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Australian Fed Gas Plan Ignites Investors, Critics

Australia’s gas-fired recovery plan is attracting ideas from industry to support new supply and growth

CANBERRA, Australia — Business leaders are being wooed to bankroll the Australian federal government’s gas-fired recovery plan, but critics argue the lack of rules or criteria makes it ripe for rorting.

Under the wing of Christian Porter, new Industry Minister, the plan also enlists Keith Pitt, Resources Minister, and Angus Taylor, Energy Minister. The plan’s three “action areas” are unlocking supply, efficient transportation, and empowering consumers.

“More gas is part of the government’s plan to reduce emissions without blowing the household budget, while at the same time creating jobs,” said Taylor.

Written submissions on the plan are due on March 31 after the federal industry department had to extend consultations to meet the demand for involvement.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned that if the private sector fails to act, the government will step in as it has done for electricity transmission to back “nation-building projects.”

Fast-tracking approvals, underwriting projects, or making a one-off investment with a capped government contribution will support the gas plan.

A gas trading hub at Wallumbilla, Queensland, is planned, along with identifying where new pipelines are needed and new projects.

The independent think tank Centre for Public Integrity has called out the spending of taxpayer money on the gas recovery plan without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

“A lot of the companies that are seeking to benefit from this opaque process have made pretty major political donations and have sat in positions of power,” said Han Aulby, Centre for Public Integrity‘s head.

She named Australian gas giants and Liberal Party donors Woodside and Santos, who stand to benefit from cheap money and rapid approvals for new pipelines, exploration, and gas terminals on the east coast.

“It is critical for public trust in a democracy that impartiality in government decision-making not only exist but be seen to exist,” said the center said in its submission.

Ministers Taylor and Pitt last year backed Santos’ Narrabri gas project in New South Wales (NSW) Australia as part of their plan to unlock new fields.

Snowy Hydro, chaired by former Santos executive David Knox, already has federal support for a new gas-fired power plant at Kurri Kurri in the NSW Hunter region.

Santos this week signed off on final investment approval for its Barossa gas project located offshore the Northern Territory – the biggest investment in Australia’s oil and gas sector since 2012.

Dan Gocher, director at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, called the new gas field “a carbon bomb,” although Santos plans to investigate “carbon-neutral LNG.”

“This company is not committed to the Paris Agreement, but climate chaos,” said Gocher.

Zoe Whitton, a former international bank analyst, also has doubts about the gas-fired recovery.

As head of Pollination Group, she now advises businesses on climate change and the energy transition.

“Investors are very uncertain about it,” she said.

(Edited by Amrita Das and Pallavi Mehra)