Australian Economy

‘The gas belongs to us’ say former Western Australian premiers despairing at energy crisis over east

For former Western Australian premier Colin Barnett the reaction at international meetings first came as something of a surprise.

But pretty soon he began to expect it.

After a while, he could even see the dark humour involved.

“They weren’t laughing at me,” he said of WA’s quite singular Australian state policy of quarantining 15 per cent of gas for its own market.

Colin Barnett
Colin Barnett, who was WA premier from 2008 to 2017, says Australia is alone in its gas insecurity.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

It is a stance that saw WA labelled hillbilly by the east coast press, and saw another WA premier labelled “a wrecker” by former Liberal minster Ian Macfarlane — now chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council — at energy forums.

Mr Barnett, who served as a Liberal premier between 2008 and 2017, cast his mind back to the discussions with global leaders as debate raged this week about Australia’s lack of gas security.

He was joined by the architect of WA’s domestic gas reservation policy, former Labor premier Alan Carpenter, in a display of political unity between the two former rivals.

Amid warnings that spiralling gas prices on Australia’s east coast could send some manufacturers broke and spur an outbreak of food price inflation, Mr Carpenter and Mr Barnett decried what they labelled the “stupid” decisions of successive governments.

Consumers paying the price

In a rare interview since leaving politics in 2008, Mr Carpenter said it defied belief that Australia had allowed itself to run short of gas supplies when it was the world’s equal-largest producer.

He said a succession of political leaders had been persuaded by false arguments against domestic obligations, lamenting that it was ordinary consumers who were paying the price.

WA Premier Alan Carpenter talks at press conference
Former WA premier Alan Carpenter says eastern Australia is paying for “stupid” mistakes in the past.(ABC News)

“The oil company executives are all very well paid,” Mr Carpenter said.

“If their bills go up 10 times they have no problem paying it.

The 65-year-old said the root of the gas crisis on the east coast lay in the unwillingness of federal Coalition and Labor governments to impose domestic gas obligations on Queensland’s liquefied natural gas export industry before it took shape.

But he argued those mistakes had been made worse by a series of blunders in energy policy in subsequent years.

“I argued with the then federal minister Ian Macfarlane and the Labor spokesman, who I think was Martin Ferguson, that they needed to put in place a gas reservation policy or they would face critical problems in future years,” he said.

“Ian Macfarlane just condemned me up hill and down dale.

“In international oil and gas conferences he said I was a wrecker.

“He was supported by the mainstream media who said this was a hillbilly policy which would destroy the economy.

“Now, 16 years later, we see what the reality is.

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