Media Conference, NSW Energy Security Summit

Meeting of gas stakeholders, CSG

IAN MACFARLANE:  I've just spoken with Mike Baird, the New South Wales Treasurer. I had a discussion during the meeting with the Minister Chris Hartcher and I'm now today confirming that as we promised during the election campaign, in cooperation with Premier Barry O'Farrell and Minister Chris Hartcher and my federal ministerial colleagues, I will be bringing together a group of farmers, gas producers, gas consumers, financiers, pipeliners, other stakeholders, and relevant New South Wales and Commonwealth officials to find a real solution to the New South Wales gas challenge.

So we will begin discussions once this conference finishes. We will be beginning to put that together as soon as possible. As you all know, this is the most urgent issue on my plate along with ensuring that GMH continues to produce cars until we can find a solution to the car industry or until we have to do whatever they decide is their future. So gas in New South Wales means that we will lose thousands of jobs between Newcastle, Sydney, and Wollongong. Men and women who work in the processing and industrial areas relying on gas will lose their jobs if we can't get the gas industry in New South Wales going.

I'll take questions.

QUESTION: So you think the situation is that urgent that the Federal Government has to step in over the State Government?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well, we're not stepping in over anyone. As you heard me say inside, this is a cooperation between all people involved in the gas industry. The New South Wales Government, the Commonwealth Government, if the Queensland Government can help, and I know that my friend, Minister Mark McArdle, was hoping to get down here but was unable to attend for other reasons, but if Queensland Government can do anything to help by the Queensland example, if the 4000 farmers in Queensland who have already signed coexistence agreements with gas companies and are literally getting, in some cases, millions of dollars in return for that, no risk, no capital, no labour, if they can help reassure the farmers down here that it's done in a way that doesn't impact on the environment, their productivity of their farms, or the water supply, if those farmers can help convince New South Wales farmers, in the end everyone wins out of that.

QUESTION: Do you think other states are managing their resources better than New South Wales?

IAN MACFARLANE: I think everyone's got their own challenges. There's a few in Queensland and I think if I was parochial I would say that Queensland does it better than anyone else, but I know that's not the case. I know that every state has got their challenges and my job is to help where I can, but I want to use the Standing Committee on Energy and Resources, currently called SCER, I want that ministerial council to work through the officials to have states helping states. Look, we just can't afford to have borders and rivalry at the moment. We need to make sure that we've got a system that gets as many jobs into Australia, that we fix the mess that Labor left, and that we ensure that we're getting exports so that our economic situation improves.

QUESTION: You talked before about harmonisation. Do you want New South Wales to adopt the same regulations as in Queensland?

IAN MACFARLANE: No, no. I want New South Wales and Victoria and South Australia and the Northern Territory and Western Australia and Tasmania and the ACT to all sit down together and work out a set of rules that works in each state. Can I assure you that there is no difference in the underground

geology between one side of the Macintyre in Queensland and the other, and one side of the Macintyre, one side is Queensland and they are working out how to safely extract the water, on the other side is, of course, the New South Wales situation which we need to deal with. So we need to make sure that whatever rules we adopt, are rules that are agreed to by each state. Yes, there will be slight variations because of the geology and water, but the basic principles have got to be the same.

QUESTION: Isn't the basic problem the New South Wales restrictive regulations?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well, I don't think the regulations are necessarily the problem. The time it take to deal with those regulations may be an issue and I'm sure that Minister Hartcher and the - and his ministers in the other areas like Brad Hazzard and Katrina Hodgkinson can deal with those issues. The main thing is to have certainty in process, so we'll be moving to a one stop shop. Greg Hunt will have more to say about that. There are issues in relation to the Commonwealth water trigger and they have to be dealt with under the whole process. We'll be making sure there are no shortcuts. We'll be making sure that the process works as quickly as is practical because people need certainty.

QUESTION: What's been your response to - you said you spoke to Mike Baird, was he happy for you to come in and...?

IAN MACFARLANE: Yeah. Look, Mike - I've known Mike's father, obviously, for a long time and Bruce was a colleague of mine, class of '98. I don't know Mike much expect by reputation. He's a great guy. My chief - ex-chief of staff was his chief of staff, so we've sort of got a few connections and look, in the end we all just want to see jobs and economic growth and the environment protected. So we're all on the same side. The only time we're on different sides is during State of Origin, and it is eight-nil to Queensland.

QUESTION: We've been having quite a few reviews in this state about the coal seam gas industry. I think the chief scientist is still undertaking her audit. Is the process too slow, is that what you're saying?

IAN MACFARLANE: No, no. I'm not saying that at all and I think the whole basis to the progress that we’ve made in Queensland was by involving scientists.

We, the Coalition, agreed to Minister Burke's proposal when the Labor Party was in Government to have an expert panel of people who were independent, had great scientific knowledge, because we think science is the basis of decisions, not emotions. So Mary O'Kane's doing a good job. She needs to get through her process. I'm sure she understands that the longer she takes, the bigger the risk of jobs being lost and we just need to make sure the process works, the science is in place, people can have confidence in it.

I am the son of a scientist, I'm the grandson of a geologist, I have a great belief in science, and I think that if we get the science right, we protect the water and the environment, everything else will fall into place.

QUESTION: Are you supportive of the two kilometre buffer zone in New South Wales?

IAN MACFARLANE: Look, there is a buffer zone in Queensland. It's never been legislated. It was two kilometres from towns of 1000 or more and there was provision within that where the community agreed that work could be done inside that buffer zone. It wasn't an exclusion zone. I've said to Chris Hartcher I don't mind how you work that out, what the distance is, what the population of the town is, but let's see if we can't have the same rules in Queensland as we've got in New South Wales, as we will have in Victoria, as I say, in all states of Australia and the territories as well.

QUESTION: So is that going to be a priority for COAG, do you think?

IAN MACFARLANE: I'm going to - as I've announced, this committee that I've just announced, and I'll get someone to chair it, probably someone you know very well, I just have to talk to him first, once we get this committee in place, it'll progress. COAG's got to be reformed. There's a lot of problems with it. It's bogged down, it's bureaucratic. This is too urgent to wait for COAG. It will feed through the COAG process. It will set some nice positive precedents, but this is too urgent. We've got to sort this out quickly, we've got to get the drill rigs going where the farmers want them going, where the geology's safe, where the water's safe, where the environment's safe. We've got to get them going before Christmas if we can.

QUESTION: So the...

IAN MACFARLANE: One more question, please.

QUESTION: What is the timing on this?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well, this - it's urgent. People are going to lose jobs and they're not farmers and they're not greenies and they're not people out in the bush. The people who are going to lose their jobs are honest people who go to work every day in Newcastle, Sydney, and Wollongong. When the gas gets short in a year or so's time, probably very short by 2016, and it gets very expensive, it's going to be average mum and dads who will lose their jobs because we haven't acted fast enough. So I'm not looking back, I'm not attributing blame, I'm just getting on with it. We've got to save their jobs.

Thank you.

Media contacts: Mr Macfarlane's office 02 6277 7070