In case you were unaware, Australia is officially in a recession — thanks, COVID. The country is currently facing its worst unemployment crisis in generations. Having said that, the country has so far managed to weather the storm better than most in terms of case numbers and deaths — though we’re not out of the danger zone yet.
In spite of this, both the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payment systems set up to help people during the pandemic will be cut back in two weeks, a move which will put millions of vulnerable Australians in even more precarious positions. It’s going to be a long road ahead.
Australia needs some serious investment to get its economy going again. After the global financial crash in 2008, the then-Labor government pumped $52 billion into the economy, a move largely credited with saving Australian financial institutions and swerving the deep recession experienced by many other countries at the time.
If only there was some huge, national project that we could drop money into this time around. A big, bold strategic use of funds that might put our country on the right track toward meeting certain international targets. Maybe something that would promote massive job opportunities as we get to work building large infrastructure projects to fit the demands of the future and possibly stave off some bigger crisis looming in the background of the current one.
Can’t think of anything? Well, that’s okay because the Morrison government has. They’ve put together the ambiguously named ‘National COVID-19 Coordination Commission’ (NCC) to come up with fresh, new ideas that are going to jump-start our economy. What ideas, you ask? Well, mainly, digging up and burning gas.
The NCC is not an appointment of, say, scientists and economists. In fact, it’s filled with bureaucrats, CEOs, and veterans of the banking, logistics, and non-renewable energy sectors. The head of the group is a man named Nev Power, a former mining CEO and current director of gas company Strike Energy. Yes, that is his real name.
Power seems determined to use this once in a lifetime opportunity to further entrench our society in fossil fuel dependence. In an interview to ABC News he said “the key to kick-starting the economy and manufacturing is cheap energy — and the best cheap energy is gas.”
To be clear, this is a man appointed by Government who heads a gas company and is telling us that greater access to the product he sells will save us. It doesn’t appear to matter that Australia is already the world’s largest producer of liquid gas or that the vast majority of that gas is exported overseas, leaving Aussies paying ridiculously high prices to use the stuff ourselves. If we want to create more jobs and save the economy, we have to dig up and sell more gas.
It is true that the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission was renamed the National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board at the end of July in a bid to imply lesser authority after much backlash. However the overall thinking of the gas-led recovery is already driving decision making.
A few weeks ago, Angus Taylor, the Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, introduced a bill to Parliament that would allow the government-owned Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in fossil fuels. This is a tax-payer-funded ‘green bank’ tasked with investing $10 billion into renewables in order to help the country reach its Paris Agreement targets. Taylor was accused of redefining the meaning of low-emissions by arguing gas emits less CO2 than coal and therefore should be used. Fantastic. Great move. Well done Angus.
In order to reduce emissions, at some point fossil fuel companies will be forced to leave remaining energy sources in the ground. A recent report from the Australia Institute has found that if Australia were to fully expand its gas capabilities, the resultant extraction would produce three times the current annual emissions, something we absolutely can’t afford given the limited time we have left to turn things around.
There’s unlikely to be a any benefit to the average Australian — perhaps newly unemployed because of the pandemic — if gas companies increase their profits. Unfortunately, it’s not an idea that is likely to be going away any time soon.