Labor’s resources spokeswoman, Madeleine King, is launching a full-throated defence of Australia’s gas industry, including supporting opening up new reserves “subject to independent scientific assessments and effective environmental regulation”.
King will use a speech to the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference in Perth to champion gas jobs, gas exports, gas as “a critical feedstock for Australia’s manufacturing industry, as well as in electricity generation” and the opening up of new reserves, like the Beetaloo Basin.
“It is important that people are aware that the Beetaloo is a world-class, low-carbon gas basin – containing about 3% carbon dioxide,” King will tell the conference on Thursday.
She will tell oil and gas executives the federal Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, will convene a shadow ministry meeting in Port Hedland later this month, with the trip “an opportunity for many of my east coast colleagues to see this incredible region for themselves and to listen to the concerns of the resources industry workers who contribute so much to our national wealth”.
“Our message to the people of the Pilbara will be unambiguous: Labor supports the resources sector and the jobs it creates,” King will say. “We support the jobs it creates all over Australia, in our big cities and in our regional towns.”
King will portray her position as a middle course. She will tell the Appea conference people who “care about the future of Australia’s energy sector often find ourselves caught between opposing forces in the toxic climate wars”.
“On one side of this often counterproductive debate are the activists who naively seek to shut down, or rapidly phase out, many of our extractive industries and to demonise all fossil fuels,” she will say.
“At the other extreme are the climate change deniers who have ensured that Australia has become an international outlier in the global drive to reduce carbon emissions.”
King will characterise both of those positions as “dangerous and wrong”.
“Both pose a risk to the health of our resources sector and to the critical need to address climate change and therefore our economic prosperity, in coming decades,” King will say.
“The reality is this: the inevitable global transition to net zero emissions presents a massive economic opportunity for Australia and its natural commodities, including natural gas – therefore, good climate policy is good jobs policy”.
Gas is usually described as having about half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal when burned for energy. Studies have suggested its contribution to global heating is greater once methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas that leaks from gas wells, is factored in.
After its election defeat in 2019, Labor has been attempting to walk a line between supporting significant climate measures, like achieving net zero emissions by 2050, and projecting a more positive disposition about extractive industries.
There are internal divisions about where to draw those lines. The Labor caucus split at the beginning of this month when it debated the merits of a motion put to parliament by the independent MP Zali Steggall. Steggall’s motion seeks to stop funding for new gas developments in the Beetaloo Basin.
Labor MPs Ged Kearney, Libby Coker and Graham Perrett argued Labor should support renewables rather than new gas development, but the former resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon and the former Labor leader Bill Shorten spoke in favour of new gas development.
Fitzgibbon has been on a public crusade since Labor’s election loss in 2019, claiming the party has lost touch with its blue-collar base, allowing the Coalition to portray itself as a better friend to workers due to its support for traditional extractive industries.
Shorten said recently he would probably not take the same emissions reduction target his party promised in 2019 to the next election because there’s not enough time to achieve it.
King will argue on Thursday that Labor’s support of the gas industry is predicated on gas being a transitional fuel during the shift to decarbonisation. “Labor recognises the important role your industry will play in achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
“Should Labor be successful in the next federal election, a Labor government will commit Australia to achieve this target,” King will say.
“Labor believes that the Coalition government has failed your industry – and in fact failed the whole nation – by refusing to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.”
King will also endorse carbon capture and storage technology, arguing Australia’s “stable geological storage basins … existing infrastructure … world-class technical expertise and our strong regulatory regimes” give us a “competitive advantage in this field”.
King will characterise Labor’s position as delivering “meaningful action on climate change while embracing the jobs, investment and growth opportunities that come with a net zero carbon economy”.
“We believe we can have a sustainable future and clean, affordable and reliable energy,” she will say. “We believe the gas industry is part of the solution.”