Senator Hollie Hughes
Liberal senator Hollie Hughes at Parliament House in Canberra. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP IMAGES

Coalition senator drills in wrong direction on Labor gas policy

Max Opray June 17, 2022
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

Labor and the Greens have opposed any future investment and development in gas over the last decade.

OUR VERDICT

Mostly False. While the Greens are opposed, Labor has backed multiple new gas developments in opposition, and has vowed to continue doing so in government.

The first weeks of the Albanese government have been marked by an escalating energy crisis – and the coalition says the blame partly lies with what it claims is Labor’s opposition to new gas projects. 

In an interview with ABC News Breakfast on June 6, the new shadow assistant minister for climate change and energy Hollie Hughes was asked whether the former coalition government should have done more to prevent the current energy crunch.

“Over the past decade, we’ve certainly seen the Labor Party and the Greens oppose any future investment and development in things like gas,” Senator Hughes said in response (video mark 49sec).

The claim is mostly false. Labor and the Greens have completely different positions on new gas developments, which the Greens oppose and Labor have supported.

Asked for the source of her claim, a spokeswoman for Senator Hughes pointed AAP FactCheck to Labor’s initial objections to the Kurri Kurri gas-fired power station when announced by the coalition government.

Labor went on to support the Kurri Kurri station on the proviso that it would eventually be turned into a hydrogen plant.

The spokeswoman also highlighted comments from Energy Minister Chris Bowen about the coalition’s ‘gas-fired recovery’ plan when he was in opposition in 2021.

Speaking at an Australia Institute webinar, Mr Bowen described the Morrison government’s gas-led recovery proposal as “a fraud”.

“Well, it’s a fraud. It’s a slogan, it’s not a policy. It’s simply a fraud. There’s not been one job created, and there won’t be a job created,” he said.

As part of the same answer at the event, Mr Bowen said: “… Gas will continue to play a role in firming and peaking our grid as we transition to renewable energy.”

Experts told AAP FactCheck that it is inaccurate to cast Labor and the Greens’ positions on gas in the same light.

“I would say that the general policy of Labor has been to support existing gas projects and have an allowance for the possibility of new gas developments,” Professor Ariel Liebman, director at the Monash Energy Institute, told AAP FactCheck via email. “So (Senator Hughes’) statement is inaccurate about Labor. The Greens are of course completely opposed on climate grounds.”

Prof Liebman also rejected the notion that any supposed opposition to gas from Labor or the Greens in opposition has contributed to today’s high energy prices, noting that Australia has greatly expanded gas supply in recent years but the additional gas has largely been exported.

“(The) current situation (of high prices) is entirely caused by withdrawal of some Russian gas supply coupled with an unusually large amount of coal fired generation out on maintenance,” he said.

Tim Buckley, the former director of Australia/South Asia energy finance studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, told AAP FactCheck that Labor had supported numerous gas projects in recent years.

Among the projects include the Scarborough gas field off Western Australia which Labor backed prior to the election and has continued to support now it’s in power.

Labor also backed the Beetaloo gas project and the extraction of coal seam gas from Narrabri.

Mr Buckley said the party has also pledged to continue that support for gas into the future.

“At a speech to gas industry executives on the eve of the election, (then-shadow) Resources Minister Madeline King said that ‘I want to be clear how enthusiastic I am and Labor is for this industry’, pledging that gas would have a future under Labor, adding that Australia has a ‘responsibility’ to ‘extract this gas’,” he said.

“At a state and territory level, Labor has approved the Beetaloo and Scarborough projects – each of which will massively contribute to our domestic and Scope 3 emissions – and they have supported using public money to open up new gasfields.”

Mr Buckley added that federal Labor voted in 2021 against a Greens motion to disallow $50 million in government grants for new gas projects in the Northern Territory.

The Greens in contrast are opposed to any new gas infrastructure, with the party citing the International Energy Agency’s call for a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects to achieve net zero by 2050.

The Verdict

Senator Hughes’ claim is mostly false as Labor does not share the Greens’ opposition to new gas developments. While Labor was critical of the coalition’s “gas-led recovery” plan, the party backed gas production and generation projects over the past decade, and has vowed to continue doing so in government.

Mostly False ÔÇô The claim is mostly inaccurate but includes minor elements of truth.

* Editor’s note: AAP FactCheck has expanded its ability to fact-check environmental issues with the support of the Australian Conservation Foundation. AAP FactCheck retains full editorial independence in this project and continues to apply the rigorous standards required for accredited members of the International Fact-Checking Network.

All information, text and images included on the AAP Websites is for personal use only and may not be re-written, copied, re-sold or re-distributed, framed, linked, shared onto social media or otherwise used whether for compensation of any kind or not, unless you have the prior written permission of AAP. For more information, please refer to our standard terms and conditions.