It seems we are finally rid of Julie Bishop, who resigned in a huff as foreign minister because she wasn’t made prime minister. Apparently, among the slights of her rejection, what particularly rankled was her failure to get a single party-room vote from any of her fellow WA Liberals. Presumably they know her better than anyone, which no doubt explains a lot. For others, those who have not lashed themselves to the mast of the Liberals’ Hesperus, she also uttered this reminder of her lack of fitness for higher office: Australia must honour the Paris Agreement and reduce emissions by 26%. “When we sign a treaty,” , she said, “parties should be able to rely on us.”
Yes, we should honour the Paris agreement — but not the climate one. There is a far more important treaty, also signed in the City of Light, to which are signatory. This is the International Energy Agency agreement of 1974, born out of the OECD in response to the First Oil Shock. The idea was that all the signatories would keep 90 days of fuel supplies on hand and be prepared to share in the event of an emergency.
Australia signed on in 1979 but is not honouring our treaty obligations. We know that because the new Department of Energy, under its new Minister Angus Taylor, says so. From the website (emphasis added):
As an IEA [International Energy Agency] member and signatory to the IEP Treaty, Australia is required to hold oil stocks equivalent to at least 90 days of the previous year’s average daily net oil imports. The Department is working to implement Australia’s compliance plan to address the current shortfall in oil stockholdings. The Department’s priorities for the IEA include working with the IEA to progress Australia’s plan to return to IEP treaty compliance.
So we are not compliant with this important treaty; we are not reciprocating the commitments made by others for the common good. We are delinquent. We are not a shining light on a hill in this respect. We are not an example for others to follow. All this is due to the likes of Julie Bishop, who found money to support economy-wrecking alarmism and careerist climateering, but not an international commitment that addresses a genuine hazard and which really matters.
We are not a bad people, we are just badly led. We are badly led by people who seemed to have missed out on a lot of moral instruction in their formative years. Fables such as The Ant and the Grasshopper, from 6th century BC, and the story of the seven years of fat followed by the seven years of lean, from a thousand years earlier, have been passed down because they are useful.
Australia currently survives hand-to-mouth in regard to our nation’s fuel supply. Refineries close and are not replaced, meaning there is an indecent reliance on just-in-time arrivals of distillate and diesel. The immediate consequence are occasional outages of diesel and aviation kerosene due to a late shipment or off-spec supply. The longer-term consequence will be dire.
In a war situation it would only take one Chinese submarine doing a tour of the southern states to stop resupply. And submarine-launched cruise missiles can destroy our remaining four refineries. Any rosy view of our fuel supply situation, in war conditions or otherwise, is wishful thinking at its worst.
When Paul Keating was prime minister he said that Australia should learn from Asia. One Asian country that we could learn from is Japan, which has 583 million barrels in its strategic petroleum reserve while we have none.
We used to practice self-reliance. When the Bass Strait oil- and gasfields were found, they couldn’t be developed because their costs were too high. So to get them developed, make good the shortfall and increase our fuel security, Australians paid an excess in our petrol price to make good the shortfall. Similarly, we had all our liquid fuel requirements refined in the country because you can’t rely upon anyone else to be there at the critical juncture.
Self-reliance for Australia means going to coal-to-liquids. We have plenty of coal, especially brown coal in Victoria. which has too much moisture to be worth transporting anywhere else. The sooner we develop the expertise to build and run coal-to-liquids plants the better. Each plant, sized from 5,000 barrels per day to beyond 20,000 barrels, would make retail product to spec and could fill up 20,000 litre tankers that arrive at the gate. It would be a secure, distributed supply system that would stand us in good stead for over a hundred years, until the coal runs out.
In the short term this would cost us more than continuing our current hand-to-mouth existence. But the same principle has been applied in forcing renewable energy on power consumers. And that has done no person any good, especially the fixed-income elderly who go to bed early of a winter’s night to avoid heating their homes. Fuel security, on the other hand, would let us all sleep more soundly.
In the meantime we have had the blessing of a major oil discovery in the Dorado well, drilled by Quadrant Energy, 100 km north of Port Hedland in 80 metres of water. The new owner of the field, Santos, has said that Quadrant,“think it is going to be a lot bigger than one billion barrels at Dorado”. If so, that is nearly three years of Australian oil consumption.
But it does not add to fuel security. A Chinese H-6 bomber, taking off from one of their new bases in the South China Sea, could sink the production system on the Dorado development with a cruise missile. And it would all be over within a few hours of war starting. We need to be thinking more along the lines of the Snowy River Scheme which was to divert water inland so that food could be grown well inland and secure from interdiction.
As Julie Bishop has reminded us, let’s honour our treaty commitments and become reliable, firstly to ourselves.
David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare