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

by | Oct 23, 2020 | Energy & Environment

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.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Callum Foote

Callum Foote

Callum Foote is our Revolving Doors editor exposing the links between the highest level of business and government. These links provide well-resourced private interests with significant influence over Australia's policymaking process. Callum has studied the impact of corporate influence over policy decisions and the impact this has for popular interests. He believes that the more awareness this phenomenon receives the more accountable our representatives will be.

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Refreshing story Callum and highlights that Albanese is no more trustworthy than anyone else who has hidden agendas.

    I don’t understand why these people go into Politics at all, especially when they are focused purely on what’s in it for
    them, their own narrow agendas of their personal constituencies and bugger everyone else, including the environment and its biodiversity.

    I’m over that old public service mentality that says “I’ve been here for thirty years and I’m entitled to the job”. Really, does that make you the right person for the job or the times, therefore Albanese is no better than those that Michael Pascoe discusses in this article,
    and they are meant to be the best of the best https://thenewdaily.com.au/finance/finance-news/2020/10/23/michael-pascoe-dunces-at-top-end-of-town/?

    I don’t think so.

    • Avatar

      selfishness is rule number one – I am never surprised when people behave badly, I am only delighted when people behave kindly.

      most politicians seem to be beholden to real estate developers – and lobby groups waving brown paper bags of cash (old school) or secret offshore tax haven Cayman Islands trust funds behind a maze of shell companies (new school)

      so it can be almost breath-taking to see a politican who is not obviously corrupt – like when Independent Clover Moore became Sydney Lord Mayor in 2004 – a clean sweep stopped the previous obviously corrupt deal making – to community consultation – to actually improving things for locals with real consultation and meaningful communications with the community.

      OMG – things can actually work well – when the politicians are not corrupt … !

      • Avatar

        Yep, we need a few more of the likes of Helen Haines, Zali Steagall,Fiona Patten (Vic Independent), Dr. Catherine Cumming (Western Metropolitan -my area), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, not those who failed pre-selection
        and walked off in a hissy fit to run as ‘Independents’ with all their baggage and closets full of skeleton’s.

        Very hard to break into without any support or existing networks, which must be built from the ground up with community support, therein lies the problem. Apathy.

  2. Avatar

    I am a lifelong Labor voter, and a member (not very active) of the Labor party in NSW, but this issue is important enough to me that I will vote Green at the next federal election unless Albanese shows some vital leadership against gas in general and fracking in particular.

  3. Avatar

    It is probably true that a few Liberal donors will rake in a few billion in subsidies for new gas infrastructure, but that has very little to do with how much gas is actually used.
    Albanese can easily lie doggo on this issue and thereby avoid being labelled anti-jobs and un-Australian and all the rest because at current gas costs, the government’s program is going to achieve very little. Gas consumption is falling not only in Australia but many other countries around the world.
    So far this year the gas power generation has fallen 35% since 2017. In the UK, Germany and Spain it is also down significantly since their peak gas years.
    It is likely that for geopolitical and price reasons the US and Qatar will win some of our existing markets so it is very hard to see gas exports rising significantly.
    Another reason not to believe increasing gas demand is that in the three years to the end of this year there will be about 24 GW of gas plants installed worldwide less some unknown number of retirements. In the same time there will be about 320 GW of solar and 180 GW of wind. Gas plants are usually the last in the price stack so they have quite low utilisation rates, in most countries lower than wind, so gas generation might increase in some countries but is falling in Australia and most of Europe, but even if gas utilisation maintains historical trends, the increase in output from gas power plants is less than 1/10th the increase in output from renewables.
    In Australia power demand is flat on the NEM and declining in WA. Across the country with the continuing rush to rooftop solar and about 10 GW of utility scale wind and solar plants in construction or financed over the next 3 years wind and solar output will increase by 40 TWh/y. Gas provides lass than 20 TWh and is dearer than coal so it would not be surprising unless Morrison and Taylor have a Damascene conversion that gas generation will fall by half by 2023/24

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