Anthony Albanese coy on gas as Scott Morrison locks in Australia’s fossil fuel future

Energy & Environment||
Gas, gas fired recovery
Bi-partisan support for gas as transition fuel. Picture: Unsplash

Australia’s carbon-belching future is surely being sealed by the Coalition with the acquiescence of Labor. As the world turns from coal, gas is almost as toxic for the climate. Callum Foote reports on Labor’s capture by the gas lobby capture while Angus Taylor appoints Macquarie’s Shemara Wikramanayake and former Origin chief Grant King to advise on his Energy Roadmap even though they are smack-bang in the middle of a billion-dollar gas deal.

It’s an extraordinary day when a Coalition minister as scandal-prone as Energy Minister Angus Taylor can take the high ground, but up there he was, accusing Labor leader Anthony Albanese of going silent on gas.

Taylor does have a point; exactly where is Labor on gas?

It’s clear where the Coalition stands. Scott Morrison has stacked his personal office with fossil fuel lobbyists, and the National Covid Commission with gas heads.

Then there was the recent addition of two major gas players – Macquarie Group chief executive Shemara Wikramanayake and former Origin Energy boss Grant King – to a “Permanent Council”, advising Taylor on how to spend the $18 billion slated for the Coalition’s Technology Investment Roadmap.

Red flags might have been raised before this appointment, given the pair’s links to the gas industry. Last month, Macquarie teamed up with oil and gas giant Neptune Energy to buy Italian multinational oil and gas company Eni’s Western Australian gas assets. Macquarie brought in King to negotiate the deal in June this year.

Angus Taylor has refused to comment on whether he was aware that Macquarie had employed King to assist in the purchase of more than $1 billion worth of Eni’s WA gas assets.

As The Australian reported, it was “unclear exactly in what capacity Mr King could be working with Macquarie on the Eni play, dubbed Project Ocean … some expect he could become chairman of its venture should it snap up the assets.”

Taylor also refused to comment on whether he thought this constituted a conflict of interest. It would appear to be an absolutely titanic conflict of interest, adding to the myriad other conflicts of interest which relentlessly push Australia down the path of the fossil fuel lobby and higher carbon emissions.

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The first Low Emissions Technology Statement released last month drew criticism for focusing on technologies which heavily favour fossil fuels, particularly gas. This should surprise no one.

As Crikey’s Bernard Keane points out “The statement was literally written by fossil fuel company executives: the panellists who advised on the statement include former Origin CEO and former head of the climate denialist Business Council, Grant King; and the CEO of the Gas Infrastructure Group, Ben Wilson, along with another BCA director, Coca-Cola’s Alison Watkins, who is also a director of the Centre for Independent Studies, which has hosted climate sceptics.”

Labor links

At least we know what the Coalition believes. The same cannot be said for Labor’s Albanese.

After years of arguments, one of NSW’s most controversial projects, Santos’s $3.6 billion Narrabri coal seam gas project, was approved by the state’s Independent Planning Commission this month. Albanese, meanwhile, has reportedly instructed his MPs to not take a position on the Narrabri gas development.

This silence on the Narrabri fracking project is surprising, all the more so given that NSW state Labor in 2019 pledged to block the Santos project if they were elected.

In his pre-budget speech at the McKell Institute, Albanese outlined Labor’s commitment to manufacturing but declined to take a strong stance on gas production in Australia.

This accords with recent tensions within the party. Joel Fitzgibbon  has threatened to resign and move to the back bench if he believed the party’s emissions reduction targets were going to be too ambitious. While Albanese had previously signalled a commitment to becoming a “renewable energy superpower”, with a 2050 target of net-zero emissions, his commitment to “environmentally sustainable” gas development ensures he doesn’t come into direct conflict with the gas industry in committing to that 2050 target.

And conflict with the gas industry would pose serious challenges to the Labor leader. The strong links between high level Labor figures and the gas industry have flown under the radar, despite surviving the seven years that Labor has spent in the wilderness since losing the 2013 election.

Craig Emerson – a trade minister in the Gillard government – became a consultant for both AGL Energy and Santos following his retirement from politics. Emerson’s wife, Tracey Winters, formerly a principal advisor to former energy minister Martin Ferguson, is now head of government and public affairs (a lobbyist) at Santos.

Former federal treasurer Wayne Swan, the current President of the Labor Party, is a non-executive director of Stanwell Corporation, a Queensland government-owned electricity generator that owns three large gas assets and three gas-powered generation facilities.

In 2010, Swan, Emerson and Ferguson were involved in rushing through the environmental approval processes of Santos and British Gas fracking ventures in Queensland.

It would seem that gas is to Labor what coal is to the Coalition.

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Australia has trailed the world on tackling climate change. We have been slow to meet the challenges posed by our enormous production of coal, behaviour which is now being replicated in oil and gas.

As Tim Buckley, director of new energy think tank IEEFA posted this morning, “Oil & gas is the new coal. Over 140 global financial institutions have already restricted thermal coal financing, insurance and/or investment (with 54 new or improved policies to-date in 2020) and we are now seeing a similar accelerating shift of capital away from oil and gas exploration. We found 50 financial institutions have introduced policies restricting oil sands and/or oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, including 23 to date just this year!

Once again, sadly, it is other countries who are leading the charge.

 





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