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Australia Fed gas plan ignites investors, critics

20:16  30 march  2021
20:16  30 march  2021 Source:   aap.com.au

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Business leaders are being wooed to bankroll the federal government's gas-fired recovery plan but critics argue the lack of rules or criteria make it ripe for rorting.

Angus Taylor MP wearing a suit and tie looking at the camera: Minister Angus Taylor says more gas projects would reduce emissions without increasing power costs. © Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS Minister Angus Taylor says more gas projects would reduce emissions without increasing power costs.

Now under the wing of new Industry Minister Christian Porter, the plan also enlists Resources Minister Keith Pitt and Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

The plan's three "action areas" are unlocking supply, efficient transportation and empowering consumers.

Written submissions on the plan are due on Wednesday, after the federal industry department had to extend consultations to meet demand for involvement.

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For Mr Taylor, more gas is part of the government's plan to reduce emissions without blowing the household budget, while at the same time creating jobs.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned that if the private sector fails to act, the government will step in as it has done for electricity transmission to back "nation building projects".

Fast-tracking approvals, underwriting projects or the making a one-off investment with a capped government contribution will support the gas plan.

A gas trading hub at Wallumbilla in Queensland is planned, along with identifying where new pipelines are needed and new project.

But the independent think tank Centre for Public Integrity has called out the spending of taxpayer money on the gas recovery plan without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

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Video: Santos approves $5.2b Barossa project (Sky News Australia)

"A lot of the companies that are seeking to benefit from this opaque process have made pretty major political donations and have sat in positions of power," the centre's head Han Aulby told AAP.

She named Australian gas giants and Liberal Party donors Woodside and Santos, who stand to benefit from cheap money and rapid approvals for new pipelines, exploration and gas terminals on the east coast.

"It is critical for public trust in democracy that impartiality in government decision-making not only exist but be seen to exist," the centre said in its submission.

Ministers Taylor and Pitt last year backed Santos' $3.6 billion Narrabri gas project in NSW as part of their plan to unlock new fields.

Snowy Hydro, chaired by former Santos executive David Knox, already has federal support for a new gas-fired power plant at Kurri Kurri in the NSW Hunter region.

Santos this week signed off on final investment approval for its $4.7 billion Barossa gas project located offshore the Northern Territory - the biggest investment in Australia's oil and gas sector since 2012.

Director at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility Dan Gocher called the new gas field "a carbon bomb", although Santos plans to investigate "carbon-neutral LNG".

"This company is not committed to the Paris Agreement, but to climate chaos," Mr Gocher said.

Former international bank analyst Zoe Whitton also has doubts about the gas-fired recovery.

As head of Pollination Group she now advises businesses on climate change and the energy transition.

"Investors are very uncertain about it," she says.

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