Lock the Gate Alliance is alarmed at the secrecy behind the development of Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s National Gas Infrastructure Plan (NGIP), which would ultimately direct public funds towards gas infrastructure.
The accusation comes as media today reported the government had granted $9 million in contracts to design the NGIP, including some without competitive tender, to Boston Consulting Group.
Mr Taylor’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources is currently seeking input on “projects that should be considered” in an apparently hurried attempt to identify gas pipelines and other infrastructure to subsidise with taxpayer money.
In Mr Taylor’s words, this could include “underwriting” or “a special purpose vehicle with a capped government contribution.”
Lock the Gate Alliance National coordinator Carmel Flint said the lack of transparency surrounding the NGIP was astounding.
“This looks like the government is setting up a slush fund to support the government’s friends in multinational gas companies," she said.
"Mr Taylor’s NGIP is being developed in secret in his department and via chosen consultants.
“The Australian public cannot be expected to have any faith that the Morrison Government is spending our taxpayer dollars wisely with this much secrecy and obscurity surrounding its deeply unpopular and polluting push to expand the fossil gas industry.
“This process is opaque, with no terms of reference or criteria against which the government can assess whether hundreds of millions, possibly billions, in public money should be allocated.
"In contrast, AEMO’s Integrated Systems Plan was developed at arm’s length with an open process - but the NGIP is being developed by Mr Taylor’s own department.
“The Morrison Government was advised by gas companies, via its hand-picked National COVID Commission Advisory Board, on how to expand the industry and now it seems to be taking the next steps to subsidise the gas industry's projects.
“These big gas companies do not care about farmers whose land and water is at risk from new gas projects, or Traditional Owners who oppose projects on their country, or Australian manufacturers who are paying stupidly high prices for gas."
In a half-page consultation document, the Department is now seeking information on ‘priority pipelines and infrastructure’. The submission period was recently extended to March 31. Lock the Gate Alliance's submission can be provided on request.
This consultation could be interpreted as a type of “expression of interest” process for project proponents who want taxpayer support. It reads as if gas companies are effectively being asked to apply for government backing for their infrastructure projects.
The document contains no mention of using less gas or opportunities in renewable energy. The government has released no terms of reference, no selection criteria, and has advised that the modelling and reports are unlikely to be made publicly available.
Mr Taylor’s department used a similar ad-hoc process with the Underwriting New Generation Investment, which is now slated for investigation by the Auditor General.
Mr Taylor has described the NGIP as doing for gas what the Integrated System Plan (ISP) developed by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) does for the power grid.
However, AEMO’s ISP is developed independently, transparently and through expert consultation. AEMO’s ISP shows lowest cost power means using less gas and much more renewables.
AEMO runs much of Australian gas markets, and does detailed regular research on gas. It is unclear why the Commonwealth government is developing the NGIP, rather than AEMO.