Labor embraces Scott Morrison’s gas plan, ignores Traditional Owners

May 14, 2024
anti-gas campaigners
Traditional Owners told resources minister Madeleine King she is 'not welcome' on their lands after Labor decided to expand gas to 2050. Photo: Maria 'Polly' Cutmore/X

For Labor’s resources minister Madeleine King, expanding gas is all about the export dollar.

For most others, Labor’s new decision to expand gas in a climate emergency — when there are so many benign energy alternatives — reveals how much it has been captured by fossil fuel corporations.

King claims to be anxious about avoiding a “shortfall” in gas supplies and says Australia is still on track to reach net zero by 2050.

Others, including the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), disagree.

Australia’s biggest use of gas is for liquefaction for export. But the IEEFA says Australia cannot compete with lower production costs in Qatar and the United States and, in any case, demand, globally, is falling.

The IEEFA said the International Energy Agency has forecast that global gas demand will likely peak in 2030 and that “global gas demand will decline rapidly if countries implement climate pledges that they have already announced”.

Global liquefied natural gas (LNG) liquefaction capacity will increase by 40% in the next five years, the IEEFA estimates, creating a glut of LNG in the second half of the decade.

It said LNG demand in Japan, Australia’s largest buyer, has been falling since 2014 and as Japan brings nuclear power plants online, its need for gas will decline further. Currently, Japan has a surplus of LNG and is competing with Australia to supply it to Asia.

Labor’s Future Gas Strategy relies on the (as-yet-unproved) carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) to help industry decarbonise and mitigate emissions.

The Gorgon CCUS project in Western Australia is hailed as one of the success stories but, according to the IEEFA, the project has “massively underperformed”. Globally, CCUS captured about 0.1% of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2022.

The IEEFA said there are cost-effective and targeted measures that could be implemented to reduce both residential and industrial gas demand.

But increasing gas supply, or importing LNG, “is likely to have the opposite effect of increasing energy bills”, it said.

Labor’s decision to prioritise gas export dollars and not allocate the funding and resources to plan the climate transition is all too familiar: former Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approach was the same.

The only difference is that Labor claims to believe in climate science.

However, its new gas “strategy” is a serious departure from that: it is an abrogation of responsibility to the majority who elected Labor, in part, because it had better climate policies.

The year began with Labor saying 15 oil and gas projects were on the top of the Resources and Energy Major Projects list, spread across Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland, with 18 major oil and gas projects at the feasibility stage (one step down).

Labor has budgeted $54 billion for fossil fuel subsidies — five times the amount it has committed to its key housing policy, the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund — according to The Australia Institute

A 31% increase, over 2023-24, means $14.5 billion will be spent on subsiding private for-profit fossil fuel corporations.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is worried that Australia will not achieve its inadequate 43% emission reduction targets by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

It said Australia is “particularly vulnerable” to the “physical impacts of climate change, as the driest inhabited continent on the planet with the majority of the population living on the coasts”.

“Further significant reforms are required to meet the emission reduction goals, support the reallocation of workers and adapt to climate change.”

Renew Economy described Labor’s gas plan as “a 110-page love letter to the gas industry” which sets Australia on a path to seek out and unlock new gas reserves when the opposite is needed.

First Nations people who oppose gas mining for cultural and ecological reasons said King is not welcome on their lands.

Gomeroi elder Aunty Polly Cutmore, who has been campaigning for more than a decade to stop Santos’ Narrabri coal seam gas project from damaging the Great Artesian Basin, said on X on May 9: “Our lore as First Nation People must be respected. To us, land, air and water rights are fundamental and exist concurrently with our human rights.”

Traditional owners from around the country said all new gas projects “pose great threats” and their collective message to King is that they must stop yielding to “pressure tactics” from Santos, Woodside and other energy corporations.

Timena Nona, Wakaid woman Badu Island, said new fossil fuels projects are “drowning tour people in the Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait Islands)”. 

“If nothing changes our islands will be underwater, losing land, culture and heritage.”

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