It is perhaps a little cruel to apply the epithet, “The best energy minister we have” to the likeable Josh Frydenberg, especially since he alone with Tony Abbott actually writes his own media pieces. In today’s AFR he writes about the unfolding gas crisis. While he cannot blame the Queensland government, where the ALP has followed the Coalition in permitting gas exploration, he blames the ALP under Gillard for permitting too many exports and the Andrews government for forbidding gas exploration in the increasingly energy vulnerable Victoria.
Neither of these are balanced accounts of the unfolding energy disaster.
Gillard did not stop gas exports but ever since the Whitlam government restraints were undone 30 years ago, federal governments have not stood in the way of firms pursuing sales in the markets that are most lucrative. The absence of restraints had served us well in terms of new exploration and bringing resources to the market. In blustering about the Gillard government’s non-intervention the present government is inventing a straw man, and a dangerous one since it is now reimplementing the restraints that once brought new exploration to a standstill.
The fact is that the energy crisis concerning gas has been caused at least as much by the energy policies that have been pursued by the Coalition (almost certainly not policies that Frydenberg likes) in undermining the viability of coal generators with renewable subsidies and allowing green activism to be unchallenged. Pushing coal generation down has meant increased demand for (far more costly gas) to supply electricity. Regulations are begetting more regulations.
It is also ludicrous to blame the Andrews government in Victoria, malevolently incompetent though that government is. The bans on all gas exploration, not just unconventional gas, were implemented by the previous Coalition Government. Moreover the NSW Coalition has proved to be no less Luddite than the ALP and it has actually boasted that it has closed all but four per cent of the state to unconventional gas exploration.
Australia is the richest country in the world in terms of natural wealth but its politicians, responding to elite popular opinion, continuously close off opportunities that would allow the nation to benefit from this. Although Josh Frydenberg says he will solve the problem, so far his solution is to rob the export Peters to pay the domestic Pauls when there is massive potential to have booming exports and cheap domestic supplies.
At the very least the government should root out the immediate cause of the energy crisis by promoting the abandonment of all subsidies (including those to batteries and Snowy pumping) and penalising those state and territory governments that are denying the search for and recovery of valuable energy sources.
Governments need to go onto the front foot and promote the idea of wealth creation rather than, at every juncture, placing impediments in the way of exploration, development and use of resources like water. As Barnaby Joyce points out in addressing the Minerals Council pusillanimity, pandering to green activists is fuelling campaigns that will never cease applying pressure until they have closed down the activity, as they have with the timber industry.