North Australia Digest – 12/9/12

The Australian
The decision by the conservative government in Queensland to increase mining royalties is likely to undermine the Gillard government’s efforts to return the budget to surplus. Finance Minister Penny Wong accused the Newman government of acting out of political interest to ‘pick a fight’ with Canberra.
The managing director and chairman of the Australian Agricultural Company, the biggest owners of land and cattle in Australia, have called for an end to political squabbling over foreign ownership of farm land. David Farley and Donald McGauchie said it was not important who owned agricultural assets but that they were developed quickly and to their full potential. The two men called for all pastoral leases in northern Australia to be converted to freehold or private land tenure to attract foreign rural development capital. More than 40 per cent of the nation and most expansive outback rural properties – including most of northern Australia – are at present designated as state controlled leasehold land, which is leased back to farmers.
Australia’s winter grain crop is forecast to be slashed by one-fifth on the back of a dramatic plunge in expected wheat production. This is due to a fall in West Australian production, where areas have received very low rainfall.
The move by the Queensland government to increase mining royalties has contributed to a perfect storm, according to Australian miners. The hike, announced in yesterday’s budget, has led to a chorus of complaints from an industry already suffering from a slowdown in China and plunging commodity prices. Some miners have warned of further job cuts, project deferrals and investment moving offshore as a result.
The Japanese-backed Oakjee project  is facing a ‘slow death’ in its current form. The $6 billion port and rail project, along with the mine designed to support the infrastructure, is not seen as feasible given falling iron ore prices.
Business confidence slumped last month on the back of continued talk that the mining boom was over. Confidence went down despite lower interest rates bolstering trading conditions.
The Australian Financial Review
BHP, Rio Tinto and other major miners are reconsidering their investments in Queensland after the Queensland governments decision to increase coal royalties. Clive Palmer has said the decision would ‘kill’ the state’s economy.
The head of the Australian arm of one of China’s largest state-owned banks has expressed concern that the issue of foreign ownership has become too emotive in Australia. Rural Liberal and Nationals MPs want greater scrutiny of tax breaks for foreign investors.
Cost control has become a top priority for smaller coalminers as they struggle to raise money to develop new mines and governments lift royalties.
The West Australian
West Australian farmers have been hit by the double blow of below average rain fall and the decision of the Federal Liberal Party to block deregulation of wheat exports. The move has angered farmers who believed deregulation could have freed up access to ports and cut the 22 cent-a-tonne levy that Canberra imposes on growers to fund the regulatory agency.
Women’s refuges have reported a surge in demand from abused partners of men who are fly-in, fly-out workers. Relationship problems are usually caused by the lifestyle changes for families, coupled with unusual working patterns.
Sydney Morning Herald
In this opinion piece, Jeremy Warner questions whether the time is up for the Australian resources boom. Warner argues the blessings of nature, rather than the brilliance of policymakers, offer an explanation as  to why Australia has done so well.
The Courier Mail
Queensland’s resources boom still has years to run according to major industry figures. APPEA CEO David Byers argued that an extra 7000 people had been employed in the Queensland gas industry in the first half of this year, bringing the workforce to more than 18,500.