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Fight for the Bight hits Morphett as Liberal candidate called on to quit

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Ousted Liberal veteran Duncan McFetridge has called on his successor Stephen Patterson to resign as Holdfast Mayor – and the State Government has questioned his ability to continue in the role - after his council called for a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Great Australian Bight.

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The council narrowly endorsed a motion last week to write to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority requesting a halt on oil and gas exploration in the Bight.

It is the first major metropolitan council to do so, following similar moves from Kangaroo Island, Victor Harbor and Yankalilla.

Patterson was acting as chair of the meeting and did not have a vote unless the motion was tied.

The mayor and former AFL footballer won Liberal preselection for the bayside seat of Morphett in April, defeating incumbent McFetridge by a single vote. McFetridge has since quit the party and declared he would run as an independent, with his campaign posters unveiled on social media this morning.

IN THE PINK: Duncan McFetridge’s new election material. Photo: Facebook

McFetridge was quick to declare Patterson compromised on oil and gas exploration, given his council’s position is now opposed to the Liberal Party’s stated view that drilling should proceed.

BP recently abandoned plans to drill the area, but companies such as Chevron and Norway’s Statoil are still eyeing it off.

At the time of BP’s decision, Opposition Leader Steven Marshall reportedly said “we need projects like this… in a state which is really at rock bottom in terms of economic growth”.

McFetridge said while the Liberal Party did not have an official position on the Bight, “they were encouraging the whole of the investigation with appropriate safety requirements in place”.

“I think [Patterson] as the Liberal candidate needs to stick up for the Liberal policy, and if he doesn’t support Liberal policy he needs to be banned by the Liberal Party,” he said.

He said oil and gas exploration was vital in a state where energy security was the key public policy issue ahead of next year’s election.

“The mayor is the leader of the council – you’ve got to decide what you want to do, whether he wants to be the candidate for the Liberal Party in Morphett or Mayor of Holdfast Bay,” he said.

Acting Energy Minister Peter Malinauskas also weighed in, saying the Liberals had “already damaged investment prospects for the oil and gas industry in SA with their promise to ban on-shore gas developments in the south-east”.

“Now we have a council whose mayor is a Liberal candidate at the next election calling for a ban on off-shore exploration,” he said in a statement.

“We need to make decisions in this state that support job creation and put downward pressure on energy costs.

“Stephen Patterson should immediately publicly oppose his council’s call for a moratorium to avoid any further damage to this industry by the Liberal Party.”

He said if he “considers himself to be conflicted on this issue there is a real question about whether he is able to effectively continue in his position as Mayor”.

Patterson did not respond directly to the comments from either McFetridge or Malinauskas, but sent a text message response to questions about his position on oil and gas exploration, which appeared to oppose the council resolution.

“There should clearly be the highest environmental rigour applied to the approval of any drilling for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight, which will be handled by the Federal Government,” he said.

“I understand that the companies looking to explore the Bight are conducting extensive community consultation, so I’d encourage any City of Holdfast Bay residents with concerns to participate in that consultation.”

The motion was moved by councillor Lynda Yates, who raised concerns about “the potential devastating impacts of an oil spill along the city’s coastline”.

She said she had spoken to Patterson about her concerns in the past and “I think he thinks it’s not a local council issue”.

“It does make it a bit more tricky when we have a mayor who’s standing for state parliament,” she said.

A recent Senate inquiry ended in deadlock, with SA Labor senator Alex Gallacher splitting from his party colleagues to back further exploration.

“After the lack of response from the Senate inquiry several of the other councillors do think it’s a local council issue,” Yates told InDaily.

“We’re not going to get any benefits from any oil drilling in the area.”

The Great Australian Bight. Photo: Brad Leue / Supplied

She said workers would be fly-in-fly-out and any money would flow to federal coffers, and it’s “not clear how much of that there would be because a lot of these companies are foreign-owned”.

“So there’s not much benefit, but great risk… the effects to tourism would be quite substantial [and] I think it would have a big impact for a long time to come.”

She said the Holdfast Bay area had 1.29 million visitors in 2016 with a tourism spend of $262 million.

“That’s the sort of impact being threatened if we had an oil spill – it’s one of our primary sources of jobs and income for the city,” she said.

Wilderness Society SA director Peter Owen said Holdfast’s move was “quite significant” as “the first of the big city metro councils” to formally oppose exploration of the Bight.

He said he was hopeful the sentiment would now be emulated “up the metro coast”.

“The risk factor here is huge,” he said.

“A blowout out there would be catastrophic… there’s no real way of dealing with it.”

But Malinauskas called the council’s motion “a confused stunt that ignores both the science of exploration and the authority of the independent regulator”.

“Exploration has occurred in South Australia for 50 years, without any adverse environmental impacts,” he said.

“Further exploration in the Great Australian Bight would create hundreds of jobs in SA, both in Adelaide and in regional centres.”

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