Zali Steggall MP asks the Government why it is so focused on a gas folly

15 June, 2021


My question to the government is simple: why is it so focused on a gas folly? We see it locally, where the minister for resources is refusing to rule out the extension of the granting of the PEP 11, the petroleum exploration permit which goes off the coast from Newcastle to Manly, the most ridiculous idea that could possibly be explored. It has been rejected by Deputy Premier Barilaro at New South Wales government level, and yet Minister Pitt refuses to confirm that he will also reject the application. We go on with this gas folly, from the local issue to the broader issue. At a time of record debt levels, eye-watering levels of debt that future generations are going to have to be committed to paying back, there must be a focus on investing public money in a way that will actually provide a return to the Australian public. Instead of focusing on industries that actually have longevity and that will in fact provide a return, the government is intent on spending $600 million on the Kurri Kurri gas peaker plant that Kerry Schott, the chair of the Energy Security Board, has described as the most expensive power. She's questioned the need for the plant. There were so many other options on the table, like pumped hydro, wind and solar with big batteries, all much cheaper. AGL, for example, unveiled just one week ago that they were going to transform the Liddell site, which theoretically is the very reason why this peaker plant is allegedly needed, according to the government's argument. The Liddell site will be replaced with solar and pumped hydro from 2023, in line with the closure date.

We know that huge amounts of public money are being spent on a gas folly of this government, ignoring all the advice to the contrary that this is not the safest path. If we want to keep Australians safe then we need to invest in the technologies that will in fact reduce emissions and will in fact deliver a return to Australians on their money, because, make no mistake, this is their money that is being borrowed to invest in technologies that have no future. There's been no release of a business case in relation to Kurri Kurri, only slogans and spin at the time of the by-election. It doesn't make sense. Every person in the industry, in the energy sector, has described this as being not at all the best way of spending public money. It is in fact an intervention in the market that goes completely against any principles of liberalism and the free market. If this proposal actually makes sense then please deliver a business plan that will give us a reason why we are spending so much public money on an investment that the public don't want and the private sector simply does not want to touch. I think that says it all. We know that the true build cost could be somewhere in excess of $1 billion. A report has found that there will be a limited gas supply for the plant because gas is mostly going to go to export and that New South Wales already has three gas peaking power stations, which will hardly be used before 2030, so it does beg the question.

The Australian Energy Market Operator created and released its integrated systems plan and identified that there was no need for additional gas in the system—that, in fact, the transition to renewables, the cheapest form of power, was occurring at a rapid rate—and that interventions would actually be detrimental to the market. But instead of believing the advice of the experts—and I can only assume there is some cynical, hypocritical or other reason—public money will be spent on a technology that simply is not the technology of the future. We know that it's not going to be needed. It comes back to those local questions, like whether we should be expanding gas exploration off the east coast of Australia with PEP 11. We know this is one of the most populated areas, with so much tourism and work going on and that that would be put at risk by a ridiculous project. It's more public money being wasted on a gas folly of the government.

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