Future Gas Strategy Takes Australians Through The Looking Glass

by Stephen Long


With the Future Gas Strategy, government policy has entered a backward land where logic is reversed, writes Stephen Long.

With the announcement of the Future Gas Strategy, the Commonwealth Government has stepped through the looking glass.

Like Alice when she climbs through the mirror in Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, government policy has entered a backward land where logic is reversed.

In this absurd landscape, expanding fossil fuel use is the path to “net zero”; burning far more gas and producing more greenhouse emissions is the answer to the climate crisis; and ramping up gas exports, which have hiked domestic prices and damaged local manufacturing, is the way to produce new “green” industries.

Resources minister Madeleine King claims that the strategy will be based on “facts and data”, not ideology.

Yet, from the climate perspective, the strategy ignores the key, salient fact: the world needs to stop developing new oil and gas projects and needs to phase out fossil fuels to avoid a climate catastrophe.

This is the consensus of climate science, the United Nations and the International Energy Agency, once an ardent supporter of fossil fuels.

Despite this reality, the Government is backing new gas projects that would radically increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Woodside’s planned Burrup Hub expansion, the largest fossil fuel development in the southern hemisphere, alone would emit more greenhouse gas emissions than the output of all Australia’s existing coal fired power stations.

Madeleine King would have us believe that gas is a “transition fuel” and that by ramping up gas production and exports, Australia is helping Asia shift from coal to clean energy.

There is scant evidence for this. The analytical report containing the “facts” the minister is relying on for the Future Gas Strategy effectively concedes as much.

It says high demand for Australia’s gas exports will only continue under “current policies” – which will fail to meet the world’s targets for avoiding catastrophic global warming – and that there will be “much lower demand in scenarios consistent with committed climate action”.

This in is line with the conclusions of a report by Australia’s chief scientific agency, the CSIRO, which Woodside commissioned and then tried to bury a few years ago.

The CSIRO found that, in the absence of a high global carbon price, increasing Australia’s gas exports to Asia would be likely to deter and delay the shift to renewable energy.

In Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, running helps one stay still. In the backwards logic world the minister inhabits, our gas exports will combat global warming. And gas is going to revitalise domestic manufacturing.

“A future made in Australia will need Australian gas,” according to Madeleine King. Lots more of it, apparently.

Australian industry used to enjoy abundant cheap gas, which gave it a comparative advantage.

That ceased after a previous Labor government gave the go ahead to three giant gas export terminals near Gladstone in Queensland, initially requiring no domestic gas reservation whatsoever. Domestic prices trebled to match the prices the gas industry got for exports processed and transported at huge costs; companies collapsed.

The data conclusively shows the more gas we export, the more it costs Australians and Australian industry.

Thanks to these exports, the government now claims we have a looming “shortage” which is being used to justify further gas expansion – and even gas imports.

“A range of additional supply measures are likely needed and quickly, including import terminals,” the minister’s report says.

In short: we allow multinational companies to exploit Australian gas, use huge amounts of dirty energy to process, liquify, and ship it overseas at great expense and then we buy it back and ship it home.


Madeleine King MP Minister for Resources and Minister for Northern Australia during the annual Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) 2023 Conference & Exhibition at the Adelaide Convention Centre in Adelaide, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (AAP Image/Matt Turner) NO ARCHIVING
AAP Image/Matt Turner

This government has effectively adopted the “gas-led recovery” nonsense the Morrison government advanced during the Covid crisis – a policy it derided at the time. However, the claim that gas will revitalise manufacturing doesn’t stack up. Even with new supply, the Government’s own report forecasts that higher domestic prices will encourage users to shift to alternatives, with demand for gas on the east coast decreasing over the medium term – though not quick enough to meet our emissions reduction targets.

“There is a significant gap between projections based on current policy and industry action and the demand level consistent with net zero goal,” the report notes.

How does Madeleine King plan to bridge that gap?

In part, through carbon capture and storage (CCS) – which has been more of a marketing slogan for the fossil fuel industries than a reality.

In the few CCS projects that exist, the claimed capacity has often far exceeded the real-world ability to sequester carbon emissions.

At the Gorgon project off WA, carbon capture and storage has managed to prevent just a third of the emissions it was meant to. As Australia Institute research director Rod Campbell has observed, relying on CCS is like “trying to empty a swimming pool with a thimble.”

Just like in Lewis Carroll’s novel, where Alice is confounded by kings and queens who twist reason and use word play to thwart logical discussion, the government is selling the Future Gas Strategy using nonsense claims.

Unlike Alice, we are unlikely to wake up and find it was all a dream.

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