The plan included opening up new gas supplies and backing the construction of a gas-fired power station and a promise to “deliver more Australian gas where it is needed at an internationally competitive price” for manufacturers and households.
“As we turn to our economic recovery from COVID-19, affordable gas will play a central role in re-establishing the strong economy we need for jobs growth, funding government services and opportunities for all,” Morrison said.
Many readers were unimpressed. For them, the plan was symbolic of a government they see as being tone-deaf to concerns about climate change and lacking in innovative ideas.
QED: “When we hear ‘Gas-led economic recovery’, you really need to be thinking ‘Horse-led transport recovery’ or ‘VHS-led home movie recovery’.”
akcaH: “I’m gobsmacked – this is economic and environmental madness. Morrison has children – do they not figure in his thinking? My kids quite literally get depressed thinking about the future of the country and the planet.”
Strathallen Times: “These are not the ‘leaders’ we or the world needs … Myopic and enslaved to the fossil fuel lobby.”
Jan O’Leary, from Sydney’s Springwood, wrote: “The PM must know that his much trumpeted gas-led recovery will be an environmental disaster, using last century’s technology, and his new gas fields will end up as stranded assets.”
Rob Firth, from Cremorne Point, agreed: “The Coalition is taking the nation on the laziest, most environmentally irresponsible path possible with its blockbuster ‘gas-led recovery’ …It shows a breathtaking denial of the climate change that brought devastating bushfires to Australia last summer and, right now, to the west coast of the US.”
Crowe said he was struck by the contrast between the views shared by readers and the arguments from politicians.
“Readers were strongly against Scott Morrison’s plans to expand the use of gas, yet the balance was different in the political sphere,” he said.
“While the Greens and the environmental movement wanted a stop to new gas projects, Labor was divided.”
Readers objected to public dollars being used to support gas projects – favouring investment in renewable energy instead – and were bewildered that a party that generally espoused free-market values was proposing it. Promises of a drop in gas prices were also met with scepticism.
Kenny: “This is what happens when there is no long-term, competent national energy policy. Private companies won’t take the risk (and fair enough too), banks wouldn’t fund them anyway because it’s not the most economic option (and fair enough again), so we mug taxpayers end up on the hook.”
MiG: “Who knew that these ‘free-market liberals’ were really central state socialists? I guess after divesting themselves of planes, banks, post, telecoms and the rest, there is this inner yearning to generate Power for the People! Yeah! How good is gas? – sigh – Another foolish idea from a foolish government, lacking even the semblance of a clue.”
amusedmuse: “We’ve heard cheaper energy prices for years from this mob. It isn’t going to happen, is it?”
Ross Hudson, from Melbourne’s Camberwell, wrote: “We are the largest gas producer in the world but we increase prices for local consumers by virtually giving nearly all of it away to the rest of the world. The government simply has to tell producers that an adequate amount will be reserved for locals, sold at government-monitored prices.”
Those who supported the gas proposal lauded it as a “sensible step” in the transition to a cleaner-energy future, and saw it as part of “package” to lower emissions.
Marshdog: “We can’t run on 100% renewables at this time and certainly not on the cheap. Gas is cheap and predominantly clean. Good work ScoMo, the quiet masses support good policy.”
TD: “There’s nothing not to like about this plan. It will drive energy costs down, reduce emissions, and kick-start manufacturing and industries in general.”
cbeerdrinkbeer: “It’s much cleaner than coal, so emissions will fall quite dramatically. Coupled with investment in solar and wind actually makes this a sensible step. Like most people, I desperately want action on climate change. I see investments in wind and solar, shutdown of dirty coal and building state-of-the-art gas facilities as part of the big picture that will contribute to lower emissions as a package. From looking at the comments in here, it seems I’m somewhat out of step with this conclusion.”
jaksbak: “I am staggered at reader comments. There is almost wholesale ignorance on what brings electric power to homes and businesses. It is all emotion and ideology and ranting. Do some research and try to understand the role gas will play in transitioning from coal to renewables. Renewables are the future and that future will need some decades of baseload support. It is that simple. East coast gas fields have nothing to do with NW Shelf export LNG. I am anything but an LNP supporter but we need a solution to power systems ruined by 4 decades of the privatisation experiment. Nuclear energy would better do the task required but it is politically too toxic.”
However Tom Knowles, from Melbourne’s Parkville, wrote gas is not the answer but part of the problem.
“The economic and environmental costs of the gas supply chain – exploration, extraction, processing, transport and consumption – are unacceptable,” he wrote.
“The renewable energy sector has matured sufficiently to lead the way to a safe and cost-effective recovery. All that’s needed is a government prepared to invest in the future, not the past.”
Barry Laing, from Sydney’s Castle Cove, agreed: “The rest of the world is avoiding stranded fossil fuel assets by leaping straight into renewables and storage. The majority of Australians want renewable investment now, not in 10 years after resources are wasted on more fossil fuel white elephants.”
A further announcement by the government on Thursday promising $1.9 billion for low-energy projects, including for carbon capture and storage technology, seemed to do little to restore hopes.
Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said getting the next generation of energy technologies right would not only help to keep prices low but would also grow jobs and reduce emissions.
He also reiterated that the government was “on track to meet and beat” its 2030 Paris greenhouse gas emissions target.
For some readers objecting to the gas proposal, Labor’s reaction so far has been just as frustrating. Caucus is undecided over whether to back the expansion of new gas fields and power stations.
Reader Charles Shepherd, from Melbourne’s Brighton, wrote “the only thing more mind-bogglingly idiotic than Scott Morrison’s ‘s proposal … is Labor’s tacit agreement”.
“Not only do we desperately need a new government, we desperately need a new opposition,” his letter read.
Jmn wrote: “No doubt Labor will squeak a bit and then give in.”
Crowe says he’s spoken to Labor MPs this week who are strongly in favour of gas.
“Perhaps Labor needs to catch up to the community on this, or perhaps it has a better sense of the wider electorate,” he said. “Either way, it means those who oppose gas are yet to build the numbers in Parliament to get their way.”
Online readers of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age made 54,724 comments on 765 stories in the past week.
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Orietta Guerrera is the Reader Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Times and WAToday. She was previously Federal Political Editor for the mastheads.