Union urges government to address problems in fuel security

crude oil, fuel

The Federal Government has been urged to address the nation’s complete reliance on foreign owned, operated and crewed tankers to transport oil and petroleum products as part of ongoing efforts to address Australia’s fuel security issues.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) welcomed the Request for Information process, which seeks to identify opportunities to strengthen refining capacity and increase domestic fuel storage capacity, but said issues facing the transport of liquid fuels to Australia and around the coast remained unresolved.

The union said the situation had greatly deteriorated in recent decades, with more than 90 per cent of Australia’s liquid fuel needs now arriving via foreign owned and operated tankers. While 12 Australian-crewed tankers operated in the year 2000, there are no longer any in service.

“The COVID-19 heath crisis has highlighted the vulnerability of Australia’s supply chains and demonstrated how quickly a pandemic, military conflict, natural disaster, or economic shock could impact the supply of essential goods,” MUA National Secretary and International Transport Workers’ Federation President Paddy Crumlin said.

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“Clear gaps in Australia’s sovereign self-sufficiency have been exposed, placing a clear obligation on the Federal Government to close these gaps and reinforce the cabotage system that governs shipping around our coast, along with biosecurity, immigration, and related border controls.

“The COVID-19 crisis reinforced how absolutely essential shipping is, not only to fuel security but also to maintaining other domestic supply chains that provide essential deliveries.

“Australia’s complete reliance on foreign owned and operated tankers has left the nation extremely vulnerable, with no guarantee these vessels would continue to supply Australia during a major crisis.

“While recent shortages of household items were inconvenient, a crisis that cut fuel supplies would force the entire economy to grind to a halt.”

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MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray said the Morrison Government’s initial steps to enhance domestic fuel refining and storage capacity were a good start, but genuine energy security required action on how fuel is transported to Australia and around the coast.

“The Federal Government clearly understands that improving fuel security requires the strengthening of domestic refining capacity and a substantial increase to domestic storage, but the issue of how fuel products are transported to our island nation remains unresolved,” Mr Bray said.

“If the Federal Government is serious about examining industry solutions to address Australia’s fuel security, then it needs to look at the creation of a strategic fleet of Australian owned, flagged, or crewed tankers capable of maintaining supplies of oil and refined petroleum products in the event of a crisis.

“In a report commissioned by the MUA, shipping expert John Francis found the exclusive reliance on foreign flagged tankers for crude and refined petroleum products removed any opportunity for the Commonwealth to requisition national flag tankers if needed to maintain fuel supplies during a crisis.

“His report, ‘Australia’s Fuel Security – Running on Empty’, concluded that the retention of a minimum number of Australian owned, managed and crewed tankers was not only justified on national security grounds, but could be achieved at a minimal cost to end users.”