Opinion pieces


September 23, 2020

Scott Morrison was in the Hunter recently to announce his 20th energy policy.

Unfortunately like his previous energy thought bubbles, this latest one is light on substance.

Gas is used for three things, the first is as a feedstock to make things such as fertiliser and plastics, secondly for heat, and thirdly to produce electricity.

On the former, Australian manufacturers have been decimated because gas prices have skyrocketed over the past seven years.

All we have seen from the government is media release after media release, with no follow through.

Last week's announcement is the same.

The Prime Minister announced a plan to spend money developing a plan for new gas basins.

The plan is years away, and the new gas basins are even further off in the never-never.

He said he would establish a gas hub at Wallumbilla.

The problem is that Wallumbilla already is a gas hub - so there's nothing new there.

Morrison also announced plans for a review of gas prices - something that Labor has been calling for since 2015 - but again the findings of this will be years away.

He's now thinking about a gas reservation policy, a policy Labor announced in 2015 that he opposed.

The cherry on top, the sledgehammer that will deliver cheap gas for our manufacturers: a voluntary, industry-led code of conduct. If manufacturers weren't closing down right, left and centre, this would almost be funny.

The only jobs this plan will produce are for shiny-bum consultants in Sydney and Canberra tasked with writing plans.

On the energy side, this announcement is more froth and bubble.

The government is worried that there hasn't been a large power station built in NSW for more than a decade other than large solar and wind farms, driven by Labor's 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target.

That's because investors can't invest when the government keeps changing the rules.

This government has had 19 energy policies in seven years. It had three energy policies in one fortnight in 2018.

And what's Mr Morrison's solution?

Energy policy number 20.

Instead of sitting down with Labor and taking up our sensible offer of reaching a bipartisan framework for energy investment - a framework that would allow investors to make the necessary investments - the government has announced a policy that was quickly criticised by key groups ranging from the Australian Energy Council, the Grattan Institute, and the Climate Council.

A policy to build a 1000-megawatt gas power plant in Kurri Kurri, despite the fact that AGL is well advanced in building a 250-megawatt gas plant in Tomago.

A policy that contradicts all independent advice, including from the key government agency - the Australian Energy Market Operator - that the cheapest sources of new electricity are wind and solar farms made 100 per cent dispatchable through pumped hydro storage (think Snowy Hydro 2.0) and batteries.

By insisting on subsidising new gas fired power stations instead of implementing sensible energy policy that will allow new investment in renewable energy made completely reliable through pumped hydro, Morrison is driving electricity prices higher, not lower.

He is driving greenhouse gas emissions higher, not lower.

The only thing he is lowering is the number of jobs Australia can create to get out of the recession.

The Prime Minister has said he will do things down the track if the private sector doesn't invest first.

How will that create jobs now when we desperately need them?

Our nation is in the deepest recession in a century.

One of the best things they could do to stimulate the economy and create new jobs is put money into renewable energy technologies.

Investors are desperate for Scott Morrison to come up with a genuine national energy policy that drives investment and creates jobs.

If the Prime Minister allowed a sensible investment framework, the existing pipeline of renewable energy projects that already have planning approval but are stalled, would create more than 50,000 direct jobs.

This renewable energy led recovery would also help lower power prices thereby revitalising manufacturing, eventually opening up opportunities for new industries such as green steel.

This is an industry that the Grattan Institute found could create 16,000 well-paid, clean manufacturing jobs in the Hunter.

That's exactly what our region - and our nation - needs, not more stunts from Morrison.