December 16, 2021

SCOTT LEVI, PRESENTER: And the surfers particularly have led the fight against PEP-11 off the back of the Morrison Government contacting the NSW Government and the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator yesterday signaling intention to reject PEP-11. The Prime Minister is coming to the Central Coast at 11am this morning, no doubt on a beach somewhere saying ‘we’ve listened to the people’. And it’s great democracy works like that, but gee the people have had to campaign long and hard.

Pat Conroy, Member for Shortland who represents about 30,000 of those people. Good morning. 

PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Good morning Scott, how are you? 

LEVI: Well that’s just the Central Coast part of your electorate isn’t it? Around 30,000 around the Northlakes, Tuggerah Lakes area. What was the word from your constituents there on gas and oil wells off the Central Coast? 

CONROY: They were united in their opposition to such a silly and dangerous proposal, and that’s why I am very happy that this announcement has been made today. And it’s a victory, it’s a tribute to the community campaign led by locals – Surfriders being a classic example, and fishing men and women. It’s great news for the community. I am very angry that it’s taken 300 days for the Government to do the right thing, to be forced kicking and dragging to do the right thing. We’ve had almost a year of the community in limbo and on tenterhooks about what would be the future for our great beaches and coastline.

LEVI: Are we sure that’s what the Prime Minister is going to do today? That’s the word on the street. Are you a hundred per cent sure that’s the big announcement on the coast today at 11?

CONROY: Well that’s what they’ve leaked out and I will believe it when I see it. And ultimately I will believe it when Minister Keith Pitt who is the Minister for Resources signs the piece of paper denying the licence, the exploration licence. So I won’t believe it until then.

But if it’s true, then that’s great news, and it’s tribute to the community, Labor, Independents like Zali Steggall who have all been fighting very strongly against this proposal. But I think it’s pretty clear that this is a desperate move by a Government five minutes to midnight before an election to deal with an issue they should have dealt with a year ago. But it is good news, and I don’t want to be too negative on it. It’s the right outcome, it’s just 300 days later than it should have been.

LEVI: It’s a quarter past seven, ABC Central Coast. We’ve heard from Lucy Wicks and the Prime Minister and others that, you know, they had to go through due process. That they have these NOPSEMA and all of these bureaucratic groups set up to regulate the petroleum and gas industry, and they were letting the process run its course. They were doing good governance and they will point the finger at you to say you were knee jerk.

CONROY: Well they of course should follow due process, but that due process finished over 300 days ago. Over 10 months ago was when the recommendations from the NSW Government to block the project landed on the Minister’s desk. He could have followed due process and killed this project stone dead 10 months ago and he didn’t. It sat on his desk for over 300 days while they dillied and dallied.

They honestly wanted to approve the gas project, but as I said it’s the huge opposition from the community and the fact that the Labor Party under Anthony Albanese and the Independents like Zali Steggall came up so strongly in opposition to it that it forced their hand. In the end, I think this is a political surrender from the Government intent on trying to hold seats rather than some newfound commitment to out environment.

But either way I welcome it, and it’s great news, but they could have followed due process and done this 300 days ago. Instead we had a year of concern and worry where people quite frankly were getting to the beach – it was the only thing they could do in COVID lockdown – and wondering would the beach still be pristine in a few years’ time.

LEVI: Should this be the signal for the major political parties to stop taking money from the fossil fuel industry? When you see something that’s so cut and dried that the people don’t want and yet you see Governments vacillating so much, Keith Pitt not coming to the table, not understanding the sentiment of the majority. Is this, does it go back to the heart of how our politics run at the moment? Why can the fossil fuel industry which poses such a threat to our future continue to have such sway over Government and dare I say Opposition?

CONROY: Well I would argue that they don’t hold a sway over the Labor Party. If they did, they wouldn’t have run an anti-Labor campaign at every election since 2010. So I don’t think that quite follows, but it’s clear that the Liberal Party but especially the National Party are owned and operated by the big mining and resource companies. Now for example, Gina Rinehart flew Barnaby Joyce to a wedding in India on a private jet. Such is their close relationship.

So there is a huge issue there, and if you look at the broader issue of climate change for example, that’s clearly why Mr Morrison and the Liberals can’t deliver an emissions reduction target that’s consistent with the rest of the world, and that’s why they’re refusing to seize the opportunities around clean energy jobs that are out there. They’re clearly owned and operated by the resource companies who are important, they employ a lot of people and earn a lot of export dollars for the country, so they have to be respected like any other industry. But they have to be treated like any other industry, not as a unique industry with the Government at their beck and call.

But this is a case where I think Minister Keith Pitt clearly wanted to approve the project, and it’s only because they feared losing seats up and down the Coast. They feared that they wouldn’t regain Zali Steggall’s seat and they’ve been dragged kicking and screaming to the right decision.

So there is a question there. There’s also a question about do these sorts of policy processes mean we need a National Anti-Corruption Commission? I think we clearly do need a National Anti-Corruption Commission so there can be no suggestion that governments are making decisions for narrow sectional interests rather than operating in the national interest.

LEVI: Pat Conroy, Member for Shortland who represents about 30,000 Coastians along the Coast, the beaches area. Sort of, I guess north of Toukley would we say?

CONROY: Yeah, north of The Entrance is probably the best -

LEVI: North of The Entrance and some nice beaches there. Appreciate your time. Will you be going to ScoMo’s beach party today?

CONROY: (laughs) sadly they don’t invite the likes of me.

LEVI: You could do the stomp like Little Pattie.

CONROY: Absolutely, yes.

LEVI: Alright, thanks Pat.

CONROY: Have a great Christmas.

LEVI: Thanks for joining us on the program.