Government Has Seen Sense On Gas. Now It Must Follow Through

Written by:
15 May 2024
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In this article, Saxon Davidson contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into energy prices and security, conducted as part of the IPA’s Net Zero Program.

The IPA’s Net Zero Program aims to research the various ways net zero policies negatively affect Australia’s energy security, national security capabilities, and household electricity prices.

The Federal Government’s announcement as part of its Future Gas Strategy that the development of Australia’s critical gas industry would be supported into the future is a logical and welcome step. However, its ability to keep this commitment is in significant doubt.

The strategy signalled a reversal of sorts on the idea Australia should rush towards total abandonment of fossil fuels in the pursuit of net zero emissions by 2050. It indicates the Federal Government has at least listened to growing calls that, at a bare minimum, natural gas needs to be a transition energy source.

Credit must be given to Resources Minister Madeleine King for pushing ahead with this policy, which puts the national interest first, despite the obvious backlash it was sure to receive from her own side of politics, not least of all her Cabinet colleagues.

However, a policy, no matter the subject, is only as good as the government in power. How long Ms King and the Prime Minister can resist this pressure is another question altogether.

Dissatisfaction among the Government’s own back bench has flared, with Josh Burns, Labor’s member for the inner-city Melbourne seat of Macnamara the first to break ranks, declaring that “we need to continue to move towards low emission technology, not prolong fossil fuels”.

Not surprisingly, teal independents have already expressed their displeasure at the policy, with Curtin MP Kate Chaney stating that “gas projects absolutely need to be last resort”. And Adam Bandt, leader of the Greens, on social media called for the Labor MPs to take action by quitting their party and voting with them.

The trend of opinion polling suggests next year’s Federal election could result in a hung parliament, in which case the next government may very well rely on the support of crossbench Greens and teals.

A central policy of the Greens is the closure of all existing coal and gas projects, and to cancel all gas projects in the pipeline. And the teals brand (not party, remember) is heavily anti-fossil fuels and anti-development.

These dissenting voices would usually be just the distant noise of the perpetual protesting class.

However, with an election due by this time next year, the threat of minority government is real. If so, these are the type of radical, anti-development voices which could have disproportionate influence on the regulation of our critical industries and resources.

Both the teals and the Greens would likely demand the abandonment of the Future Gas Strategy as a condition of their support for a minority Labor government. And a cohort of Labor backbenchers, such as Burns, would likely support the minor parties’ demands in order to force their leader’s hand.

All this calls into question the Albanese Government’s ability to put this net positive policy into action over the long term.

It will be the test of the Prime Minister’s mettle to declare that this policy, so desperately needed in the national interest, is not up for negotiation should a hung parliament be a reality after the next election.

Our resources sector has been under constant threat since the election of this Government in May 2022. The implementation of the safeguard mechanism vastly increased red and green tape on much needed energy projects, while government funded activist lawfare from groups such as the Environmental Defenders Office, and the introduction of a federal EPA, all present a risk to the future of the sector and to Australia’s energy security.

The launch of the Future Gas Strategy is a perfect opportunity for the Federal Government to repudiate those of its policies which are already putting the gas sector under threat. This should include defunding the activist Environmental Defenders Office. Economic analysis by the Institute of Public Affairs found that the EDO’s lawfare against the Scarborough gas project is putting $25.1 billion in economic activity, and the creation of more than 40,000 direct and indirect jobs in WA, at risk.

Gas is our third most valuable export nationwide, and WA is the third largest exporter in the world. This, along with iron ore, is underpinning Australia’s economic growth. It not only provides well paying jobs across the country, but also the rivers of gold flowing through to governments that fund critical public services such as roads, schools, and hospitals.

We need our leaders to follow through and expand on this gas strategy, which will bolster our energy security, lower energy prices for consumers, and maximise the economic benefits our world-leading resources sector provides.

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