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Opposing offshore oil and gas exploration

If there is one issue that unites everyone in my electorate of Mackellar, it is the opposition to the PEP-11 permit for oil and gas exploration, covering 8,200 square kilometres just four kilometres off our stunning coastline—a permit that would allow drilling for oil and gas from Newcastle to Palm Beach and from Manly to Bondi, on some of the world's most stunning and famous beaches.

This is a permit that would result in seismic testing of the ocean floor, consisting of intense underwater explosions of up to 230 decibels, firing every three to 10 seconds 24 hours a day for weeks or months on end, along a whale migration pathway, with sound travelling efficiently through water. To give some perspective, a Boeing 747 generates only 160 decibels behind the engine. Seismic blasting has devastating effects on marine life. It damages the hearing and health of dolphins and whales and affects their ability to communicate and migrate, and that's all before oil and gas is even found.

It's no wonder that I have not yet met even one of my constituents who supports PEP-11 because, like all Australians, we love where we live. We love our stunning coastline and beaches and pristine waters. We delight in watching the seasonal whale migrations from our shores, and we love surfing with the dolphins. We're not prepared to risk it. Some of you may have travelled to the famous beaches of California where offshore drilling exists and experienced for yourselves the dirty, murky state of the water—iconic beaches where, only last year, the oil spill devastated the water and coastline. In California there are now renewed calls to ban even existing offshore drilling for oil and gas.

My community of Mackellar, together with my crossbench colleagues' coastal communities of Warringah and Wentworth and along with our local councils and state MPs, will continue to strenuously oppose PEP-11. Together, our community successfully fought to have the PEP-11 licence extinguished, so, when we were assured in December last year that PEP-11 was dead in the water, our communities celebrated. However, since the recent revelation that the former Prime Minister of Australia was responsible for the decision to end PEP-11 after secretly swearing himself in as a second resources minister, the validity of the decision to cancel PEP-11 is being challenged in the Federal Court. As such, the issue is yet again front and centre in the minds of my community.

But it's not just us, it's not just PEP 11 and it's not just a case of nimbyism. Organisations like the Surfrider Foundation who have organised coordinated paddle-out protests of surfers across Australia are a great example of everyday Australians standing up to show there is no social licence for further offshore oil and gas exploration anywhere along Australia's coastline. Ningaloo Reef was spared in 2020 due to community action and the Great Australian Bight was spared in 2021, again due to community action.

The New South Wales state government has listened to Australians. They have read the room. In February this year, they announced a new policy whereby offshore exploration and mining for commercial purposes will be prohibited. Why? They declared that the possible impacts of these activities on Indigenous heritage, sensitive marine environments, fishing for commercial and recreational purposes, and other recreational activities outweigh the potential benefits. And it goes without saying that the impacts of further fossil fuel mining projects on climate change and on Australia's capacity to meet our Paris Agreement obligations must also be taken into account.

With our 2030 target now legislated, there is simply no room for new oil and gas exploration projects. As the UN Secretary-General recently said, our 'addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction'.

These ocean-floor mining projects cause the release of fugitive methane emissions. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and there are huge leakage rates of up to 66 per cent from these mines. Once drilled, these mining wells can continue to release methane, sometimes in perpetuity. Indeed, this is the situation in the Gulf of Mexico, where unknown quantities of methane and other greenhouse gases continue leaking from tens of thousands of holes in the ocean floor.

Starting new fossil fuel mining projects now won't just cause short-term impacts; these projects will continue to produce emissions and environmental impacts for decades. It's why offshore drilling has been banned in other jurisdictions. Take, for example, the US. New exploration has been banned in Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Virginia and California. In California, the ban was imposed in 1994; however, drilling continues. These projects can last for decades. Last month, the government released 47,000 square kilometres of oil and gas acreage for exploration, an area the size of Switzerland. This paves the way for more mega gas projects. As gen Y says, 'Enough already.'

My electorate—and, I hope, this chamber, having passed the historic Climate Change Act only a few weeks ago—are serious about trying to reach our 2030 target and our net zero 2050 target. This means not adding to the problem. Australia's large emitters will have a big enough challenge meeting the safeguard mechanism baselines to achieve Australia's 2030 target. There is no room for more. It comes down to this: releasing acreage for oil and gas exploration isn't in the interests of climate change, it isn't in the interests of our environment, it isn't in the interests of clean beaches and it isn't in the interests of my community. It isn't in the interests of the existing high emitters, who will have to cut emissions further if new projects are brought on. And it isn't in the interests of our Pacific neighbours, who will bear the impacts of rising sea levels. In fact, only last week the UN Human Rights Committee made an historic legal finding that, due to Australia's inaction on climate change, we have violated our human rights obligations to the eight Torres Strait Islander peoples who brought the action.

Enough of the devastation to our environment. Enough of the devastation to our climate. Enough of the devastation to human rights violations. Let's focus on clean, renewable, offshore opportunities—opportunities now possible due to the passage of the former government's Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill. We have six projects. Let's grow that number. We need more of Mike Cannon-Brookes's Sun Cable, which will provide power to Singapore; Matt Kean's Waratah batteries, which offer a vital backstop for our renewable energy; and Hunter industrial precincts, which will forge the green steel and aluminium that will transform Asia and, hopefully, Australia. It's time to pivot to the future and not stick to the past.

I call on the government to follow the New South Wales state government's example and close the book on any future release of ocean-floor exploration licences for oil and gas.

You can view the speech here.