Address to LNG 18 Conference

  • Speech, check against delivery

It's a pleasure to be here at the 18th International Conference on Liquefied Natural Gas at this time of great change for this critical national industry in the global energy market. And I recall at a conference last year in Paris, inviting you all to Perth and you came, so I'm really pleased to see so many industry leaders here.

In fact, over the past few days many have spoken of the importance of the LNG industry to our national economy, and how our economy is in transition – particularly in the mining and resource sector from the construction to production phase.

Not only is LNG a highly innovative, highly responsive industry that has made a huge contribution to building Australia's links with China, Japan and other burgeoning Asian economies, it will also be of major increasing strategic importance in our engagement in our region.

Over the next five years, Australia's LNG export volumes are expected to triple to 75 million tonnes. We will supply 40 per cent of both China and Japan's LNG needs, and 25 per cent of Korea's. Australia is on its way to becoming the world's largest LNG exporter by 2020. Our energy projects are among the world's largest – congratulations to Chevron on the success of Gorgon.

This all adds to our reputation as a mining, energy and resources superpower, which adds enormous weight to our strategic influence.

We cannot take our success for granted. As Foreign Minister I've implemented and driven an economic diplomacy strategy for Australia's international relations and foreign policy. Just as traditional diplomacy pursues peace, economic diplomacy pursues prosperity.

So I have refocused the work of our overseas missions – our embassies and high commissions – on supporting Australian business around the world. Including, for the first time, the preparation of business plans for each mission, setting out how they will help increase trade, investment and economic ties between Australia and the host country – and we have over 100 diplomatic posts worldwide and even more if you count Austrade posts. Indeed, this is now a key performance indicator for ambassadors and high commissioners.

We are enhancing our diplomatic presence overseas, particularly in Asia, to provide greater support to Australian businesses looking to gain a foothold in competitive export markets, so we're opening new missions and Austrade posts in Mongolia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Thailand, also in Houston in the US, and Iran.

I am driving an innovation agenda in foreign policy – across foreign aid and trade and diplomatic work, because I see – just as the LNG industry has always seen in this country – that innovation is critical to success.

The Turnbull Government has announced a $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which aims to create an environment in Australia that encourages a greater appetite for managed risk, more competition and greater productivity.

The Innovation Agenda is based on four pillars:

  • Culture and capital – to encourage Australia's entrepreneurs to invest in start-ups;
  • Collaboration – to bring industry and researchers together to solve problems;
  • Talent and skills – to prepare our people for the jobs of the future and attract world-class innovative and creative talent to Australia;
  • Government leading by example – through embracing innovation and agility in the way we do business.

For example, I have established an innovation hub within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Innovation Xchange, that seeks to partner with the private sector to drive innovative solutions to seemingly intractable development challenges in developing countries. I'm advised by a group of international innovation leaders, including Michael Bloomberg – perhaps the Ambassador could tell us whether Michael's got another job coming up.

The Government's Innovation Agenda will drive a culture that we will embed in government policies. Each of those four pillars ties in with and supports the LNG industry.

Australian oil and gas projects are at the forefront of technology and innovation, with:

  • breakthrough floating LNG technology,
  • major developments in coal-seam gas,
  • advanced subsea geotechnics in extreme marine environments, and
  • large scale geo-sequestration projects.

Now they will be supported by a government also committed to innovation through collaboration, through nurturing talent and skills and encouraging investment.

Our ground-breaking Defence White Paper will also drive innovation and high-tech outcomes not only in our defence industries, but these will flow through into the private sector and, of course, into the energy and resources sector.

Over the last three years, the Government's commitment to liberalising trade has delivered significant and ongoing benefits for Australian businesses and our local community. Our bilateral free trade agreements with Korea, Japan and China, plus the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership will provide new and exciting opportunities including for two-way investment in energy and gas.

For example, under the Korean and Japan agreements, we have won the right to unrestricted investment for LNG.

As a result of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement, we have secured rights to engage in a wider range of mining services-related activities in China, including with respect to coal bed methane and shale gas. In the central and western regions of China, the China Australia Free Trade Agreement allows us to provide comprehensive mineral resources exploitation services.

Under the Trans Pacific Partnership, we will eliminate tariffs on LNG exports to member countries, including Vietnam.

Coming this way, we have made Australia a vastly more attractive investment destination. Australia is reliant on foreign direct investment for our major projects, for our economic growth across our economy.

Through all three of our North Asian Free Trade Agreements we have lifted the Foreign Investment Review Board screening threshold for private investments from companies in non-sensitive sectors from $252 million to just under $1.1 billion.

Critically, through the Trans Pacific Partnership, we're also levelling the playing field for Australian mining and energy companies wanting to expand into Pacific rim markets. As we know, in some markets our private sector mining and energy companies face large, dominant State-Owned Enterprises. Our agreements will help ensure State-Owned Enterprises are not getting an unfair advantage over Australian competitors.

Beyond our FTAs, we are opening up exciting new markets and supporting the LNG sector here at home. Recent trade missions by the Australian Government have sought to develop markets for Australian LNG and our energy and resources.

Last November, our Indonesia Australia Business Week included a resources and energy stream, where 38 of our delegates met with international gas proponents working in Indonesia about market entry and joint ventures.

In February, 26 representatives from Australian energy companies took part in Australia-US Business Week across the US.

This week, Australia's largest ever trade mission – consisting of more than 1,000 business leaders – are participating in Australia Week in China, promoting Australian trade and investment in our biggest export market.

We are also investing in the future employees and leaders of this industry. In our signature foreign policy initiative, the New Colombo Plan, an overseas student program for undergraduates in Australian universities to study and undertake work experience in over 35 countries in our region –Australian mining and energy companies including Woodside and Oilsearch are providing work experience opportunities in their offshore operations for our, particularly, engineering students. This initiative has been profoundly successful. In just three years, by the end 2016, around 10,000 Australian students will have participated in the New Colombo Plan – studying and working in our region and becoming more Asia-literate, which will boost productivity, prosperity and connectivity in our region.

The Government is also establishing two Industry Growth Centres in Perth and in Brisbane dedicated to expanding Australia's excellence in mining equipment, technology and services, and the oil, gas and resources sectors.

We are also committed to bringing the rule of law back to construction sites, and tackling union corruption and intimidation through the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. We will ensure that trade union officials are held to the same high standards as company directors. We must ensure that Australia continues to be a reliable supplier to our region without disruptive workplace practices.

Ladies and Gentlemen, LNG is a critical industry for Australia's future prosperity, and the Government looks forward to working with the LNG sector to meet today's energy and commodity demands, that will drive economic growth and transform economies in our region in the years ahead and enhance our strategic influence for decades to come.

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