Oil And Gas Companies Are Retreating But The Great Australian Bight Is Still In Danger
A victory in the fight against Norwegian oil company Equinor’s plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight was always going to be sweet.
But after a horrific summer of climate fires taking lives, our wildlife and our environment, we needed this win. We needed it to give hope, not just that we can save the planet, but that people power can defeat the people in power.
For close to 10 years, campaigners and the community have fought to save the Bight from Big Oil and Gas. BP, Chevron and now Equinor have all pulled out. The rough, wild seas between Australia and Antarctica are as challenging as the fiercely passionate, people-powered movement fighting back against an oil field in their backyard.
One should not estimate the connection we humans have to the ocean, or nature in general. As Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society who has dedicated his life to Neptune’s Navy says, “If the oceans die, we all die”. And as the campaign slogan went, “big oil don’t surf”. Clearly, one should not threaten a lifestyle of thousands and thousands of people in every town and city in the country. The ‘paddle outs’ that defined this campaign delivering perhaps some of the most epic scenes an environmental campaign has ever seen.
So now we find ourselves with an opportunity to do even more, to celebrate the pristine and precious Great Australian Bight and to protect it for future generations and the rest of the world to come and experience. The Bight is ecologically and environmentally significant and home to some of the most unique wildlife in the world with 85 percent of marine life found in the Bight found nowhere else.
In the winter, Southern Right Whales come to the Head of the Bight to calve and breed, creating a spectacular whale nursery that draws tourists from all corners of the globe. The whales are sacred for the Mirning people, they tell them how to live and about the coming of the seasons. The dreamtime story of ‘Jeedara’ the great white whale says she was created to protect the oceans -- having featured heavily during the campaign, it seems she has.
The cliff faces of the Bight stand 60 metres high, surf beaches and rock platforms sit below, and tiny islands creating Australia’s Galapagos are scattered throughout the open bay. The Nullarbor Plain spreading along the coastal expanse of the Bight is a site to behold in their own right, featuring caves said to spread more than 100,000 square kilometres and hold vital information about the future of our climate.
The question should not be about whether this special place is worthy of protection, but rather when will it be protected. We cannot risk, and should not have to fight, another oil or gas company who decides they want to have a crack at drilling the Bight. If we are to prevent further global warming then we cannot afford to open new fossil fuel basins. In a climate emergency, it is madness that these proposals to date have even come so far.
We also cannot afford to miss an opportunity for our tourism industry. This summer has seen devastating climate fires rage across the country and hit tourism hot spots like Kangaroo Island in SA and the Blue Mountains in NSW. But worse than that, even places far from the fires like Cairns have taken a hit. The fires have had that big an impact -- and this was before the coronavirus outbreak. People are not coming, the downturn is huge and workers are being laid off.
The possibility of another mass coral bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef is adding to the tourism industry’s vulnerability. We should be shoring it up, not putting it in jeopardy with new fossil fuel projects or the consequences of the worsening climate crisis, fueled by fossil fuels.
What the Bight needs now is World Heritage protection. A World Heritage listing would give the Bight the protection it needs and deserves from any other oil and gas companies proposing to put it at risk and it would be an investment in the tourism industry.
It is a move supported by the community with Australia Institute Research showing that more than four in five South Australians (84 percent) and seven in 10 Australians want to see the Bight given World Heritage protection.
I introduced a Greens’ Bill for World Heritage listing which is ready and waiting in the parliament for the backing of other political parties. I’ve called on the Prime Minister and Environment Minister to work with me to progress a listing. Together, we could do this.
Equinor’s withdrawal from the Bight is the beginning of the end of fossil fuels. Moving to net zero emissions by 2050 means we must reduce pollution now, not give the green light to new polluting projects. We have alternatives for energy and we have alternatives for jobs.
We can protect our precious places and the tourism jobs that rely on them, while transitioning to a clean, green renewables sector. In my home state of SA, plans are afoot for ‘green steel’ to revolutionise manufacturing, and electric vehicle chargers made in Queensland are being sent to countries around the world already transitioning to e-mobility. The opportunities are there, we just have to take them.
The campaign to save the Bight has shown us that Helen Keller’s words are indeed true: "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”. Together we won the fight against Equinor. Now it’s time to win World Heritage protection for the Great Australian Bight.