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Issue #1913      May 4, 2020

ONSHORE GAS REPORT (22/04/2020)

By the Climate Fraction of CPA Melbourne Branch

The moratorium on onshore gas was introduced in 2014 after various environmental and farmers organisations, such as Friends of the Earth, Lock the Gate, and the Victorian Farmers Federation pressured the government to ban unconventional gas extraction and introduce a moratorium on conventional gas exploration. This moratorium is set to expire on June 30, 2020, and will open up Victoria to onshore gas exploration. The moratorium on onshore gas to protect the environment is important for the following reasons:

  • Gas plants emit fifty per cent CO2 of a comparable coal plant;
  • Gas drilling and production can leak methane gas (CH4) which is another greenhouse gas that can cause thirty-four times the impact CO2 causes over 100 years.

Onshore gas production can devastate the local environment and land, which can affect:

  • Farmers in regional Victoria;
  • Regional communities;
  • The traditional owners of the land.

It is important to invest in renewables and implement a just transition to limit a rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees as per the Paris Agreement. Currently, Australia is projected to remain in the category of a three-degree increase in temperature that will have devastating effects on the environment according to Climate Action Tracker.

One of the reasons that the Victorian government wants to expand onshore gas projects is because of a so-called “gas shortage.” However, this is not because of a lack of projects and production, but rather because of the mismanagement of resources under a capitalist system. Gas and electricity prices have been skyrocketing since 2000 and are approximately three times greater than the Consumer Price Index (See Figure 1). Household prices for individual energy consumption has been increasing at a much greater rate than than the cost of living. This jump in the cost of energy at around the year 2000 is clearly a result of the privatisation of our energy resources in the mid to late 1990s across the country.

Figure 1.

Now prices for gas in Australia, and Victoria, are much higher compared to overseas markets, costing approximately $8-10/GJ (See Figure 2). For comparison, the United States’ price of gas is $2-4/GJ. The problem is not a lack of production; it is that we are exporting gas, and importing overseas gas. Opening the Gippsland Basin up to new onshore gas projects does not solve this problem. It is simply a way to increase the profits of the multinationals who have their hands on Victoria’s energy industry.

Figure 2.

Australia does not have any duty to the world to flood export markets with our gas. Exports of LNG are currently forecast to rise to 81m tonnes in 2020/21, according to Mining Weekly. Australia only consumes 3.9 per cent of our natural gas production (including conventional and unconventional), and approximately fifteen per cent of what we consume comes from imports (see Figures 3 and 4). According to ABC News, the highest estimate of the proposed gas fields in VIC put yields at 830 petajoules “in both the Otway Basin and Gippsland” Victoria’s annual consumption of gas is 220 petajoules. This gas is meant to serve Victorian homes and businesses first, according to our Premier, Mr Andrews.

Figure 3.
Figure 4.

It is not effective enough to simply demand a moratorium on onshore gas since many workers rely on jobs within the industry, especially in Gippsland where energy production has been at the heart of its economy since 1924. A transition to renewables needs to have workers at the forefront. If we simply argue for climate justice and restructuring of the energy industry without workers’ rights, it will position workers to get the short end of the stick, lose their livelihoods, and increase unemployment in regional Victoria. This happened when the Northern coal plant closed in South Australia in 2016, and was the case in Victoria as a result of the transition from public to private energy over the past twenty-five years. This transition resulted in the closure of Hazelwood power station in 2017. Prioritising workers is especially important in tackling climate because the fear of unemployment and loss of livelihoods can cause workers to reject climate justice and vote for conservative politicians.

To transition to clean energy and good jobs, we need:

  • The manufacturing industry to be stimulated by renewables. This would create thousands of permanent jobs that wouldn’t exist if a renewables project relied on overseas manufacturing, as pointed out in Victorian Trades Hall’s document Putting the ‘Justice’ in ‘Just Transition’.
  • The Star of the South project to go ahead as an example of a renewables project that could create thousands of jobs in Gippsland under a just transition.
  • Complete public ownership of any new energy projects.
  • Training through free TAFE courses.
  • Legislation and enforcement for efficiency and safety standards.
  • For communities to be on board, engaged and all production transparent/
  • The direct permission and involvement of traditional owners of the land.
  • A national energy plan for a complete transition that involves unions and workers at the forefront

OUR DEMANDS:

  • The Victorian government to reinstate the onshore gas moratorium as we do not need any new onshore gas projects.
  • The government to invest in publicly owned renewables under a just transition plan, such as Star of the South.
  • Natural gas supplies to prioritise local needs rather than overseas exports to mitigate any gas shortage that would exacerbate Victoria’s already inflated energy prices.
  • A publicly owned gas industry to end the multinational free-for-all.
  • Any new energy project to involve the consent of:
  • Regional communities;
  • Local farmers;
  • Aboriginal traditional owners.

Next article – A REFLECTION ON COVID-19 IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA

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