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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 241

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (10:36): I thank Senator Lambie for her contribution. There is a lot in what Senator Lambie said that I agree with completely. She spoke about the need for our nation to secure its energy resources, to provide cheaper energy to households and pensioners and also to industry and businesses so they can be competitive and provide jobs. In terms of our objectives of what we want, we and Senator Lambie are very much of one mind. But I would like to talk about a few points Senator Lambie has raised.

You mentioned how this legislation helps solve these problems, and that is the core issue; you have hit the nail on the head on that: how will this legislation help us solve these energy issues? Well, it is not a panacea, and I am not here and the government is not here to say that this is the solution for all issues. It is a relatively technical and small change to our framework that will give certainty to investors coming here to develop these resources.

Where I absolutely agree is that we need to encourage more gas supply in our nation; we need to develop gas so that those manufacturers, the energy providers, can continue to provide energy to our country in a cheap and affordable way, and we have traditionally been given those God given resources that Senator Lambie mentioned. So, when investors come here and there is a resource and there is uncertainty about whether it comes under state laws or state jurisdiction or Commonwealth jurisdiction, unless we can make clear to them where the dividing lines are and how we will coordinate between state and Commonwealth governments, clearly those investors will be warded away or at least be less likely to come here to our country.

This bill simply provides clarity for those investors and helps ensure that Commonwealth and state governments can come to agreements to make that happen. So, as I mentioned earlier, while there are elements of this bill that will be retrospective, it relates only to one agreement so far under section 54, which relates to the Tarosa fields in the Browse Basin, where there is this uncertainty between Commonwealth and state governments. And that is retrospectivity. It will not cause detriment, because, indeed, that agreement was made with the expectation that we would be making these changes to legislation to clarify these issues.

On the other specific point Senator Lambie made, about refunds and remittals, this is a practice that the government has already done, where either environmental plans or safety cases do not proceed or there is some withdrawal such that we refund or remit the levies in those cases. We are making sure that those powers do exist, and we are also ensuring, in the case of environmental levies, where those refunds have been paid in the past, that they are valid. In the explanatory memorandum we explained that the total amount of those refunds adds up to $500,000 over the time—it was a few years back, but I could get you the date, Senator Lambie, if you need it. But it is not an enormous amount of money in the context of the PRRT that we do raise, as you say.

That brings me just briefly to the other points, which are beyond the scope of this bill. But on the issues you raised about the PRRT, I hear what you are saying, and the government hears these issues and concerns. That is why, just before Christmas, we announced a review into the PRRT framework. You are right: it is our resource, and we need to maximise it and ensure that we get the maximum benefit to all Australians from that resource. At the same time, we need to attract people to come here and invest. You mentioned some other countries, like Malaysia and Qatar. In many of those other nations, governments themselves develop their resources. They have government-owned companies which develop their resources. That is why they have different arrangements and different returns. They take on the risks of that development and they potentially get the returns as well. We do not do that here; we seek for the private sector to develop those resources, and over the past few years that has certainly accorded us well, treated us well, because many of these investments have experienced cost blowouts and they will not make the returns perhaps that the original investors would have thought. We will still have the development and have the jobs, but if we had been making those investments it would have been Australian taxpayers on the hook for those losses.

Those losses, and the oil price falls, have certainly impacted the prospects for the government to receive its petroleum resource rent tax. It is a profits based tax, so it is calculated waiting for profit to accumulate. That is why it takes some years for the capital of a big project like Gorgon to be paid back, and then the government will take its share of the profits. That is the system we have had in this country going back to the 1980s, and it was recently extended by the former Gillard Labor government to onshore gas resources as well.

Notwithstanding that, we are genuinely, in good faith, conducting a review to ensure that we do have the greatest return to Australians from that resource. I hope and am willing to work with you, Senator Lambie, through that review on the legitimate issues you have raised. I understand your concerns, but I would just implore you that the specific provisions we are changing in the act here, in this bill, will help encourage, in a small way, investment in our energy sector. And they are important, and that is why they should be supported.