Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall speaks about fuel security

24 November 2021



After that rubbish, we will get on to actually talking about the matter of public importance: fuel security. I rise to speak on this because it is so important, especially after COP26, because we are incredibly exposed. In June, to bolster security, the government propped up Australia's remaining oil refineries with over $2 billion in taxpayer subsidies. It's important to note that these refineries have been on the decline for the last two decades. We had seven in 2010 and just four in 2020, and we have only two now. This comes due to pressures from lower-cost refineries in Asia. As the Australian Financial Review editorialised at the time:

The refineries plan does not mean self-sufficiency, even with more than $2 billion of subsidy …

So we have no plan for this. Let's be really clear. Self-sufficiency and security must be our goal. If there is anything we have learnt out of this pandemic, it has to be the importance of that security.

Australians spend $29 billion per year on imported fuel, and we are highly dependent on these imports. We cannot service our needs with oil from domestic oil production. It's not enough, and it's the wrong type of oil. Over 90 per cent of our fuels are imported from countries in the Middle East, Asia and North America. It leaves Australia exposed to supply disruptions in our region emanating from conflict, natural disasters and other pressures. We hear the government talk about national security. Then it should care about this issue, because it is intrinsically linked. We've seen with the pandemic what happens with supply chain disruptions and what they do to prices. At the moment, we're seeing the price of a barrel of oil go through the roof, and no amount of sovereign oil refinery capacity will keep us secure from these disruptions. It's a fundamental national security issue.

You only have to look at the skyrocketing price of petrol to think: is this system really working for Australian households? We're now paying almost $2 a litre at the bowser. No platitudes or magical thinking from the Prime Minister will reduce petrol prices. No blaming another side of politics or doing the usual political football is going to change that reality. Rather, we need to come up with some proper planning and not just prop up something that isn't working. We need a transition to move away. But there's no credible plan to wean us off this. The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources has projected that oil demand will increase to 2040 if we don't change policies.

So that's the point of this MPI: what is the government going to do to reduce pressure on Australian households and exposure to supply chain disruptions post Glasgow? We need a credible transition plan for transport, which uses most of our imported oil—75 per cent, in fact. Transport also accounts for over 18 per cent of our national greenhouse gas emissions, and that's projected to rise over the coming years. Why not power our transport with Australian sun and wind instead of Saudi oil? Aren't we all for Australian sovereignty? Transitioning will require significant investments in electric vehicle infrastructure, vehicle emission standards and tax rebates. Again, the government is the party of lower taxes. Use that to actually create a credible transition plan.

For aviation, that means getting away from jet fuel and moving towards biofuel or synthetic fuels. For heavy vehicles, we can look at electrification and green hydrogen, which we can make here in Australia from renewable energy. The government is offering tokenistic financing through ARENA, who are doing their best, but it's not enough. It's not a concrete policy. It's not being put in place at scale to actually get this transition going.

'The Australian way', the pamphlet that we had pre Glasgow, is a joke. It is not going to pool technology. It is not going to drive investment. We have nothing like the Renewable Energy Target, which was pivotal in the deployment of renewables and is why we are enjoying the small emissions reductions that we have now. The Future Fuels and Vehicles Strategy for electric vehicles and hydrogen will not deliver what needs to be delivered. We have an opportunity. It is a moment in time when you can actually have vision. You can put in place a plan. We have, post the pandemic, an opportunity to reset and take on board the evidence. But things like $2 billion for fuel subsidies, $600 million for Kurri Kurri and hundreds of millions for Beetaloo basin are not a transition plan. We actually need some bravery from government.