Australia's House Introduces Offshore Safety Bill

Better management and improved safety in Australia's offshore petroleum industry is the focus of a bill introduced to the House of Representatives to establish a National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority.

Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane presented the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Amendment Bill 2003 and Offshore Petroleum (Safety Levies) Bill this morning, fulfilling a specific Howard Government election commitment from 2001.

"The Safety Authority will bring together what is currently a hodge-podge of regulations and deliver a uniform national safety regime with the support of the Australian and State Governments," said Mr. Macfarlane.

"It will allow industry members to operate facilities across a number of jurisdictions at the same time without having to deal with a multitude of legislation and a host of varied regulatory bodies," he said.

In the 2002-03 budget a three year, $6.1 million funding package was committed for the establishment of the Authority, which is expected to be up and running by January 2005.

The Authority will operate as an independent agency accountable to the Commonwealth, States and Northern Territory Ministers. It will work on a 100 percent cost recovery basis with the ability to charge industry fees and levies for incident investigations, advice and management.

While most of its work will be in offshore waters, there is also provision in the legislation for the Authority to undertake regulatory activities in inland waters or onshore - when requested by a State or the Northern Territory.

"The Authority is the result of much consultation with the industry. We believe the facility operators and workers are in the best position to identify possible hazards and make sure they are reported," said Mr. Macfarlane.

"This legislation will establish a central reference point for the industry by replacing six existing regulators and provide a whole-of-industry approach to safety and workplace operations in the petroleum sector," he said.

There are about 60 petroleum facilities in Australian offshore waters including large fixed platforms, floating production or storage facilities, mobile drilling rigs and support barges.