By Marion Rae, originally published by the Newcastle Herald on 1 April 2021.
Business leaders are being wooed to bankroll the federal government’s gas-fired recovery plan but critics argue the lack of rules or criteria make it ripe for rorting.
Now under the wing of new Industry Minister Christian Porter, the plan also enlists Resources Minister Keith Pitt and Energy Minister Angus Taylor.
Written submissions on the plan are due and more than 170 have already been received.
For Mr Taylor, more gas is part of the government’s plan to reduce emissions without blowing the household budget, while at the same time creating jobs.
The Lock the Gate Alliance of farmers, traditional owners and conservationists is concerned about the “secrecy” of his plans to help companies build gas infrastructure.
“These big gas companies do not care about farmers whose land and water is at risk from new gas projects,” Lock the Gate Alliance National coordinator Carmel Flint told AAP.
“Or traditional owners who oppose projects on their country, or Australian manufacturers who are paying stupidly high prices for gas.”
Input from industry on the “gas-fired recovery” will feed into the national plan for new ports and pipelines.
The independent think tank Centre for Public Integrity has called out the spending of taxpayer money on a national gas plan without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
“A lot of the companies that are seeking to benefit from this opaque process have made pretty major political donations and have sat in positions of power,” the centre’s head Han Aulby told AAP.
She named Australian gas giants and Liberal Party donors Woodside and Santos, who stand to benefit from cheap money and rapid approvals for new pipelines, exploration and gas terminals on the east coast.
“It is critical for public trust in democracy that impartiality in government decision-making not only exist but be seen to exist,” the centre said in its submission.
Mr Taylor and Mr Pitt last year backed Santos’ $3.6 billion Narrabri gas project in NSW as part of their plan to unlock new fields.
Snowy Hydro, chaired by former Santos executive David Knox, already has federal support for a new gas-fired power plant at Kurri Kurri in the NSW Hunter region.
Santos this week signed off on final investment approval for its $4.7 billion Barossa gas project located offshore the Northern Territory – the biggest investment in Australia’s oil and gas sector since 2012.
Director at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility Dan Gocher called the new gas field “a carbon bomb”.
“This company is not committed to the Paris Agreement, but to climate chaos,” Mr Gocher said.
Former international bank analyst Zoe Whitton also has doubts about the gas-fired recovery.
As head of Pollination Group she now advises businesses on climate change and the energy transition.
“Investors are very uncertain about it,” she says.
Meanwhile, state governments have their own plans for recovery and energy transition.
Victoria has blocked AGL’s planned floating gas terminal off the Mornington Peninsula on environmental grounds.
It would have connected to Victoria’s gas network through wetlands and farms.
“The scale of development needed across Victoria and the rest of Australia is bound to upset someone,” said Innes Willox, chief executive of national employer association Ai Group.
“The question for the Victorian government – and all governments – is are they ready to do the big things?”
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