Ministerial Statements – Resources Sector

Thursday, 30 March 2023

Mr PITT: I rise to make a few brief comments about Australia’s resources sector. You should never forget—and I don’t just mean you, Madam Deputy Speaker Ananda-Rajah; I mean all those listening—just what happened during COVID, as the previous speaker, the member for Riverina, pointed out. The forecast around the world was that economies were collapsing, jobs were unavailable and people were being locked up. Australia’s own resources sector had a forecast of under $240 billion GDP. Currently that forecast is almost $460 billion. There is no other industry in this country that can make that type of contribution, that type of increase, in that short period of time. It employs over 1.2 million Australians directly and indirectly—not 10,000, not 20,000, not 100,000 but over one million.

We should be supporting this sector because this sector is how we pay our bills. It is this sector that contributes significantly to the tax intake. It is this sector through which royalties are provided to the states. It is this sector that is allowing for roads, schools, hospitals and our education system to be funded. Commitments have to be paid for, and the way you do that is you grow your economy and you grow opportunities. But what we’ve seen this week, in the dirty deal struck in the Greens-Labor government, will directly impact the resources sector. We have seen the Leader of the Greens walk out and say this will shut $90 billion worth of projects. I say to all those individuals who might be listening to the Federation Chamber today: think about the last time you saw a $5 billion, $10 billion or $15 billion project anywhere near where you live. They are very few and far between, and generally they come from the resources sector.

Imagine Queensland without the gas industry. Imagine Western Australia without the North West Shelf. This country has successfully utilised offshore resources for more than five decades. Victoria’s manufacturing success almost singly owes a debt to the Bass Strait. The Bass Strait gasfields are depleted. There is less gas and less availability, and that means less gas for manufacturing. We’ve seen Premier Dan Andrews out there squealing and howling at the moon about how they need more gas in Victoria, yet there has been a moratorium in Victoria for 10 years. If you don’t develop gas resources you run out of gas; that is what happens. We have now seen Premier Andrews call for Queensland’s export gas to be sent to Victoria to maintain Victoria’s manufacturing. It is not physically possible. There is not enough infrastructure. It would need to be built, and it cannot be delivered for the same price as that very cheap gas out of the Bass Strait.

It has been an enormous advantage for this country. But the deal that we have seen done, in my view, puts at risk some of the biggest projects which have taken a FID, final investment decision, in this country. Scarborough, in the North West Shelf, is worth roughly $15 billion. Dorado is the biggest oil find in the last three decades. In a country where our fuel reliability is decreasing and where we need more assets, and when we are living in a world which, in my view, is much more dangerous than it was 20 years ago, we need to secure Australia’s energy future and we need to make sure that we have those assets available in this country.

We hear those opposite constantly harping on about manufacturing in Australia. You don’t make a lot in this country if you don’t have cheap gas and you don’t have cheap electricity. Gas is a feedstock for so many products, including fertiliser. You only have to look at the price of urea around the world right now to know what happens. When Australian coal wasn’t going to China, they converted to gas for their electricity supply and it shorted their market and drove up the price of urea—and that drives up the cost of food, that fundamental thing that Australians need.

This dirty deal, in my view, puts at risk Barossa. Barossa is halfway through and is currently stopped because of a court direction after it had all the approvals done. This is a $5 billion project, bringing 600 jobs to Darwin and a 20-year life extension for Darwin LNG. In those three projects alone, you have tens of billions of dollars worth of investment. That is without the 18 onshore mining projects that were recalled by the Minister for the Environment and Water. They already had approvals and are now being reassessed. Can you imagine that, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you were on the board of a multibillion dollar company looking to determine where you should invest next?

Australia’s reputation throughout COVID was not only maintained but enhanced. It was enhanced because of the hardworking men and women in the resources sector who made sure our reputation for reliability, for supply, for delivery and for meeting contracts was kept. We now see countries like Japan out there in the press, and for a country like Japan to be making any of those statements publicly is appalling. They have relied on this country successfully for their energy supply for decades, and the fact that they are even concerned about this should worry every Australian, because it does damage our reputation. Why would people invest here if they get halfway through a project, as we’ve seen with Santos’s Barossa project, and have it removed because the Environmental Defenders Office went off to the court and found a reason to stop it? It is just really easy.

This sector delivers jobs. It strengthens our economy. It provides more opportunities. It’s how we train our kids. We actually saw a massive increase—thousands—of apprentices and trainees put through the resources sector during the COVID period, because it was the right thing to do. That gives those kids an opportunity to learn a trade, to take up traineeships and to have an opportunity for their future. But to have jobs you have to keep maintaining what is a depleting field somewhere else. You simply cannot shift gas around this country and be cost competitive. It is an enormous country. It’s a very, very long distance. It is incredibly difficult to maintain.

Look at what’s happening in the Beetaloo. We keep seeing the Greens howling at the moon. It is the biggest gas play in the world. It will give jobs to people that live in the Northern Territory. It will add to their GDP. It would allow them to pay for roads and hospitals that they desperately need. We need to continue developing Australia’s resources sector because it’s the right thing to do for our economy, it’s the right thing to do for our kids and it’s the right thing to do for our governments.

We can’t play both sides of the deck on this—we simply cannot—because confidence is everything to business. If you are making multibillion dollar investments in this country, you have to have absolute confidence that incoming governments, regardless of their stripe, won’t simply stop your projects because of their ideology. But that is what we are seeing. We are seeing people like the Leader of the Greens publicly saying there is a pipeline of almost $100 billion in projects that will be stopped because of the deal that has been done. How is that in Australia’s interest? It is not in our national interest. It hurts our reputation and it hurts the people who have been out there for many decades working hard and contributing to our economy. It is the wrong decision to make.

In the October budget last year we saw Labor cuts across the board. We saw $2.4 billion taken out of the state hospital funding, which sank like a stone—I didn’t see it on the front page of the paper—but it’s there, and if you go and have a look at the AMA’s press release it says exactly what has been taken out. We saw cuts to what we put in to support development of gas basins across this country because they need to be developed. It’s how we build our economy, particularly in the regions.

If you want to see something which impacts one area and not others, it is the resources sector, because those jobs are in regional Australia and regional towns. Regardless of whether you’re at Tieri or at Moranbah, at Lithgow or even in Newcastle—a big major centre on the coast—a lot of their economy and jobs rely on the resources sector. Some of them are one-mine towns, and without that employer there is no hairdresser or baker or shopping centre down the road, because there is no-one to buy anything. So the impact on regional Australia is much higher than it is anywhere else.

For those in the city, who might have more available cash than others, I say: knock yourself out. Good luck to you. It’s okay for you to pay more for power. It’s okay for you to pay more for cars. It’s okay to buy an electric vehicle. If that suits your lifestyle, knock yourself out. But where we come from, we need vehicles that go very long distances, are incredibly reliable and can manage in all sorts of conditions, because that’s where we live.

Ms Watson-Brown: We also need the environment!

Mr PITT: We hear interjections about the environment. I’ve got to say the guarantees that are held by state governments for miners are extraordinary, yet, when they come to end of life, they go back and rehab it and you can’t tell the difference. I’ve been to any number of these locations, whether it’s McArthur River in the north or whether it’s any of the ones in inland New South Wales. They have sold a high-quality product right around the world because people need it. It is why they come to Australia. It’s why our economy has been so strong. Here, we see a Green-Labor deal that will damage our reputation, damage our economy and result in fewer jobs and fewer opportunities for Australians into the future. That is why I oppose it, and so do the coalition, and we will continue to do that. Our decisions will be based on the national interest, not the ideology of the Greens, not a dirty Green-Labor deal and not those individuals out there howling at the moon. We make practical decisions because it is necessary. These are jobs that matter in regional Australia, and that’s why we fight for them.

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