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Tuesday, 9 September 2003
Page: 14609


Senator LIGHTFOOT (2:06 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Senator the Hon. Nick Minchin. Will the minister advise the Senate of the benefits for Western Australia and Australia generally of the $11 billion Gorgon gas project which has now been given approval to commence? How will this major project help build on this government's strong economic management and—and this is the rhetorical aspect of my question—is the minister aware of any alternative policies?


Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —I thank Senator Lightfoot for that astute question and acknowledge his very strong support for the development of Western Australia's great resource base. Yesterday's announcement of an in principle agreement for the development of the Gorgon gas field is really just the latest in a very long string of milestones in the great Australian liquefied natural gas industry's history. It really is a vote of confidence in the strength of both the economy and our resources sector.

This Greater Gorgon area, off Western Australia's Pilbara coast, is Australia's largest known gas reserve. It represents some 25 per cent of Australia's known gas resources and contains in excess of 40 trillion cubic feet of gas. There is enough gas there to generate all of Australia's electricity for the next 55 years, and it is enough to fill Sydney Harbour 2½ thousand times over. So our government warmly congratulates the Western Australian Labor government on its in principle approval for Gorgon to use Barrow Island—subject, of course, to strict environmental safeguards—and, of course, the use of Barrow Island is critical to the development of this very key resource.

The joint venture partners are going to be spending some $11 billion to develop Gorgon, and it has the potential to generate huge benefits not only for Western Australia but for Australia as a whole. There will be a construction work force of 3,000, a permanent work force of 400, another 6,000 indirect jobs across the nation with about 1,700 of those in WA, annual exports of from about $2½ billion up to $11½ billion in revenue for the Commonwealth government to the year 2030, so this is a huge and very important project. It will open development to very big new exports, as I said, on top of the $25 billion contract that we engineered last year for the export of LNG to China.

You would think, with this being such a good news story for Australia, that there would be bipartisan support for this at a federal level. I have to say I was pretty stunned to read in the Weekend Australian on 9 August that someone called Joel Fitzgibbon, who apparently is the shadow resources minister for the Labor Party—


The PRESIDENT —Order, minister. It is Mr Joel Fitzgibbon. He is a member in the other place.


Senator MINCHIN —Mr Joel Fitzgibbon, MP! Well, he actually said that the export of gas from Barrow Island is not in Australia's national interest. While I commend Premier Gallop on ignoring his party colleague and allowing this very important project to proceed, it is again evidence that the federal Labor Party simply does not understand Australia's resources sector. Indeed, the executive director of APPEA, the key industry group, said that the statements by Mr Fitzgibbon had real potential to damage investor confidence in Australia's projects. And of course Mr Fitzgibbon's outburst comes on top of the ALP proposal, just recently announced, to slug our mining industry to the tune of $400 million a year by reducing diesel fuel rebates to pump up its higher education package. That comes on top of their insistence that they are going to rush in and sign the Kyoto protocol, which would be extraordinarily damaging to the competitiveness of our resources sector—and then, of course, condemning the Gorgon project. All of this confirms there is only one side of politics that really understands just how important Australia's resources sector is to the future of this country and is going to get behind it and support it. It is about time the federal Labor Party understood the importance of resources to this great country.