Oil spill risk makes marine protection a federal election issue

Rising community and environmental concern about a lack of action to provide safeguards against the risk of large scale oil spills in Australia will be a high profile issue leading up to the federal election, Australia’s leading conservation groups said today in a joint statement.

An unprecedented alliance of 32 environment groups including the Australian Conservation Foundation, WWF Australia and Pew Environment Group is calling on all political parties to commit to a network of large marine sanctuaries this coming election to provide safeguards for Australia’s unique marine life.

In the face of one of the world’s worst environmental disasters, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the United States has clamped down on the oil and gas industry with a range of measures including a moratorium on new oil approvals in sensitive areas.

Late last year, Australia suffered the major 10 week Montara oil spill off the Kimberley coast.

In stark contrast to the United States, Australia’s Resources Minister subsequently gave new approvals to the proponent of the Montara oil spill and released 31 new oil and gas leases over environmentally sensitive areas of Australia’s oceans, which had been identified for protection.

“Everyone knows prevention is better than cure,” said Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Don Henry. “That means protecting Australia’s important and iconic marine areas including Australia’s South West marine region, the Coral Sea and the Kimberley with marine sanctuaries.”

“Since the Montara oil spill less than a year ago, 31 new oil and gas approvals have been made in Australian waters but no action has been taken to safeguard our marine life and coastal communities from the high risks associated with industrial development”, said Greg Bourne of WWF-Australia.

“A network of large marine sanctuaries is backed by science as being the best way to protect our unique marine life, allow fish stocks to recover and provide safeguards against the impacts of threats such as oil spills”, said Michelle Grady of the Pew Environment Group-Australia.

In light of Australia’s failure to act on the very clear risk posed by deepwater drilling, the alliance of environment organisations is calling on the Rudd Government to release the Montara Inquiry findings without delay, and for all political parties to commit in the lead up to this federal election to:-

  1. Place a moratorium on new oil and gas approvals in Australian waters until the safety issues associated with deepwater drilling have been addressed.
  2. Declare a national network of marine sanctuaries in Australian waters including Australia’s South West marine region, the Coral Sea and the Kimberley, to safeguard Australia’s unique and threatened marine life.