Interview with Katie Woolf, Mix 104.9 Darwin

Katie Woolf
Santos Barossa development, resources exports, oil refineries, COVID-19, border closures

KATIE WOOLF: Now, earlier this morning, we learnt that Santos has approved it's $4.7 billion Barossa gas project in the Northern Territory. And joining me in the studio to talk more about this is the Minister for Northern Australia, Keith Pitt. Good morning.

KEITH PITT: Good morning to you, and good morning to your listeners.

KATIE WOOLF: Keith, great to have you in the studio. Firstly, can you talk us through this announcement?

KEITH PITT: Well, it's great to be back in the North and face-to-face, Katie, I've got to tell you.


KEITH PITT: But, how good is the North? How good is Darwin? How good is this announcement? So, Santos, an Australian company delivering Australian gas for the benefit of all Australians. This is a significant announcement; US$3.6 billion, around the Barossa. So, what this will mean will mean an extension for life for Darwin LNG; it will mean some 600 plus construction jobs, and then 350 in the long term. That's great news for the North, but it's also a big boost in confidence for the resources sector. And you've only got to look at the numbers yesterday. So, the Office of the Chief Economist has put out a forecast, indicating Australia's resources sector should break all records this year - $296 billion in exports.

KATIE WOOLF: Now, sort of talk us through - because for some people listening right now they might be thinking: goodness, what does this really mean for the Northern Territory? You know, we've seen big gas projects like IPEX, we know that Santos has been operating in the territory for some time. So, what does it mean in terms of, you know, for the Northern Territory's economy and really kick starting things? Or getting things moving?

KEITH PITT: Well, this is the biggest project announcement for 10 years, Ichthys LNG being the last. What it means is jobs, it means very strong support for your regional economy, and it means those really well-paid technical jobs across the board. Now, whether that's specialist welders, fabricators - workers who are out there they tell me that the there's a ship just offshore which has come out to start work already. I spoke to Kevin Gallagher for a long period of time yesterday, and he's keen to get this project going as soon as possible. He's given commitments at the press conference today that those jobs are in Darwin and I think that's very, very positive.

KATIE WOOLF: That was going to be my next question. Are we talking here about Aussie jobs? And indeed Darwin or Northern Territory jobs? By the sounds of it, it is.

KEITH PITT: [Interrupts] Look, absolutely. I mean, clearly, there'll be some prefab and things that occur in a number of places, but he's given a commitment to put as many as he can into Darwin - that's great news for the North. But, in terms of the resources sector, what a magnificent result - $296 billion in a COVID year, worldwide pandemic. Australia's done incredibly well.

KATIE WOOLF: Now, you said 600 plus jobs I believe. Is that during the construction? Or is that, is that sort of, ongoing?

KEITH PITT: So that's during the construction piece. We expect 350 ongoing. Once again, it's, its confidence in the industry; it's part of our Government's gas-fired recovery - we're out there pushing hard and pushing every door I can find, Katie. And look, industry's doing great.

KATIE WOOLF: Yeah, and I think you know, for such a long time now in the Territory we've been, you know, we've been wanting to diversify the economy. I know that this is still gas, it's something that we've- you know, we've been looking to for quite some time, and been doing in the Territory well for quite some time. But, I do understand that a decision on Barossa was delayed just over a year ago - that was after Santos, obviously, slashed some of that spending. and it was due to the plunging oil prices. So, this is big news for us, and big news for Australia, I guess, as well, isn't it?

KEITH PITT: Well, if you remember, there was one period where the world oil price went negative


KEITH PITT: There was no storage. So, the fact that we've come through this so strongly, well, that's thanks to the hard working men and women in the resources sector - it is, it is their win.

KATIE WOOLF: I know there'll be some people listening who will be saying, you know, are we wanting to go down the gas route? Should we be still looking towards renewables? But at the end of the day, we still need gas, don't we?

KEITH PITT: Absolutely. You need stuff that works. It's that easy. This is a transition field, but it's one which is in demand and demand is continuing to increase, even though the pandemic. And Australia's got a lot of resource that, we need to absolutely maximise that benefit for the Australian people.

KATIE WOOLF: Now, when you talk about the on flow then, I guess, for the Northern Territory and for Darwin, it's not just about the gas side of things. But, we've been speaking for a long time about things like petrochemical facilities and a petrochemical hub. Does this sort of take us a step closer? And how do we sort of put those blocks moving to make that kind of thing happen?

KEITH PITT: Well look, I think there's a real opportunity in the medium term around a refinery, and that's just my view - it's not government policy, Katie, I've got to tell you. But, given that this is potentially 50 million barrels plus, we know that there's been a significant shortfall in Australian oil production now for a number of years, particularly with the reduction in the Bass Strait. We've got an announcement of a closure of a refinery in Victoria. Where better than the North, where we are close to the resource - we're trying to bring the Beetaloo on as well, which we expect will be wet gas. So, it should be common sight out of there - it makes sense, and certainly I know Kevin said in his - Kevin Gallagher from Santos said in his press conference this morning: if you want cheap gas, move your facilities to where the gas is. So, I think that's pretty wise advice.

KATIE WOOLF: And do you think- I mean, realistically, do you think that this is the beginning of something for the Territory in terms of, you know, maybe seeing those further sort of on flow Industries move here?

KEITH PITT: Well, it's been our Government's focus for some time, through the Northern Australia agenda. I've got a refresh package which we're looking to put forward in the next couple of months, and it works. This is the bottom line. I've got a NAIF with some changes coming through the House of Representatives, and hopefully into the Senate in the next round of sittings, which will allow the NAIF to be even more flexible and have a higher risk profile in terms of what it invests in, and also hold equity positions. So, all of those things, you know, it's one piece at a time. We put the jigsaw together, but it's working, right? This is a significant announcement.

KATIE WOOLF: Yeah, and I guess it can't come soon enough for the Territory. We know that we've been doing it tough - I guess all of Australia has been doing it tough due to COVID -but here in the Territory we've been doing it tough, really, for some time. Obviously, the Northern Territory Government's been talking about that diversification, we all understand that. But, it does seem now like things are finally starting to get moving?

KEITH PITT: It is. And I've got to tell you, you've got some pretty strong representatives up here. Sam McMann keeps beating a path to my door, particularly around the potential for more connecting pipelines in this project, refineries, and storage. And with all of those, then comes the off takes, whether that's in plastics, manufacturing or otherwise. So, big cornerstone projects what drags in those other employers, and I think there's an absolutely fantastic future for the North.

KATIE WOOLF: And you spoke before about the NAIF, just briefly. Any, sort of, updates in that space? Any projects in the pipeline? I think there's always a bit of discussion that there will be, but anything we can look forward to?

KEITH PITT: Oh, I'd love to give you an exclusive, but we're not quite there yet. So, there is, there is a number of projects coming through and being assessed. And my hope is that I have to go back to the Prime Minister and ask for more money.

KATIE WOOLF: Yeah, well, Keith, we know you are a Queensland man. Obviously, the COVID lockdown underway - three days, I guess, for those Brisbane, Brisbane residents, and some in the other areas sort of surrounding all the way to Toowoomba. Hasn't impacted you, though?

KEITH PITT: Well, it's been a year, Katie. I think we have to get to the point where we can manage. New South Wales has done this the whole way. No border closures, they've managed those outbreaks. I think the other states and territories need to get on board. For me, personally, yeah, no, I transited through the Brisbane airport, but, that was all. Came through your quarantine clearance process last night. So, all good, thumbs up.

KATIE WOOLF: Yeah, but no Chief Minister this morning at your announcement, obviously?

KEITH PITT: Well, I think- I believe he's self-isolating. But yeah, he missed a great announcement and he certainly missed an opportunity to get in and talk to some people in that local factory doing production. And it was good to see.

KATIE WOOLF: Well, Keith Pitt, the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, great to have you in the studio this morning and really appreciate your time.

KEITH PITT: Great to be with you, great to be in the North.

KATIE WOOLF: Thank you.