Environmental groups have slammed the findings of a leaked report of the Morrison government’s National Covid-19 Coordination Commission, which has, unsurprisingly, called for massive government subsidies for the gas industry and a weakening of environmental oversight.
As reported by Nine newspapers, the final report of the National COVID-19 Co-ordination Commission’s manufacturing working group has called for a relaxation of gas industry regulations and calls for the Morrison government to consider more tax incentives for the construction of new projects.
One of the recommendations of the working group is that the federal government should “underwrite demand” for gas, agreeing to purchase gas in a situation where the market is oversupplied. This from an industry lobby that has constantly argued that there is a supply shortfall.
One of the projects earmarked for support by the manufacturing working group is the controversial Narrabri project, which is currently the focus of fierce opposition from local residents and environmental groups due to fears over its environmental impacts.
The inherent hypocrisy of the recommendations is breath-taking. They appear to contradict claims that there is a domestic gas supply shortage in Australia, which the gas lobby has used to argue in favour of a relaxation of gas regulation and the end of moratoriums on gas exploration and fracking projects.
The NCCC’s manufacturing working group membership includes Viva Energy CEO Scott Wyatt, Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox and Manufacturing Australia’s CEO Ben Eade and its chair James Fazzino.
Manufacturing Australia has previously run concerted campaigns against the carbon price mechanism introduced by the Gillard government and most recently lobbied for the Liddell Power Station to be kept operating.
The working group has also had input from fossil fuel industry executive Andrew Liveris, who sits on the board of one of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, Saudi Aramco.
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility said it was no surprise that a group stacked with gas industry lobbyists called for the industry to receive subsidies.
“That a supposedly ‘free market’ Coalition government would offer government-backed loans, tax incentives and underwrite excess gas supply is hypocritical beyond belief,” Director of climate and environment at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility Dan Gocher said.
“The NCCC Manufacturing Taskforce, stacked with oil and gas executives, has recommended a future that personally benefits them and their shareholders, to the detriment of the rest of us and the planet. It’s brazen self-interest, cronyism and a disgrace.”
This was a sentiment echoed by GetUp First Nations justice spokesperson Larissa Baldwin, who labelled the COVID Commission as “nothing more than a front for the fossil fuel lobby.”
“This report was signed, sealed and delivered from the moment Scott Morrison hand-picked his mining mates to head the COVID Commission and push the vested interests of the gas industry,” Baldwin said.
“The National COVID Commission is unelected, it’s unaccountable and it’s overreaching at a time when Parliament isn’t even sitting. What is being recommended would be a catastrophe for our climate, our water, and will not provide anywhere near the number of jobs that the sales pitch promises.”
With gas companies recording a series of project delays and massive write-downs of the value of existing investments, which have already totalled almost $20 billion in Australia alone, Greenpeace Australia Pacific said that taxpayers shouldn’t be left to foot the bill.
“Whichever way you look at it, gas is an industry in decline, with billions of dollars in write-downs around the world due to the renewable energy boom. Wasting public money on the polluting industries of the past rather than the modern renewable technology of today is an abuse of public trust,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaigner Jonathan Moylan said.
The Australian Conservation Foundation pointed to analysis that it had undertaken in collaboration with The Australia Institute, which showed that the gas industry was one of the least efficient in terms of economic stimulus and job creation.
“The report found investing recovery funds in almost any other industry would create more work for Australians,” climate and energy manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation Gavan McFadzean said.
“The National COVID-19 Coordination Commission manufacturing taskforce looks more and more like a government-sanctioned gas industry lobby group. Gas is a fossil fuel and contributes to climate change.”
“Rather than prop up a dinosaur industry that drives climate change and tears apart rural communities, Australia can and should choose a different path to re-build the economy and tackle the climate crisis,” McFadzean added.
On Monday, prime minister Scott Morrison announced that he was reconstituting the National Covid Coordination Commission as a body that reports directly to the federal cabinet.
“The COVID Commission will work within government. It won’t be an external agency. It will work within government and can form part of the Cabinet deliberative processes, which is an important innovation,” Morrison said.
The change is likely to further reduce the transparency and public visibility of what the Commission is advising government, as cabinet deliberations are not released to the public and are generally exempt from freedom of information laws.