agricultural production. You could not have two more different looking river systems than the Murray-Darling and the Mekong. But 30 years of deep agricultural research between Vietnam and Australian industry and Australian government agencies shows our history of dealing with soil salinity in the Murray-Darling Basin means that there are very important research collaborations assisting their response.

It is legitimate to argue that the scale of the global response is not sufficient to meet the challenge. If that's the case then that is an argument for more concerted global action. That is an argument for nations to comply with their obligations and argue for more—

An honourable senator: Leadership.

Senator AYRES: leadership, indeed, because that's been lacking for the last decade. You don't take one-off action that undermines the cause of collective global action. It's at best wrong-headed and, at worst, it distracts people into a cul-de-sac of action. A bit of free advice on the environmental approach here—and feel free to ignore it—what it means is that, if people are focused upon this idea that cancelling particular projects and undermining Australia's overall response and the level of community support across the community for cohesive, concerted government action and they think that's going to assist the cause of global emissions reduction, that is entirely wrong. It undermines community support. It's big in some suburbs, but it undermines community support for action that delivers reduced emissions, lower energy costs, investment in the technology of the future and, critically, global cooperation.

Senator Whish-Wilson: Why did the minister commit to this?

Senator AYRES: I'm going to come to PEP-11 in a minute, don't you worry about that. In terms of the principle, in my view it is utterly wrong-headed to campaign on the basis of the climate response to particular projects in the way that Senator Whish-Wilson has described. I respect the fact that there are other reasons why local communities agitate on these issues, particularly in areas of deep environmental significance and areas where there are real environmental, biodiversity or other values—or economic values, indeed. I did hear Senator Whish-Wilson talk about there not being much flathead around in Tasmania. I can tell him that I am surprised and grateful that there were quite a few flathead around the South Coast of New South Wales over the course of January, and I caught some of them. Coming back to the debate, as a matter of principle, I think that's the wrong approach.

There should be an argument for broader global action—no quibbling with that—but countries of the world have to take action together. You can adopt that approach in the way that former prime minister Abbott did, which was an argument for no action, or you can say it's an argument for leadership. I can tell you, from the response of leaders around the world, Australia's return to a sensible, cohesive, active position in this debate is very welcome indeed. The last government and the two governments before that, the governments of Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott, were pariahs in the international community on climate action. They isolated Australia in a way that didn't just damage our capacity to be effective on climate; it also damaged our economic interest. They damaged our position in the region and they damaged, as has become very clear, our reputation in the Indo-Pacific in particular.

On the PEP-11 project itself, I'm required to say that there's a process still before the courts. Even though we're in the parliament here, there's a requirement to be circumspect about some of the matters that are before the courts. The core of the problem is what the former prime minister did over the course of the last two years. I do think that the position of the Greens on these questions is—I say it respectfully—wrong-headed in terms of principle; but you've moved from wrong-headed to wrong—just wrong.

The idea that a prime minister would so pervert the processes of government that he swears himself in secretly to a range of portfolios and the only action undertaken—the only thing that, so far, we know that this bloke actually did, the former member for Cook—the member for Cook; he's not gone yet, not yet—was this stunt, and he didn't mean it. He didn't mean it! He perverted the processes of government in a way that he must have known was improper and that he must have known would lead to endless court action. He must have known that it was wrong and he took the action in a way which undermined the stated public policy objective.

If you were fair-dinkum serious as a government about achieving the public policy objective that he claimed, on the beach with the sand between his toes in Terrigal, he actually cared about—trying to sandbag those seats—he would have gone to the cabinet. He would have had the courage of what remained of his convictions and he would have done what a sensible, proper prime minister does—that is, have a discussion with cabinet, have the courage of your convictions, make a properly founded cabinet decision. Instead, it was an improper, shonky stunt. Where are we now? We're where we always ended up with Mr Morrison: an announcement, some crude politics that people saw straight through, but an utter disaster and a legacy of more delay and more uncertainty, with Mr Morrison's legacy left even further in tatters.

Now until the senators opposite, and their colleagues in the Liberal National Party, really come to grips with how much Mr Morrison actually perverted the processes of government and what that means for their legacy, they haven't got a hope. They haven't got a hope, because one of the things you have to do, if you're going to be a fair dinkum opposition instead of a pretend one, is you actually have to come to grips with the legacy of your own government. And it was crook. At the beating, desiccated heart of that miserable government lay a person who centralised the processes of government so much and hid it from his colleagues, who perverted the cabinet processes so much that the government was not functional. It was a government by fiat, and it was enabled by all of these people over here—all of them. It was enabled by the leader here, by senior cabinet ministers, by staffers, by ministers, by backbenchers. They all knew what was going on but never had the courage to stand up to the bloke and say, 'This has got to stop'. Until you come to grips with that, you're not going to be a fair dinkum opposition. If you can't come to grips with that legacy, you're not going to be able to be a fair dinkum opposition.

On PEP-11, the government will follow the processes utterly scrupulously because that is the only way to not botch this process the way the former government did. (Time expired)