By ERWIN CHLANDA
Labor NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner, whose own party has a strong element against the controversial fracking, has appointed as the Territory’s reconstruction supremo someone who is clearly up to his eyeballs in oil and gas.
He is a board member of the Saudi Arabian Oil Co (July 2018 to present), Special Advisor to the Saudi Arabia Sovereign Wealth Fund (September 2018 to present), chairman of Dow Chemical (April 2006 to July 2018), board member of DowDuPont (April 2018 to June 2018) and its chairman (September 2017 to March 2018).
He is Andrew Liveris (pictured, Forbes photo), “Territory-born-and-raised” (very nice) and a special adviser to the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission. According to its draft report, leaked to The Guardian, the commission sees the development of oil, gas and mining, especially in the Territory, as the answer to the nation’s post Coronavirus troubles.
How his day job meshes with the expectations of locals for the Territory’s future will be interesting to watch.
Despite the growing uncertainty about mining royalties and what they are doing to diminish the NT’s crippling debt, the draft report’s authors put their money on mining.
His co-chair is former Labor Chief Minister Paul Henderson (at right), the founding partner of the Energy Club NT whose “vision” is “connecting the energy industry across northern Australia”. It touts the aims of the Territory Department of Trade, Business and Innovation’s gas service and supply plan including expanding Darwin’s LNG hub and establishing a gas-based processing and manufacturing hub.
“We have a goal that by 2025 local participation in the gas industry supply chain will double to at least 50%. This has the potential to add an additional $1 billion to the Territory economy over the next ten years,” says the department.
“Mr Henderson has a long history of helping to bring jobs and investment to the Territory,” says Mr Gunner in a media release.
“Mr Liveris and Mr Henderson will lead the team of champions [aka Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission] charged with helping to write the roadmap for the Territory’s recovery – to make the NT the comeback capital.”
In turn they will be advised by the Team Territory, co-chaired by yet another former Labor Chief Minister, Clare Martin (at left).
Her lasting contribution to the NT has been giving native title a de-facto value of 50% of freehold which drove property values in Alice Springs to obscene levels, initiating the prolonged stagnation of the town.
This Team Territory has no fewer than 18 members.
And then there is the new Minister for Central Australian Reconstruction, Dale Wakefield, whom media are encouraged to quote as saying: “I will continue to stand up for Central Australia, no matter the challenge. The reconstruction effort is about creating jobs, bringing back flights, creating investment opportunities and leading Central Australia into a new economic era with existing and new opportunities.”
In the draft leaked to The Guardian Mr Liveris and his co-advisors are making no bones about what should happen.
“Market making must occur … new field developments [including oil and gas] must be enabled to proceed.”
Beetaloo, the highly prospective basin between Tennant Creek and Darwin, is named first, ahead of four other locations in Australia.
The taskforce recommends “the creation of a strong governance structure … that provides a 10 year development plan … redeploy existing funds … accelerate approval processes.
“Australia is the world’s largest producer of bauxite and alumina; the second largest of rare earth metals and the third largest of uranium.”
We must “establish a global best practice gas development regulatory framework in the Northern Territory to unlock new supply for the East Coast … a forward-looking gas reservation policy for the Northern Territory and East Coast developments … Beetaloo is a good example of liquids-rich acreage.”
The draft report illustrates the mess of the current gas industry: “Since 2008 Melbourne’s nominal gas price has risen 177% while New York gas prices fell 41%. [But] we have not considered subsidy, state ownership or protectionism in general,” says the draft.
“Despite the existence of large reserves, high domestic prices have failed to promote new supply – a clear indication of market failure. Gas is key to driving down electricity costs.
“Australia’s sustained competitiveness lies in energy intensive industry, employing one million Australians, through lower gas and electricity prices.”
As the scandal concerning the treatment of VET by the Charles Darwin University – of which Mr Henderson is the Chancellor – continues to unfold, the draft report has this to say: “Long an orphan in the Federation’s education systems, vocational training in particular needs a national re-set that comes with both a disciplined, adequate funding model and strong accountability for the quality and practical value of its outcomes. It should be the core of Australia’s tertiary system.
“We recommend establishing strong involvement of industry in Vocational Education and Training (VET) including TAFEs.”
There should be a reduction of “red & green tape” (up to one-third of current costs by some estimates) “via smooth and more aligned approvals processes, lifting sharply Australia’s bottom-quartile global ranking, and introducing clear ‘use it or lose it’ tenement provisions.
“Gas is central to more rapid adoption of renewables [which otherwise hardly get a mention] at least cost, building the bridge to Australian opportunity as a leading hydrogen player – replacing coal retirements with renewable generation plus gas peaking can help Australia accelerate the decarbonisation of energy supply, at the lowest cost.”
Governments should take “active, participatory role in strategic pipeline developments … in taking a non-operating equity position, minority share or underwriting position.”
Unsurprisingly Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Dan Robins says the gas industry had “utterly captured the Gunner Government, despite a majority of Territorians being opposed to fracking.
“Australia’s gas fracking industry has suffered massive setbacks in the past few months due to the oil price crisis and the coronavirus-driven economic slowdown, yet Michael Gunner refuses to see the writing on the wall.
“Paul Henderson is the man who signed the INPEX contracts that have seen huge amounts of gas sold overseas while the NT economy falls further and further into debilitating debt.
“The way to supercharge and future proof our economy is undoubtedly renewables. We have a chance to create a clean, future-looking economy, yet Michael Gunner wants to tie us to tired old fossil fuels by appointing these gasmen to head the Reconstruction Commission.
“The public purse certainly should not have to pay for these private fracking companies to lay waste to land, water, and communities.”
The NT Greens also slammed Mr Gunner’s “handpicked NT Economic Reconstruction Commission for being stacked with bankers, oil and gas lobbyists, and out of town interests.
“The high-profile petroleum, oil and gas lobbyist Andrew Liveris has been appointed co-Chair with Bespoke oil and gas consultancy head, Paul Henderson.
“An economic reconstruction commission should focus on clean, renewable energy that will reduce power bills for households and businesses. This will create a strong NT market for new industries and revitalise our region,” according to Billee McGinley, the Greens candidate for Nightcliff.
“Just as Scott Morrison’s Covid-19 Economic Commission is pushing a huge taxpayer funded handout for petroleum, oil and gas companies, Mr Gunner is throwing Territory taxpayers under the polluting bus to foot the bill for a gas industry we do not want or need. Fracking will never be worth the damage it will wreak on our economy and our health.
“The make-up of this commission is a slap in the face for Territory workers in industries that are the genuine backbone of our economy. Where is the representation for essential service workers, tourism and agriculture workers amidst this commission?”
Gas fuelled reconstruction for the Territory
By ERWIN CHLANDA