Morrison government puts its foot on the gas

In contrast to certain other governments which seem hell-bent on shutting down the resources sector, the Morrison government is pressuring energy companies to put their foot on the gas.

Paradoxically, despite an abundance of known gas reserves, Australia is experiencing a local shortage. Partly that is because of the legacy of virtue-signalling policies, from state governments like Victoria and South Australia especially, restricting fossil fuels. But the major reason, according to some analysts, is that some big reserves are being left untapped in order to play the market. Bruce Robertson of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis says, “Companies are sitting on permits, not developing them and restricting supply so they can make a lot of money”.

Fresh from an election in which voters’ support for a long-stymied coal mine was decisive, the Morrison government is laying down the law.

Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan says he will use the “clear message” sent by last month’s federal election victory to help ramp up resources development, warning Woodside Petroleum and a consortium of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies he will strip them of ownership of Australia’s biggest undeveloped gas field if they don’t get cracking on the ­project.

The threat is part of the federal government’s renewed push to open up new resource basins across the country in the wake of its stunning election win in May, with Browse joining Queensland’s Galilee Basin coal fields, the Beetaloo gas play in the Northern Territory and the Great Australian Bight on Senator Canavan’s target list for the next term of government.

Getting gas from the Browse gas fields to refineries is an engineering challenge.

Money talks, as they say, but the government is ready to tell the current developers to take a walk. Under Australian law, the Crown “owns” mineral resources, and leases the rights to mine them. The government will presumably be well within their rights to withdraw a lease.

Despite the billions already spent on the giant Browse gas fields off the northwest coast of WA, Senator Canavan told The Australian he was more than ready to call in other would-be project developers, potentially including Fortescue Metals, if the current Browse owners — which include Woodside, Shell, BP and PetroChina — could not convince him they were ready to make a final investment decision when the retention leases on the fields come up for renewal next year.

Speaking to The Australian, Senator Canavan said he wanted to see the partners commit to developing Browse before the project’s current licences expire. “The clock is now ticking,” he said.

There’s a whole lot of gas that these companies are squatting on, while Australian consumers go begging.

Gas was first discovered at Browse back in 1971, but the huge fields have remained undeveloped despite the project partners spending billions of dollars on a series of assessments….Senator Canavan said…“I want to see the Browse gas and oil developed for the Australian people,” he said.

“There are very clear obligations on titleholders in Australian waters that, if they can’t bring projects to development, there’s the right and opportunity for the Australian government to look for others who can do that.”


Certainly, there are expensive engineering challenges in bringing the gas from Browse to market, but the biggest factor stymying development is money and power games between big energy companies. It’s long past time for the government to shed the legacy of Turnbull’s watermelon politics, and lay down the law to recalcitrant green-left state governments and to energy companies starving Australians of cheap, reliable energy.