Interview with Adam Steer, ABC Radio Darwin

Adam Steet
Santos, gas, Barossa development, NAIF, women in Parliament, quotas, resources exports, jobs in the Northern Territory

ADAM STEER: Are we about to see a mini gas boom in the Northern Territory? As you've been hearing, mining giant Santos has this morning announced a $600 million investment into the previous ConocoPhillips LNG plant and facilities they bought last year. Santos says connecting the LNG facility to the Barossa gas fields will create 600 jobs during the construction phase and a further 350 jobs over the life of the plant.

Minister for North Australia is Keith Pitt. Minister, welcome to the program and it's good to see you face to face for the first time.
KEITH PITT: Well, it's great to be back and to hear about the great Milky Way incident as well.

ADAM STEER: Yes. So, look, I don't want to put you on the spot, but what's the bigger stuff up in your working career that you've had, do you say?

KEITH PITT: Oh, literally as an apprentice, I made a significant error that went bang, a very, very large bang. But fortunately, no injuries.

ADAM STEER: Yeah. 1-300-057-222. I want you to dob in yourself or dob in somebody else, those big work stuff ups this morning. Before we get to today's announcement, your government has made changes to the North Australia Infrastructure Facility, or the NAIF, which have been widely backed by both the Northern Territory Government and the federal opposition. Can you quickly explain what's changed or what's changing?

KEITH PITT: So that legislation passed through the House of Representatives last week. It's still going to go to the Senate. And of course, we've had certainly verbal support from the opposition and I look forward to seeing that continue in the Senate. But fundamentally, this is about making the NAIF more streamlined, giving it the capacity to work with other financiers to provide those smaller loans, to provide opportunities for- a higher risk profile in terms of their investment mandate, but also extending the types of projects that the NAIF can invest in. So these are significant changes. And as I said to someone this morning, my hope is I have to go to the PM to ask for more money sooner rather than later.

ADAM STEER: The NAIF still only spent around five per cent though of its $5 billion budget. Has it been a failure so far?

KEITH PITT: Oh, not at all. It has over $2 billion committed in terms of investments for loans. Now, those proponents will work their way through their normal processes. When they require those funds, they'll draw them down. But that money is committed to significant projects and a lot of those are in the Territory.

ADAM STEER: Well, we know about the airport, the CDU city campus, the ship lift, the barramundi farm. Can we- what else can we expect here?

KEITH PITT: Yeah, well, there is a pipeline, and the NAIF does act independently and they'll put forward those projects as they're assessed by the board. But there is a significant pipeline of projects coming through. And as I said, my hope and my wish is that I have to go to the PM and say we've got all of that allocated. We need more.

ADAM STEER: Let's move to those issues in Parliament House in Canberra. Is there a systematic problem with culture in the way women are treated in Parliament House?

KEITH PITT: Look, as I've said publicly over the weekend, I've worked in a lot of different places, heavy industry, big companies, small companies, been self-employed, had farms. The parliament is the strangest place of work, because quite simply, in the House of Reps, you have 151 members who are elected by their constituents. It's not a normal workplace in terms of the hierarchy of arrangements. You know, the boss, the owner, everyone is there to represent their people. So they've got different views and they come from all walks of life. But fundamentally, they're all humans. They have all the standard human frailties that everyone else does. And they're a representative- they're reflective of the Australian people.

ADAM STEER: But is there a systematic problem with the culture and the way women are treated in Parliament House?

KEITH PITT: Well, look, I think there are always things that can be improved. The PM's made a number of announcements in terms of changes and what work will be done. I don't see that. And I- look, I'm talking to my female colleagues. They tell me that, yeah, they strike issues and it's not something I see in my office. It's not something I see in the work I do. Most people in the parliament, they're working very, very hard, doing long hours and representing their community. But there does need to be change and it needs to be addressed.

ADAM STEER: Cabinet reshuffle yesterday, your role remains unchanged. Do you think it's okay for Christian Porter to remain a minister while the allegation he denies is investigated?

KEITH PITT: Well, quite simply, if we all stood down off the back of allegations, there'll be dozens against every minister by close of business today just to try and put the government in a difficult position. That's the reality of politics. So unfortunately, we do need to work our way through these processes. Christian has made a number of statements, as the PM has as well, but he does deserve natural justice.

ADAM STEER: Minister Linda Reynolds paid a cash settlement to her former staffer, Brittany Higgins, after calling the alleged rape victim a lying cow. Is it okay in your mind that she remains a federal minister?

KEITH PITT: Well, she's apologised for that.

ADAM STEER: Well, she paid money.

KEITH PITT: Well, I'm not aware of what that settlement is, as you would know. But the Minister has made a very direct statement, she's apologised, and that's the end of the matter in terms of that issue.

ADAM STEER: What about a quota to ensure better female representation in Parliament? The ALP has one. Would you support a quota within your own party?

KEITH PITT: Well, this is something that's been discussed by all different state bodies. And keep in mind that each state has its own responsibilities. So for me, I'm a member of the Liberal-National Party in Queensland, and I've got to tell you that our members take their job in terms of pre-selection incredibly seriously. If you know Queenslanders, they tend to hate being told what to do. They want their say. That's why they join up. So, whilst I'm absolutely supportive of finding ways for more women into parliament, I'm not supportive of quotas. I think that it's up to the membership in a democratic institution to make their own decisions.

ADAM STEER: Well, let's move to the reason why you're here in the Northern Territory today, which is this announcement by Santos. What do you make of this as we see- as even Santos said in their statement that they released to the ASX this morning of the contracting gas market around the world. Are we really going to see another 20 years of gas supply coming out of that well and coming out of the LNG plant?

KEITH PITT: Well, companies that are investing, you know, over $5 billion Australian are obviously confident that there is a market for it. And the forecast that we have would demonstrate that. In fact, yesterday the Office of the Chief Economist has issued a statement saying that we are on track for Australia's greatest ever resources export year, breaking all records in a COVID year. Some $296 billion we're on track on- track for. That is an incredible result in very difficult circumstances, and I think that reflects the demand for Australia's resources and energy, but also the fact that we are a supplier that can be relied on absolutely in all circumstances. And that comes back to the people that work in the industry doing the right thing and working hard.

ADAM STEER: How do the new gas projects, how does that [indistinct] with trying to reduce- your Prime Minister has said that, yes, I think we will be trying to get to net zero targets by 2050. How does a new LNG plant marry with that?

KEITH PITT: Well, if you look at gas and compare it to coal generation, for example, it's roughly a 60 per cent reduction on emissions. That's a significant change from- particularly at a brown coal fired power station. So, there is improvements in terms of emissions using gas as a transition fuel, but there is huge demand for LNG. That's the reason that people continue to invest in it. And there's confidence in Australia. This is the biggest investment announcement in Australia for this type of facility in the last 10 years. And the last one was right here in Darwin with Ichthys.

ADAM STEER: Yeah, well, speaking about Ichthys, the reason why the Northern Territory- one of the reasons why they got that deal is because we said, no, we don't want to keep any of that gas supply for domestic use. It appears the same this time around with the new Barossa Field. None of the gas is being kept for domestic use in the Northern Territory. Has the Northern Territory Government misstepped on this one?

KEITH PITT: Not at all. I mean, for use to happen here domestically, you need demand. And my job as the Minister for Northern Australia is to ensure that that demand comes over a period of time and we get more facilities here and particularly more manufacturers. And as Santos, as Kevin Gallagher said in the press conference this morning, if you want cheap gas, get your manufacturing business next to where the gas is. And that is here in Darwin in the north. I think there's real opportunities for refineries down the track. I think there's opportunities for production manufacturing- production facilities, particularly around plastics. Everything uses offshoots from the gas industry. But this is a real vote of confidence in Australia.

ADAM STEER: 600 new jobs Santos- or 600 jobs Santos is saying. Of course, we are just replacing one gas field with another gas field, supply to supply. How many of those 600 jobs will be new are you aware of?

KEITH PITT: Well, I'm not aware of the break up, but what I can say is without the life cycle extension, there's none. So, that's pretty fundamental. The Barossa project itself, in terms of the FID, US$3.6 billion, plus the upgrade for the LNG train here as well. 350 jobs into the future. Now, I'm not aware of what the break up is of a particular company, but what I know is without these projects, that there is none.

ADAM STEER: Minister, good to talk to you this morning. I do know you've got another engagement, so I'll let you go. But thanks for coming into the studio this morning. Appreciate it.

KEITH PITT: Great to be here, great to be back in the north.

ADAM STEER: Keith Pitt is the Federal Minister for North Australia.