Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 21 June 2021
Page: 105


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (20:41): The Fuel Security Bill is indeed welcome, but it is this government's failures, unfortunately, that have made this legislation before the parliament necessary. Our nation needs a secure fuel supply. We need fuel in order to move around our country from A to B. We need it to fly around our regions, particularly in a big state like WA, which is my home state. We need to be able to get to our workplace here in Canberra. Our nation needs it to move its goods and people from A to B—everything we use: groceries, construction supplies and medical equipment. It is a critical good for our nation on which our access to everything else depends.

We know from the last 18 months that we can't take our ability to get things from A to B for granted and, indeed, our fuel supply. Only now is this government taking any action on fuel security. Our country is now close to 100 per cent dependent on international supply chains, and we're seeing job losses across refineries around our country as refineries have closed down. This has been the case in my own home state of Western Australia. But we have seen these warning clouds on the horizon for a long time. They have been brewing for years.

Under this government, we have seen many a broken promise on fuel security and jobs security for Australia's fuel workers. A Senate inquiry back in 2015—that's right, six years ago—recommended the Australian government undertake a comprehensive review of Australia's fuel security problem. The government didn't even start this review or announce it until 2018, with a due date of late 2019. As with everything else with this government, fuel security and the job security of thousands of refinery workers only gets a call-up when there is a bad front page.

The interim report on liquid fuel security was delivered to the government more than two years ago, in April 2019. The government has not released the final report, which was due in late 2019. The government has delayed and neglected the basics that we need to keep this country running. The government chose not to act then, not even to deliver the final report so that we in this nation could see what was really going on.

Thanks to that failure to act, our country has been left almost entirely reliant on global supply chains for one of our most critical domestic inputs. The interim report identified a number of things that could have been done a couple of years ago. It identified serious noncompliance with the International Energy Agency obligations for domestic fuel stocks. Our requirement is to have 90 days of fuel to help protect against global and domestic oil shocks. We weren't compliant then, and we aren't compliant now. What will happen in our country if the stock all gets tied up in one of the global production locations—say, Singapore—and we don't have access to those inputs?

For not one year in the last eight have we been compliant by having the right stores. This leaves our nation wide open to fuel security shocks. It also leaves our national security vulnerable. We're at only 58 days of supply now. That is a massive 32 days short of that 90 days. This is really significant for Australian families, businesses and industry. Most Australian households spend the same amount of money on fuel as they do on electricity and gas combined. We must have a secure supply to prevent price shocks to Australia's families and businesses. It's critical for our national security. In our volatile world we need fuel stocks for industry, defence and aviation. For a government that likes to talk really big on national security, on this key issue that is so important to national security they've been missing in action for years.

The interim report went as far as to call Australia an 'outlier' in our approach to fuel security. We are an outlier, because our fuel stocks have been far from secure. Indeed, the government's appalling record on electric vehicles makes our appalling fuel security stocks and the predicament that leaves us in even worse. It exposes Australian families even more. In amongst this government's inaction on fuel security is the government's ideological bent against electric vehicles. Their policy neglect leaves us as an outlier here, too. It consigns Australian drivers to high fuel costs, takes away choice and maintains our dependence on foreign fuel rather than on our own renewable energy sources.

The Electric Vehicle Council notes that the lack of policy action has rendered the Australian market 'uniquely hostile' to electric vehicles. Sadly, they're not wrong. Australia used to be a world leader in many fields, including electric vehicles, vaccines and any number of other measures. But under this government we're at the back of the pack, with Australians missing out. Only 0.7 per cent of cars that are sold here in Australia are electric, compared with a global average of 4.2 per cent, 11 per cent in the UK and 75 per cent in Norway. This is not because Australians don't want these vehicles. A majority of Australians say they'd consider one for their next car. But there are simply no electric cars available in Australian for under $40,000, and just five models for under $60,000. By comparison, in the UK there are eight models that are cheaper than the cheapest model in Australia. Under this government we've seen inaction and scaremongering, including by the Prime Minister and multiple frontbenchers, saying that electric vehicles will 'end the weekend'. And we've seen entrenched higher costs for electric vehicles, higher transport costs for families and much higher emissions. Labor's electric car discount will cut import tariffs and fringe benefits tax from non-luxury electric vehicles in this country. The fact that this government still has no electric vehicle policy in 2021 is a significant embarrassment. It's an embarrassment that costs families at the bowser and exacerbates our fuel security issues, which under this government have been left to languish.

We have seen little delivery on fuel security and fuel jobs under this government. Those on the other side will want to point to the pandemic as the reason our fuel security is in dire straits and the reason that this package is needed, but that's a convenient distraction from their lack of stewardship of Australia's fuel sector over the last eight years. Here is the time line. In 2015 a Senate inquiry, five years before COVID, recommended a comprehensive review of our fuel security problem. It took this government three years, until 2018, to announce that it would even look at the issue. In April 2019 we finally got an interim report, four years after it was recommended by the Senate inquiry, and it was absolute crickets from then on. That was, of course, until there was a photo-op, last September. It was a photo opportunity that delivered nothing in terms of fuel security and nothing in terms of job security for fuel sector workers. We have a government that likes to pretend it is a friend of working people, of people in traditional energy industries, but the record of those opposite on fuel refineries is about as good as their record on the now non-existent auto manufacturing industry in this country.

Let's take a look at the government's announcement of the fuel security package in last year's budget and what it has delivered. They promised, according to the media release, a fuel security package that was going to secure Australia's long-term fuel supply. It was going to create a thousand new jobs. What have we seen since then? We've seen the announced closure of two of Australia's only four remaining refineries. That's right: half of Australia's refineries have announced they're closed since this announcement. In September, Prime Minister Morrison and Minister Taylor claimed their package would back local refineries to stay open. Just six weeks later, in October, the Kwinana refinery announced that it would close. On 14 December, Minister Taylor claimed the government was taking immediate and decisive action to keep our domestic refineries operating, but within two months, on 10 February this year, ExxonMobil announced its Altona refinery would also close.

What about those jobs? Those two refineries alone directly employ 950 people, between them. Thousands more jobs in fuel dependent industries are on the line. Australia's petrochemical manufacturers all rely on by-products of these refineries, which are closing. This is dire for our plastics and other industries in Australia. It's more proof that the government knows how to talk about jobs but doesn't actually know how to deliver them for working Australians. Labor knew this photo opportunity last September was insufficient. We warned then that it was inadequate and would fail to address Australia's fuel security needs, just as we have warned for years about our increasing dependence on foreign fuel imports in the changing global environment. We've gone from relying on imports for 60 per cent of our refined fuels in 2018 to now having a 90 per cent dependence on imports of liquid fuels.

This package of bill does nothing to address Australia's lack of a strategic fleet. We're still completely reliant on a fleet of foreign owned tankers. This is at a time when those opposite are talking about the drums of war beating. Our fuel security is in a disastrous shape on their watch. Government inaction has hung workers out to dry. It has worsened our national fuel security and it has left Australian families, businesses and industry exposed to fuel shocks in an increasingly uncertain world. Government neglect over electric vehicles worsens this predicament. So, while we welcome this package of bills today, it simply comes too late for the workers at Kwinana and Altona. It comes after eight consistent years of not having enough onshore fuel stocks.