Australia’s resources minister, Keith Pitt, is urging oil and gas producers to turn the “spotlight” on environmental groups campaigning against an expansion of the fossil fuel industry on climate change grounds.
Pitt will use a speech to the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference in Perth on Wednesday to rail against “activism” that “ignores the fact that resources development in Australia is carried out safely and responsibly and that Australia’s economy was built off the back of the resources sector”.
According to speech notes circulated by his office in advance, the resources minister will declare it is “clear that the courts and bureaucratic processes are being used by green activists to delay major projects and potentially cripple companies”.
He will single out Greenpeace for special mention. Citing figures from the charities commission, Pitt will say Greenpeace “raised more than $18.5m in donations and bequests and $1.1m in government grants in 2019-20 in Australia alone”.
“Nearly 25% of expenses related to fundraising and 39% were in staff costs – so rather than protecting the environment they are mostly focussed on protecting themselves,” Pitt will say.
The resources minister will argue demand for LNG is growing in the face of global pushback from environmental and shareholder groups and Australia intends to remain at the “forefront of the LNG sector” for decades.
He will tell the conference the government plans to develop the North Bowen and Galilee basins in central Queensland for gas extraction. “We know that the Bowen Basin is a major coal-producing area but it also has immense potential for gas”.
Pitt will urge oil and gas producers to fight back against “green activists” by putting “facts” before the Australian public, including quantifying the sector’s economic contribution to the country “and indeed facts about the activist’s campaigns – the spotlight should be on those organisations for a change”.
The resources minister will also flag concern about banks and insurers stepping back from financing fossil fuel projects. Pitt triggered a parliamentary inquiry, chaired by fellow Queensland National George Christensen, after a public commitment from ANZ to step back from business customers with material thermal coal exposures – market signalling that sparked consternation within the Nationals.
After the ANZ’s statement last October, the agriculture minister, David Littleproud, called for a boycott of the bank, and the deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, declared the bank’s plan “virtue signalling”. Christensen has previously denied the link between climate change and the severity of natural disasters.
In the wake of the ANZ fracas, Pitt originally instructed the joint standing committee on trade and investment growth to grill financial regulators, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, as well as the banks, about their plans to pull back on lending or insuring mining projects because of climate change.
But the inquiry stalled after the joint standing committee – in a rare rebuke – deferred making a decision about whether to proceed with Pitt’s original ministerial referral. The stalling reflected a view among some Liberals that the inquiry should not be a witch-hunt against banks managing carbon risk.
Pitt subsequently broadened the terms of reference, asking the committee to investigate finance for all export industries. He said the adjustment was a strengthening of the original terms of reference.
The banks and their lobbying arm, the Australian Banking Association, have used new submissions to Pitt’s parliamentary inquiry to implicitly rebut claims from senior Nationals that their actions amount to moral posturing or virtue signalling.
The major banks and the ABA have pointed out that current carbon risk practices – namely, disclosing information relating to climate exposures and calculating the potential risk of climate change on their balance sheets – are requirements driven by international governance setting bodies, of which Australian regulators and Australian companies are members.
Pitt will tell the APPEA conference on Wednesday the inquiry led by Christensen will “inquire into and report on the approach and motivations of our financial institutions regarding their investment in Australia’s export industries”.
APPEA has used its submission to the inquiry to argue that environmental groups have “over recent years focused their activism on shareholders and finance sources, like superannuation funds, banks, and other lending facilities” – and have been able to exploit an “information asymmetry”.
The submission says since 2017, shareholder activist groups collectively have submitted 92 resolutions “pertaining to climate change, governance (to facilitate greater shareholder climate change activism) or political lobbying (as it pertains to climate change)” – with nearly 40 resolutions relating to APPEA member activities.
APPEA contends this activity “conveniently ignore[s] the body of evidence that demonstrates the role that natural gas is playing in delivering lower carbon energy security to growing population centres, particularly in our own region” and commitments by the gas industry to the United Nations sustainable development agenda.
APPEA is the peak national body representing upstream oil and gas explorers and producers active in Australia. Member companies account for more than 90% of Australia’s petroleum production.