The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is again calling on the Turnbull Government to look at ways to increase Australia’s fuel security after an incoming Liberal Senator raised concerns over our small national reserves of fuel that analysts say could be as low as two to three weeks.
Jim Molan, the former chief of operations for coalition forces in Iraq, said if Australia’s current stockpiles of petrol, diesel and aviation fuel ran dry then the military would effectively be grounded.
"We are almost unique throughout the world in that we don't have a government-mandated strategic reserve of fuel," Senator Molan told the ABC.
“You can have all the fantastic equipment this Government is building and buying but if you haven’t got fuel … then we’ve got a discontinuity at the centre of our strategy.”
Australia is the only member of the International Energy Agency (IEA) that does not meet the requirement of 90 days of liquid fuel supplies. Parliament has passed a bill to make Australia complaint by 2026 but this relies in part on other countries to release oil on our behalf.
At the time of the November release of the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, another ex-military member of Federal Parliament, Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie, said he was very concerned about the issue and is open-minded to any suggestions, such as a fuel levy.
Such dire warnings are not new, with former Liberal senator Bill Heffernan in December 2015 saying that Australia's security was being put at risk because of dwindling fuel supplies and urged the Government to address the problem.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said the Turnbull Government had allowed refineries to close and the number of Australian-crewed fuel tankers to decline to zero under its watch.
“There are now no Australian-crewed tankers supplying fuel to our nation, down from 12 in the year 2000. At the same time, the number of refineries has halved to four. This means we now import more than 90 per cent of our fuel and that number is rising,” Crumlin said.
“A Senate inquiry into fuel security in 2015 heard that Australia's total stockholding of oil and liquid fuel comprises of two weeks of stocks at sea, 5 to 12 days of supply at refineries, 10 days of refined stock at terminals and 3 days of stocks at service stations.
“A substantial disruption in fuel supply would have serious consequences across the Australian community when it comes to delivery of food, medicine and running family cars on our roads.
“Australians would expect our Government to have a better plan and this would involve more refining here and Australian-crewed ships to carry it around the coast.
“This isn’t only a matter of fuel security but also national security. Unlike Australian seafarers, foreign crews have no background checks yet they are carrying petroleum products, ammonium nitrate and LNG around the Australian coast.”
The Department of Environment and Energy says on its website that Australia is a signatory to the IEA International Energy Program Treaty, a key requirement of which is that member countries hold oil stocks equivalent to at least 90 days’ supply.
“Australia has historically relied on commercial stock levels to meet the 90 day requirement. However, due to declining domestic production and increased demand for liquid fuels, these stocks are no longer sufficient to meet the 90 day requirement. Consequently, Australia has been structurally non-compliant with the 90 day stockholding obligation since March 2012,” it says.