North Australia Digest – 20/11/2012

The Australian Financial Review
International energy experts are the latest group to warn that high costs are putting at risk $150 billion in future LNG investments in Australia. The calls echo concerns raised by local gas producers including Santos and Woodside Petroleum that investment in the sector will dry up amid increased competition from overseas.
Santos has made a significant gas find and bought into an exploration licence at the Browse Basin of Australia’s north-west coast. Santos chief executive David Knox said the proximity of the find to other major gas fields may mean that cooperation with other companies will lower costs.
Without immediate action, Australian’s will suffer a sharp drop in growth and living standards when the mining boom ends in the next couple of years, according to Charlie Taylor, author of a McKinsey & Co productivity report Beyond the boom. “Acting quickly means tackling both labour and capital productivity,” Mrs Taylor said.
A plan to bring unskilled Indonesian workers to fill labour shortages in Australia under a trade, investment and economic co-operation agreement negotiated between business groups will be discussed by Craig Emerson at the East Asia summit in Phnom Penh this week.
The slowdown in Australia’s mining sector is providing a boost for construction of the national broadband network, with a flood of trained workers available to fill critical staff shortages.
Western Australia could soon have a surplus of unskilled and semi-skilled workers as the resources boom shifts to a new phase, the West Australian Chamber of Minerals and Energy has warned. The CMEWA’s 2013 State Growth Outlook, to be released on Monday, has predicted that employment will peak in 2014 before edging back as projects under construction move toward production.
The Australian
Shell is considering options for a planned $20b coal-seam gas project in North Queensland as cost blowouts continue to plague the sector. The oil giant has begun talks with third parties to help develop the project, but is also considering delaying approvals until the overheated construction market cools.
Julia Gillard is being urged to free up labour mobility between Australia and Indonesia in order to act on her Asian Century ambition for regional integration. A business coalition is pressing for the reform as part of a wider economic plan that also warns against Indonesia’s restrictions on mining investment, just as Australian resources companies lose their rights to valuable Indonesian deposits.
Boart Longyear, the world’s largest drilling company, is set to move 300 jobs overseas to cut costs after a wave of resources projects have been delayed or deferred.
Tougher conditions to protect dolphins, whales and dinosaur footprints will be placed on Woodside’s $35 billion Browse development by the West Australian Environmental protection agency.
The West Australian
Mining rail operator QR National has questioned the ability of Yilgram iron ore juniors to finance a major expansion of Esperance Port. QR’s head of WA operations Ken Lewsey said the expansion would be a tough ask in the current business climate.
Speaking on the ABC’s Q & A program last night, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said a mining tax is necessary to suppress the value of the dollar and stop a decline in manufacturing. Also appearing on the program, former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull said using a tax to keep the dollar low was a bad idea at the time and remained so.
The Courier Mail
Queensland coal trains may soon have to be covered to minimise dust exposure for those living along rail lines in a plan revealed by Premier Campbell Newman today.