Senate debates

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Statements by Senators

Gas Exploration, Australian National University

1:19 pm

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is quite fitting that I follow Senator Waters's contribution here in this chamber because I do not actually believe that fairies live in the bottom of the garden. The issue of gas and how we get it is a very big issue for Australians. Unfortunately, we have just heard a contribution that made not one mention of cost, not one mention of inexpensive energy, not one mention of global competitiveness and not one mention of consumers' cost of living—because all of the things she spoke about would increase the cost of living. But that is Greens ideology. They do not care how much it costs because they will never have to balance a budget—hopefully not in my lifetime in this place, anyway.

It is because of this Greens ideology that I rise to speak to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and to the others listening to this contribution, particularly about how it affects South Australia, my home state. Of course, that does flow on—excuse the pun—to all those connected to the gas pipeline of the Moomba gasfields in South Australia. We hear talk not such as Senator Waters's contribution but of extending the capacity of our gas, because gas is one of the future fuels of this country and we must have it to remain competitive. I have met many farmers and I have travelled through Queensland. Senator Waters eloquently and fondly spoke of her trip and I speak of my trip into Queensland fondly. Yes, I did speak to many people who were not enamoured in any way with coal seam gas; however, I met a lot of people, as many people, who saw it as an opportunity to increase their living standards and a way of securing their families' future. It is a way in which they could create a future as Australians in Australia.

That takes me now to the main reason for my contribution: the Australian National University's recent divestment of seven resources companies, including South Australia's own Santos. It is presented as an act of social responsibility, just as Senator Waters' contribution made no mention of any of the benefits of inexpensive energy to our country. It was put to the country that this was an act of considered responsibility, but it is truly an act of social recklessness for very questionable gains.

An underlying belief in the essential evil of business is a fantasy that envelops the modern green movement, and a divestment action such as this is just a conspicuous fashion statement. I would like to see the intelligentsia of the ANU acknowledge the overwhelming social good of a single company that employs 4,160 South Australians, that spends $10 million a year on sponsorship in that state and that pays more than $300 million annually in royalties and taxes. The Cooper Basin alone has delivered $1.5 billion in royalties to the state of South Australia.

The ANU's divestment action is Greens-inspired posing, but do not take my word for it. The ANU's own Professor Warwick McKibbin, the eminent former RBA board member, told The Australian Financial Review:

I think if the issue is dealing with the environment and particularly climate change, that sort of policy will not address the problem.

He called it a token gesture. It is a token gesture that is also a blunt threat to one of South Australia's most important corporate citizens. The ANU divesting $16 million worth of stocks from seven resources companies may not produce direct material damage to the companies concerned, but they were after the reputational damage, I can only assume.

To denigrate one of South Australia's most important corporate citizens is to do the same to the thousands who draw a Santos pay cheque. It is a threat to the company's downstream suppliers, it jeopardises Santos' sponsorship spend, it shows disregards for their taxation and royalty contributions and it directly or indirectly affects most citizens of the state of South Australia. Santos has supported South Australian causes and groups including the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, the Adelaide Botanic Garden, the Come Out festival, the OzAsia Festival, the Adelaide Zoo, Santos Stadium, the Tour Down Under, The Smith Family, and the Australian School of Petroleum at the University of Adelaide. Santos is Australia's largest domestic gas producer, and it is a supplier to all mainland states as well as a significant exporter. Santos operations at the Cooper Basin are the main gas supplier to the eastern seaboard.

It will be interesting to see where the ANU chooses to invest that money instead. I assume it will not be in renewables, given the track record of those who have trodden that path already. ANU's view is that the divestment program is for the public good, but a prosperous economy is the ultimate social good, as we know. Where there is an absence of economic growth, there is poverty and there is hardship. Economic prosperity raises living standards, creates jobs and invites investment. In South Australia, Santos does all of this. This is a message no doubt echoing in the ears of the ANU's Vice-Chancellor, Ian Young, at the moment, given the number of voices that have joined me to voice their opposition. I urge him to reconsider the full impact of his decision.

Incidentally, I congratulate the staff of Santos on the occasion of the company's 60th birthday, and I very much look forward to conveying the same sentiment to the CEO, David Knox, in person. Santos: a great South Australian company.