North Australia Weekly Digest – 15/02/2013

The Australian
In response to the Coalition’s draft discussion paper on northern development, Adam Creighton’s opinion piece in The Australian contends that North Australia is perfectly suited to special economic zones. “The proposition that fewer regulations and lower taxes foster economic growth remains true even if it applies only to parts of a country,” Creighton said. He also contends that “Darwin is the most promising place for a special zone because of its size, proximity to Asia, and the commonwealth’s ability to freely govern it.”
The mining industry has slammed proposals by a parliamentary committee that could see tax breaks for fly-in, fly-out workers in regional Australia withdrawn. Liberal MP Dan Tehan responded by saying no changes should add to the cost of doing business for miners at a time of increased competitive pressures, while West Australian Premier Colin Barnett said “Western Australians are getting a little tired of wise men from Canberra telling us how to live our lives, how our working arrangements should be.”
The National Farmers Federation is examining several options in an effort to restore Australia’s struggling farm profitability. These include how to help finance rural infrastructure such as dam and food bowl projects, potential tax offsets for private investment in agricultural research and development, slashing red tape, increasing access to a mobile labour force and raising agriculture’s stake in scarce water and land resources.
The resources industry has responded to any suggestion that the MRRT will be reworked by warning any change to the full crediting of royalties would overturn the government’s 2010 agreement on the MRRT. “Enough is enough in relation to the continued obsession with raising taxes on mining in Australia. We should be looking at how we can be internationally competitive for investment and jobs for the benefit of Australians today and future generations rather than how we can keep carving up the pie,” Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitch Hooke said.
The Australian Financial Review
Shell Australia Chairwoman Ann Pickard says the government must cut red tape and boost labour productivity in order to cut energy costs. Ms Pickard said that Australia had become a “costly place to do business”, which could hurt future investment. “There are a lot more projects coming through and they will be ranked against Africa, the US, Canada and around the world,” Ms Pickard said. Her comments were also reported in The Australian, where she said the government should streamline the approvals process to help spur investment, “I don’t like jumping the same hurdle three times in three different ways to get to the same outcome.”
The Australian Financial Review also covered the federal parliamentary committee’s report that described the use of fly-in, fly-out workers as “cancer of the bush”. The mining industry’s response said the comparison to cancer was offensive and if the government adopted the recommendations to withdraw tax concessions it would “lead to job losses and jeopardise some projects”.
Australia’s peak gas body, the Australian Petroleum Production and exploration Association, has said environmental review processes for two huge coal seam gas projects in Queensland were thorough. This follows reports that public servants were subjected to government demands to rush approvals for two major CSG projects.                                                                                          
The West Australian
Frank Tudor, one of Western Australia’s most prominent business leaders, has called for tax incentives and a free trade zone in the Pilbara to attract more Chinese investment and regional workers and cut the use of costly fly-in, fly-out operations. Mr Tudor argued that several measures, including streamlined approvals, should be used to “drive the next stage of development in the North.
Colin Barnett has warned that moving the Browse LNG project to an offshore floating platform could threaten WA’s domestic gas supply as it would “deny the state the chance to apply its domestic gas reservation policy” by moving the project from state to federal jurisdiction. At present, gas projects in WA must set aside 15 per cent of supply for domestic purposes, such as electricity generation and industry. 
Despite calls from Western Australia’s peak farming groups to expand the live export industry, both Labor and Premier Colin Barnett believe a shift away from live exports to onshore processing is inevitable due to external factors such as uncertainty over market access. “We think it would be more secure and have greater benefits to the state and farmers and their communities to have onshore processing and chilled meat exports,” said Labor agriculture spokesman Paul Papalia.
The West Australian also covered the National Farmers Federation blueprint, focusing on its push for agriculture to become part of school curriculums in an effort to capitalise on the “golden opportunity created by emerging Asian markets”. Education, free trade agreements, foreign investment and spending on infrastructure were the key points identified as priorities in the blueprint released this week in Canberra. “It is an ambitious plan that identifies critical areas in which action must happen now to ensure we are well placed in the future,” NFF president Jock Laurie said.
The Courier Mail
A ban on shale oil mining has been lifted in Queensland, providing the State Government with a new source of revenue and creating thousands of jobs. “There are strong prospects for oil shale to become the next major source of liquid fuel supplies in Australia, and Queensland is well placed to lead that charge,” said Natural Resources Minister Andrew Cripps. 90 per cent of Australia’s known oil shale reserves are in Queensland.

NT News

Rio Tinto will continue to operate its aluminium refinery in Arnhem Land, ending months of speculation the plant would close along with the loss of up to 1500 jobs. The decision comes after the NT government agreed to release almost half its remaining contracted public gas reserves to power the refinery. The Federal Government confirmed it would support the move with the construction of a 600km pipeline to bring gas to the plant at Gove.
The Weekly Times
The Australian Agricultural and Resource Economic Society’s annual conference last week heard that Australia has dropped from ninth to 16th in a global rank of public agricultural research and development spending. Neglecting investment in Australia’s agriculture could jeopardise the push to become Asia’s food bowl. Australian Farm Institute executive director said if trends continue, “Australian farmers will have to find ways to produce more using the same or even less water than they currently use.”