Senate debates

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


Productivity Commission

6:50 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise to take note of the Productivity Commission inquiry report No. 65, Mineral and energy resource exploration. The inquiry, commissioned by Assistant Treasurer Bradbury, was asked to examine the non-financial barriers to mineral and energy resource exploration in Australia. It was completed and the report was forwarded to the Treasurer, Mr Hockey.

This really is a bit of a mystery. In the ordinary course of business of the parliament, legislation on the Woomera Prohibited Area passed without contention in the House of Representatives, came into the Senate and was referred to a committee for inquiry. Subsequently, Senator Farrell introduced a private member's bill. That was deemed to be unacceptable, even though Senator Farrell indicated he would be amenable to any amendments that would get the job underway, so to speak. Now we find, in the words of one commentator, 'Woomera back on the launch pad', and I think the pun is intended. A newspaper report states:

MOVES to open up the Woomera Prohibited Area to explorers targeting a potential $35 billion in minerals has been sent back to the federal Parliament drawing board.

We are now looking at further inquiry, further delay and further indecision on an important issue for the whole of Australia, particularly South Australia. We now have a very unclear situation. No-one is really sure why this has been delayed, why it has been sent back to be dealt with in the autumn sittings, or why it has been necessary to redraft legislation which passed the House of Representatives without contention

It has now been sent back to the launch pad. Clearly, a dissenting report by Labor senators on the committee said that they were disappointed there was no detail on the government's proposed alternative, and that the existing bill could well have been amended rather than throwing the whole process out.

The South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy stated that the bill was sufficient in outlining the detail for a permitting system to rail operators. I will just highlight the contribution of Senator Johnston, the Minister for Defence, who threw in the furphy—in my view—that the population of the Northern Territory could well go without fruit, vegies and perishables because we would have to close the railway because we had not sorted out Defence. Well, Defence have been operating there for a very long time. And the railway has been there for a very long time. Before the continuous railway to Darwin, there has always been a rail to Alice. There was a trucking system that went from Alice up to around about Larrimah. That has been there for decades. There have not been any proven instances, other than those caused by weather, where people in the Northern Territory have run out of food. That was an extraordinary contribution.

What we really have here is that we need the jobs. We did not think that the non-financial barrier to mineral exploration and energy resources would be the Liberal government! No-one thought that. No-one thought that the Liberal government would be the non-financial barrier that we see presented here today, but that is the reality of it. They are presiding over job losses in the automotive industry and refusing to get on their bike, basically, and commit to getting $35 billion worth of mineral resource exploration underway—supported by Indigenous communities; supported by tremendous infrastructure investment in the surrounding region, in trade training centres and skilling people up to work in the mining industry. No-one ever thought that this government would be the non-financial barrier in the way of mineral exploration, but that is the absolute reality.

Woomera back on the launch pad; delayed until the autumn session of parliament. It is truly extraordinary that this government that tells us, 'We will get rid of red tape. Get out of the way, we are going to let business go.' is the non-financial barrier to $35 billion worth of exploration in a state that is already suffering from high youth unemployment. It is a situation where we need to be proactive, get on the front foot, open the place up, consult with the Indigenous owners, consult with the special interest groups, rejuvenate our regional economies and allow people to work. No-one would believe that the government is the non-financial barrier to this being successful.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.


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