August 13, 2021

DAVE COCHRANE, HOST: I’m pleased to welcome to the radio the Federal Member for Shortland Pat Conroy. We’re having a chat about why we think the PEP 11 offshore gas exploration licence should be killed off. At the moment it’s still hanging in there, it’s been hanging in there for quite a while, and the Minister for Resources, Water, and Northern Australia Keith Pitt has got seemingly the finger on the button to control what’s going on with this.

So I thought we’d try to find out more details. Of course, if it goes ahead, it opens the door to oil and gas rigs just offshore from our beautiful beaches and our coastline here in our area. Let’s see what Pat Conroy thinks of it. Pat, why is this still hovering about? Why is this still with us?

PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: I don’t know, frankly. The only reason I believe is it’s probably because Keith Pitt wants to approve more oil and drilling off our coast, but he knows that the community is so opposed to it, and I think he is trying to wait until after the next election. That’s the only, I think, explanation for why he’s doing it this way. Otherwise he’s got all of the evidence. He was supposed to make a decision six months ago, and we’re just dealing with all of this uncertainty now.

COCHRANE: From south of Wollongong all of the way up our coastline there’s been protesting, there’s been so much opposition to this, but this PEP 11, it still keeps hanging in there.

CONROY: I have truly never seen an issue where the community is completely united in opposing it. I have been bailed up by grandmothers, by kids, by tradies, by young mums, and thousands of people have signed my petition. The community does not want oil and gas drilling off our coast. They don’t want the environmental risk, and they don’t want the economic harm to key industries.

COCHRANE: Is there a lot behind this? A lot of big money or a lot pushing for it to happen Pat?

CONROY: Well the company that’s doing it is quite small but the way these things work is once they find oil and gas, they then sell the licence to one of the big players. But I think this reflects the fact that Keith Pitt is a National Party MP, and the National Party is no longer the party of farmers. It’s the party of big resources companies. We just saw that with Barnaby Joyce returning to the Deputy Prime Ministership on the basis of fighting climate change action.

So I think Keith Pitt wants to approve this licence, he’s desperate to approve it, but he knows if he does, the anger in the community will be so great that it will hurt their electoral chances.

COCHRANE: Now for the man on the street, the woman on the street, all the way up to the highest point you can in this country which is the Prime Minister, even the Prime Minister is against this I believe.

CONROY: Well he says he is against it when he visits the Hunter and Central Coast, but all he needs to do is have a conversation with Keith Pitt and then Keith Pitt can make the decision. So I think this is a case of Mr Morrison saying one thing in Newcastle and another thing in Canberra. If he wanted to kill this project, his Government would have killed the project by now.

And I honestly think that at this stage the only way we can kill this project is by changing the government because my side of politics – Labor, Anthony Albanese – has been very clear that we will kill PEP 11 stone dead if we are elected. We want it killed before then because Advent Energy is still conducting their activities, they’re still working on bringing suppliers in to build the drilling equipment. So we want to kill it as soon as possible, but if we have to wait until the election, unfortunately that’s what we are going to have to do.

COCHRANE: Now Warringah MP Zali Steggall, she launched a Bill to cancel this controversial permit.

CONROY: Yes she has. My evidence, my advice is that we can’t do it that way. It is actually up to the Minister to cancel the licence. We’ve explored those possibilities. I’ll have another look at it, and I would love to support the Bill because we’ve just got to kill this project, but the legal advice I obtained was that the sole authority is with the Minister rather than the Parliament, and it’s the Minister who can make the decision

COCHRANE: So Pat, what do you believe the next step is from opposition to it?

CONROY: Well we’ve just got to keep up the public pressure. I am urging people to keep directly contacting Keith Pitt to voice their opposition. You can do that on his website or by ringing his office. We’ve just got to mount the public pressure. We can’t allow this project to go ahead which risks tens of thousands of jobs that rely on tourism, commercial and recreational fishing, and hospitality. We can’t risk the environmental damage, so people need to keep contacting Keith Pitt. We need to keep fighting, we need to hold them to account. If the Government goes to the election without cancelling PEP 11, they are clearly supporting PEP 11.

COCHRANE: So if this goes the long road, that road could lead all the way to possibly, what, March next year for an election?

CONROY: Oh possibly even May, they could go as late as May. I hope it doesn’t. Advent Energy, they’ve got an interim licence because the Minister hasn’t made a decision, so they’re actively in the market now, getting suppliers to bid in for equipment to start the drilling. So I want this project killed stone dead right now. I don’t want to wait until May next year.

COCHRANE: Yeah. Now Pat, I’ll move off this subject just for a moment. Just one more before I let you go. We heard yesterday the extension by one week of the lockdown for Newcastle and the Hunter region. I believe your office has taken a lot of calls from concerned Novocastrians. What’s your thoughts?

CONROY: Yeah we have, and we’ve done outgoing welfare calls. So volunteers together with myself and my office have called over 1,600 people in our electorate just to check on them, just to see how they are going and offer support like income support and linking into food banks.

I am so furious about where we are. We could have avoided this. This lockdown occurred because the national quarantine system broke down for the 27th time, and then Gladys, egged on by Scott Morrison, refused to lockdown the wealthy Eastern Suburbs of Sydney when they had the chance. And then it spread throughout Sydney, the Central Coast, and the Hunter because we had insufficient vaccines, and then Gladys stole our Pfizer vaccines because she couldn’t get enough vaccines for Sydney from Scott Morrison.

So I am disgusted and I am worried. The impact on the nursing home at Edgeworth, the Masonic Lodge, only one third of staff were able to get vaccines. Every single aged care worker was supposed to have been fully vaccinated by Easter. And we were so lucky in this country. We led the world last year, we closed our borders just in time, that gave us some breathing space to get everyone vaccinated, and people just sat on their hands and didn’t get on with this. And I am furious, and now it’s the health and economic wellbeing of our community that is under threat because of what has occurred.

COCHRANE: All we can do is ride the wave and we can tell people and prompt them, please go and get a test if you show any symptoms. Go and get a test. Make sure we try and keep out numbers down.

CONROY: Absolutely. I am worried that the testing and tracing system is breaking down. We’ve got people who are waiting four days to get their results and people are waiting hours – I had a constituent contact me on Thursday of last week who was at one of the Charlestown exposure sites. She had a sore throat and runny nose, classic COVID symptoms. She tried to get into the Warners Bay testing facility and the police closed it because it was spilling out onto Hillsborough Road. She then lined up at Gateshead and got turned away because they told her the wait was over seven hours and they’d be closed.

So yes, people should get tested. We need that, that’s essential, but the NSW and Federal Governments need to throw more resources at it if we are going to get it under control up here.

COCHRANE: Thanks for your time Pat.

CONROY: Thanks Dave, have a good morning.