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Rachel Siewert, a senator for the environmentally focused Greens party, which supports the Labor Party minority government, described the plan as a “cave-in to the oil and gas industry.”

She said allowing exploratory drilling beside some of the most highly protected zones off northwest Australia leaves critical habitats for threatened species, including humpback whales, whale sharks, flatback turtles and dolphins, vulnerable to contamination from oil spills.

Judy Lynne, chief executive of the recreational anglers’ group Sunfish Queensland, said the ban on commercial operations in the most environmentally sensitive areas would result in more foreign trawlers fishing illegally.