Review of party positions for election 2010

ACT Peak Oil has reviewed the major parties' policies with respect to Peak Oil: ALP, Coalition and Greens


Track record

The National Broadband Network has great potential for eliminating the tyranny of distance and the alienation wrought by inadequate public transport throughout our cities. No matter what transport system is in use, it will use vast amounts of energy, through its construction,maintenance and operation. Laying high-bandwidth fibre down every street is on the face of it much cheaper than having to indefinitely maintain transport systems, including those very same bitumen streets. Access to petroleum and its derivatives such as petrol, diesel and bitumen will become more costly and prone to sudden shocks such as the recent BP catastrophe and resource conflicts. Wireless technology will not provide scope for upload speeds comparable with download speeds. This asymmetry will hinder innovative new applications such a telemedicine .

The ALP’s Mineral Resource Rent Tax demonstrates a capacity to recognise that limited and non-renewable resources should not be squandered .Further policy development along these lines with regard to the consumption of and dependence on petroleum resources would be welcome – Fringe Benefits Tax concessions and fuel tax deductibility for businesses have the potential to become even greater budgetary sinkholes in years to come and only reward profligate fuel use.

The Gillard Labor government has also demonstrated understanding by having a Minister for Sustainable Population . Over time, resource depletion will become a key topic in the population debate.

The postponed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme would have gone some way toward changing attitudes toward energy consumption and resource constraints. The exemption of fuel was however a defect. In any case the proposed carbon caps or price would not have taken account of orbeen commensurate with the scarcity of oil. The proposed deferment and citizens’ assembly may provide an opportunity to explicitly address Peak Oil and develop holistic policies which address it in tandem with Climate Change.

The ALP’s Infrastructure Australia initiatives over the last term have been welcome . They consist of urban rail, roadworks and coal rail upgrades. The urban rail component is to be commended .It shows an appreciation of the problems of urban transport and a willingness to take some political risks and commit government funds in a substantial way. The other initiatives will probably in hindsight be assessed as a suboptimal allocation of resources.

Campaign commitments

The ALP fails to explicitly mention Peak Oil in its federal policy material. The WA branch did however in its June 2009 platform, probably due to inspiring leadership by Alannah MacTiernan, former state transport minister and candidate for the federal seat of Canning.

The campaign commitment to build the Parramatta-Epping link is also welcome and should be seen as a concrete example of the potential for government to be visionary drivers of change for real social benefitin the face of coming challenges.

By way of comparison, the Cash for Clunkers announcement is an example of how government can actually hinder rather than further progress toward coping with Peak Oil. $400 million is to be diverted from renewable energy programs to put pre 1995 cars out of use. It is not as yet clear, but this program could hobble a burgeoning electric car-conversion industry. These cars could instead be converted to run on electric motors, saving on the costs of remanufacturing an entire car chassis. Each chassis contains a large amount of embodied energy, in steel and plastics, similar to the fuel the car will have consumed in its engine over its lifetime. ACT Peak Oil urges the ALP to only require the destruction of each internal combustion engine, and not the entire car chassis, to obtain the $2000 bounty. ACT Peak Oil is not convinced that the mass-production of electric cars so as to turn over the entire petroleum-dependent car fleet is a desirable or achievable objective from a climate and Peak Oil perspective. By contrast a backyard electric car conversion industry has far less downside and offers the potential for local,economically sustainable, and diverse employment opportunities throughout Australia.

Many Labor MPs are aware of Peak Oil but the ALP would do better by directly addressing the issue and the trauma it will bring, but importantly in a coherent and thoughtful manner without resort to stunts like Cash for Clunkers, ethanol or other one-off boondoggles.

The Coalition

Track record

The Coalition does not seem to have much enthusiasm for addressing urban transport issues apart from road funding. Indeed Mr Abbott wrote in Battlelinesthat “there just aren't enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car and cars need roads”.

According to a Crikey correspondent, at the forum on Wednesday night he said

"Ok, well, you know, the interesting thing about oil reserves is that they’re always being expanded. I mean, at any one time, people think we have say 20 or 30 years of oil reserves. 20 or 30 years later, people still think we have 20, 30, 40 or 50 years of oil reserves, as the case may be and the reason for that is because as the technology changes, more reserves become accessible, and as the price changes,reserves that weren’t really accessible become more accessible.

So, look, I know about the concept of peak oil. I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest expert in it, but I’m skeptical as to its value as a tool for policy makers because at the right price, we’ve got alot more reserves than we currently think. With better technology,we’ve got a lot more reserves than we currently think."

Mr Abbott hasn’t shown any interest in the question of whether higher prices really can result in greater reserves. This lack of curiosity marks him out as being ill-equipped to address Peak Oil.

On a positive note, judging by past performance the Coalition can be more restrained than the ALP in devoting resources to once-off stunts that may actually do more harm than good , such as the clunkers proposal.

Campaign Commitments

The Coalition too fails to mention Peak Oil at all.

The energy and resource policy endorses hydrogen fuel for passenger vehicles :

“Hydrogen fuel offers the promise of zero emission technology, where the onlyby-product from cars is water vapour....

Hybrids and other green cars address these issues to a large extent but only hydrogen cars hold the promise of zero emission of pollutants. The US, Japan and Germany have been at the forefront of hydrogen vehicle fuel development.

The Coalition will maintain and encourage further international co-operation in the development of hydrogen as a long-term fossil fuel replacement for transport vehicles, particularly passenger vehicles.”

The prospects for hydrogen as a commuter transport fuel are very dim and it is disappointing to see it raised as a serious option.

There are commitments to support biodiesel and research into lignocellulose feed-stocks, such as, sugar cane bagasse, cropstubbles, sawmill residues and woody weeds. Biofuels, especially ethanol, have dubious worth in net-energy terms and risk mining agricultural soil to make fuel, ironically somewhat counter to their biochar commitments.

More positively support for enabling LNG as a freight transport fuel is promised and research into capturing carbon emissions in algae .

There are commitments to an energy white paper and developing a national energy security policy . These may offer some potential for injecting the reality of Peak Oil into Liberal policy processes.

The Coalition’s climate policy addresses transport fuels . Alternative fuels will be considered for subsidy under the direct action policy.Research into algae for biofuels and cattle feed will be conducted. If any biofuel can be of net energy benefit, algae would have to be one such technology. However unless such technologies are assessed and found to have a net energy return on energy invested ,they are a waste of effort and leading Australia down a blind alley.

The Liberals also promise public forums and consultation around their climate policies.

Agriculture advocate Senator Heffernan is aware of the coming challenges of world food production.

The infrastructure policy matches Labor commitments for a study into an east coast high speed rail . There are also commitments for an inland rail link from Melbourne to Brisbane through central NSW and upgrading coastal rail freight between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

The abandonment ofthe National Broadband Network would be a backward step as we presently have the opportunity to install it at relatively low energy prices as compared to future prices.

The Greens

The Greens are the standout party with regard to Peak Oil.

They show great understanding of the transformation Peak Oil will bring. It is notreally necessary to read the policy tea-leaves on this because they actually address the issue explicitly in their policy material.

The ALP’s proposed inland rail study can probably be put down to pressure from the Greens .

Government action and influence should not be regarded as the panacea for Peak Oil. Regardless the Greens’growing influence is desperately needed as the crisis deepens.