21 Nov 2013

The Napthine Government can’t say it wasn’t warned.

Former Howard Government minister Peter Reith headed a Gas Market Taskforce that delivered its final report to the Victorian Government three weeks ago.

The report found that Victoria should facilitate exploration and development of onshore gas – including natural gas from coal seams – and allow hydraulic fracturing to prevent gas prices surging over the next few years.

The taskforce warns that failing to develop onshore gas could leave Victoria – like NSW – exposed to falling gas supplies and higher prices.

Instead, Premier Denis Napthine has extended the state’s hydraulic fracturing moratorium, despite the Gas Market Taskforce report finding that “Investigations into the effects of hydraulic fracturing … have found there is no evidence of groundwater contamination.”

The Premier has said he will defer any decision-making until the middle of 2015 at the earliest.

But the supply and price pressures will not go away. Business and union leaders are warning that jobs are at risk.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the government should support the development of an onshore gas industry that could bring many benefits to Victoria and its failure to do so would have serious consequences.

“At a time when gas prices are rising on the east coast, the Victorian government has chosen to further delay onshore gas opportunities for Victoria,” she said. “This is no time for delays.”

Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes said tens of thousands of manufacturing workers in Victoria could be affected, according to an Australian Financial Review report.

Premier Napthine’s decision flies in the face of Australia’s long history of safe and environmentally responsible onshore production and ignores its proven record in creating jobs and driving regional development.

As Peter Reith said in the introduction to the Gas Market Taskforce report, “The only sensible course of action is for the Victorian Government and other eastern states to promote production of additional gas supply.”

Some of the Gas Market Taskforce recommendations:

  • Remove holds on new exploration licences for coal seam gas
  • Remove holds on hydraulic fracturing
  • Strengthen laws to underpin best practice onshore gas development
  • Appoint a gas commissioner to “engage landholders and communities”
  • Develop a new water science and monitoring system
  • Provide a short-term “royalty holiday” to industry
  • Introduce a royalties for regions program to
  • Have the Productivity Commission review gas market reform options
  • Double compensation for people who lose amenities to $20,000.