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Bill Shorten demands urgent action on gas, not coal

Bill Shorten demands urgent action on gas, not coal

Labor leader Bill Shorten will ramp up his campaign for the greater use of gas to generate baseload electricity as he counters the Turnbull government's preference to prolong the life of old coal-fired power stations.

Mr Shorten, who has already demanded the government use its new powers to secure more gas for domestic use, will call on Wednesday for additional measures to increase the supply and lower the price of the fuel for industrial users.

He said while pulling the trigger to force exporters to free more gas for domestic use would increase supply and reduce price, more was needed to help manufacturers secure affordable long-term contracts.

Mr Shorten will suggest that gas market transparency measures as recommended by the Australian Energy Market Operator be urgently fast-tracked.

These measures, which concern market transparency and pricing information, "will improve competitive bargaining for industrial users and Australian manufacturers".

"Many Australian manufacturers and industrial users are unable to secure affordable long-term gas contracts and this is putting thousands of jobs at risk," Mr Shorten said.

Gas-fired power is as reliable as that provided by coal but cleaner.

Just over a year ago, the Turnbull government said gas would be the prime source of baseload power as the nation transitioned towards renewable energy. But earlier this year it switched, and re-embraced coal.

The government is piling pressure on AGL Energy to prolong the life of the Liddell power station in NSW for at least five years beyond its 2022 closure date to guard against a short-term gap in baseload supply. Labor is lukewarm towards the idea, saying it is not a durable or long-term solution. This has enabled the government to attack it as being the party of higher power prices.

Mr Shorten believes gas is a better solution during the transition.

"This is a crisis happening right now. Australian manufacturers need action on it right now, not in five years' time," he said.

"The energy crisis we're facing right now is bigger than one power plant, it's a national problem that demands a national solution.

"We are in the midst of an energy crisis and it's mind-boggling the Turnbull Government is refusing to pull the gas export control trigger. His own regulations say this should've been done by 1 September."

The re-embrace of coal is driven in part by internal pressure from the Nationals and Liberal conservatives. Former prime minister Tony Abbott said on Tuesday that "to his credit, the Prime Minister has got the rhetoric right" but "we've got to get the policy right'.

"This is an opportunity for us the sharpen the difference with Labor."

Mr Abbott accepted that the Renewable Energy Target, which plateaus at 23 per cent in 2020, could not be dismantled because "we do have to be careful about dudding people who have made investment decisions in good faith."

But he indicated there should be non-subsidised energy forms beyond that, which would rule out a clean energy target.

He said the government must "stop talking about renewable energy and start talking about reliable energy".

Australian Financial Review

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