PM to use ‘energy week’ to reset focus on the recovery

Opinion

Phillip Coorey

If there is one common denominator this week, it is the need for self-sufficiency that has been reinforced by the coronavirus.

Phillip CooreyPolitical editor

In his year-opening address to the National Press Club in January, Scott Morrison decreed gas to be the transition fuel as the nation moved towards clean energy.

It was a significant moment for a conservative leader to effectively announce a shift away from coal-fired energy in Australia towards renewable energy, with gas to do the heavy lifting until renewables are sufficiently reliable.

Morrison’s gas speech is the second in a series of announcements in what the government has dubbed “energy week”. Alex Ellinghausen

“Sweating our existing coal-fired power generation assets will only take us so far,” Morrison said.

“Gas can help us bridge the gap while our investments in batteries, hydrogen and pumped-hydro energy storage bring these technologies to economic parity with traditional energy sources.”

The moment was largely missed because the sports rorts affair was raging at the time.

When the coronavirus came along, the gas strategy was turbocharged. Not only was gas the transition fuel of choice, it needed to be cheap to help battered households and businesses get back on their feet.

The measures to be unveiled suggest the fuel will be more long term than transtionary.

Morrison’s gas speech on Tuesday is the second in a series of announcements in what the government has dubbed “energy week” as it seeks to get the focus back on to the economic recovery rather than the immediate crisis.

On Monday, Energy Minister Angus Taylor unveiled – finally – plans to establish a national fuel reserve.

In March last year, with a federal election about to be called, then Labor leader Bill Shorten promised, if elected, to establish a reserve, warning that Australia’s current low stocks presented a risk to national security.

Taylor rejected the idea, saying it would be too expensive and neither payment option was palatable.

“The real question is how is Labor going to pay for their policy? They’ve got two options – they can either slug taxpayers with extra taxes, or they can slug us all at the bowser,” Taylor said.

“They’ve got to answer that question because the cost of their policies will be enormous and everyone will pay for it.”

On Monday, Taylor settled for option A – a taxpayer funded subsidy of $2.4 billion over 10 years to ensure the four remaining refineries stayed here.

Sometime between the election and the coronavirus, highlighting just how fragile supply lines are, the government had an epiphany.

Ultimately, if and when we have electric cars (hydrogen fuel cells included) – another Labor policy the Coalition savaged during the last election campaign – there won’t be a need for such a large fuel reserve.

If there is one common denominator this week, it is the need for self-sufficiency that has been reinforced by the coronavirus.

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