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Oil conference set to lobby Canberra

Threats to Australia's self-sufficiency in oil...

Threats to Australia's self-sufficiency in oil is set to emerge as the key theme at the oil industry's annual conference in Hobart this week.

The conference, hosted by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, should be upbeat given the industry's record profitability due to high oil prices and the weak dollar.

Still, looking to the future, the industry can be relied on to use the three-day conference to campaign for a better deal and more encouragement from Canberra.

At the conference, expected to be attended by more than 1000 delegates, the industry will argue for wholesale reform of the planning and approval process covering exploration and production, as well as a more supportive fiscal regime.

It will argue that without change, the industry's contribution of $25 billion a year through taxation and export income, and the country's 80 per cent-plus oil self sufficiency, will be threatened.

Speaking on the eve of the conference, the executive director of APPEA, Barry Jones, said: "Australians and our political leaders needed to be reminded how dependent we are on fossil fuels.

"Many have forgotten the links between the petrol in their car and oil production in Gippsland (Bass Strait) or the gas flame on their kitchen stove and Moomba (South Australia). It took massive exploration efforts to discover that oil and gas and further exploration is needed now to find the oil and gas for Australians to use in the next decade."

Forecasting groups predict that local oil production could fall to as low as 130,00 barrels a day 2010 from the current rate of 600,000.

Mr Jones said that despite those forecasts, Canberra "still fails to provide the encouragement to petroleum exploration that would flow from streamlining the approval process, reforming the unattractive fiscal regime and ensuring the required funding to determine the extent of Australia's petroleum reserves.

"Buying our petrol from Asia doesn't solve any of the issues that all governments need to address. Political leaders need to ask themselves, `What Australian assets will we sell to buy petrol from overseas when domestic production falls in the next few years?"'

The conference is also bracing itself for a presentation by ambassador Peter Galbraith, cabinet minister for Political Affairs, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor.