North Australia Weekly Digest – 29/04/2013

The Australian
The delay and cancellation of major mining projects has led to a long-term decline in engineering projects in Australia. A BIS Shrapnel report to be released today into the future of engineering construction in Australia has warned that the boom in large-scale civil projects feeding off mining is over. “Over the past decade we have witnessed one of the biggest booms in investment in civil infrastructure this country has ever seen. Total work done has risen nearly five-fold. But now this market is turning and will be a drag on GDP,” Adrian Hart, senior manager for BIS Shrapnel’s infrastructure and mining unit, said.
Miners are reluctant to use 457 Visas because of requirements for heavy union consultation and a hysterical campaign from ‘fringe elements’, according to a Minerals Council of Australia submission to government. The land mark migration scheme that was suppose to support the resources boom has been used as a “political football” the submission said, warning that “misinformed” debate about skilled migration could undermine hundreds of billions of dollars worth of proposed resources projects.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr has come under fire for championing animal rights charity Voiceless while also being responsible for helping to restore Australia’s flagging live cattle sales to Indonesia. Julie Bishop, opposition foreign affairs and trade spokeswoman, has accused Senator Carr of a lack of action on cattle exports, “that trade has not recovered from Labor’s catastrophic decision in 2011 to ban live exports to Indonesia, which has had a devastating impact on the industry in northern Australia,” she said. Senator Carr is a member of the governing council of Sydney based charity Voiceless. Voiceless chief executive Dana Campbell has said that in the charity’s view, “there are no conditions under which animals can be humanely exported live for slaughter”.
The portfolio manager of BlackRock’s London-based World Agriculture Fund, Desmond Cheung, has said many global investors are circling to get involved in Australian agricultural assets. Mr Cheung, in Australia to attend the Global Food Forum, said there are many options available to international investors to get set in Australia, besides buying farm freeholds outright, and that the prospect of global food inflation would see them all examined in the coming years. “Over the last few years, what we have experienced from 2007, despite the financial crisis in between, is that there is no sign of interest in investing in agriculture globally subsiding” he said. “The investors that we have encountered will be coming from the likes of sovereign wealth funds and very, very big-ticket investors, all the way down to a lot of individual investors.”
CommSec’s quarterly “state of the states” analysis shows Western Australia and the Northern Territory growing at a much faster rate than all others on the back of the ongoing resources boom. A natural gas boom in the Northern Territory has propelled annual economic growth in the Top End to a stellar 30 per cent, but Western Australia, whose much larger economy is 13 per cent bigger than a year ago, is performing better across a range of measures including population growth, investment, construction activity and retail spending. “Not only is Western Australia’s 3.45 per cent population growth the strongest in the nation, it is almost more than 48 per cent above the decade average,” the report said. The Northern Territory’s massive growth is underpinned by a single, large $34 billion natural gas project, whose construction will generate more than 4000 jobs.
Australian Agriculture Company chief executive David Farley has called for a comprehensive government policy on agribusiness if Australia is to take advantage of increased demand for high-quality food in Asia. “Australia is a land of plenty when it comes to food and it has never had to sit down and put in place a proper agricultural policy, until now,” Mr Farley said. “If we want to be part of feeding Asia, we seriously need to be able to put down proper and attractive government policies.”
Gas giants have written to politicians to warn that the Gillard government’s proposed new “buy Australian” measures are likely to fail. The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association submission to a Senate committee inquiry into the bill argues the plan, contained in the exposure draft of the Australian Jobs Bill, will drive up the costs on projects while failing to provide a similar benefit to Australian industry. The warning comes as the government is under pressure over the nation’s declining competitiveness as tens of billions of dollars worth of projects — including Woodside Petroleum’s $50 billion-plus LNG export plant near Broome and BHP Billiton’s $30bn expansion of the Olympic Dam copper mine in South Australia and a $20bn Port Hedland harbour iron ore expansion in Western Australia — have been shelved or abandoned amid concerns about soaring costs.
The Australian Financial Review
North Australian Pastoral Company has devalued its freehold land portfolio by $10 million as cattle station values for the beef industry continue to slide since the 2011’s live cattle export ban. The result follows a combined $68 million in total write-downs from Macquarie’s Paraway Pastoral and Australian Agricultural Company in the past two months. It also comes before other major cattle station owners, such as the live-export focused company Consolidated Pastoral, backed by London private-equity firm Terra Firma, report their results.
The state of the nation’s farmers has been brought into question by figures that show at least 80 significant operations worth more than $1 million each are in receivership or some form of distress, with more likely to fold due to high costs, depleted income and sliding land values. The figures from a survey by The Australian Financial Review of the nation’s top seven major insolvency specialists come as federal Treasurer Wayne Swan announced a new $420 million subsidised loans ­package for indebted farmers on ­Saturday.
Increasing costs in Australia’s LNG industry have raised doubts as to the ongoing viability of Shell’s $20 billion Arrow project in Queensland.  After Woodside Petroleum’s decision to shelve the $45 billion-plus Browse LNG venture in which Shell has a stake, Shell chief financial officer Simon Henry is expected to be questioned on the prospects for Arrow LNG when he fronts investors and analysts in London on Thursday at the oil major’s first-quarter earnings. The venture, half owned by PetroChina, is widely regarded by analysts as the next most vulnerable after Browse to being suspended or slowed down.
The West Australian
Staff turnover at mining companies has fallen nearly 5 per cent over the past six months to levels not seen since the global financial crisis, according to figures from Mackie Employer Solutions. The fall has been attributed to layoffs, deferred and suspended projects and a strong focus on cost reduction.
NT News
The NT Government has fast-tracked Sherwen Iron’s $11 billion Roper River iron ore project. The project, 575 Km Southeast of Darwin, has been welcomed by Deputy Chief Minister Dave Tollner who said it would export around three million tonnes of ore through Darwin’s East Arm Wharf by the end of the year. The project will create 200 jobs in the construction phase and 400 when it is up and running.