The Albanese Government is refusing to release details of six gas reservation scheme options that could make energy significantly cheaper, arguing for secrecy which serves the interests of multinational gas companies. Transparency warrior Rex Patrick with the story.
Almost 12 months ago, we were facing a domestic gas crisis. Of course, when you appreciate that Australia has an abundance of gas and export two-thirds of what we produce, it was an artificial crisis concocted by a price gouging profit maximising gas cartel, and decades or dumb government energy policy.
After much hesitation and equivocation, Prime Minister Albanese intervened in December last year. Good on him for doing so, but introducing a $12 per gigajoule (GJ) cap on prices was ‘wet lettuce leaf’ stuff when considering that Western Australia’s gas price sits at around $5 – $7 per GJ.
WA has a gas reservation scheme. Gas producers are required to keep at least 15% of what they produce for local use. It’s a policy that’s been in place since 2006 and, despite the lies from the cartel that say such policies kill investment, has seen industry in WA boom.
Then WA Premier McGowan backed comments from one of his predecessors, Alan Carpenter, that it was ‘ridiculous’ and ‘unfathomable’ that a gas reservation scheme hadn’t been adopted as a policy nationally.
In May last year, I requested access to a gas reservation policy options paper and a ministerial brief that had been produced by the Department of Industry in late 2021. The Department completely refused access to it and, in what MWM identified as a scam back then, engaged the big-charging law firm Clayton Utz to fight to keep the document from public release.
Despite paying for the documents to be kept under wraps, most of it has been released under pressure of proceedings in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). The Government is still trying to keep the remainder of the documents secret.
Them before us at the AAT
Things have got to the business end in the AAT now. And the Government’s argument has been rolled out in legal submissions to the Tribunal.
The Government is arguing that the public should not have access to the full policy paper, a paper designed to explore options to reduce gas prices for Australian households and businesses, because doing so could harm our relationship with the countries we’re supplying gas to.
In submissions, they stated that, “disclosure of passages in [the document] that describe particular policy options would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to Australia’s international relations.”
According to the Government, there can be no public argument that might suggest our trading partners gas might cost a bit more if the Australia Government took measures to safeguard domestic supplies and look after local prices. That might offend.
That’s right, we can’t talk about domestic economic policy because someone overseas might be listening.
It’s a freedom-of-speech twist I never thought I’d encounter.
The Government appears to be completely captured by the gas cartel and has surrendered our sovereignty over any domestic policy debate that risks disturbing foreign governments.
And to make matters worse, the Government is proposing to conduct their argument against disclosure using evidence they want kept secret from the public. That’s another fight I’m engaging in at the moment.
When I made my FOI application to access gas reservation scheme documents, I didn’t think I’d end up being involved in a fundamental battle for Australian’s rights to engage in informed public policy debate when a foreign government might be listening.
The matter will be heard in Adelaide on the 11th and 12th of January.
It’s not known whether the hearing will be open to the public.