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How Queensland gas has become like kryptonite to both sides of politics

Gas has emerged again as political poison and even the LNP can’t escape the consequences that have sprung out of Queensland. John McCarthy reports.

May 13, 2024, updated May 13, 2024
Gas has driven divisions in both sides of politics. Image: Supplied, Santos.

Gas has driven divisions in both sides of politics. Image: Supplied, Santos.

Labor has always had a vexed relationship with gas, but with the LNP it has been a lot less troublesome, a bit more like a “friends with benefits’’ than a full-on romance.

But that fell apart last week as the law of unintended consequences brought Gina Rinehart and Premier Steven Miles into the same camp (which must give both pause for self-examination).

Now it is gas that has driven a wedge within the federal Labor caucus and also splintered the LNP.

For Labor, it was the release of a gas strategy that supported the commodity beyond 2050 which raised questions about his plans for net zero. It went over like a lead balloon and caused ructions with some inner-city Melbourne MPs who saw it as an existential threat.

Meanwhile, the Queensland Government last week handed out its bounty to gas companies seemingly without anyone raising questions. It gave $21 million in funding to Comet Ridge, Denison Gas, QPM Energy, and State Gas Limited to fast-track the development of new gas reserves.

A Surat Basin project has been the LNP’s headache. The previous Morrison Government gave Glencore up to $35 million to help it develop a carbon capture and storage project, which has gathered some pretty diverse groups in opposition including the Premier, Agforce, councils and Rinehart who owns grazing properties as well as a big chunk of gas company Senex.

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley has faced a shellacking from her own backbench over the decision while in Government to wash its hands of any approval for the project which plans to pump CO2 from the Millmerran power station into the Great Artesian Basin, a vital water source for a vast region of central and southern Queensland.

Even Nationals leader David Littleproud has walked away from the decision and suggested Ley wasn’t across her portfolio at the time.

No doubt Littleproud, whose seat of Maranoa is right in the middle of the fracas, has seen and heard the opposition to Glencore.

So, things are going well in the coalition.

What does that mean for Glencore’s project? Well, bets would be on it dying a very quiet death now that Steven Miles has expressed his view and there is a fairly universal opinion that it would be too high a risk where the law of unintended consequences would have a field day.

Back to the Labor divisions and what we are talking about here is the survival instinct of several inner-city Labor MPs who see Prime Minister Albanese’s Future Gas Strategy which supports new gas and a continuation of its life beyond 2050.

Those inner-city MPs fear the Greens and teals march into their territory in much the same way LNP counterparts in Queensland.

Albanese is probably right that gas will be needed for some time because of its use in industrial processing and as a quick back up in power generation.

As much as the world wants the much greener hydrogen to replace gas, it simply hasn’t and may not.

The task of transitioning to renewables shouldn’t be underestimated. The problems are considerable and the solutions expensive.

The federal and state governments have obviously considered that it would be easier to keep gas going than to kill it off now and then be forced to revive it at some future point when renewables may not be able to deliver.

However, if both levels of government believe coal and gas will be around for a while yet, they probably should not be so quick to dismiss projects like Glencore’s. Probably not in one of the state’s most crucial environments, though.

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