A seafront press conference at Mona Vale Beach on Wednesday 15 February by the Surfrider Foundation was inundated by politicians and political candidates of all persuasions, keen to add their voice. The conference was called to express Surfriders’ continued opposition to the renewed possibility that the controversial PEP-11 offshore gas drilling license is reactivated.
We understand Northern Beaches Mayor Michael Regan was invited to share the platform with the Surfrider team.
However, in an indicator that the NSW State Elections are imminent (March 25), candidates and serving ministers from across the political spectrum gathered alongside and took turns – in three separate press conferences – to reassure voters of their unwavering opposition to PEP-11, with barely a sheet of paper separating their policy differences.
Later, in a social media post on Instagram, Surfrider Foundation, the non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of Australian beaches and marine life, released a statement expressing their disappointment with what they saw as political opportunism.
“It’s fair to say that @surfridernb was pretty cranky about this morning’s political press conference shenanigans. As MPs and candidates compete to gain significance around “hot” issues prior to an election, it’s easy for them to forget that it is the community who matter, and with PEP 11 our coastal communities are desperate that this mine be cancelled once and for all. We are sick of the stress and uncertainty.”
The post continued, “Given that political parties across the board at both State and Federal levels oppose the project, we ask that they all STOP making announcements, work together, and ensure that this most iconic and valuable piece of coast is protected forever. Less talking and more signing of STOP PEP 11 legislation NOW…
“The process shouldn’t take that long. The project benefits no one other than the unimpressive fossil fuel companies involved, it makes no financial, economic, environmental or Climate Change mitigation sense. The mine won’t make anyone’s gas bills cheaper, and the rig will likely be an expensive stranded asset within a decade. Meanwhile the risk to our coast is far too great.”
The Mona Vale Beach press conferences were held less than 48 hours after independent member for Warringah, Zali Steggall, re-introduced a Bill to Federal Parliament to ban oil and gas exploration: the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment (Stop PEP11 and Protect Our Coast) Bill 2023 – details here.
Ms Steggall’s original Bill, which she first tabled in February 2020 by calling for a ban on seismic testing and drilling in the PEP-11 area (North Head to Newcastle), was not voted on and ultimately dismissed by the previous Federal Parliament.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison personally intervened and on 16 December 2021 made a public announcement he would ensure an extension to the PEP-11 license would be terminated (his declaration has since been deleted from the Prime Minister of Australia’s webpage.)
The Mona Vale Beach political surge also came a day after a 14 February Federal Court hearing quashed the April 2022 decision by NOPTA – the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator – not to extend PEP-11 for another two years beyond its deadline.
This was because after￼ Morrison lost the May 2022 Federal Election it was discovered he secretly took over five government ministries, including that run by the serving Resources Minister, Keith Pitt, who supported offshore gas exploration.
Following this discovery, the consortium seeking an extension of the PEP-11 licence applied to the Federal Court for a judicial review – which re-opened the possibility of gas exploration off the NSW coast.
Immediately after the Federal Court ruling, NSW Energy Minister, Matt Kean, announced the NSW Coalition Government will draft new planning laws to permanently halt PEP-11.
United in opposition
Grandstanding aside, the three separate media conferences in Mona Vale revealed representatives from rival political persuasions were united in their commitment to the marine environment and the risk it faces from offshore gas drilling.
These included a NSW Liberal/National coalition quartet fronted by NSW Treasurer Matt Kean and backed by Environment Minister James Griffin; the two new ‘Teal’ challengers Jacqui Scruby and Joeline Hackman; and Northern Beaches Mayor Michael Regan, who shared the platform with former women’s world surfing champion Layne Beachley and environmental campaigners Save Our Coast.
In turn, they all emphasised the need to enact parliamentary legislation that permanently preserved the NSW coastline from the threat of seismic testing and gas drilling rigs installed in what is a major cetacean migration corridor, as well as a popular tourist destination.
However, given that elections are close, there was a bit of factional sniping…
NSW Environment Minister James Griffin stated, “We will always stand up for the environment and our communities that care deeply about our pristine coastline, and the Federal Labor Government must give the community certainty in their waters, as we will do in ours.”
Jacqui Scruby, a former environmental lawyer and now the Independent candidate for Pittwater, said, “Just 12 days ago, I worked with Alex Greenwich [Member of the NSW Legislative Assembly] … together with other Independent candidates to present the Save Our Beaches Bill to commence planning legislation to stop PEP-11 forever.” Their planned legislation is also known as the Protect our Beaches Act.
She continued, “The NSW Government created a copy-your-homework Bill and announced it today. But today is about the Independent movement and the power we have in keeping the government accountable, and getting them to act, when they haven’t acted for over three years on this issue.”
Mayor Michael Regan asked, “why can they not recall Parliament? Where does Chris Minns [leader of NSW Labor Party] sit? Why are they not recalling Parliament? It is that important an issue!”
Champion surfer Layne Beachley declared, “It deeply saddens me that politics is determining the future of our planet, and ultimately the future of our population. These are the most beautiful beaches in the world… and in the event that this Bill isn’t passed, we could ultimately destroy this beautiful coastline.
“I started surfing at Huntington Beach [California] in 1989, and I’ll never forget paddling out of the water then walking ashore on the beach and finding oil spots on the soles of my feet. This is what could potentially happen right here on the Northern Beaches.
“This is something that we can put a stop to. We understand that all sides of government are against this, so I don’t understand while we are still standing here having this conversation today about something we can easily put a stop to…”