RICHARD KING, HOST: A number of our Federal pollies from both sides of Parliament – Government and Opposition – spoke on this issue yesterday and one of them is our next guest, the Member for Shortland Pat Conroy. Good morning Pat.
PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Good morning Richard and Kim, how are you?
KIM BAUER, HOST: We’re very well thank you. Alright so PEP 11 – Petroleum Exploration Permit 11 – as Richard said, Manly to Newcastle, 4,500 square kilometres. Why is it a bad thing to have it there?
CONROY: Well it doesn’t make sense from an environmental or economic point of view. The environment issues are very obvious - any accident could damage our coastline greatly and imperil our coastal way of life - and it doesn’t make sense economically because this project, if it goes ahead, will only create a handful of jobs, but it will endanger the thousands of local jobs that depend upon fishing, tourism, accommodation. All of those jobs ultimately depend upon our beach, coastal style of life and this is endangered by this project. The level of community opposition – I’ve never met a higher degree of opposition including from people who own bait and tackle shops to surfers to an 80-year-old grandmother who pulled me up at the markets about this issue.
KING: And politicians from both side of the political spectrum Pat – a number of Government MPs spoke on this yesterday as well.
CONROY: Yes they did speak on the motion and opposed the proposal to drill, but it has to be said that this decision, this approval to drill can be stopped by the Federal Minister Keith Pitt signing one piece of paper. So I’m hoping those Liberal Members back up their words with lobbying of the Federal Government to do the right thing.
KING: Look I’m sure all companies who hold exploration licenses were thrilled when they heard the Prime Minister several weeks ago saying it was gas that was going to lead, well, the economic recovery out of the pandemic. He did say that unless private enterprise stepped up to cover the loss of power from Liddell when it closes in a couple of years’ time that the Federal Government would build a gas-fueled generator at Kurri Kurri on the old Hydro site and certainly your workmate Joel Fitzgibbon thinks that will definitely happen. Just playing devil’s advocate here, wouldn’t it make sense to have the gas sourced from just off the coast?
CONROY: No because this is the wrong project in the wrong place. The gas coming out will be very expensive compared to the gas extraction that’s occurring right now in say southern Queensland or what’s proposed for the Narrabri region. So it will be very expensive gas and it will be hugely risky for our coastal environment. I was down at Redhead Beach nine days ago watching my seven-year-old daughter ride her bodyboard for the first time and my son tackle waves and I just stood there thinking ‘what would this coastline look like if we saw an oil and gas rig on the horizon and what would happen if there was a spill’? There are thousands of jobs that are at risk if this project goes ahead and that’s why the community has said no to this project.
KING: Alright, sorry, you were just talking about the visual thing but I mean we’ve seen certainly over decades and decades plenty of you, you know, large coal carriers sitting out there ad infinitum. It’s surely no different?
CONROY: Well there’s a difference between a coal carrier that inherently – while there are accidents, the Pasha Bulker being an example – the impact of one coal carrier breaking up on the coast is obviously very negative. But compared to what would happen if there was an accident on an oil and gas drilling rig is an order of magnitude much higher in terms of the impact on the environment in terms of death of sea life, the impact on the migration patterns of whales which is obviously a crucial industry out of Port Stephens.
And it also ignores the basic point that the best way of lowering power prices in this country would be investing in more renewable energy. The cheapest form of new power made completely reliable by batteries and pumped hydro is renewable energy. Anyone who is arguing for a gas-led recovery, for gas as the future of the energy system is arguing for higher power prices. So from an economic point of view and from an environmental point of view, this project just is an appalling idea.
BAUER: And something that concerns us as well, and we did play a little bit from Sharon Claydon in Parliament yesterday Pat. Advent Energy, she has had all sorts of trouble. Their website has been down, they just won’t return calls. How does a company like that secure a lease anyway?
CONROY: Well that’s right. This lease has sort of changed hands between three or four tiny companies and the way these companies work is they engage in speculative exploration for oil and gas and if they find something, they then sell it to one of the big boys. That means that it’s harder for them to put the resources in to do all of this safely - if it can be done safely. So we saw issues with this when they were doing seismic testing whether they were following all of the rules and protocols particularly around making sure there were no dolphins or whales near the testing, and I share similar concerns about if they were actually allowed to drill for oil and gas. This is a very small company whose entire business model is getting in quickly and cheaply, finding a resource, and then selling it to the big resource companies, and that’s a recipe for cutting corners.
KING: Sharon yesterday in Parliament said she doubted that this would even go to the vote, that perhaps it would simply be decided by the Federal Minister in association with the NSW Minister who’s John Barilaro, that perhaps it wouldn’t even make it to a vote in Parliament. How do you go about making sure it does make it to a vote Pat?
CONROY: Well the motion that we debated yesterday won’t go to a vote because that’s the way Parliament works.
CONROY: But I’m currently getting advice on whether a Private Members Bill - so a piece of law introduced by a Private Member like me – could achieve the same ends. But what’s very clear is that at the moment under the current law, the only people who can stop this project is the Federal Minister and his State counterpart. They are the approval authority, and they can refuse to give Advent Energy approval to start drilling, and so they can stop this very quickly.
So we’re exploring other options and I’m getting advice from the Clerks about is there any other way of doing it, but what’s very clear is the NSW and Federal Government if they cared about this could stop this tomorrow.
KING: Okay, well we will keep our fingers crossed. Now, grand final on Sunday, who are you going for? Penrith or Melbourne?
CONROY: Oh it’s got to be the Penny Panthers. They’ve had a great season unfortunately as I’m not a supporter of them, but they’re a true rags-to-riches story and I’m really hoping they win. This is not politically smart of me, but I really hate Melbourne.
CONROY: They are cheaters. I still don’t think they should have been let back into the comp after the salary cap scandal, and I’ve got to say Cameron Smith is like a second referee out there. It’s got to be the Penny Panthers.
BAUER: Well you’ve got something in common with the PM because he’s also picked the Panthers!
CONROY: Oh well I’ve got to reconsider it now!
KING: Alright, thanks for that Pat, you have a good day.
CONROY: Yeah you too, have a great day.