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Wednesday, 26 May 2004
Page: 29229

Mr TOLLNER (7:55 PM) —Members will be aware that Australia stands to benefit considerably from the oil and gas fields of the Timor Sea. The Bayu-Undan field is already in liquids production, and earnings from that field will effectively provide the fledgling nation of Timor Leste its annual budget. The Greater Sunrise field presents the opportunity of earnings for Australia of some $8½ billion over the life of the project. Greater Sunrise contains an estimated 8.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 295 million barrels of condensate. Current estimates are that 20.1 per cent of these resources lie in the joint petroleum development area and 79.9 per cent in Australian jurisdiction.

Tonight I will talk about a prospect which is much smaller but, no doubt, just as important: the Black Tip gas deposit in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, off the Territory's north-west coast, which Woodside wishes to develop as a supply of domestic gas. The proposal is to run a gas pipeline east-west across the Territory from near Wadeye or Port Keats to supply a bauxite smelter at Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula. This project is currently being negotiated between Woodside, the Territory government and the Northern Land Council—because some 70 per cent of the pipeline route would be across land that comes under the Commonwealth's Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act.

The Northern Land Council has proposed that it take equity in the project. The pipeline presents the greatest opportunity in the history of Arnhem Land, in the history of the Territory, and perhaps even in the history of Australia, to tackle the greatest social difficulty the Territory has—namely, the participation and inclusion of Aboriginal Territorians in the growth economy of the Territory.

It is often said, but it bears repeating, that Aboriginal Territorians are, for the most part, `land rich but dirt poor'. I have often spoken about the problem and have no hesitation in repeating my assertion that much of the fault for that situation lies in the Aboriginal land rights act. The act was primarily brought about with a view to protecting Aboriginal Territorians and their land from commercial exploitation by the outside world—by which I mean `from other Australians'. The result has been, sadly, the exclusion of Aboriginal Territorians from the Territory economy. Some 30 per cent of the Territory's population are Aboriginal. They have their land, they have the right to say who may come and go, and they have their land council bureaucracy to protect them, but, in the end, it has meant nonparticipation and exclusion. It has meant joblessness. I do not need to repeat the figures about Aboriginal community dysfunction, poverty and reliance on social welfare. The figures are quoted often enough.

The pipeline corridor provides the greatest opportunity yet to tackle those problems. If a public highway were built alongside the pipeline, if spur lines were added to provide cheap clean energy to outlying communities that currently waste some 30 per cent of their budgets providing diesel-powered electricity, and if new mines were opened up by the provision of cheap energy on their doorstep, we could see a revolutionary change in Aboriginal participation and involvement and a resultant revolution in unemployment, health and welfare statistics for the people on the land that this pipeline will traverse.

It should be remembered that Arnhem Land is internationally recognised as one of the most promising resource areas in the world, but it has been allowed to lie fallow while Commonwealth laws, land council bureaucracies and other well-intentioned but ill-thought-out measures put the prospectors outside the fence. I propose that Woodside, the Commonwealth government, the Territory government and the Northern Land Council negotiate a deal that will not just realise a pipeline but be a great leap forward in the development of Northern Australia and in Aboriginal advancement.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 8 p.m., the debate is interrupted.