House of Representatives
Tuesday 15 June 2021
I don't know why the member for Goldstein wants to be patted on the back when refineries have closed down in Australia under this government. Refineries have been shut down under this Liberal government. As he skulks away from the chamber, I want to place on record my disappointment with how the government has handled fuel security in this nation. The Fuel Security Bill 2021, which we will be supporting, does two things. First, it introduces a capped fuel security service payment to Australia's two remaining refineries. Second, the bill imposes a minimum stock obligation on fuel importers. So why are we here tonight? Let's unpack what the government have done and why they should be criticised, not congratulated, for their failures on fuel security, including half of Australia's refineries since October. It is an indictment of this government that we have closed refineries.
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of Australian self-sufficiency. We've all seen that. We've seen that in our communities; we've seen that in our local businesses. We need to ensure that, when the worst-case scenario happens, we've got the capacity to care for our citizens and to keep the critical services and operations going. It's clear that a secure fuel supply is absolutely vital to these goals. Fuel runs this country. You can't rely on anything else to get things around the country from A to B, whether it be food, supplies, groceries, construction supplies, medical equipment—the list goes on. But we've got to have the capacity to transport these vital items from one end of the country to the other. If we lose this capacity, our economy and our country grind to a halt. If COVID-19 has proven anything, it's that we cannot take anything for granted.
The member for Goldstein spoke a lot about supply chains. We've seen, particularly over the last 12 months, that supply chains can be suddenly and unexpectedly disrupted. As Australia is an island nation, we must equip ourselves with the tools to manage such a situation. But, even before the pandemic, many would have thought that this is just common sense. We exist in a complex and interconnected world, and, of course, we should be positioning ourselves so that interruptions to global supply chains will not cripple our nation. That's a no-brainer. However, the Morrison government have waited until now to take these steps to shore up our fuel security. They've literally waited until we are teetering on the edge of being entirely dependent on foreign imports to run our country's cars, planes, ships and trucks. Our refinery sector is haemorrhaging capacity, and the Australian workers who rely on this industry for their pay cheques are ultimately paying the price. This situation did not come out of the blue. Through the long eight years of the Morrison government, we've fallen further and further down the hole of foreign dependency. We've seen press conferences and shiny announcements promising to address this issue, but, as the workers at closed oil refineries know all too well, these promises were simply broken promises.
I want to go back in time a little bit to around six years ago, when a Senate inquiry recommended that the government carry out a comprehensive review of Australia's fuel security problem. After dragging their feet for three years, the government announced in 2018 that they would undertake this review, which they promised would report back in 2019. The interim report landed on the desk of this government in April 2019. There it sat, gathering dust for the next two years. The government are yet to release this final report, breaking their promise to deliver it in late 2019. We know that this is normal behaviour from the Morrison government: delay, distract—'Look over here; we'll announce something over here; we won't follow through'—just to get everyone's attention off the main issues. This government is good at managing the PR, the spin and the headlines, but it forgets that it actually has a job to do to manage the country. Fuel security is one of the basic elements we need for a secure economy, yet the government chose not to act. When given the chance in 2019, the government chose not to even deliver the report. As a direct result of the government's negligence, we are now nearly entirely dependent on global supply chains to keep our country functioning.
The interim report the government left to gather dust, as I said in my earlier remarks, highlighted key issues that could have been addressed over two years ago. Australia is seriously non-compliant with our international energy obligations for domestic fuel stocks. This is a truly dire situation. We're required to have 90 days of domestic fuel stocks to protect the Australian people and economy against global oil shocks. We've fallen embarrassingly short of this target. We have just 58 days. So, in the eight long years that the Morrison government's been in power, our economy, our national security, our jobs and our nation's families have been left vulnerable to international fuel shocks. If such a shock comes before this government is able to get its act together, then the impact on Australian families and the price they pay for fuel will be devastating.
Over the last 12 months, COVID-19 has served to deeply entrench this issue. The drop in demand for fuel brought about by the pandemic, underlined by the structural pressures on Australia's fuel refineries, has borne that out for the whole nation to see. Over the past eight months, we've seen three announcements on fuel security from this government yet we've also seen our situation grow increasingly dire. We are now significantly dependent on refined oil imports. While the government has called press conference after press conference to present these so-called solutions to the Australian people, the situation has only gotten worse. The writing's been on the wall for years as fuel refineries have closed and our dependence on imports has increased. This was not done in secret. It was not done behind closed doors. Everyone saw this happening, except the Morrison government.
Addressing fuel security, as far as I'm concerned, should be an immediate and urgent priority of any government. Yet it was not until September 2020 that the government announced a fuel security package to address these key issues. At the time, the Prime Minister and Minister Taylor made the claim that the package would be 'backing local refineries to stay open wherever commercially possible'. Just as we see with every announcement this government makes, it was not backed up by results. Six weeks later, on 30 October, BP announced that its Kwinana refinery would close.
Then, in December 2020, we saw another flashy announcement by this government, with Minister Taylor stating that the government would bring forward the production payments to January 2021, with $83½ million to be paid over six months. I want to refer to his statement. The minister said that 'the government was taking immediate and decisive action to keep our domestic refineries operating'. So what happened with this 'immediate and decisive action to keep our domestic refineries operating'? Within two months, on 10 February 2021, ExxonMobil announced that its Altona refinery would also close. What we're seeing here is a pattern. 'Yes, we're going to take action. Yes, we're going to do the media conference. Yes, we're going to stand with workers.' But for what? The refineries closed. The refineries closed on this government's watch, placing our fuel security at risk.
Finally, in May this year, the Prime Minister and Minister Taylor made their third fuel security announcement in just eight months, revealing decisions that had been taken but not announced in the 2021 budget to shore up our nation's failing fuel security.
The Morrison government have had opportunity after opportunity to act and have simply failed to do so. Those on the other side will want to use the COVID-19 pandemic as the convenient scapegoat for the dire fuel-security situation that they find themselves in. They will want to claim that this is the reason these measures are being introduced now and not years ago—when they were needed. I repeat: the writing was on the wall years and years ago. But, hard as the government may try, they cannot explain away their lack of leadership and their abject failure to act until the pandemic.
We've seen eight long years of empty announcements and policy failures on this issue. Let me summarise. In 2015, there was the Senate inquiry. In 2018, three whole years later, the government announced that they would do the review. In 2019, the interim report was handed to the government. Then nothing. The report highlighted dangerous deficiencies in our fuel security and recommended action. This was a report given to the government to say, 'This is the action you should take,' and they didn't do anything. They did absolutely nothing until, of course, the very last opportunity, the big photo op, presented itself. This Prime Minister never misses a photo op. Last September's announcement delivered nothing in terms of fuel security and nothing in terms of job security for fuel sector workers.
The government likes to play this role, as we heard from the previous speaker the member for Goldstein, of the hero of Australia—the friend of the worker rushing in to save jobs. Their record on fuel refineries renders this act completely ridiculous. I want to place on record tonight the reason the government was pushed into this action. It was pushed to act because of the hard work and the fierce advocacy of the Australian Workers Union, who had to put significant pressure on the government to deliver these changes. We owe a huge vote of thanks to the AWU delegates who came to Canberra, who pressured the government, who stood up for their members, and who, alongside members of the opposition, made sure the government heard those concerns. I particularly want to highlight delegate Mick Denton from Ampol in Lytton, who is now our Labor candidate for the federal seat of Petrie. He played a critical role in getting these vital measures across the line.
Honourable members interjecting—
Mr DICK: That's right—a real worker standing up for mates. I can hear the rubbish from the member for Fisher, disrespecting blue-collar workers. We know how much they hate unions, how much they hate workers—how much they despise workers. We absolutely know that. They're screaming and yelling because I've mentioned a fierce advocate, Mick Denton, who will stand up for workers in his electorate of Petrie and who will fight for the rights of workers to make sure their jobs are protected. I know they don't like it, I know they're antiworkers, I know they don't like blue-collar workers, and I know that because we see their actions time and time again.
So it's because of the leadership, through our national secretariat, of the Australian Workers Union—my union that I'm a proud member of and have been for about 25 years—that those workers interests are protected. If it were up to this government—they were shown the warning signs years ago—those workers would all be out of jobs now. What about all the workers at those two refineries that have been lost? Have we heard one single apology from those opposite about those jobs that were lost? Absolutely not. Those workers were thrown on the scrap heap by the Morrison government—completely rejected.
The workers that have fought for this, through the Australian Workers Union and their fierce advocacy, are people like Steve Baker, the state secretary of the Australian Workers Union in Queensland, and people like Daniel Walton, the national secretary.
Honourable members interjecting—
Mr DICK: They hate it when we talk about workers. They are resolute in their opposition to working people. We know that time and time again. We saw that in how they treated refineries in the electorates where the Altona Refinery is based, we've seen it in Western Australia, we've seen it in Victoria. We've seen it, we hear it and we live it. There's no secrecy about this, about how much they despise workers and blue-collar workers. We know that. Their actions and their hysteria tonight simply prove that.
The state of our fuel security is an embarrassment. It's an embarrassment to the Prime Minister, who likes to talk big on national security. It's an embarrassment to a government that appears to have an ideological opposition to any kind of alternatives, but perversely refuses to properly protect our traditional fuel supplies. It's an embarrassment to a government that has, after eight long years, delivered absolutely nothing to Australians except a wage slump, record debt and a fuel situation that leaves us completely dependent on foreign supply.
Labor welcomes this package of bills, but it comes far too late for the refineries that have been shut down and closed forever by this government. They should hang their heads in shame. They shouldn't be yelling at me when I'm defending workers. They should be standing up in this parliament to make sure that our fuel security is guaranteed and the jobs of the future are protected.