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Tuesday, 22 June 2021
Page: 10


Senator SHELDON (New South Wales) (12:56): I rise to support the Fuel Security Bill 2021. Securing Australia's fuel supply is essential for our national economy and our national security. We need a secure supply of fuel to keep planes in the air and trucks on the road. We need a secure supply of fuel to keep our regions connected with our capital cities and to make sure that Australians can buy essential goods like groceries and hopefully—one day, in the not too distant future—get a Pfizer vaccine.

Twenty years ago, eight Australian oil refineries met almost our entire domestic demand for refined fuel. Today we import more than 90 per cent of our refined petroleum. Unfortunately, that appears to be a recurring story with the Morrison government and matters of national sovereignty and security. This government has largely given up on the domestic fuel refining industry, just as it has given up on domestic shipping fleets. Whereas some 30 years ago we had 100 Australian-flagged vessels with Australian crews, paying Australian taxes and complying with Australian laws, we now have just 13. And whereas 20 years ago we had eight Australian oil refineries meeting almost our entire domestic demand, we now have just two oil refineries in Australia, and we import more than 90 per cent of our refined petroleum. It's a shameful outsourcing of Australia's national security. It's a shameful outsourcing of Australia's national sovereignty. And it's a shameful outsourcing of thousands of good-paying, skilled Australian jobs—the sorts of highly skilled, specialised technicians that Australia will need as it transitions to new sources of energy. To send so many of these jobs overseas is a short-sighted act of economic vandalism.

This piece of legislation is long overdue. I want to particularly note the efforts of the Australian Workers Union, which, for many years, has pushed for support for our fuel refining industry, for refinery workers and for our fuel security.

In 2015, the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport produced a report, Australia's transport energy resilience and sustainability. It recommended that the government undertake a comprehensive review of Australia's fuel supply and fuel security. That was six years ago. It took the government three years to finally announce, in 2018, that it would actually do this review. The interim report on liquid fuel security was delivered to the government over two years ago, in April 2019. We still haven't seen the final report, which was due in late 2019. The interim report identified a number of steps the government could and should have taken two years ago. The report identified our serious noncompliance with international energy obligations for domestic fuel stocks. We are required to have a domestic fuel stock of 90 days to protect ourselves against global and domestic oil shocks. We weren't compliant then, and we're not compliant now. In fact, today, we have only 58 days of fuel reserves in Australia. This is still 32 days short—more than a month short—of the bare minimum 90-day target. We're still far below the target. That interim report referred to us as an outlier in our cavalier approach to fuel security. Just as with coastal shipping, just as with maritime crew visas, the Morrison government loves to take liberties with our national security when it comes to fuel reserves.

It's taken six years to finally get to this bill. Australia has suffered through three Liberal prime ministers and four deputy prime ministers to get this far. Australia has also suffered through a series of abject marketing stunts dressed up as announcements. This is where the government's ineptitude really shines. On 22 April 2020, the minister for energy issued a media release titled 'Australia to boost fuel security and establish national oil reserve'. The announcement, said the government, was to purchase two days of cheap fuel—just two days worth, when we are 32 days below our target. It gets better. If you read a few paragraphs down, it turns out that the fuel is being stored 14,000 kilometres away in the United States. The Morrison government's bright idea to protect our fuel security is to store our emergency fuel reserves on the other side of the world. Retired Air Vice-Marshal John Blackburn summed it up well. He referred to it as an 'opportunistic marketing stunt'. He then delivered one of the bluntest indictments of government policy you'll ever see. He said: 'You don't get improved domestic fuel security by buying oil and sticking it in America. It's really that simple.' The Morrison government went back to the drawing board.

On 14 September 2020, the Prime Minister issued a press release titled 'Boosting Australia's fuel security'. According to the Prime Minister, $211 million would be invested in creating over 1,000 new jobs in domestic fuel storage and refining. Within six weeks of that announcement, one of our four remaining refineries, the Kwinana refinery in Western Australia, announced on 30 October that it would close. On 14 December, Minister Taylor issued another announcement. Wait for this one. He said that the government was taking immediate and decisive action to keep our domestic refineries operating. On 10 February this year, two months later, Exxon announced it was closing its refinery in Altona. So, there were two big, flashy announcements that were supposed to create 1,000 jobs. Instead, we have two of our remaining four refineries closed, taking 950 jobs with them. One of these 950 workers is an Altona maintenance fitter, Tim Tomlinson. In February, he said:

It's devastating, definitely, this is the second time I've been through this … I used to work at another refinery in West Footscray until that shut down 10, 11 years ago. It's not good, we don’t know what the future is here … Manufacturing's just about gone in this country. What do we do? Where do we go now? Highly skilled jobs, and we've got nowhere to go.

When the Prime Minister shows up for the photo-op for a flashy announcement, it's workers like Tim who are left behind to pick up the pieces. These 950 direct jobs that are the thousands of jobs downstream from these refineries are being put at risk by six years of negligence and delay.

The Liberal government's flippant attitude towards the industry over the last six years is a disgrace. It's utter negligence towards thousands of Australian jobs. It's utter negligence towards our national security. We have the government talking about beating the drums of war with China when, according to the Australasian Refinery Operatives Committee, or AROC, most of our refined imports come from north Asia through the South China Sea. Not only have we had the Morrison government oversee the offshoring of our oil refining industry, but it has been outsourced to trade routes through the South China Sea. All the while, the Morrison government's top bureaucrats talk about beating the drums of war with China. Isn't that absolutely reckless? Australian Workers Union national secretary, Daniel Walton, has summed it all up well. He said, 'Relying on imports across the South China Sea is clearly something we cannot take for granted anymore.' He also said:

Being able to make our own fuel is a critical sovereign capability. Without it, our national and economic security are completely at the mercy of trade routes that are threatened by potential international conflict or pandemics.

It's just common sense to protect our national security. We must be able to make our own fuel and not depend on imports through the South China Sea.

While Labor supports this bill, it's important to understand that the Morrison government has been dragged to this point over six years. While the Prime Minister has been out doing photo ops and press releases, two of our remaining four refineries have closed. This bill is too little, too late for 950 workers at Altona and Kwinana. As recently as three years ago we imported only 60 per cent of our refined fuels. Imports now account for 90 per cent of our refined fuel sector. That increase has come under the leadership of Mr Morrison. He cannot shirk accountability for this one. He cannot shift blame for that to the state governments. It is his responsibility and that of this government.

This bill certainly does not address all the Prime Minister's gaping holes in our national security. We are still completely reliant on a fleet of foreign owned tankers, and those tankers are still crewed by foreign crews, who come into Australian ports with 24 hours notice. While Australian maritime workers wait three months for a security clearance, these same foreign seafarers, who are moving our fuel supplies along with many other supplies, get their security pass in 24 hours because there aren't proper checks. It's a national disgrace. While Australia's maritime workers wait for those three months, it's important that we don't have to wait six years to get that hole patched up.