“Energy forum” or an attempt to spruik CSG?
Last month a state government supported forum to discuss coal seam gas took place in Armidale. The event was billed by organisers and in local media as an “energy forum” however the aim was more specifically to brief local businesses and councils on the coal seam gas industry. There were no spokespeople invited to speak on the opportunities clean renewable energy can provide in the region. The event was invite-only and not open to the local community.
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD [7.08 p.m.]: On 17 August an energy forum was held in Armidale. It was hosted by Regional Development Australia Northern Inland and the New South Wales Government. We were privileged to have the Minister for Resources and Energy, the Hon Chris Hartcher, address the forum. The aim of the forum was to brief councils from the region and the business sector on the emerging coal seam gas industry. Coal seam gas presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the communities of northern inland New South Wales. Thanks to the hard work of the chair of Regional Development Australia Northern Inland, Mal Peters, and chief executive officer, Nathan Axlesson, I think the agenda covered both of those aspects.
At the forum Minister Hartcher set the scene by noting that New South Wales supplies only 6 per cent of its domestic gas and its traditional sources are in decline and/or coming off contract in a couple of years. He outlined the Government’s determination to develop the industry while protecting natural resources and respecting landowners’ stewardship of their properties. The Liberal-Nationals Government has delivered on that promise with the release last week of the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy. The document introduces policies where only a vacuum existed before. Those policies had their genesis prior to the last election in the comprehensive work of the then Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, the Hon. Duncan Gay.
The first speaker was Mr Stephen Reid, Deloitte’s national oil and gas leader, who briefed us on the supply and demand constraints of natural gas on the east coast, including the forecast impact on prices once the Gladstone gas trains come on line in 2016-17. Next Mr Lyall Howard from the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association described the scale and scope of the industry. He outlined some of the economic benefits flowing through to regional Australia. The following speaker really cut through. Mr Chris Sharpe, managing director of Richmond Dairies, based in Casino, told the audience his business had struck a gas supply agreement with Metgasco. He said that without the gas deal Richmond Dairies would not be able to compete with dairy processors in Victoria as the southern processors had access to much cheaper gas. In other words, without coal seam gas coming on line, Richmond Dairies, many dairy farmers and all the associated jobs and services would have an uncertain future.
Santos General Manager Energy for NSW Peter Mitchley then gave an overview of his company’s plans for New South Wales production and subsequent export. Mr Peter Bolding, general manager regulatory and strategy, APA Group, gave a good presentation on the infrastructure—that is the pipelines—required to transport gas to market and export. It was sobering to get a frank assessment of the challenge of making the resource available to the centres of northern New South Wales. Ultimately only markets of scale will be serviced. Therefore the question arises: What does that mean for heavily energy-dependent businesses and their competitiveness?
The last speaker was Mr Brad Mullard, Executive Director, Minerals and Energy, New South Wales Department of Industry and Investment. The standout point from Mr Mullard’s presentation was the risk to New South Wales of falling behind the rest of Australia if the coal seam gas industry is not developed. Capital and enterprise are bound to locate themselves where the best after-tax return will be yielded. It owes no loyalty to any State or jurisdiction. Unless we can offer energy with security and at a competitive price New South Wales will inevitably witness a decline in economic activity. The forum concluded with a question and answer session. There were robust questions about environmental safeguards. There were questions about supply and availability.
The Premier constantly reminds Government members to focus on serving the people of New South Wales. The Armidale Energy Forum did just that. Much negativity and caution have characterised the debate on coal seam gas. Caution is appropriate; lack of balance and alarmism are not. The forum filled in some of the information gaps and alerted councils and business to how the emergence of coal seam gas could affect them. There is no doubt in my mind that gas will be a game changer. We have announced a strategic regional land use policy to manage the planning protocols. We need to be proactive to ensure our regional communities have every opportunity to grow their economies with access to gas. I thank the speakers and everybody who attended the worthwhile Armidale Energy Forum.