The government’s inaction on securing Australia’s long-term fuel supplies is baffling … and negligent.
It's difficult not to conclude that, whenever real problems of great national import arise, Canberra’s political and bureaucratic class does everything possible to ensure it remains firmly seated on its hands.
A case in point is the procrastination on Australia’s deteriorating liquid fuel supply security situation, whereby we’re becoming increasingly dependent not only on foreign oil, but overseas-refined petrol and associated specialist fuels.
Because Canberra hasn’t instituted strategic liquid fuel storage requirements our road, including heavy haulage and defence, transportation would halt within a month of an emergency breaking out.
That, in my view but seemingly not Canberra’s, is as serious as it gets.
Yet nothing is being done to prevent such an eventuality.
I was first alerted to this in December 2011 after one of my sharp-eyed energy affairs contacts found an Australian government liquid fuel report of March 2009 on, of all places, a French website.
But that’s only the start of this strange story.
When he logged into the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government site, he found an index showing more than 100 reports on varying issues but number 117, where the report should have been shown, was missing.
So a report that unambiguously warned of Australia’s deteriorating liquid fuel position wasn’t posted but instead airbrushed out of existence.
After recovering from the shock, my contact discretely inquired and learned the missing report 117 was being kept under wraps.
I reported on this in my first column for 2012, which was headlined, ‘New Perspective on parlous Energy Plan’, with the sub-head ‘Planning for Australia’s future energy security needs is being mismanaged by Canberra boffins’.
I then learned that another report titled, ‘Draft Energy White Paper’ existed, and Canberra’s boffins were calling for public comment by March 16 2012.
Amazingly, at page 67 of the DEWP they claimed: “For a major global energy exporter like Australia, pursuing a goal of national energy self-sufficiency is counterintuitive.”
Put otherwise, this for them means because Australia has abundant coal, gas and uranium reserves, there’s nothing to worry about.
However, what’s not said is that Australia – as the suppressed Report 117 disclosed – is increasingly depended on imported oil, petrol, dieseline, and armed forces fuel needs.
That bureaucratic omission spurred me to send a submission to the DEWP inquiry in which my paragraphs four to seven stated: “It is of the gravest concern to me that Australia’s liquid fuel supply is so parlous and continues to deteriorate and so little attention was accorded this situation by the authors of your DEWP.
“Of even greater concern is the fact that Report 117 has been mysteriously and inexplicably sidelined, presumably by someone within the national bureaucracy.
“Thankfully someone else had the good sense and patriotic fervour to make that report available to Monsieur Jean-Marc Jancovici of France.
“Because of the blatant hiding of Report 117, I urge that a comprehensive investigation be immediately launched with the assistance of the Australian Federal Police … ’’
Although I requested written confirmation of receipt of my submission, nothing ever arrived, perhaps suggesting my contribution wasn’t appreciated.
Thankfully others haven’t been so myopic.
On February 23 2013, the NSW automobile association the NRMA issued its own report on Australia’s parlous liquid fuel position, compiled by retired air vice-Marhsall John Blackburn.
At page 22, his third of eight recommendations says: “As our dependence on the importing of oil and petroleum products is a reality, government should define what level of refining capacity is necessary to provide resilience in the face of possible supply disruption and what action the government can take to achieve that capacity.”
And last month, the NRMA, again under his oversight, issued a follow-up report urging Canberra to: “Provide detail to the Australian public as to how the government will ensure we have sufficient Australian-controlled sources of liquid fuel to support out military forces and essential services in the event of overseas supply interruptions.”
Elsewhere he stressed that Australia was moving towards a situation where, by 2030, we’ll have no refineries, less than 20 days of liquid fuel on standby, and 100 per cent imported liquid fuel dependence.
So between 2009 – when Canberra sidelined Report 117 – and early 2014, nothing has been done to ensure adequate liquid fuel stocks are available in any emergency.
As reported in this column on February 17 2014, ‘Tension ratchets up in South China Sea’, by 2020 the waters to our north and north-west, used by tankers supplying Australia with fuel, will have 86 submarines from eight nations patrolling them.
To me that’s an ominous development indeed.
If Canberra’s bureaucrats and politicians can’t get off their hands to accommodate this, perhaps sub-contracting the NRMA to prepare a plan for long overdue action is the way to go.