Scott Morrison’s push for a gas-led recovery from the coronavirus-induced recession has been met with mixed reviews.
The Prime Minister unveiled a plan on Tuesday to shore up Australia’s gas supply and slash power prices during a speech near Newcastle.
A $52.9 million package will be included in the Federal Government’s October Budget to unlock supply at new and existing gas fields in five key basins.
A National Gas Infrastructure Plan will also be developed by February to identify priority infrastructure projects, with the Government warning that if the private sector does not invest, it will intervene by underwriting or streamlining approvals.
Australian Workers Union secretary Daniel Walton welcomed the announcement, saying decisive action would boost Australian manufacturing.
“The Morrison Government’s plan stops short of the reservation scheme the AWU has been pushing for, but if done properly it could achieve most of the same ends for our manufacturing sector and the quality jobs it should support,” Mr Walton said.
“This is the final chance for multinational gas companies to stop overcharging Australians for their own gas.
“If they don’t play ball, the Government needs to enact its reservation powers and force them to.
“What we need now is for Labor to enthusiastically get behind this plan and remove any impediment to it becoming law.”
But Opposition energy spokesman Mark Butler criticised the announcement, saying there was “not much” in it.
“Gas is obviously important for manufacturing,” Mr Butler told ABC’s Radio National.
“There’s not much in this plan.”
He said any job creation from the measures would not happen quick enough to ease the unemployment woes facing the nation.
Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon, who represents Hunter where the coal-fired Liddell Power Station is due to close in 2023, told Sky News Mr Morrison’s announcement was a “capitulation”.
“What he is announcing is our plan, my plan as a local member,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“We’ve been arguing for three years now that as Liddell comes to the end of her natural life we need new capacity in the Hunter so we can maintain our status as the powerhouse of NSW.”
National Party senator Matt Canavan took to Twitter to say the Hunter Valley had the best thermal coal in the world.
“NSW imports over 90 per cent of its gas. Why don’t we just use the coal that is right there and build a coal-fired power station?”
He told Sky News gas was important but the Government needed to invest in “all types” of energy sources.
Under the Morrison Government’s plan, new gas supply targets with states and territories, and three east coast LNG exporters, will also be established.
But climate councillor Greg Bourne accused the Government of throwing taxpayer funds at a “dangerous fossil fuel”.
“The Federal Government is trying to shore up the gas industry, which is in a poor financial state, meanwhile, the rest of the world is decarbonising,” he said.
“This announcement delivers no jobs in the short term and will only deliver huge uncertainty into the energy market.
“The economic and technological winds of change are driving us towards a renewables-led future – that is where private sector investment dollars are going.”