Fossil-fuelled Covid commission pushes massive tax-payer supported gas industry expansion

Fossil Fool Bulletin • 28 July 2020

Scott Morrison’s fossil-fuel loaded National Covid-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) has just recommended a massive, tax-payer subsidised expansion of the country’s destructive gas industry.

When an early draft of the commission’s report was leaked to the media in May, NCCC chairman Neville Power distanced himself from it, alleging the report did not reflect the NCCC’s position.

And yet, a presentation from the NCCC seen recently by the Nine newspapers, substantially reflects the earlier draft.

The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald report that the NCCC calls for “cutting red and green tape” to help the gas industry rapidly increase gas extraction and create up to 170,000 manufacturing jobs. It also recommends tax incentives for the construction of gas infrastructure and letting pipeline owners charge higher prices.

“Among the projects that will benefit from the report’s recommendations, the presentation says, are controversial new developments such as the proposed Narrabri Gas Project, which locals fear could damage surrounding agricultural communities’ groundwater.

“One of the taskforce’s primary recommendations is that the Commonwealth underwrite gas demand so new projects have a guaranteed buyer. Government would group together multiple smaller gas users and if they did not consume all the supply, the government would pay for it,” say the newspapers.

Gas exec pushes gas interests

Neville Power is on the board of gas explorer Strike Energy, although he hasn’t attended Strike board meetings since the potential conflict of interest was highlighted by journalists.

On Tuesday, Scott Morrison announced some new members for the Covid-19 commission and made it an advisory board to cabinet, meaning much of its advice would fall under cabinet confidentiality rules.

The Guardian reports the new members are retired career banker Mike Hirs; the former chief financial officer of Transurban, Samantha Hogg; rural and regional advocate Su McCluskey; food franchise entrepreneur Bao Hoang; Indigenous businesswoman Laura Berry and KPMG partner and former union official Paul Howes.

“The government said the commission would sit as an advisory council inside Morrison’s portfolio. As well as Power and other commission members, the group has a chief executive, Peter Harris, and seconded staff of about 20 officials.

“Morrison will commission advice from the group, and the group may also be called in to advise the government on initiatives being developed across portfolios relating to the economic recovery from the pandemic.

“Some of the preliminary advisory material may be able to be accessed under freedom of information laws, but any advice given to inform a cabinet deliberation will be kept confidential,” The Guardian said.

Meanwhile, Greg Combet has stepped down from the NCCC and kept silent on his reasons for doing so. Catherine Tanna will also be stepping down at an unspecified date.

Unelected, unaccountable and secretive

The NCCC’s work is conducted in secret, amid concerns of conflict of interest and lack of accountability.

Meanwhile, Parliament is suspended and the country’s future direction is being controlled by unelected business tycoons behind closed doors.

Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood said, “There is not one mention that gas is a fossil fuel and we are supposed to be heading towards a low-emissions economy. How can you seriously consider a gas strategy that doesn’t deal with that?”

Research from the Australia Institute shows the NCCC’s gas plans are unlikely to even generate many jobs. But the government’s fossil fuel sponsors will certainly reap benefits.

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