Wednesday, 15 November 2023

Western Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry has a proud history of contributing significant wealth and prosperity to the State as well as to the entire nation.

It is a mature, well-operated and sustainable industry with new opportunities for expansion as offshore carbon capture and storage continue to develop.

However, the Federal offshore oil and gas regulator is listing aimlessly in the murky waters of poor regulatory clarity, taxpayer-funded environmental lawfare, and a Government that seems intent on persecuting the oil and gas industry to appease Sydney and Melbourne elites.

With a Prime Minister for Sydney, an Energy Minister for Sydney, and an Environment Minister for Sydney, it’s no wonder they are only focused on Sydney and forget the people of WA and all they have done for this country.

The Federal Labor Government has showered the Environmental Defender’s Office — an activist legal organisation dedicated to undermining our resources sector in the courts — with millions in funding.

Perversely, the EDO has taken these millions and turned its sights on the Government itself, with multiple legal challenges against approval decisions taken by the oil and gas regulator, NOPSEMA.

Recently, EDO-funded legal challenges have halted two major projects offshore WA and the NT.

The regulator appears powerless to defend itself or the industry, as taxpayer-funded activists continue to exploit loopholes the Federal Government has failed to fix.

It has been more than a year since the courts overturned the Barossa Gas Project’s drilling environment plan, setting new precedents exploited by environmental lawfare challenges, and grinding approvals to a halt.

Over a year, and no Government action to fix the mess made by the activists they fund.

Despite a statutory 30-day approval decision-making timeframe, projects are now waiting an average of more than 560 days for a decision to be made by the regulator, all while billions are lost in halted work, risking hundreds of jobs and the budget bottom line.

Santos’s $5.3 billion Barossa project and Woodside’s $16.5 billion Scarborough project lie in wait, pending challenges from activists who attempt to cynically manipulate traditional owners in order to torpedo resources projects, without concern for the environment or cultural heritage.

The clock is ticking on these projects and if the Federal Government continues to do nothing, while the Environment Minister for Sydney chases Green votes to save her own seat, it will be West Australians who pay the price.

But it is not a price that we will be able to afford, with rising costs putting pressure on everyday items. The latest inflation data shows food is up 8.2 per cent, electricity is up 18.2 per cent, and gas is up 28 per cent.

Unfortunately for the Government, no matter how many hi-vis photoshoots the Prime Minister organises, their actions over the last 18 months speak far louder than their rhetoric.

It is no wonder West Australians don’t believe the Albanese Government when they say they support the sector.

Who would believe a Government that has continued to wage regulatory war against the gas sector, with market intervention, the safeguards mechanism, and industrial relations legislation that is risking crippling strikes in WA’s gas industry?

These actions all drive up the cost of doing business, and at the end of the day, that cost is borne by Australians who are just trying to go about their lives.

How can West Australians have confidence in the future of its gas industry, when the Energy Minister for Sydney is presenting the keynote address at the State Government’s 2023 WA Energy Transition Summit on Friday? A Federal Energy Minister who is unashamed in his contempt for the gas sector.

Incredibly, Premier Roger Cook was forced to come out and defend against this threatening rhetoric from Federal Labor, stating that “no one will thank us if the economy goes backwards, no one will thank us if you don’t have enough gas”.

How astonishing that a State Labor Premier has to publicly defend the gas sector from their Federal counterpart.

If Federal Labor refuses to step up and back the resources sector — urgently reforming offshore regulations and defunding the EDO — then prospective projects and WA’s prosperity face a grim future.

It is time for the Government to stop sacrificing WA’s future in order to buy Green votes in Sydney.

This opinion piece appeared in the West Australian, November 15, 2023