Interview with Peter Stefanovic, SKY News

Peter Stefanovic
Santos NT gas project, resources exports, Brisbane lockdown, COVID-19 vaccine rollout

PETER STEFANOVIC: Well, energy heavyweight, Santos, has approved a near $5 billion gas project in the Northern Territory. Joining me now from the NT, from Darwin, Resources Minister, Keith Pitt. Minister, good to see you, thanks for joining us. So, Santos expanding its Barossa gas project north of Darwin that basically extends the facility life for another 20 years. More money, much more money, more jobs too.

KEITH PITT: Morning, Pete. Well, the sun is coming up here soon in Darwin and it's going to shine on a very bright very future, I've got to tell you. It's a fantastic announcement. We haven't seen one of this size for roughly 10 years; last one was here for the Ichthy’s plant here in Darwin. But, yeah, you're spot on. It's over AUD$5 billion, in terms of the investment, 20-year life extension for Darwin LNG, big expansions out in the Barossa oilfields- oil and gas fields out in- off Darwin, about 300 kilometres. But, this is great news, it's a vote of confidence in the resources sector and that's good news for all Australians.

PETER STEFANOVIC: How many more jobs can come out of this?

KEITH PITT: Well, the forecast is over 600 around construction. It depends on what multiplier you want to use, in terms of downstream jobs, which are provided indirectly. So, you know, all the way down to someone that's sending lunches and canteen packs out, Pete, if you want to measure it that way. But, $5 billion is a significant investment. It is one which demonstrates that in Australia, we are open for business and the resources sector, once again, is the backbone of our economy.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Yep, okay. Not everyone's happy about this. The Australia Institute has been pretty damning over it, it says: this could be one of the dirtiest gas fields in Australia, leading to immense harm to the environment in the immediate facility and accelerating dangerous climate change. That from the Australia Institute, what's your reply to that?

KEITH PITT: Well, the anti-everything's are against everything. That's no surprise to me. Mate, we're here to deliver jobs, we've said we're having a gas lead recovery and the Commonwealth is delivering on that commitment. We know it's a transition fuel as well. There is huge demand for gas right around the world, the forecast is good. In fact, I'm surprised about this, Pete, the office of the Chief Economist put out a report Monday that no one seems to be aware of. But forecasts for the resources sector is they will break all records in a COVID year. We expect more than $296 billion worth of exports from resources and energy, that is more than we've done before. That's off the back of the hard work of the men and women in the sector and I think they should be congratulated, not opposed.

PETER STEFANOVIC: The Barossa field, though, does contain high levels of carbon dioxide. So, what, if any assurances have you been given from Santos about how they will offset increased emissions.

KEITH PITT: Well, look, I'd refer you to Santos's press release yesterday. They've got offset provisions, I know they're looking to do carbon capture and storage as well. There's a multiple piece around this announcement, including those provisions, Pete. This is just really good news. It's a lot of money; what it says is that people have confidence in Australia, in Australia's industry, in the way that they've managed COVID to ensure that we can continue to operate safely right around the country and that's good for all Australians.

PETER STEFANOVIC: But, away from the press conference- the press release, I mean, have you spoken to Santos? And are you satisfied that their assurances will be backed up with action?

KEITH PITT: I regularly speak to all of the major providers in the resources sector. I'm confident they'll do exactly what they said they would. They're an Australian company, delivering Australian gas, for the benefit of all Australians.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. You did mention resources on a boom at the moment, particularly iron ore. It's on a serious forward march, how long do you think we can bank on those purchases, particularly from China?

KEITH PITT: Well, I mean, our forecasts are that out to the medium term, we don't expect to see too much of a slowdown in terms of iron ore. Trade is trade is trade is trade, Pete. I mean, there's always risks in world markets, depending on what your competitors are doing. We know there are a couple of places around the world that are looking to produce iron ore. But, once again, they're badly affected by the COVID outbreak. In Australia we've managed our way through this in an incredibly strong position and that's off the back of all these people doing what they needed to do. Australia should be congratulated.

PETER STEFANOVIC: How long do you think Brazil is going to be out of action?

KEITH PITT: Well, that will come down to, basically, how they manage the outbreak over there, what happens with the vaccine rollout. In Australia, that's one of our key focuses, we need to get the vaccine rollout continuing to be out on target. So we can all get back to life as close to normal as possible. Australia has been very supportive and Australians have been very supportive of the rollout. Have had a couple of challenges in Queensland at the moment, but that's no surprise, there will be hotspots.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Well, I was going to save that for later but let's chat about that now. What do you make of that? You've got the outbreak that's taking place in Queensland, there's a shutdown in greater Brisbane. Before I ask you about vaccines, what do you make of that so far?

KEITH PITT: Firstly, I don't think any Australian wants to see the Commonwealth and the states having a barney over this. But, I am a little bit surprise that frontline health workers in one of the biggest hospitals in Queensland hadn't been vaccinated, that was a surprise to me. Hopefully Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Premier, can get this under control and the contact tracing is at the point that it should be after we've had this around for nearly a year. I know there's a number of cases now, particularly in the regions as well, off the back of some of events in Byron Bay, is my understanding, in terms of the media reports. But, once again, we're doing everything we can, it can be managed. You've only got to look at what happens in New South Wales, Pete. Gladys Berejiklian has done this for 12 months, it can be done.

PETER STEFANOVIC: It's only- I mean, and it's not just Queensland though. It's several states now that have only used half of the available supply when it comes to vaccines. I mean, that's pretty shocking.

KEITH PITT: Well, I mean, your viewers will make their own decisions about what standards should be happening in terms of state rollouts. They are through the state health systems. At a Commonwealth level, we are doing everything we can to make sure that the vaccine is supplied. We've made sure that we have onshore production, we are ensuring that rollout continues in terms of the arrangements between us and the states. We just want to get on with it.

PETER STEFANOVIC: So- but, it is on the states? Is this on the states, in your opinion?

KEITH PITT: Well, there are a couple of pieces to all of this. The Commonwealth has its part, in terms of the vaccine rollout, the states have theirs. But, certainly, in terms of the public health systems in the states, they are in charge of those components.

PETER STEFANOVIC: And they are way behind?

KEITH PITT: Well, that's an indication from the numbers, you'd have to put that question to the Premier. But, as I said earlier, no one wants to see us in a brawl over this. We've just got to get through it and we need to manage it as well and effectively as we possibly can. You can manage hotspots; Gladys Berejiklian has demonstrated that that can be done, we just need to make sure that our contact tracing is bulletproof and we manage those localised outbreaks.

PETER STEFANOVIC: What do you make of the state-wide mask mandate though in Queensland that's taking place at the moment? You've got this outbreak in Brisbane, but what does that mean for someone, in say Mount Isa? I don't think they've ever had a case there, yet everyone's got to wear a mask.

KEITH PITT: Well, I mean, get yourself up to Aurukun or Weipa or onto the Cape?


KEITH PITT: Yeah, look, I think that's ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. But, look, that's the directive from Queensland, that's their decision.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Alright, Keith Pitt, appreciate your time this morning as always. Talk to you soon.

KEITH PITT: Great to be with you.