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Coalition digs deeper into fossil fuels with new “growth centre”

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The federal government has announced the establishment of a $15.4 million fossil fuel “growth centre”, to help prop up Australia’s oil, gas, coal and uranium sectors during what it describes as a “challenging time” for the industry.

Part of the government’s $248 million Industry Growth Centres Initiative, the Oil, Gas and Energy Resources Growth Centre was unveiled on Wednesday by federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg and minister for innovation and industry, Christopher Pyne.

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The ministers said they hoped the facility – in which the Turnbull government is investing $15.4 million over four years – would help position Australia’s energy and resources sector for the next wave of investment.

It will be chaired by long-time oil and gas industry executive, Ken Fitzpatrick, with a board and management team drawn from across the oil, gas, coal seam gas, coal and uranium industries.

According to the website, the growth centre’s mission is to reduce industry costs, direct research to industry needs, improve work skills, facilitate partnerships and reduce regulatory burdens.

It will also have a particular focus on improving knowledge and techniques needed to unlock Australia’s marginal gas resources like coal-seam gas – a controversial and high-cost field of exploration and production that AGL Energy recently ruled out of its repertoire to focus, instead, on the “evolution” of the energy industry.

Pyne says the new growth centre – which will be known as National Energy Resources Australia, or NERA – will work closely with researchers from universities and the newly streamlined CSIRO, the irony of which was not lost on critics of the scheme.

“Pouring millions of dollars into research for the fossil fuel industry adds insult to injury for the CSIRO climate scientists who are set to lose their jobs under Malcolm Turnbull and his government’s watch,” said Greens energy spokesman Adam Bandt on Thursday.

“Not only is the Liberal government allowing the CSIRO to cut climate science, it’s making the scientists who don’t lose their job try to breathe life into the dying fossil fuel industries.

“(It) is pouring millions of dollars into a big hole in the ground, which is directly at odds with what the science tells us we must do,” Bandt said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the establishment of NERA amounted to another multi-million dollar subsidy to big polluting energy companies.

“This money would be better spent extending the funding of the Australian Climate Change Science Program which is due to expire in June this year,” said ACF climate program manager Victoria McKenzie-McHarg.

“The world has changed since the Paris agreement. This budget the government should focus on supporting the science, technology and clean energy innovation of the future, not keep subsidising pollution.”

“Australia’s energy and resources sectors make a vital contribution to the Australian economy,” said Frydenberg in a statement on Thursday. “During this challenging time, the Growth Centre will drive collaboration and innovation, and direct research to industry needs, ultimately improving productivity to ensure Australia remains globally competitive.”


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