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AGAINST – Bills — Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment (Safety and Other Measures) Bill 2024; Consideration in Detail

Allegra Spender

I move the amendment circulated in my name:

(1) Schedule 2, item 6, page 62 (after line 36), after section 790E, insert:

790F Ministerial opinions about regulations

(1) This section applies for any regulations (the relevant regulations) that:

(a) are prescribed for the purposes of paragraph 790E(1)(a); or

(b) amend regulations prescribed for the purposes of that paragraph.

(2) If, before the relevant regulations were made, the Minister:

(a) was of the opinion that the relevant regulations would, or would not, be inconsistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development set out in section 3A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999; or

(b) was given a written notice by the Environment Minister setting out the Environment Minister's opinion on that matter;

the Minister must table that opinion (including the reasons for that opinion) in each House of the Parliament within 7 sitting days of that House after the day the relevant regulations were made.

Note: If the Minister and the Environment Minister each held an opinion on the matter, then the Minister must table both opinions.

In a recent survey of the constituents of Wentworth, repairing our broken environmental laws was at the top of their environmental priority list for 2024. They wanted to see the parliament finally act on Graeme Samuel's review of the EPBC Act, which is now getting on for four years old, and they wanted to see a comprehensive response to the devastating State of the environment report, which made clear the extinction crisis facing our country. When I held a forum in Bondi last Sunday with youth advocates Anjali Sharma and Lottie Dalziel, the message was equally clear: parliamentarians have a duty of care to younger generations—a duty to strengthen our environmental laws and to do everything we can to prevent the accelerating and devastating climate crisis. This is why I'm speaking on the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment (Safety and Other Measures) Bill 2024.

Proposed section 790E of the bill introduced to this House provides the resources minister with an extremely broad power to change the rules governing environmental approvals for offshore oil and gas projects. Under the bill introduced to the House, changes to rules around environmental approvals would have been made without oversight by or even the involvement of the environmental minister, and they would not have had to be consistent with the provisions that currently exist under the EPBC Act. As the Biodiversity Council, an independent expert group founded by 11 Australian universities, set out in their submission to the Senate inquiry, this bill 'is wrong in principle because it would override, indefinitely, an important environmental protection' under the EPBC Act, it 'is inconsistent with' the government's Nature Positive Plan, and it 'takes an objectionable approach to legislation, because it buries' these changes in a bill that is supposed to be about worker safety.

It is a bill opposed by many First Nations leaders, who have come to parliament today to ask the government not to pass it, and I believe the government should listen to these First Nations leaders and should remove section 790E of the bill altogether. But if it cannot remove it in its entirety, there must be safeguards put around it. Along with other members of the crossbench, this is what I've been pushing the government to do. At a minimum, we need to see the environment minister consulted before regulations are made, and we need to see this consultation consider whether regulations made by the Minister for Resources under the extraordinary powers conferred by the legislation are consistent with the principles that underpin the EPBC Act. That is why I supported the government's amendments and welcomed those pieces that did that.

However, the government amendments still leave a lot to be desired. There are gaping holes in this legislation. Merely requiring the minister to be satisfied that regulations are not inconsistent with the high-level principles of ecologically sustainable development is a very weak test, and it is much weaker than the law currently provides. Under the current EPBC-endorsed program there are detailed requirements around how matters of environmental national significance should be protected, and regulations are then made to operationalise these. Compared to this concrete detail, a subjective test against a few high-level principles offers only minimal protection. At the very least, we need the Minister for Resources and the environment minister to explain why they are satisfied that regulations are or are not consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development. We need their reasons, their explanation and their justification for any new regulations made as a result of this law. That is what my amendment will do and that is why I have moved this amendment. It would compel the Minister for Resources and the environment minister to table their opinion on whether regulations made under this bill are consistent with the principles that underpin the EPBC and explained the reasons why. It is an important transparency measure, it would improve the integrity of the amendment already passed today and it would make a bad bill a little bit better.

I note I have tried to engage the environment minister's office and the resources minister's office regarding this, and the feedback I have had from the Minister for Resources' office is that they don't have enough time to consider these. These are amendments based on the government amendments which I got on Sunday. We then went through and did the work on yesterday to try to provide a useful amendment to the government's own amendments, and then I was told by the Minister for Resources' office that it looks like they didn't have enough time to consider these amendments. This is why this bill shouldn't be rushed through like this, this is why the debate should not be gagged like this, as it has been throughout this bill, and this is why this piece is so important.

Finally, I'm also deeply concerned about the implication of proposed subclause 790E(1D), which states that even a failure to comply with the new provisions does not invalidate any regulations made under this act. That is, even if you don't do what the government's amendments have provided for, it doesn't matter. If this is the case, it's a shocking loophole. Some people are calling this provision a 'get out of jail free' card, and so I welcome the good minister's clarification on the point of the government's own amendments—which I wasn't allowed to speak to because the government gagged my debate and stopped me speaking earlier on this bill.

Madeleine King

I move:

That the question be put.

Milton Dick

The question is that the question be now put.

Summary

Date and time: 5:57 PM on 2024-03-26
Allegra Spender's vote: No
Total number of "aye" votes: 47
Total number of "no" votes: 14
Total number of abstentions: 89
Related bill: Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment (Safety and Other Measures) Bill 2024

Adapted from information made available by theyvoteforyou.org.au

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