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Interview with Katie Woolf, Mix 104.9 FM Darwin

17 December 2020

Interviewer: 
Katie Woolf

Subject: Beetaloo sub-basin development, manufacturing in the NT, gas, renewable energy, NAIF reforms.

E&OE

KATIE WOOLF: But we know the Federal Government say they've got plans to accelerate gas exploration and development in the Beetaloo Sub-basin. Joining me on the line to tell us more is the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt. Good morning.

KEITH PITT: Great to be with you and great to be with your listeners.

KATIE WOOLF: Now, Minister, how do you plan to accelerate exploration in the Beetaloo?

KEITH PITT: Well, we've announced the Strategic Basin Plan for the Beetaloo, in fact, there'll be five for gas across the country. But the Beetaloo is first, it's in the front of the queue, and today we've announced another $50 million for the Beetaloo cooperative drilling program. And this is about an incentive program to get more exploration underway in the Beetaloo so we can firm the resource up and give more confidence to industry.

KATIE WOOLF: Now, I understand that there is already, or I thought there was already some exploration happening. Is it that you want more happening, or why exactly is that 50 million needed?

KEITH PITT: Well, there is some happening right now, but we want to accelerate that exploration, we want to accelerate the investment. I mean, this is something, in a high volume development scenario, Beetaloo could create up to 6,000 jobs over the next 20 years. That's a lot of work into the Territory, that's a lot of investment. And it's all about confidence; everything we can do that will give confidence to industry, for the resources there as we expect, we can get underway faster. And of course, we're targeting the dry season for next year to get a lot of this work done.

KATIE WOOLF: And so, Minister, is that funding that's available, that 50 million, that's just for the Beetaloo, that's not for the other locations around Australia as well?

KEITH PITT: Nope, that is just for the Beetaloo. So grants of up to 25 per cent for those eligible exploration activities, a maximum of $7.5 million per well, a maximum of three wells per company, per organisation. And of course, we want this to happen in the dry season, and we think we can bring forward that gas out of the Beetaloo by two or three years by this investment.

KATIE WOOLF: Now, in terms of- from the Federal Government's perspective, what do you see the Beetaloo doing when it comes to delivering energy to the rest of the country?

KEITH PITT: Well, in the estimates at the moment, that it could hold up to 200,000, what's known as PJs in terms of the energy capacity of total gas. Now, that is enough at a very, very conservative estimate, in terms of recovery rate, to meet Australia's gas demands for 12 years. So, this is a really big resource, it's a very important piece of exploration work. We want to bring it forward, we want to link it into, of course, domestic gas supplies and exports and drive more industries. And there's a lot of liquid condensate, we believe, there as well, and that's really important fuel and feedstock for plastics and pesticides and chemical manufacturing. That's all good for jobs.

KATIE WOOLF: And you said that that was a conservative view, I think, 12 years. What's an optimistic one?

KEITH PITT: Well, it's better than that. So I think this is what it's about - $50 million from the Commonwealth, we can firm up the resource, we can get more exploration activities happening sooner, we think this is one of the best ways to do it. I've got more to say about the Beetaloo and our strategic gas plan for that development. But this is great news for the Territory, Katie…

KATIE WOOLF: [Talks over] Yeah.

KEITH PITT: … this is great news for jobs.

KATIE WOOLF: Then when you talk about manufacturing, I mean, you and I've spoken about this before. I've spoken to Andrew Liveris about it. We talk about it and hear about it quite a bit. In terms of manufacturing, is the Northern Territory on the Federal Government's radar as a manufacturing hub?

KEITH PITT: Look, absolutely. We're looking very closely at opportunities for the Northern Territory. I've got to tell you, Sam McMahon just doesn't leave me alone when it comes to jobs, particularly in that manufacturing space around Darwin and elsewhere. But we need competitive gas- gas that's competitively priced…

KATIE WOOLF: [Talks over] Yeah.

KEITH PITT: … so we can be internationally competitive for that manufacturing. We've got over $1 billion available in our Modern Manufacturing Fund, through Karen Andrews; we know what our six key areas are, and they do include agriculture, they do include beverages, they include critical minerals - all of these things have opportunities into the Territory. And people like Sam McMahon just keep at us, and at us, and at us. She's, she's worn a bit of a track to my office - but anyway, that's the job, and I'm looking forward to delivering these jobs and this funding into the Territory.

KATIE WOOLF: Now, I know there's a lot of Territorians that see this as being a really positive thing - they certainly look to those jobs and, and look at this- and look at gas as being, you know, a better option than some of the other options when it comes to energy. But I know that Graeme Sawyer from Lock The Gate, the Lock The Gate Alliance, he's come out this morning and said that what this announcement clearly shows is that fracking the Beetaloo Basin for gas is not economically viable without massive subsidies. Is that the case?

KEITH PITT: I think that's complete nonsense. We've put forward funding so we can bring forward that exploration, that we can provide more confidence to industry, that we can get those jobs on the go sooner, and I think everyone listening to your programme, that that's something they'd want. We have a great opportunity for the economy of the territory, we have a greater opportunity for more jobs into the territory sooner than would have been otherwise, and this is one way that we can do it with support from the Commonwealth.

KATIE WOOLF: Now, he went on to say that the world is moving away from fossil fuels, renewable energy technology is now by far the cheapest, most efficient way to power homes and industry. Is that the case from your perspective?

KEITH PITT: No.

KATIE WOOLF: And so, I mean, should we be moving more towards the you know, those- the greener renewable energy?

KEITH PITT: Katie look, I know my answer before is a little bit flippant, but we utilise a range, a very broad range of generation in terms of electricity across the country - whether it is traditional hydro, whether it is gas, whether it is coal, whether it is solar, whether it's wind - but everything has its place. The most important thing we can do for electricity users is, first and foremost, is ensure that it's affordable; but secondly, it has to be reliable. And we know that the intermittent wind and solar supplies can never provide that consistency and that reliability that we need for industry. Gas can certainly do that, whether it's used as a peaker or like the Territory, where you use gas for your electricity generation. And predominately right now, we've got to make sure that we can continue to provide that reliability, that the system is reliable into the future. If we want manufacturing, we need affordable electricity, affordable gas and the right workforce. The territory is absolutely pump primed for these outcomes and we're looking to make sure it happens sooner with this sort of support.

KATIE WOOLF: And Minister just very quickly, we we're due to catch up with you, I think, about this time last week, but there was a division in Parliament and you had to run off. But there were some changes announced, or certainly there was announcements around the NAIF, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. What's happening in this space? And, and are you hoping that there's going to be more projects that are able to actually access that funding under the NAIF?

KEITH PITT: You're right, Katie. The bells, the bells when in Parliament - that's the priority. But yeah, I did announce more changes to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. The Commonwealth has made $500 million of the 2.6 billion that's currently left in the NAIF fund available for what's known as equities - effectively will become shareholders in these projects, for projects up to a value of 100 million. We won't be a majority shareholder - so that means up to 50 million from the Commonwealth, and that should give even more confidence to those proponents to get their projects underway. This is something that my colleagues have been asking for, for some time. Whether it is Sam McMahon in the Territory, or George Christensen across in Queensland, they think it will help drive confidence and more projects, and more jobs - I agree. We've got that through the process and it's a significant change for the NAIF. They will need further skills internally to make those assessments. But once again, this is about post-pandemic jobs boom, a jobs boom for the territory and elsewhere - everything I can do to make that happen. well, that's what I'm focussed on.

KATIE WOOLF: Well, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt, we always appreciate your time. Thank you for having a chat today.

KEITH PITT: Mate, great to be with you.

KATIE WOOLF: Thank you.