MPI – Resources sector
Mr PITT (Hinkler—Minister for Resources and Water) (15:50): It’s not often I get the opportunity to say thank you to the member for Ballarat for opening up a debate like this and, in particular, mentioning something within my portfolio, which is the Beetaloo basin. We know those opposite will go to any lengths to look for mud. They’ll turn over every rock, open every cupboard, go to every dark space. I can say to those opposite: you are barking up the wrong tree. You are barking mad if you think there is an issue in terms of the Beetaloo basin and the support that we are providing. So I say to the member of Ballarat, and I say it here and say it publicly: if you have an allegation to make, step up. There’s a press gallery just over there looking for a story. Step up to them, make the allegation, and say what it is you are trying to intimate.
Here are some facts: the Beetaloo Strategic Basin Plan, in terms of the $50 million grant program, was announced by me. I am the responsible minister. I am the decision-maker in terms of those grants and who they go to. That announcement was made on 17 December 2020—the availability of the grant program and that it would be made available for those individuals and companies who are out there, the ones who have access to the exploration permits around the Beetaloo, to bring forward that investment. Why is that important? Because we think that the Beetaloo sub-basin could increase economic activity by between $18 billion and $36 billion. That is a significant amount of money, and in this matter of public importance discussion those opposite are suggesting that this is not a worthwhile spend. It can drive up to 6,000 jobs in the Northern Territory by 2040. Why have we put $50 million on the table for exploration grants? It is a very practical, commonsense reason. We want to bring forward that exploration because it brings forward the development of the basin. It brings forward the economic activity and it brings those jobs into the Territory, where they’re desperately needed.
I will come back to what those opposite are intimating when they make these claims and statements, and it’s pretty straightforward. There is a proponent to which we have offered grant support. That decision was made by me, as the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, based on the advice and recommendations of an independent panel, who made an assessment against the guidelines for the Beetaloo grants program, which I accepted. That is how it works. That is how these decisions are made. These are the right decisions, because it is good for the Northern Territory if we can bring forward those jobs, that economic development. We think the Beetaloo gas could be some 200,000 petajoules. This is a significant basin. It is a significant investment and a significant opportunity for our country. Those opposite want to disparage what we’re doing for the people of the Northern Territory and the people of Australia. It’s just wrong.
What else is it they’re suggesting they might not support? Is it the Exploring for the Future program, which has already identified more than a trillion dollars worth of resources in Australia that into the future we can develop to build our wealth and provide more opportunities? Is it the $100 million extension of the junior minerals exploration incentive, which we know, particularly in Western Australia, has resulted in an absolute increase, a boom, in exploration? Down the track, that will mean more resource projects, more mines, more employment and more opportunities for Australians; not only for Australians who are already out there but for apprentices and trainees to be engaged, to learn those skills, to pick up a trade in the resources sector.
I congratulate the sector on what they’ve done. Some $310 billion in exports is the estimate for the last financial year. They broke all records. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, in the midst of what is effectively a worldwide meltdown around the economies of other nations, this country has broken all records for its exports. The sector have managed the pandemic in an incredibly good way. Up until recently, there hadn’t been a single outbreak, not one case. We still have people who are on FIFO, who must cross borders because they have particular skills that can’t be found. The industry has managed to support those cases and to keep those businesses operational.
And yet, what we have in those opposite is the member for Ballarat, who wants to come in and intimate something about a program for which I’m responsible and try to lay it at the feet of the minister for energy. The minister for energy is not the decision-maker; I am. And I stand by those decisions. They are the right decisions for this country, because they will bring forward investment, they will bring forward jobs and they will bring forward opportunities. As we come out of the COVID pandemic, and as we see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is jobs like these and resource projects like these that will make a real difference to our country into the future. I continue to stand by the sector and what we are doing, and I will always do that.