Senate attempt to ensure genuine community consultation on seismic testing fails

The extent of the seismic testing area off the Central Coast, Newcastle and SydneyThe proposed seismic testing area off the Central Coast, in search of best petroleum drill sites.

NSW Greens’ Senator Mehreen Faruqi has accused the major parties of betraying the Central Coast by voting down a Greens’ motion calling for “genuine community consultation” on Asset Energy’s plan to conduct seismic testing off the region’s coastline.

The motion, voted down on December 2, expressed concern that Asset Energy and its partners could lodge their Environmental Plan over the holiday period, restricting genuine community participation. It called on the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) to extend the consultation period to sixty days if a plan is lodged over the holidays.

Asset Energy is preparing an environmental plan for proposed seismic blasting to detect oil or gas to be conducted under Petroleum Exploration Permit (PEP 11) for 4,500 square kilometres off the coast, between Newcastle and Manly. Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, Katy Gallagher, spoke against the motion, saying Labor did not agree that the Senate should be directing the independent regulator in its assessment processes.

“We do support rigorous safety and environmental assessments that consider whether impacts and risks are acceptable on the basis of independent, scientific advice, ” Gallagher said.

“We also believe that science and consultation, including from the community, should be at the heart of NOPSEMA’s decision-making processes.

“However, this can undermine the independence of the regulator. “We supported the Senate inquiry into seismic testing because we understand there are concerns from the community. ”

Faruqi said the motion had been a “very reasonable request to give the community a genuine say on “this environmentally devastating project”. “Labor says they stand with the community, but every time the issue has come (up) in the Federal Parliament, they buckle and sit with the Liberals and Nationals, ” she said.

“The community won’t tolerate politicians who say one thing and then do another. “The local community is firmly against this proposal and is deeply concerned that the Environmental Plan will be sneakily lodged during the holiday period, denying the time to properly scrutinise it.

“I cannot fathom how Labor and the Coalition could argue with the premise that the community should be given a fair go to have their say on the plan. “Seismic testing poses a huge risk to marine animals and the environment. “The Greens will continue to stand with the community and against the fossil fuel lobby’s offshore drilling proposals which will accelerate the climate crisis. ” Community group Save Our Coast has expressed disappointment at the failure of the motion.

“It is disappointing and distressing to think that a plan for extension of PEP 11, including seismic testing and/ or drilling, that affects our coast and therefore our wellbeing and way of life, could be sneaked through during the Christmas period”, Save Our Coast founder, Natasha Deen, said.

“We simply requested that plans for offshore mining not be released during the Christmas/New Year period, or at the very least, that an extension of public comment be granted if they are. “We are thankful to Senator Faruqi for championing our cause, but are very disappointed that there was no support forthcoming from any other parties for what was really a very simple request.

David Abrahams, Central Coast Convenor of Save Our Coast, said “if the plan was released over the holiday period many people would miss an opportunity to have a say. “The sad fact is that the major parties seem hell bent on establishing a new Bass Straight off our beaches. “This is outrageous and locals expect to have their say, ” Abrahams said.

“Seismic testing and drilling and the resulting gas wells would affect people’s enjoyment of the Coast for decades to come, accelerate climate damage and directly affect our thriving tourism and fisheries industries. ” Save Our Coast has collected 55,000 signatures on a petition opposing seismic testing or drilling for gas and has hosted many events collectively attended by thousands.

Source: Media release, Dec 2 Senator Mehreen Faruqi Hansard transcript, Dec 2 Senate sitting Media release, Dec 3 Save Our Coast