The Australian Govt to Continue to Reform National Energy Ma

Continued reform of the national energy market, particularly gas; development of a second comprehensive national innovation package; and further reductions of costs for resource developers are the Australian Federal Government's primary industry policy goals for 2004.

Federal Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, detailed his list of primary policy objectives while today addressing a CEDA forum in Brisbane.

"Starting with innovation - Backing Australia's Ability still has about $1.7 billion left to run but we are now finalizing the package's post-2006 successor," Mr. Macfarlane told the Queensland business crowd.

"I'm keen to keep the focus on the commercialization and delivery end of the R&D cycle. Bright ideas and clever innovations will always be a prominent part of the Australian psyche. But there's a consistent need to bridge the gap between bright idea and the commercial reality of a marketable product or service," he said.

Mr. Macfarlane said he will ask his state counterparts to seriously consider the immediate need for better planning and regulation of the gas network – on a national scale.

"Gas will soon provide almost one-quarter of our primary energy supply so it has to be more closely incorporated into future energy policies. Despite that, the State energy ministers last year swept gas regulation reform off the agenda saying they wouldn't consider it until 2006."

"Recent problems in Western and South Australia have now given us the impetus to put gas back on the agenda when we next meet at the Ministerial Council on Energy in April. The implications of the recent Moomba explosion must also be examined from a national energy security perspective," he said.

Mr. Macfarlane also outlined the Federal Government's push to secure new overseas markets, including America and Korea, for Australia's natural gas producers.

"In terms of resource exploration I'm keen to develop ways to reduce compliance costs for offshore explorers – and develop a regulatory framework that will boost exploration. I'm also well aware of the need to address issues like land access and geoscience data," he said.

"The industry portfolio has to be above politics and I understand that business doesn't grind to a halt for an election year. My 2004 policy development priorities are now on the table, we have more than year's worth of work ahead of us," said Mr. Macfarlane.

"Meantime the right and left of Labor will spend the year slugging it out over business protectionism and union intervention. It's an inevitable internal battle as the Labor leader and his industry spokesman have already proven they stand at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. Meantime, we're getting on with industry policy," he said.