Minister denies seismic testing talks offered, regulator disagrees

The NSW Greens have questioned Resources Minister Don Harwin’s concern about gas exploration off the east coast after he told Parliament the Commonwealth regulator had not sought talks with him – even though the regulator says otherwise.

Mr Harwin, who has expressed opposition to Asset Energy’s seismic testing program and possible gas drilling operation 30km from Newcastle, said last week he had written to his federal counterpart Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg.

When asked whether he’d been in talks with the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority –the body that approved last month’s seismic testing – Mr Harwin told Parliament he didn’t believe the regulator had sought a meeting.

But a NOPSEMA spokesperson told the Newcastle Herald the regulator had offered Mr Harwin “briefings on a number of occasions, but unfortunately the minister has not been in a position to accommodate them”.

Asked for comment on NOPSEMA’s claim, Mr Harwin told the Herald in a statement it was appropriate for him to contact Mr Frydenberg rather than approach the regulator. 

“I have made the NSW position on seismic testing off the coast of Newcastle very clear to the federal government,” Mr Harwin said.

The NOPSEMA spokesperson said the organisation briefed the NSW Department of Planning and Environment and sought to “engage broadly across government, including with state ministers”.

Greens MP Justin Field, who asked the questions in Parliament last week, said he was concerned about Mr Harwin’s position on the project. The gas exploration has drawn vocal community opposition and sparked public protests in recent months.

Mr Field questioned whether Mr Harwin had misled Parliament given the minister claimed NOPSEMA hadn’t approached him for talks.

“Minister Harwin has been quick to distance himself from Asset Energy’s proposal for offshore drilling of gas off the NSW coastline but his lack of action to protect communities and marine life speaks louder than words,” he said.

“Has the minister misled parliament over the proposal for a gas field off NSW and why had the minister himself not sought consultation with the regulator despite claiming he was concerned the Commonwealth regulations were not tight enough?”

This story by Nick Beilby first appeared in the Newcastle Herald on 28 May 2018

📷: Newcastle Herald 

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