Media Releases - 15 February 2023

NSW could set the precedent of being the first Australian state to have a fossil fuel free ocean

A Hands Across the Sand event at Nobbys Beach, Newcastle. Image: Linda Gill.

The Wilderness Society provides the following comments on the statement by the NSW Treasurer seeking to legislate the end of offshore oil and gas exploration in NSW.

The Wilderness Society’s Manager of Policy and Strategy, Tim Beshara said, “The Petroleum Exploration Permit off the coast of Sydney and Newcastle, PEP-11, is a symbol of everything that is wrong with how governments mindlessly allocate seafloor to fossil fuel companies without a thought given to community views or the environment. For decades this has happened and still happens today.

“The Wilderness Society had identified to the NSW Government that it had the opportunity to be the first state in Australia to take a stand on keeping fossil fuel industries out of waters adjacent to its coastline. This announcement by the NSW Government is testament to communities who have long campaigned to protect coastlines they love without any formal ability to have a say, or have their interests taken into account.

“The spillover into the electoral arena was the inevitable consequence of having an annual auction of the nation’s seabed to fossil fuel interests without any consideration of community views. Now, in NSW, all those MPs and candidates who have campaigned and pushed for legislative solutions have helped shift governing parties from their positions of hand-wringing while letting the mindless release of ocean acreage to fossil fuel interests roll on.

“A Treasurer of a major party in Australia’s most populous state saying their party opposes offshore oil and gas exploration is a political mainstreaming of the ostracisation of the fossil fuel industry itself. Whatever the industry wants to do or say in response to this is increasingly irrelevant because it’s getting pretty hard to govern in Australia with large swathes of electorates making their feelings about the fossil fuel industry clearly known.

“In making this announcement, a State Treasurer is effectively sterilising the use of Commonwealth Waters through sterilisation of state waters. The uncertainty today’s announcement brings to all other offshore oil and gas projects should be noted by investors.

“Likewise it’s a moment for other state governments, particularly those with their own ‘PEP-11 style’ leases hanging off their coastlines: Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland have the ability to move quickly to make their coastlines and waters fossil fuel-free,” Mr Beshara concluded.

The Wilderness Society’s New South Wales Campaigns Manager, Victoria Jack said, “While the industry still has great power over Australian politics, region-by-region, jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction, this is changing. And it’s not much of a leap to go from Australian states having fossil fuel free coastlines to one day soon having fossil-fuel free economies.

“Meanwhile, for other parts of the country—including the Pilliga Forest where there is strong community opposition including from Traditional Owners to Santos’ gas free-for-all, the misalignment between community expectations and government and corporate decisions continues unabated. The community needs transparency and accountability in how the natural environment is managed,” Ms Jack concluded.

For further comment contact Tim Beshara, 0437 878786