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Bills Referral- Minerals Legislation Amendment

I am genuinely conflicted about this referral motion, and I will speak both for and against the motion to explain why I am genuinely annoyed and conflicted. I note that the students from St Augustine's and Killarney Heights had to leave, for which I apologise. They will enjoy Government House, which is their next stop. The important bill in question seeks to prohibit offshore petroleum exploration and mining activity off the New South Wales coast. This is very much a goal I share and will take every opportunity to advocate for.


I thank the Opposition for introducing the bill and focusing the Parliament's attention on this important issue. In particular I thank the member for Manly, the member for Vaucluse and the member for Pittwater, who have been champions of the bill. Of course, as MPs representing coastal electorates, we have a common interest in stopping offshore petroleum mining off the New South Wales coastline. However, I must make the point that the New South Wales Coalition had 12 years to bring the legislation while in government, and it did not. During the election campaign, when Coalition members committed to legislating a ban on offshore mining in New South Wales waters, I stood in front of the cameras with Layne Beachley and the Surfrider Foundation and suggested they recall Parliament, if they were serious, to get it done. They had plenty of opportunity to legislate when they were in power. They are bringing this bill now that they are in opposition, and that is extremely disappointing to me.

The context of the bill is the PEP 11 exploration licence and the years of uncertainty that communities have endured about the threat of drilling for gas off the coastline from Newcastle to Manly. I have long opposed offshore exploration and mining and, in particular, progression of the PEP 11 exploration licence. As mayor of Northern Beaches Council, I was opposed to this project from the outset. In March 2019, I think, the council passed a motion as a matter of urgency to write to our local Federal members outlining our opposition, and also to write to the joint authority responsible for making the decision approving the PEP 11 exploration licence. On this and many other occasions, the Northern Beaches Council and I, as mayor, made our opposition to the project crystal clear.

It will come as no surprise to anybody on the northern beaches that we are passionate about the health of our coastline and ocean. The coast from Newcastle to Manly contains many of the most iconic beaches in the country, if not the world. When we learned about the threat of proposed offshore gas drilling off our beaches, the community rallied in opposition. In February 2022, wanting to secure the support of the northern beaches in the lead-up to the Federal election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly—now infamously—assumed the powers of his Cabinet colleague and resource Minister Keith Pitt, to supposedly cancel the PEP 11 exploration licence. That ill-fated attempt was then challenged in court by Asset Energy and the decision was overturned in February this year. That very unfortunate series of events has led us to where we are today, with no certainty about the PEP 11 exploration licence. The exploration licence is now back with the joint authority for determination. Minister Houssos sits on that authority, but Federal Minister Madeleine King has the final say. We eagerly await the outcome.

With the February decision again raising the prospect of exploration progressing, PEP 11 became a feature of the 2023 New South Wales election campaign, with Independents and the Coalition committing to legislation to stop offshore exploration and mining. I welcomed that race to the top in what turned into a competition of who can oppose PEP 11 the most. I acknowledge the advocacy of Jacqui Scruby, who ran as an Independent for the electorate of Pittwater, and the determination of Alex Greenwich and other Independents to use every available lever to decisively act to stop PEP 11 and draw attention to the urgent need to switch to renewable energy sources, not new coal and gas mining. I also acknowledge the work that Zali Steggall and Dr Sophie Scamps are doing in the Commonwealth Parliament with the Stop PEP 11 bill.

The risks to our coastline and marine environment from offshore petroleum exploration and mining are simply too high. We know that seismic testing, which is a key step in exploratory activities, is damaging to wildlife, as the member for Pittwater pointed out. For example, it harms whales' hearing and keeps them from their feeding and breeding grounds. I am sure I am not the only one who has been watching on, in awe, as whales have been travelling up our coast in recent months, but we have all seen examples from around the world when things go wrong and oil washes up on vast stretches of coastline. The risks are simply too high.

The broader impact of drilling for petroleum off our coastline is, of course, the greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning the fossil fuels mined. The International Energy Agency is clear: No new gas fields should be opened if the world is to meet internationally agreed climate goals. We need to reduce gas demand, not lock in new gas from PEP 11. The same applies to gas exploration on land, including protecting prime agricultural land from coal seam gas mining on the Liverpool Plains. We need to electrify our homes, our transport, our industry and our exports at scale, powered by renewable energy. This transition offers massive opportunities for households and businesses to save money and slash emissions. Gas is expensive, it is polluting, and it is not compatible with our net zero goals.

Just the other week, I was in Canberra at a local government conference and heard an impressive presentation from Saul Griffith about Rewiring Australia. He painted a compelling vision about opportunities for electrification at scale across our society and economy. We must take every opportunity, every avenue, to oppose offshore drilling. The science is clear. The community's wishes are clear. Today I again add my voice to the urgent calls to take strong and decisive action, wherever possible, as soon as possible, to stop offshore petroleum exploration.

Speaking to the referral, I acknowledge the concerns raised by the Government about the potential unintended consequences of the bill, particularly while a Federal decision is pending on the PEP 11 licence. I understand some legal ambiguity remains in relation to the bill's constitutional validity. I absolutely support the intent of the bill. It must be the best possible bill. After the uncertainty and setback created by the administrative bungle at the Federal level over the PEP 11 exploration licence, the last thing we want to do is pass legislation that is vulnerable to legal challenge; hence why I say that I am annoyed by and conflicted on this referral.

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