Somewhere along Australia's southern facing coastline. Photo: Tom Pearsall
The Bight Oil Debate Has Cut Through To Federal Politics
The Labor party will conduct an independent oil spill study if elected.
Surfers, in general, are politically disengaged creatures people. Yes, there's a proportion enviro-warriors lambasting the use of plastics, disposable coffee cups and the extraction of oil off our shores, but the masses are more concerned with the swell forecast than the economic impact of tax cuts, wage stagnation, and the complexities (which I doubt anyone gets) of a downtrending global market.
This week however, something happened which may interest a number of surfers, particularly those scattered along Australia's south facing shore.
In the third week of a mostly uninspiring election campaign, the issue of drilling in the Bight finally reared its head.
If you've checked this site over the past year or so, you may have seen an article (or four) about granted proposals to drill in the Great Australian Bight. Currently, Equinor FKA Statoil – the company holding the exploratory approvals – are yet to conduct seismic testing to assess the region's potential exploits, but the prospect of drilling in the Bight still strikes fear into many.
Although incidents like BP's Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico are rare, their not-too-distant memory is a reminder of the impacts when things do go wrong.
Over the past months, surfers and environmentalists around the country have paddled out in protest of the proposals; garnering attention from niche interest sites like us, broader media outlets such as The Guardian, ABC, and SBS, and of course, have engaged environmental awareness groups around the country.
Until Wednesday however, neither of the two major political parties – the LNP or Labor – had taken interest (or at least announced policy) addressing the proposed drilling. As the title suggests, this changed on Wednesday when Bill Shorten, the leader of the Labor party (and our future PM if you trust the polls) announced Labor's position on the proposal.
"If I form a government, one of my first decisions will be to get an oil spill study," Bill Shorten said in response to a question from the audience on the NSW South Coast.
"I want to understand the consequences of an oil spill in the Bight ... and I think that that is what is concerning a lot of our surfers and people who care about our coastline."
The Labor leader stopped short of opposing the plans – similar to his comments on the Adani coalmine – but he's the first member from a major party outlining their position on Equinor. Penny Wong, a Labor senator from SA, also supported Bill's announcement of a spill study, describing it as "sensible", while adding the government should work alongside the regulator.
While he far from publicly supports or opposes the plans, an independent spill study is likely to result in a more damning study than the one already submitted by Equinor to the regulator. Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young pointed out that Equinor has already completed a study, which shows a spill would cloud the entire SA coastline, much of Victoria, and potentially even spread up the NSW coast and south WA. A finding which she argued will be reiterated if Labor conduct an additional study. Hanson-Young then added that she hoped to see Labor oppose the drilling once the study is completed and the impacts appropriately outlined.
Not all politicians however were as undecided as Bill on the issue. Liberal senator, Simon Birmingham, described the announcement as a backflip.
"Yesterday Labor still backed the national independent offshore exploration agency to do the full analysis and back it," Birmingham told a debate in Adelaide. "This is just trying to play into a little bit of local populism."
But that's unsurprising considering the entire Liberal government campaign has been founded upon distorting and smearing Labor policy.
Sean Doherty, less than an hour ago via Instagram also added his take on Bill Shorten's announcement:
"Okay Bill, we need to talk. Was great you were down jogging along the Great Ocean Road this week, and even better you actually mentioned the issue of oil drilling in the Bight and promised to run a review into it if you get elected on Saturday."
"Forgive us if we take this with a grain of salt. A review won’t do anything. You know that. They’re already reviewing it right now. What we need is some leadership. There are coastal towns and communities all around Australia who want their way of life protected for them and their kids. We know we’re lucky to have it, which is why we’re so angry it’s being sold out to a foreign oil company for five magic beans. But it’s not too late. We’re looking for leadership on this. We know Labor’s fingerprints are all over this plan, but we can forgive you. Send Equinor home, lock up the Bight, show some leadership on fossil fuels and coastal development and you’ll win thousands of votes and a few key seats. Bill, this is your chance to be a hero to the people of the coast."
For a deeper dive on the Equinor issue, head here and here. In the mean time, it's nice to know that the vocal opposition and questions raised around Equinor have reached the ears of those who count. If this is the only issue you're concerned about this election, firstly, God help you, but secondly, vote Labor*.
*Before anyone accuses me of 'utter leftist/snowflake/greeny/millennial bias, take a look at any single News Corp publication in the past, let's say, decade. Someone's gotta interject a little extra left leaning bias (read: facing the facts) where possible.