Chris Bowen has rejected Coalition claims Labor is not doing enough to fix the energy crisis, labeling its input “as effective as advice from the captain of the Titanic on navigation skills”.
On Sunday, the climate change and energy minister told Sky News that the new government was “actively managing” the crisis. However, a decade of inaction on renewables and limitations on the gas trigger was preventing swifter fixes.
Labor has inherited an energy crisis driven by most of Australia’s gas being contracted for export, high global fossil fuel prices, and aging coal power stations.
Before the 21 May election, the Morrison government delayed a key electricity pricing update, leaving Australian voters in the dark over upcoming changes to their electricity bills.
Speaking in Perth before his trip to Indonesia, Anthony Albanese said the new government had been left a “bin fire” of problems by the Coalition and Labor had been in office for just two weeks after “nine years of neglect”.
“Remember they used to talk about the gas-led recovery? They talked about that for years,” he told reporters.
“Well, where is it? This is a government that sat on their hands; they had 22 different energy policies and didn’t deliver one.”
Earlier Sunday, the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, accused Labor of not knowing “how to respond to the energy crisis”.
“We’re already seeing gas price increases,” he told Sky News. “The problem is not the circumstances because there will always be difficult circumstances. It’s how you respond as a government.”
Dutton said Bowen was “demonstrating amply [Labor’s] inexperience”. “They don’t know which way to jump at the moment. And you know, it’ll take them a while to find their feet.”
The Nationals leader, David Littleproud, claimed that Bowen “hasn’t been able to … pick up the phone and talk to the gas companies”.
“That’s the action that we have been able to do in the past because we had a relationship with them,” he told ABC’s Insiders. “We haven’t demonized them or put them down.”
Littleproud said former energy minister Angus Taylor, expected to be named the shadow treasurer in the new Liberal frontbench, had assured him that “there are ways we can increase that [gas] supply”.
“That’s about making sure you send strong signals to the market of what we’re going to do.”
Littleproud said the Coalition had planned to “invest in gas infrastructure to increase our domestic supply”.
He said the Labor government should pursue gas in conjunction with its policies to boost renewables, which need “the help of gas … when the sun is not shining, and the wind is not blowing”.
Earlier, Bowen told Sky News Labor is “very actively” managing the crisis, citing that the gas supply guarantee had “already been activated and it’s already had an impact” and that resources minister, Madeleine King, had already spoken to gas companies calling for more supply.
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The guarantee helps identify future shortfalls and opens communication with the industry to respond by supplying more gas. Still, it falls short of requiring companies to divert exports for domestic consumption, as the Australian domestic gas security mechanism can do from 1 January if Labor pulls the “trigger”.
“I’m working very closely with my state and territory energy minister colleagues,” Bowen said.
“But, you know, advice from the previous government – which Angus Taylor has been happy to give out, and I noticed Peter Dutton has been giving out – is about as effective as advice from the captain of the Titanic on navigation skills.
“Their nine years of denial, of delay, has ill-prepared our country for this crisis.”
Bowen argued that the Coalition’s “lack of a coherent policy framework” had slowed the uptake of renewable energy, “the cheapest form of energy storage and transmission”, which would have left Australia “very well placed to deal with this crisis”.
Bowen said the gas trigger was “as blunt as a basketball” and would need to be renewed before the year’s end, and he said he would start consultations before it had an effect in 2023. “It is not the answer to this short-term crisis.”
“We’re not ruling anything in or out in terms of the gas supply and actions that may be necessary because we will do what is necessary.”
Bowen said the government would make further announcements on Wednesday after meeting state and territory energy ministers.