STAFF REPORTER, AAP
Tuesday, 19 February 2013 12:29
One of Australia's biggest unions is to campaign for a national domestic gas reserve to make energy cheaper, boost manufacturing jobs and produce cleaner energy.
Five hundred delegates to the Australian Workers Union's national conference on Tuesday approved a plan to lobby the federal government for a gas reserve.
However, they face a tough fight with Resources Minister Martin Ferguson opposing such a scheme.
AWU national secretary Paul Howes told the conference Mr Ferguson's opposition was misplaced.
"Resources ministers should be there to talk about what resources can do for this country ... and stand up for adding value in this nation," Mr Howes said.
He said it was "bizarre" that Australia could go through a massive expansion in the extraction of natural gas "but we can't seem to keep it".
"We will argue that when you extract these gases ... we should have the rights as Australians to keep some of it here, to add value to it and to grow our economy and grow our GDP and not put all of our eggs in the resource boom basket as we did previously," Mr Howes said.
The conference also called for an expansion of coal seam gas development, which is facing a backlash from farmers and environmentalists.
Mr Howes said NSW in particular was dragging its feet on ensuring industry could access long-term supplies of gas.
"NSW is the epicentre of the crisis in manufacturing," he said.
A report by some of the nation's biggest gas users, released last year, found that Australia's domestic gas prices were rising because major gas producers were focused on maximising LNG exports to China, Japan and Korea.
Some big gas users argue the reserve should equate to about 15 per cent of LNG production.
AWU West Australian secretary Stephen Price, whose state has a gas reserve policy that is rarely triggered, said it should be possible for Australia to export gas as well as maintain a strong domestic supply.
"When the mining boom is over we are going to need the million jobs in manufacturing to still be there," he said.
Meanwhile, Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association chief executive David Byers said the union’s demand for a national gas reservation policy was "little more than protectionism dressed up as industry-development" and "a return to the type of thinking Australia rejected in the 1980s".
“Arguments for domestic gas reservation are highly dangerous, short-sighted and self-interested," he said.
"Gas reservation policies actually impair local gas supply and affordability, rather than improve it.
“Laws that dictate where and how gas can be sold invariably deter the very investment needed to develop Australia's abundant gas reserves and the AWU should consider the growth opportunity presented by the almost $200 billion worth of LNG plants currently under construction in Australia.
“In all sectors of the economy (not just oil and gas), maintaining access to open and competitive markets – and rejecting protectionism – is in Australia’s long-term national interest.”
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