La­bor’s hot air is no en­ergy sub­sti­tute

Sunday Territorian - - OPINION - DAVE TOLLNER

“Our fu­ture is be­ing held to ran­som by a highly or­gan­ised, highly funded group­ing of leftist ac­tivists”

IN EARLY Au­gust 2005, the Howard gov­ern­ment took con­trol of ura­nium min­ing in the Ter­ri­tory.

It hap­pened after a short meet­ing be­tween fed­eral Re­sources Min­is­ter Ian Mac­far­lane and Ter­ri­tory Mines Min­is­ter Kon Vatskalis.

Macca gave Kon a quick les­son on how the Com­mon­wealth Grants Com­mis­sion op­er­ates. He ex­plained the Ter­ri­tory was within its rights to take a prin­ci­pled stand against ura­nium min­ing, but it wouldn’t be with­out fi­nan­cial con­se­quence ... sound fa­mil­iar?

A few min­utes later the pair fronted the me­dia. Macca told them that the Ter­ri­tory had ab­di­cated re­spon­si­bil­ity on ura­nium min­ing and the place was now open for business.

While Kon com­plained the Ter­ri­tory had been bul­lied and he said it was fur­ther ev­i­dence of our need for state­hood.

The po­lit­i­cal fix had been made. John Howard had again shown that steely re­solve in push­ing back against the La­bor states who held no regard for the na­tional interest.

Clare Martin, on the other hand, gladly took the money, but de­clared that she would stay true to her word and never ap­prove a new ura­nium mine in the NT. (She’d never knock an­other back ei­ther – but no one men­tioned that).

Both lead­ers stood tall in the eyes of their sup­port­ers.

The ques­tion is, why can’t Mal­colm Turn­bull and Michael Gun­ner come to the same type of ar­range­ment over on­shore gas? What’s happening now seems the com­plete op­po­site of com­mon­sense.

Our fu­ture is be­ing held to ran­som by a highly or­gan­ised, highly funded group­ing of leftist ac­tivists who have captivated public opin­ion through so­cial me­dia and yel­low plas­tic tri­an­gles.

These NIMBYs twist the truth and make up sto­ries but our lead­ers lack the ticker to pull on a fight with them, even when it’s in ev­ery­one’s interest to do so. Scott Mor­ri­son’s bud­get re­lies on the prospect of a grow­ing econ­omy.

Most peo­ple know that an econ­omy mainly grows through ex­ports. When ex­ports are greater than im­ports, the econ­omy grows and when im­ports are greater than ex- ports, it shrinks. So why would Mal­colm Turn­bull threaten the na­tional econ­omy with ex­port con­trols on a re­source that unar­guably has made Australia more pros­per­ous?

Such talk height­ens our sovereign risk in the eyes of our trad­ing part­ners and puts in doubt fu­ture ex­port in­come.

Our Prime Min­is­ter knows that we need our ex­porters to be mak­ing strong prof­its, in or­der to grow our econ­omy and main­tain our high stan­dard of liv­ing.

Mean­while, the Ter­ri­tory bud­get re­lies purely on the good­will of other Aus­tralians.

Don’t be fooled by what many in the me­dia and po­lit­i­cal class tell you. We have no en­ti­tle­ment to other peo­ple’s money, de­spite what they say.

Aus­tralians are look­ing much closer at how we carve up the pie. The states are scream­ing poor and it stands out that Territorians get more than 10 times the per capita money than those poor souls un­for­tu­nate enough to live in WA. Eighty per cent of the Ter­ri­tory bud­get rev­enue comes from Can­berra.

Re­duced GST pay­ments must be ex­pected fol­low­ing the enor­mous growth the NT has achieved in re­cent years. The dra­matic fall in GST after the WA min­ing boom should be a strong sig­nal to Territorians that we can ex­pect the same.

Com­bine this with the hard­en­ing of at­ti­tudes to the NT’s fi­nan­cial state, and you don’t have to be Nostradamus to pre­dict that Com­mon­wealth money will start to dry up in the Ter­ri­tory. The last bud­get demon­strated this and the next will be worse. Across Australia, the fickle pen­du­lum of public opin­ion is also swing­ing back in favour of fos­sil fuel.

Peo­ple are slowly com­ing to grips with the real cost of “green” elec­tric­ity. Al­most all me­dia out­lets are run­ning sto­ries pre­dict­ing black­outs and mas­sive price spikes in the eastern states this sum­mer.

For decades, there has been bi­par­ti­san sup­port for the es­tab­lish­ment of a gas in­dus­try in the Ter­ri­tory. In­deed, both CLP and La­bor claim credit for what we cur­rently have. The CLP says “we started it with Conoco Philips” and La­bor says “we got In­pex”.

Ev­ery Fed­eral gov­ern­ment and Ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ment, of ev­ery po­lit­i­cal stripe, un­til now has been work­ing to­wards the es­tab­lish­ment of a gas in­dus­try.

To date, the Ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ment has done all the heavy lift­ing but the Com­mon­wealth has seen al­most all of the rev­enue. Territorians have shelled out mil­lions to at­tract Conoco Philips and In­pex to Dar­win, but aside from a mea­gre amount of pay­roll tax, all taxes and roy­al­ties have gone to Can­berra.

Ev­ery Ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ment knew this would be the case, but they were pre­pared to pay the price be­cause it would seed the de­vel­op­ment of a much larger on­shore in­dus­try.

Roy­al­ties aris­ing from off­shore gas go to Can­berra, the on­shore gas in­dus­try pays its roy­al­ties di­rectly to the NTG.

While Michael Gun­ner rightly feels com­forted that the NT has more than enough gas for our elec­tric­ity needs, he should be alarmed that the Conoco Philips plant, now Dar­win LNG, is des­per­ately trying to find new sources of gas to process. If Michael Gun­ner un­der­stands a lit­tle bit about macro-eco­nomics he’ll also be very alarmed by the clo­sure of sev­eral large scale en­ergy de­pen­dant man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­nesses in­ter­state. This can only

lead to fur­ther ero­sion in Ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ment rev­enue.

Michael Gun­ner knows that the Macarthur basin alone holds more than twice the gas of all the gas fields in Queens­land, and over fives times the gas of the en­tire north­west shelf. Sup­pos­edly, it’s enough to power the en­tire Aus­tralian elec­tric­ity sys­tem for the next 200 years. He knows we can use this gas to al­le­vi­ate the short­ages along the east coast. It doesn’t even have to be trans­ported there – it can be used to meet the ex­port de­mand, while free­ing up in­ter­state gas for elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion.

He’s been end­lessly briefed on the job num­bers and the many down­stream in­dus­tries in­clud­ing the es­tab­lish­ing of new hi-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing plants. And he knows that if we are to ever have an ef­fi­cient port and rail sys­tem, we need this in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment.

Michael Gun­ner knows that on­shore gas holds the key to the NT becoming fi­nan­cially self suf­fi­cient and pay­ing its own way. He also knows that it’s no idle bluff that the Com­mon­wealth Grants Com­mis­sion will cut our GST rev­enue if we don’t de­velop our proven re­sources when there’s a proven mar­ket. That’s what ev­ery­body signed up to when the GST was first agreed on. That’s what the Grants Com­mis­sion has to do by law – they re­fer to it as “fore­gone rev­enue”.

It’s not Ter­ri­tory La­bor pol­icy to op­pose on­shore gas – it’s sim­ply rank pop­ulism.

For decades, Australia had the cheap­est and most reli­able elec­tric­ity sys­tem in the world and we be­came one of its most wealthy na­tions sell­ing coal and min­er­als.

Twelve years ago, two lead­ers as op­po­site as John Howard and Clare Martin each found a po­lit­i­cal fix to a rather sim­i­lar is­sue. Ad­mit­tedly, Face­book and Twit­ter didn’t ex­ist back then, and the me­dia wasn’t so wet, but both were pre­pared to do some­thing.

To­day, the na­tional bud­get is far more frag­ile and the money com­ing into the Ter­ri­tory is clearly in de­cline. But, our lead­ers are paral­ysed with fear – de­spite the prob­lems that each must surely see com­ing their way.

The sad­dest thing of all though is that no­body seems to care. Like frogs, we are happy, com­fort­able and ig­no­rant, bask­ing our­selves in slowly warm­ing water.

The In­pex-op­er­ated Ichthys LNG Pro­ject’s cen­tral pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity

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