Repeated deceitful sensationalism from Australia's Green Party

The very self-confident but mentally challenged Ms Siewert above

RACHEL Siewert radiated righteous anger last weekend, after flying over the West Atlas oil rig spill in the Timor Sea, and her alarmist comments guaranteed her the kind of media coverage politicians lust after. The West Australian Greens senator said both the Federal Government and the company that owns the rig, PTTEP Australasia, had misled the public by downplaying the extent of the spill. "Literally from horizon to horizon you see the oil on the surface," she told reporters. "I'm extremely worried about the Kimberley coast because this is only 10 nautical miles, which is 20km, from the coast."

Siewert handed out photographs which she said proved her assertions, one of them showing reefs and mangroves on which she said the oil would have a devastating impact. Then she watched with satisfaction as excited journos rushed to file stories.

It was, as it turned out, nonsense. The slick was nowhere near the coast. The nearest oil was actually 148km from the coastline. But when Siewert grudgingly admitted five days later that what she had thought was oil could be algae, there was virtually no media coverage. As a result, many people still believe her original statements were true. All care and no responsibility. Who said it's not easy being Green?

Bob Brown's party is doing well at the moment, picking up support from voters disillusioned by what they see as Labor's failure to deliver on environmental issues. And with Labor not running a candidate, the Greens have high hopes of polling well in the by-election in Bradfield, the Sydney seat being vacated by former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson.

But Siewert's performance on the West Atlas issue raises questions about the Greens' approach. Are they serious, or a group of populist opportunists?

Light crude oil and natural gas began leaking from the rig early on Friday, August 21. According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, it started mobilising resources within 15 minutes of being notified. The first concern, rightly, was getting workers to safety. Then an AMSA Dornier plane mapped the spill. Two small planes equipped for spraying chemical dispersant were despatched to Truscott aerodrome. Arrangements were made for delivery of up to 50 tonnes of dispersant. Also, a specialist C-130 Hercules was chartered from Singapore by the company to spearhead the dispersant-spraying effort. (It reached Darwin the next day, and was in action by Sunday.)

Reasonable efficiency on Day 1, you might think. But Siewert was on the airwaves saying that, instead of dispersant having to be flown from Victoria, resources to combat such spills should be based in Northern Australia. In fact, the dispersant was stored in Darwin in case of just such an emergency.

Then, Siewert and Brown demanded that the government establish an immediate judicial inquiry to establish how the oil rig was being operated and how the early stages of the clean-up were undertaken. Talk about putting the cart before the horse! Clearly, at that stage, the priorities had to be dealing with the spill's effects and plugging the leak, not drawing up terms of reference and appointing judges. Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson says there will be an independent inquiry – after the leak is capped. Sensible.

Siewert's next foray was over the plan to use a mobile rig to drill into the leaking well and plug it with mud. She insisted the Government force PTTEP Australasia to borrow a mobile rig from Woodside rather than bring one from Singapore or Indonesia. The Government, wisely you might think, preferred to follow expert advice that the overseas rig, capable of fixing itself to the ocean floor to provide a more secure platform, was a better option.

If you can get the Woodside rig there even a day or two earlier, that is 3000 barrels of oil per day that they wouldn't be pumping into the environment, the senator argued. That estimate of 3000 barrels of oil a day appears to be another Siewert special. The Government's experts put the amount leaking closer to 400 barrels a day.

And then came Siewert's flight and her headline-grabbing claims. "The slick is at least 90 nautical miles, which is 180km, east-west from the rig," she said. "And it's fair, it's pretty safe, to assume that it's going north and south as well." In contrast, the observations from AMSA's Dornier aircraft on the same day had the spill covering a rectangular area 15 nautical miles by 60 nautical miles. What's more, only 25 per cent of this area was actually affected, mostly by oil streaks and patches of sheen. The heaviest concentration of oil was within three nautical miles of the rig.

No one would deny that the oil spill is a serious matter. Siewert is right to be concerned. She has an obligation, however, to ensure her information is accurate before she charges in. Considered statements would be more impressive than wild assertions.


Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see TONGUE-TIED. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me (John Ray) here

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