Ex-minister toes APPEA line

FORMER resources minister Martin Ferguson might not be the most respected ex-parliamentarian in some sections of the Labor party, given his move into the role of an enthusiastic and well-paid lobbyist for the oil and gas sector, but with few of the 2500 attendees at APPEA 2015 likely to call him a turncoat Ferguson was asked to close this week’s conference.
Ex-minister toes APPEA line Ex-minister toes APPEA line Ex-minister toes APPEA line Ex-minister toes APPEA line Ex-minister toes APPEA line

Chevron Australia MD Roy Krzywosinski with and Seven Group Holdings executive and former pollie Martin Ferguson at APPEA 2015.

Haydn Black

He said the sector, which was still busily building and committing for the future, needed to carefully plan for a range of future oil and gas prices, focusing on efficiency and world-leading practices, while government need to work to address the facets of those challenges that are under its control: competitiveness and regulatory challenges.

“The legal and regulatory framework sets the boundaries within which industry must operate,” he said.

“This is right and proper, and well understood by the industry. Good laws and good regulation are essential.”

But while he said that every nation should have sensible expectations for safety, environmental management, risk management and the protection of workers’ rights, there was a risk of “harmful over-regulation”

“Laws and regulations are made in response to many factors – including sectional interests, misinformation and political agendas. Unfortunately, sometimes bad politics trumps good sense, and this imposes significant consequences on our economy,” he said.

Ferguson said Australia’s regulatory challenges covered access to resources, inefficient and duplicative approvals processes and other unnecessary red tape, and industrial relations laws that impair productivity and encourage repeated disruptions to projects.”

Good times lead to complacency and overlooking inefficiencies including those created by poor policy, so it is time to sharpen the pencil and deal with those policies before they inflict serious and lasting consequences.

By removing uncertainties for investors, such as unnecessary inefficiencies and regulatory costs, Australia would be able to “foster optimism and a can-do attitude”

Failure to do so was to “pander to sectional interests and scaremongers with anti-development agendas”

He warned his former colleagues in state and federal parliaments not to continue the entrenchment of adversarial industrial relations, engage in “unnecessary hydraulic fracturing review after another while ignoring decades of evidence that this is a safe technology” and locking up resources on the basis of fear campaigns.

That included the “failed” policy of gas reservation, which has been successfully enacted in Western Australia, but which Ferguson and APPEA argue has repeatedly failed to work in the real world, because they say it discourages the investment needed to bring on new gas supplies.

Ferguson says his former colleagues in Canberra want to get re-elected, so too often they follow the road to mediocrity.

He said the shackles need to be taken off the “entrepreneurial spirit” of the oil industry for the good of the economy. At its worst, he sees decades of stagnation and decline.

Ferguson didn’t specifically address the Abbott government’s new shipping reforms, dubbed “Work Choices on Water” reforms, but they are changes that are likely to find support among the big oil companies, who have complained about crippling shipping costs and offshore wages during the LNG construction boom.

The reforms are aimed at boosting the resources, manufacturing and farming sectors by allowing shipping firms who employ offshore workers working in Australian waters for less than six months of the year to be paid below Australian wages and conditions.

Transport Minister Warren Truss said laws enacted by the former Labor government, requiring workers be paid a fair Australian wage, were damaging Australian industry because “it is cheaper to bring cement in from overseas than to move the product around the Australian shore and manufacture it here”

Truss said the reforms would lower freight costs for manufacturers and farmers, reduce road and rail congestion and create more jobs, but Labor leader Bill Shorten said maritime workers would be employed in Third World conditions.

Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese said the government's proposals would decimate the vital Australian shipping industry.

"He's basically removing a part of Australian industry and replacing it with an industry that comes from Liberia or Panama – no regulation, tax avoidance, low labour standards," Maritime Union national secretary Paddy Crumlin said.