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Morrison prepares a gas plan to boost economy out of the pandemic

Mr Morrison said the “energy challenges” were a factor in his goal of running the national economy in a “COVID-safe” way when there was no certainty about when a vaccine might arrive and the pandemic might end.

“I have talked a lot of times about what we need do in the gas sector and I’ll have a lot more to say about that in the months ahead,” he said.

“What we’re doing in our manufacturing sector, what we’re doing to get infrastructure, getting almost $10 billion brought forward – that’s the plan.

“That can give the confidence and the assurance, because that plan goes in place, vaccine or no vaccine. Operating in a COVID-safe economy is then the challenge.”

Greens leader Adam Bandt has attacked the government for backing new gas projects, following a series of leaks from the National COVID Commission chaired by Nev Power, former chief executive of Fortescue Metals.

The commission’s manufacturing taskforce set out plans to put taxpayer support behind a significant expansion of the domestic gas industry.

“Gas is not only a toxic fossil fuel, it’s becoming too expensive to compete with clean energy,” Mr Bandt said.

“More and more, industrial users are keen to make the switch to renewable energy, but are being hamstrung by a government desperate to prop up dirty coal, oil and gas.”

Industry Minister Karen Andrews, Resources Minister Keith Pitt and Energy Minister Angus Taylor are all working on the gas and energy agenda with a team from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

Federal government sources named problems with red tape, environmental regulation and state moratoriums on gas projects as key obstacles to driving down the price and clearing the way for new power stations fuelled by gas.

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While one option is an import terminal on the east coast, the other is federal approval for the Santos project under the Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Santos is waiting on a decision from the NSW Independent Planning Commission by September 4 on whether the company can extract coal seam gas from the region around Narrabri, but the project must also gain federal clearance under the EPBC Act.

Santos chief executive Kevin Gallagher said the company needed certainty about the Narrabri project after starting the process six years ago.

“Narrabri means more jobs and more investment in NSW and the local region, and lower gas and electricity prices for customers in the state,” he said.

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The Prime Minister’s comments signal the agenda for the October budget after Mr Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg committed another $15.6 billion to fund JobKeeper payments for millions of workers through to March.

While the total cost of the JobKeeper scheme has now reached $101.3 billion to pay a wage subsidy to four million workers – albeit not all of them at the same time – the government is facing calls for a bigger stimulus.

Mr Morrison discussed new measures in skills policy with state and territory leaders in national cabinet on Friday, as well as agreeing a new freight code to keep food and other supplies moving despite Victoria’s business shutdowns.

The Prime Minister said the pandemic would force Australia to adjust the way it does business and named the digital economy as a potential opportunity.

“There is a broader plan when it comes to the economy and that continues to be rolled out, vaccine or no vaccine.”

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