SPEAKING ON A BILL | OFFSHORE PETROLEUM AND GREENHOUSE GAS STORAGE AMENDMENT BILL 2017

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan): I also rise to speak on the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment Bill 2017. This bill is technical in nature. It just deals with some technical issues. There is nothing earth shattering about this bill. Our waters are governed by state and federal governments. From time to time the boundaries need to be looked at and regulated. This bill gives effect to some of these changes or the potential changes that might occur. The state has jurisdiction over Victorian coastal waters which apply from the territorial sea baseline to 3 nautical miles seaward, and the commonwealth has jurisdiction about 3 nautical miles to the continental shelf. Under the Offshore Constitutional Settlement Agreement 1979 the commonwealth and the state agreed to maintain common rules and principles to deal with that. It is my understanding that the commonwealth has passed legislation to deal with some of the issues that are now going to be dealt with by this bill.

Geoscience Australia, an organisation which has the ongoing responsibility of defining the limits of Australia’s maritime jurisdiction, is currently undertaking a review of the offshore coastal boundary in Victoria. The boundary between Victorian coastal waters and commonwealth waters could shift as a result of Geoscience Australia’s remapping of the territorial sea baseline. It is my understanding that an announcement about this and any relevant changes may be made sometime next year. If the boundary were to shift, part of whatever title was granted under the commonwealth act adjacent to the coastal waters boundary may cease to be within commonwealth waters and become located in Victorian coastal waters, so the commonwealth may no longer have jurisdiction to deal with the title which has moved. So it is very important to actually close some loopholes in the current legislation so that in the event that some of these boundaries change there is preservation for people currently holding titles in these waters.

Offshore gas exploration in Victoria is quite significant. It is a large part of the Victorian economy. This legislation makes sure that any boundary changes will not lead to disputes. The bill is meant to grant existing titleholders rights and ensure that they do not end up losing out, because we know there are a lot of investments where there are pipelines and platforms. Therefore the bill sort of addresses problems which could result from the mapping currently taking place.

We appreciate that members will support this legislation. I do acknowledge some of the points made by Mrs Peulich in relation to some questions that might be asked when this bill goes to the committee stage. I was curious to hear that they might not be related to the bill; they might be related to just the policies. We know that the issue of gas supply in the state of Victoria, and in fact on the entire east coast of Australia, has been a hot issue in the last few years. The pressure on power costs and gas prices has been going up in recent times. Unfortunately instead of people sticking to the facts it has become a political issue. That is unfortunate. We know there are significant changes happening in the gas market on the east coast following the rise in gas exports.

However, let us be clear about this: this is not supply issue, it is a demand issue. For example, Victoria produces enough gas for 7.2 million households but only uses 3.6 million households’ worth. That is about 206 petajoules that we use a year. The Australian Energy Regulator has confirmed that we are producing approximately 400 petajoules of gas each year in waters off Victoria’s coast. Clearly too much of our gas has been exported either interstate or overseas, so this is not about supply or whether or not enough gas is being produced in Victoria. We clearly do have more than enough to meet our domestic and industry needs, but unfortunately the question is how much of it is actually exported interstate or overseas.

That debate is ongoing, and I understand the current federal government and various states are in discussions about it. Some measures are being put in place to try to address that problem, and I think it is an issue that needs a bipartisan approach between various levels of government in Australia to basically come up with the right solution. But I just want to point out that this bill does not deal with the issue of where gas is explored, how much there is of it and where it should be distributed; it is simply clarifying that if as a result of the new mapping which is taking place as we speak any potential issues arise or boundaries change, existing titleholders will not be disadvantaged by the changes. With these few comments, I endorse the bill and hope the house will support the bill.

10 May 2018