Surfers head to Canberra to stop gas rigs off Sydney
It was the strangest protest paddle out yet.
With their toes sinking in mud, boards floating on boot-brown water, and a thirty knot southerly ripping down the corridor from Parliament House, the assembled surfers gathered in Australia's only non-coastal capital.
The delegation consisted of members from both Surfrider Foundation and Save Our Coast and the reason they'd travelled to Canberra wasn't just to quench themselves in Lake Burley Griffin, but to lobby against the PEP11 gas exploration permit off the coast of Sydney and Newcastle.
Petroleum Exploration Zone 11 is a 4,500 square kilometre area off the coast between Newcastle and Sydney that’s been explored for oil and gas reserves since 1998. The company currently holding the PEP11 license, Advent Energy, could be drilling there as early as next year. If they did, it would be the first offshore gas well on the Australian east coast.
Currently, Advent Energy have applied to NOPTA (the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator) to switch their activity title from exploration to drilling. However, the PEP11 permit expires in February 2021 and needs to be extended. This extension falls under joint Federal and State authority and needs to be signed off by both Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
Drying their feet on the lawn at Parliament House, the surfers then spoke about the pending decision. Sharing the microphone was Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson - who arranged the gathering - plus MPs and Senators from across the political divide, including Jason Falinski (Liberal), Zali Steggall (Independent), Sharon Claydon (Labor), Emma McBride (Labor), Pat Conroy (Labor) and Mehreen Faruqi (Greens).
“Nobody wants to see gas rigs on the horizon off Sydney, Newcastle, and the Central Coast,” said Surfrider Foundation Australia Chair, Sean Doherty. “This is an iconic coastline, the envy of people all around the world, and the idea of turning it into a gas field is sacrilegious. It’s the last place on the Australian coast you’d ever consider industrialising, and yet it’s on the verge of happening. We congratulate the MPs and Senators here looking beyond politics and speaking up for the people of the coast. We can all agree that PEP11 is a turkey.”
“The time has long passed where a coastline like this is seen as more valuable to a gas company than it is to the people who live on it. That’s old thinking. The campaign to save the Great Australian Bight showed that people have had enough of their homes being plundered and ruined for the profits of the fossil fuel industry. People are fed up. If PEP11 is approved, last year’s Bight paddle-outs will seem like a low key warm-up.”
On Monday afternoon in the Senate, Peter Whish-Wilson moved a motion to stop PEP11, which was voted down by the Government with the support of One Nation.