Not of this world

If you want to know how other-worldly The Greens are, read their coal seam gas policy for the federal election.

This is what it says: “Unconventional gas like CSG is a resource Australia does not need for domestic use.

“Australia’s energy use is declining thanks to improving energy efficiency and rapid update (yes, it says “update”; they mean “uptake”) of rooftop solar.

“The real driver of CSG expansion is the attraction of lucrative overseas markets. Profit, not necessity, is driving the proliferation of the industry that threatens the long-term viability of Australian farmlands.”

The Greens want no new CSG project approvals and “no new gas ports along the Great Barrier Reef” (no, I don’t know what that means, either).

Now this stuff goes down a treat in the streets of Sydney’s Marrickville – where there are many bumper stickers, often on SUVs, proclaiming “You can’t eat coal seam gas” – and similar areas in other east coast cities.

The link between gas and, say, fertiliser manufacture and what most Australians eat is lost, obviously.

So, too, is an understanding of the other uses of gas.

Take New South Wales – because it is the warm centre of the anti-CSG campaign and the issue is red-hot in a few regional seats at the federal election (apart from inner suburbs of Sydney).

It’s obvious from reading The Greens propaganda that, in their minds, gas use equates to residential use (or the cooking arrangements in their favourite restaurants) and can be eliminated by recourse to wind, solar and wave power (that’s the three power sources the party talks up in other election material).

I wonder how many Greens can tell us how gas is used in NSW – which is rapidly nearing the point where existing interstate supply contracts for 95 per cent of its needs will run out and the new sources are problematical in terms of volumes and cost?

Consumption in the State is not as high as in Victoria or Queensland – which may be a reason that there is a less than adequate community understanding of the fuel’s role – but it does run at around 140 petajoules a year.

Who uses it?

My Energy Supply Association data files show that household demand is around 20.5 PJ a year and power stations take another 19.5 PJ.

The commercial sector and services (eg hospitals) use 9.6 PJ.

So where is the balance going?

Well, 88.7 PJ – that’s 63 per cent of supply – is being used in manufacturing.

Now the problem with statistics is that they are, so to speak, inhuman.

People read the number above and, like my grandsons say so often, go “whatever.”

This is why the upstream petroleum industry is so keen to draw attention to the contribution its activities are making to the community at large through paying royalties and taxes.

The campaign currently being run by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association to coincide with the federal election – you can find it on – highlights the fact that so far this year its members have contributed $5.7 billion “to fund schools, hospitals and infrastructure.”

That The Greens – literally – ignore the value of this kind of contribution in their railing against resources development is part of my accusation that they are other worldly.

That they are unwilling to confront the real costs of their mania for renewable energy and the impacts it has on taxpayers, investors (many of them not big business) and employers – my post here yesterday on “The pain in Spain” highlights just how dangerous this can be – is yet more evidence.

But back to NSW and the 88 PJ of gas required by manufacturing.

How many people in the State do you think actually know much about the role of manufacturing?

How many of The Greens ideologues (as opposed to supporters with broad environmental concerns) know or care?

Combine the Sydney basin with the Hunter Valley area and manufacturing employs almost 250,000 NSW people – roughly the same as Melbourne and almost twice as many as Brisbane.

This is close to the population of Canberra.

And there are perhaps another half million people in a wide range of other sectors serving the manufacturers’ needs.

The Greens like to use the one million solar rooftops number to claim that 2.5 million Australians now use PVs – in the same vein, about half the population of NSW is dependent on the health of the State’s factory sector.

And, by joining the dots, dependent on a secure and affordable energy supply for manufacturers.

More than 90 per cent of NSW manufacturing employment is concentrated in Sydney, the Hunter and the Illawarra. (At any given time there are also some 9,000 young people doing apprenticeships in the sector.)

Barely four per cent of factory jobs are to be found in the Richmond/Tweed and Mid-North Coast areas where the anti-CSG campaign is “red hot.”

Manufacturing is the second-largest contributor to the NSW economy.

We’re talking fabricated metal product production, machinery and equipment making, plastics and chemicals, textiles, clothing and footwear, food and drink production and furniture making – 15 factory sectors in all.

The secure supply of energy and its cost is a critical input for all of them.

Our collective community concern about factory closures is highlighted – literally – by the television crews descending on every one that lays off workers and by TV news headlining the loss.

You can go on to the NSW Business Chamber website and read at length about how tough conditions are for State manufacturers and how concerned they are about electricity and gas bills.

This is the real world, the one on which The Greens seek to impose, through their anti-CSG campaigning, a whole new source of pain.

And let’s not let the more mainstream politicians off the hook.

An example of this breed is the NSW Minister for the North Coast, Don Page, whose boast to the ABC last week – as that medium played up the delivery of 13,000 signatures on an anti-CSG petition to State parliament – was that it was Labor that issued the gas licences for the north coast and his Coalition government that had “put everything on hold for 18 months while we work out a better regulatory regime.”

And this is a source of pride?

But this election will pass.

The odds that there will be a new federal regime after 7 September are high and the Coalition says it intends the States to be the decision takers in resource project approvals.

Don Page’s government doesn’t have to go to the polls until March 2015.

But, for he and his cabinet colleagues, the NSW gas problem isn’t going to go away when the election posters are torn down next month.

It’s going to loom ever larger – with 1.1 million consumers (20,000 of them manufacturing businesses, large, medium and small) in the firing line.

By March 2015 it could be a crisis not a problem.

The Greens represent the noisy, other-worldly fringe of politics.

Part of the reason that federal Labor is now in so much trouble is that Julia Gillard, desperate to govern, gave Brown, Milne and Co far too much influence.

After 7 September, the CSG ball will be inescapably at the feet of the Coalition – in Canberra and in Sydney.

The question for the O’Farrell State government is whether it is capable of delivering a real-world resolution that works for farmers, energy suppliers and consumers, not least for the beleagured manufacturers and their quarter million direct employees?

Comments are closed.