North Australia Digest – 5/12/2012

The Australian
Lang Hancock’s vision of linking the coalfields in the east with mines in the west via rail has taken a step toward reality with a feasibility study being conducted by a top Japanese consultancy. The Nomura Research Institute has agreed to participate in the early stages of the multibillion-dollar project Iron Boomerang, which also involves the consulting arm of Britain’s Tata Steel. The idea of building a railway across Australia’s top end was pursued in the 1970’s by Mr Hancock and then Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson. Stage-one  of the plans involve building a new town for 20,000 people and a giant slab-steel plant near Queensland’s Abbot Point export coal terminal, north of Bowen.
Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has warned there will be no discounting to Indian companies looking to buy Australian resources, in response to complaints over Australia’s labour and taxation costs. The exchange came during an annual Australia-India Roundtable dialogue in Delhi yesterday, involving delegates from government, industry, media and think tanks. “The capacity to purchase commodities is related to your capacity to pay – that’s a fact of life,” Mr Ferguson said.
Business leaders will use a meeting tomorrow with PM Julia Gillard to urge the government to cut “green tape”. While the Greens have demanded that Julia Gillard not cut environmental rules, executives from some of the nation’s biggest companies intend to use tomorrow’s business advisory forum to insist the Prime Minister holds the line on a reform plan agreed in April. Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson said the “green-tape” reforms were crucial to speeding up investment and avoiding the duplication of state and federal rules.
Labour Costs in Australia’s oil refineries are higher than in the US and Europe, contributing to a blow-out in the cost of doing business and putting pressure on the viability of the nation’s remaining refineries. BP Australia, which operates refineries in Queensland and Western Australia, has warned that the cost of labour per barrel of oil produced is four times more expensive in Australia than for other refineries in the Asian region.
The Australian Financial Review
PM Julia Gillard will meet with industry leaders including BHP chief Marius Kloppers, Rio Tinto Australia managing director David Peever and 19 other business leaders this Thursday to discuss how governments can increase productivity and reduce regulatory burden. BHP and Rio refused to comment on the meeting, which will concern how to reduce business regulation across borders – particularly workplace health standards, one of the four areas at risk of failing the multibillion-dollar plan to create a seamless economy that would make it cheaper and easier for businesses to operate across state and territory borders.
Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop has told Chinese political and business leaders that a Coalition government would welcome “investment from all sources.”  In response to a series of questions from the audience at a business briefing in Beijing, Ms Bishop said it was important to consider the national interest when assessing investments from overseas. But she said a Coalition government would not depart significantly from current policies.
Brazilian miner Vale has indicated it plans to maintain coal operations in Australia despite speculation it could exit as it looks to diversify its assets. At an investor briefing in New York yesterday, Vale coal and fertiliser boss Roger Downey said Australia was “very important” to Vale’s coal business.
Greenpeace has claimed the environmental assessment conducted on the Abbot Point port expansion in North Queensland was flawed. Acting QLD Premier Jeff Seeney, however, says no matter how exacting the assessment was, Greenpeace would have the same response. “Nothing will satisfy the extreme greens whose aim is to close the coal industry.”
The West Australian
Local governments in the Pilbara have had to outsource work to metropolitan councils as they struggle with an increase in building applications stemming from the mining and construction boom. Shire of Roebourne chief executive Chris Adams said applications had rocketed 450 per cent in three years. (No link)
A delegation representing the WA cattle industry has returned from a mission to Indonesia with a bleak outlook for local pastoralists. The trade mission came as Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig confirmed Indonesia would reduce Australia’s beef import quota to 80,000 tonnes in 2013. Live exports will fall to 238,000 head next year, down from 283,000 in 2012, with producers in the north of WA expected to be the hardest hit by Indonesia’s push toward a self-sufficient beef industry.
The Courier Mail
Campbell Newman’s first international trade trip, to India, has seen the QLD premier hold meetings in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Mundra, Ahmedabad and Kolkata. During the trip Mr Newman announced a new deal between Sinclair Knight Merz and India energy giant the Adani Group to supply engineering services. He also used a speech in Hyderabad to talk up Queensland as an education destination, saying there were 13,000 Indian students in Queensland, contributing $330 million to the economy.