Rinehart pleads Northern Australia development case

COAL and iron ore magnate Gina Rinehart is again pushing her barrow for the development of Northern Australia, telling an invite-only breakfast in Darwin that there are should be no impediments to extracting its vast mineral resources.

Haydn Black

The scion of the Hancock legacy, Rinehart – who has now seen her first mine, the troubled Hope Downs project, sputter towards production – addressed around 100 business leaders at the investment forum at the NT Parliament House in Darwin.

She said Northern Australia “represents one of the world's last great development opportunities of scale and it does this all within one of the world's most highly developed countries on the very doorsteps of flourishing Asia”.

Rinehart said the resources sector may be at a low point, but that the boom-bust cycle has been a constant in Australia's past, and that the nation should prefer for the next upswing, when the raw materials that Australia has in abundance would be critical to world growth.

Calling NT Chief Minister Adam Giles "one of the best leaders in Australia", Rinehart told those at the meeting the time was now to invest in the jurisdiction, and she specified the estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of gas believed to be trapped in the NT’s shale formations: potentially enough gas to power Australia for more than 200 years.

While the bulk of Hancock Prospecting's projects are primarily iron ore in Western Australia and vast coal deposits in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, in part a legacy of her father’s dream to connect the two resources via a northern transcontinental railroad, over the past decade Hancock has been involved in the Jacaranda Alliance to examine petroleum prospects in the NT's Beetaloo Basin, about 500km southeast of Darwin.

Jacaranda holds some 30,000sq.km across EP 144, EP 153 and EP(A) 154 immediately adjacent to leases owned by Empire Energy Group and Armour Energy, subject of significant farm-ins with American Energy Partners.

The Jacaranda Alliance was established in 2007 by Rinehart with a company owned by former group executives of Rio Tinto/CRA to explore for minerals and petroleum in Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.

At the same forum, NT Deputy Chief Minister Peter Styles said healthy trade ties with Asia were the key to the Territory’s strength, and could both help support the development of up to 90% of Australia's gas reserves and turn the Top End into a foodbowl.

However, the Top End gas revolution could be over before commercial wells are even drilled if Labor is elected in August.

The ALP has pledged to impose a fraccing moratorium in the NT, while the Country Liberals and industry insist has been proven to be safe.

The uncertainly has already contributed to the initial size of the Northern Gas Pipeline being scaled back.

Styles recently indicated the NT government was considering investing directly into increasing the volume of the NGP, with industry figures suggest that $60 million could help the company Jemena to build a 14-inch pipeline that connects Tennant Creek to Mt Isa.

Those comments contradicted earlier statements from NT Chief Minister Adam Giles that he had no intention of putting any government money into the pipeline project.

When Jemena placed its steel order on April 1 it said it had sized the pipeline appropriately for the amount of gas there is available and would build a 12-inch pipeline.

Giles blames the ALP for scaring off gas companies such as Central Petroleum and Pangaea Resources from investing in drilling.

So far only NT utility Power and Water has signed a committed transportation contract for the $800 million pipeline, to deliver gas to Incitec Pivot.

Central and Santos have uncontracted gas that needs to be certified in the Amadeus Basin, while unconventional chasers such as AEP or Pangaea are yet to prove commercial flows from the shales.

Polling shows the ramshackle Giles government is unlikely to be returned after the August 27 election.

Resources and Northern Australia minister John Frydenberg last week introduced into the Parliament the legislation to establish the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, which will be based in Cairns, Queensland.

He told an AusTrade Investment Breakfast in Perth during LNG18 last week Australia is in its twenty-fifth year of consecutive economic growth, having survived the Global Financial Crisis, the Asian Financial Crisis and the dot-com boom and bust unscathed.

He said Northern Australia, which has 40% of Australia’s land mass, from Western Australia for Far Northern Queensland, but only 5% of the nation’s population, will be developed with the government’s $5 billion concessional loan facility to focus on key economic infrastructure in the region – transport, water, communications and energy infrastructure.

“We see enormous potential for Australia’s north because it’s on the doorstep of Asia,” Frydenberg said.