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.

6:55 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak on the Productivity Commission's Inquiry Report No.65: Mineral and Energy Resource Exploration. As we know, briefly: the government that we now have were quick to go to the last election with three-word slogans, whether it was talking about boats, or grown-ups in control or—another one that has got under my skin—open for business. We know that the Productivity Commission report talks about regulatory processes that impose unnecessary burdens on resource explorers and that inhibit exploration around the mining industry. The government is very quick to say that they are the friends of the mining industry. They are very quick to say how they are going to save the nation from a mining tax that was originally being negotiated with industry because they had absolutely no problem with a profit-based tax. As we all know in this building, the industry did not have a problem with that. We in this building also know that the current structures for royalties do not work. We have seen that in the great state of Western Australia. We have seen some absolutely monumental stuff-ups, for want of a better phrase, from the state government over there in terms of how great they are going to be for the state of Western Australia, the people of Western Australia and the mining industry. Let me just talk about a couple of them. It is all very well for the federal Liberal government to be running around the country being friends, but let us look at some form from the state government.

Let us look at two of the most massive projects that have been announced in Western Australia. We were very lucky, until the global financial crisis—and even during the global financial crisis—to be blessed with many resources over there in terms of oil, gas and—in particular, but not limited to—iron ore. We had one project, where junior miners in the Mid West region, inland—for those not from WA—around Geraldton, where magnetite—the poorer cousin of haematite—which, although it is not a higher-quality ore, is the next big thing in Western Australia. I make no argument about that, especially when we talk about China and India's hunger for iron and steel. We had the Premier—who is the Premier still, Mr Colin Barnett—come out there and personally nail his colours to the mast in relation to building the Oakajee Port and Rail project. The Oakajee Port and Rail project was to build a deepwater port and rail in the Mid West region. He was out there announcing what a wonderful thing it was going to be, he went to an election with it, and he was going to be the driver of the project, and he was going to be the builder of all things great in Western Australia.

Around the same time, he was also talking about the Browse project, which is a Woodside project—Woodside is one of the proponents—to build an onshore gas facility at James Price Point north of Broome. I know my colleagues in the Greens will come out and scream about all the bad things about oil and gas, and how terrible it is to have an onshore gas facility, but there were a lot of benefits that were going to come with this project. One of the benefits was an Indigenous land use agreement to the value of $1.5 billion. But I have to tell you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I am coming from a selfish point of view: whatever will advance Indigenous peoples, particularly but not limited to the Kimberley, I am in. But I did have the good grace not to stick my nose into that business. That was a deal to be negotiated between our Indigenous owners and the proponents. And those in the environmental movement were all there, sticking up for the blackfella and looking after the poor blackfella who is going to be victimised by this gas plant and then, when that did not suit my blackfella mates, they turned on them and the rest is history; we know where that stands.

It suits certain parties to say 'the poor Aborigines were bullied'. Well, do you know what? They took a democratic vote. We know very well how democracy works—with 50 per cent plus one, you rule. When democracy goes your way, that is fine. But when it does not suit some people, the rest gets very murky. I do not want to take the pressure off Premier Barnett. He bulldozed his way in, pushed everyone aside and compulsorily acquired land at James Price Point. The Oakerjee deepwater port near Geraldton is a $6-billion project; James Price Point is a potential onshore gas project—both projects where he came and stuck his bib in. I will tell you what he did do. He managed to absolutely blow out of the water any chance to see that development on James Price Point. He blew out of the water any chance for Indigenous improvement—jobs, education, roads and infrastructure. He also managed to tip out the Oakerjee port.

One-word slogans are fantastic at elections when you are in opposition, but when you get into government you have to deliver. So far, the only thing this government has delivered is jobs offshore. They should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. The Australian people have the opportunity to be reminded of that, particularly in Western Australia in the next few weeks.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Sterle, your time has expired.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.