Barossa ban risks turning Australia into a trade pariah

Written by:
29 December 2023
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In this article, Saxon Davidson contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into energy security, conducted as part of the IPA’s Net Zero Program. The IPA’s Net Zero Program aims to research the various ways net zero policies negatively affect Australia’s energy security, national security capabilities, and household electricity prices.

Australia has a hard-won reputation as a reliable trading partner throughout our region, but without serious red tape reduction, and a curbing of associated green activism, we risk becoming a trade pariah as the supply of our most valuable exports becomes increasingly unreliable.

There is no better example of this than the $5.8 billion Barossa Gas Project off the coast of the Northern Territory.

This gas export project was meant to begin its pipeline construction phase almost two months ago, after receiving conditional approval from the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Management Authority (NOPSMA).

However, the Environmental Defenders Office – an extremist activist group that receives funding from state and federal governments – representing elders on the Tiwi Islands, was granted an emergency injunction after it was claimed new evidence of cultural heritage was discovered under the ocean where the pipeline will be built. The activists claim any construction that does not take this new evidence into consideration would be in violation of environmental regulations.

The pipeline is to be built approximately seven kilometres from the nearest coast of the Tiwi Islands.

The court injunction was granted just hours before construction was to begin, which will undoubtedly add to the concerns of our major trading partners, particularly Japan, that we are becoming an increasingly unreliable supplier. In particular, investors fear that the federal government’s safeguard mechanism policy will undermine the viability of projects necessary to supply gas to not just Australia’s energy grid but theirs as well.

In a positive sign, just days before Christmas NOPSMA finally allowed certain project activities to begin, more approvals are still required and the threat of activist court action remains.

Japan relies on Australia for its energy security. It is the largest importer of Liquid Natural Gas in the world, and we are the second largest exporter of LNG after Qatar.

If Australia is going to continue to supply countries like Japan with the baseload energy sources it needs, as well as enjoy the wealth these exports create, it is critical that our lengthy approval system be streamlined, and the red tape associated with projects cut. This is particularly so with the red tape associated with the federal government’s ideologically driven emission reduction policies.

Otherwise, not surprisingly, Japan and other affected nations will take their business elsewhere, potentially to countries that do not share Australia’s values and worldview. While this would obviously be a blow to our nation’s bottom line, it would also significantly reduce our soft power in the region and undermine our relationship with a key ally.

To prevent this from happening, we need serious reform that puts Australia’s national interest first by protecting our own energy security and facilitating the export of vital resources. This includes abandoning the policy of Net Zero emissions by 2050, which is not just endangering Japan’s energy security, but our own. This must include repeal of such legislation such as the Climate Change Act 2022 which enshrines the Net Zero targets in law.

Another modest and simple reform measure would be to repeal Section 487 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Section 487 is a special legal privilege enjoyed by environmental activists to engage in activist litigation by challenging project approvals made by the Federal Environment Minister.

Previous research by the Institute of Public Affairs found that between 2000 and 2020, legal activism by environmental groups in Australia put $65 billion worth of investment at risk by holding major projects up in court for a cumulative total of 10,100 days, equivalent to 28 years.

Over the same period, 94 per cent of the legal challenges under Section 487 failed to substantially alter the conditions of a project. The activists know the verdict is not what counts, it is the process – which kills jobs, opportunities, and growth.

Red tape and environmental activism are preventing industries from operating, jobs from being created, export revenue from being earned and our rural and regional areas from growing. It’s time the federal government put the national interest ahead of green activism, and let us power not only our future, but the world’s.

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