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Speech on Australia's Future Oil Supply and Alternative Transport Fuels

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (18:05): I have some comments to add to those of Senator Nash and I find myself in complete agreement. This inquiry was initiated by Senator Christine Milne. It took three referrals through this chamber before that important piece of work was actually accepted for an inquiry. Senators Milne and Siewert and the other members of the committee then spent a long period of time working on this important question.

This is an issue that I have since taken up, and I look forward to getting the government's response in detail. It goes very much to Australia's vulnerability as a country to supply shocks in transport fuels. When we get into the detail of this government response what I suspect we will find-

Senator Nash: is that there is no detail-

that's quite correct, Senator Nash-is that there will be no detail whatsoever, just as there has been no detail, when I and other senators have taken up, in successive budget estimates sessions, the following issues. Who is in charge of looking after Australia's transport vulnerability? Who is in charge of looking after where our oil is going to come from in an age of peak oil? The climate debate in this place, shambolic as it is, is at least occurring, at least there is a cross-party acknowledgement-or there was until recently-that there is a serious public policy to address here.

On the issue of oil depletion, supply shocks, price shocks and peak oil, and what that actually means, there is virtually no debate whatsoever. There is no lead portfolio minister; there is no cross-portfolio response; there is no whole-of-government task force. With the noble exception of Queensland, I should say, which actually did some quite serious work on this a number of years ago, principally due to the work of one particular MP who took an interest in oil supply issues, the rest of the states are simply a policy vacuum. People are looking to the Commonwealth for leadership, and they are not getting it. Treasury has done no modelling. The infrastructure department and Infrastructure Australia will not show what models they use to model peak oil and oil depletion and what future price models they incorporate into their models when they are choosing, for example, whether to build a new urban freeway or an urban freight line. There is simply no thinking going on at senior levels, apart from denial.

There is one very interesting report by BITRE, as it was known then, into oil depletion-the rather notorious report 117-which was deleted, which was never published, because it showed some spark of interest in recognition at a very senior level that in fact we will have severe supply constraints. The date that was nominated in that report was 2017. I suspect it may be sooner than that, but at least there was an acknowledgement that we need to transition into alternative sources of supply. That report was shredded. It was buried. We only know of its existence because it turned up on somebody's blog. The report 117 that was eventually published turned out to be on the bright future for aviation, and how aviation was going to double over the next decade.

There is a widespread policy blindness at the highest levels. Perhaps the minister has come in here to explain exactly why that is. Perhaps there are some extraordinary revelations in this response by the government to the Rural and Regional Affairs Committee report. Somehow, I doubt it. I support Senator Nash's comments and her question as to why it took such a long period of time for the government to respond on this issue and why it is that at senior levels of the government, state and federal, we can find no interest at all in the balance of payments wreckage that is going to occur-and, in fact, no serious questioning as to who our supplier nations are going to be when we become even more dependant on foreign sources of oil supply than we are now. Our communities are exquisitely vulnerable to oil price shocks, and this is about to become a very serious political problem. We in the Greens will continue to raise it. We will continue to work in cross-party fora like the Senate committee system to raise these issues, but the issues need urgent attention from the Australian government and from state and territory governments so that we are not dealing with this issue in retrospect. I thank the chamber and I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.

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