If anything serious happens in world affairs, like a little war, which interrupts for a couple of weeks the flow of fuel tankers reaching Australia, life as we know it will very quickly grind to a halt. Australia has less than 30 days supply of fuel and oil in the country. Farmers will unable to sow or harvest their crops. They will be unable to get their produce to market whether it be grain, livestock or fresh food. It is said that everything at some time in its life is moved by truck. Take a long look at Fig 3 below and calculate how long you can manage without your medicines at home and in the hospital and how long you can manage for food if there isn’t any in the supermarket. The freight trains will stop. The power stations that rely on coal will have to dig into their reserves and then what? No fuel for the coal trains. There is just three days supply of petrol in the petrol stations. When that runs out how do the kids get to school and how do the majority get to work?
These are not my figures nor my predictions. They have been generated by someone far more important than I. I am not trying to cause alarm, despondency and panic in the community. I just thought you might be interested in something which I think is very serious. The political debate in this country has found other things to squabble over, which it obviously believes are more important than the security of this country. For instance we are now being subjected to the oldest debate in politics. A cynical political wedge, last seen in the 60s and 70s and at that time blamed on British Trade Union migrants, is being driven into the heart of Australian society. It is populism and the nurturing of class envy at its very worst and a heartbeat away from the far left of socialism. There are those politicians, privileged in their own right and far, far from being poor, who would drive Australia back into the bitter days of encouraging people to believe they are the ‘have-nots’ and then stir up the mob to vilify those they define as the ‘haves’. This policy destroys aspiration in the young, to ‘get on’ and ‘better’ themselves. It’s all to do with a grubby grab for power or a grubby bid to hang on to power. Blue collar v white collar anything to create a social divide. Nothing to do with national security—everything to do with power. If the haves and the have-nots debate doesn’t keep you occupied there is always same sex marriage, or the power of LGBTIQUTDC or or whatever any other self-important minority wants to call themselves to disrupt the running of the country and take our minds off debt and security.
Not enough fuel to keep our Defence Forces in action.
What follows is on the public record and has been published by the National Roads and Motorists Association (NRMA). As far as I am able to determine the figures quoted have not been denied by either the Federal Government or the Opposition. I have spent a great deal of time trying to prove what follows to be wrong, because quite honestly it beggars belief. If it comes to pass, agriculture, farmers, the people who grow our food will be without transport. So will the iron ore exporters. Read on and prove me wrong. Don’t even think of a wood burning motor car, there are places in Australia where wood burning is banned.
According to the first of three reports written for the NRMA between 2013 and 2014 by Air Vice Marshall John Blackburn (Retd), ‘Australia’s Liquid Fuel Security, there was less than a month’s supply of petrol, diesel and aviation fuel in Australia in 2013 and the situation did not improve through December 2014 as Air Vice Marshall Blackburn wrote his final report ‘Benchmarking Australia’s Transport Fuel Policies.
I have read the government’s 2016 Energy White Paper and as far as I can see nothing has changed in 2017. It is hard to believe that any Australian Government would adopt a strategy of ‘She’ll be right, Mate!’ when it comes to something as fundamental as having enough fuel in storage to keep the wheels of this country turning should the world go a bit wobbly for a while or, heaven forbid, be involved in some crisis on the high seas, like a mini war, that lasts for more than three days—just three days.
Talking of war, there was an article in The Weekend Australian of May 22, by Jamie Walker, headlined, ‘Sleepwalking to War’ and the opening lines were: ‘Former defence force chief Chris Barrie says the world is on a countdown to war and a “complacent” Australia will not be ready when it comes.’
Those are sobering words and they make a lot of sense when you read the full article. The Chris Barrie, Walker writes about, is Admiral Chris Barrie AC, RAN. Admiral Barrie makes the point that he agrees with Australian historian Prof Christopher Clarke that prior to WWI people were ‘antsy’, a word I hadn’t heard before. It means, restless, impatient, nationalistic and both he and Professor Clarke see the same traits in society today; North Korea and its sabre rattling, China and the South China Sea, Syria and Russia and an unstable Turkey and of course the President of the United States and what he might do at any time and without warning.The problem is that many of the current generations have forgotten that millions of people lose their lives in world wars. What we see on television from around the world are only scrub fires compared to a bigger conflict and if we are ‘Sleepwalking to War’, it’s about time we woke up and demanded our Rip Van Winkle like political parties recognised reality and put aside petty politics while we manage what has all the makings of a national disaster.
Professor Clarke commented who would have thought that the shooting in Sarajevo of archduke (Franz Ferdinand of Austria) would have started World War I? Emperors and Presidents had been assassinated but this one small event was enough to start a war, a world war. The reason was because the people were ‘antsy’. Arms races were on and people were highly nationalistic, no more so than just now with ‘America for Americans’ and at the same time rearming the Saudis, the British breaking away from the EU with Brexit and the anti Islam movements all over Europe where the young are becoming restless as they see their national identity being eroded and emasculated by Islam. The young are too young to remember and they don’t get taught these days in school what really happened between 1914 and 1919 and between 1939 and 1945. As I write there is another terrorist atrocity in London so soon after the carnage in Manchester and so soon after the slaughter on Westminster Bridge and in the same week as the Coroners findings in Australia. There is no end to it and it is a reminder to us in Australia that we are not immune. How long before we all get antsy?
How much worse could it get?
This should do as a starter. This is what Air Vice Marshall John Blackburn wrote in 2014: Australia’s combined dependency on crude and fuel imports for transport has grown from around 60% in 2000 to over 90% today (2014 Ed) In an ever changing world, we need a plan to stop our import dependency growing to 100% in the future if we are to have an acceptable level of fuel security. Since the first report was published, another likely Australian refinery closure has been announced; the political instability in some Middle Eastern countries has worsened; our net import fuel stockholdings have declined; and the domestic supply of a special fuel required by the Australian Navy (F44) has come under threat. If a scenario such as a confrontation in the Asia-Pacific region were to happen, our fuel supplies could be severely constrained and we do not have a viable contingency plan in place to provide adequate supplies for Australia everyday services and for our military forces.
I am not claiming that I am the first to run this story, I hope I am not the last. The credit goes to the NRMA. I have searched the press and government papers and the only conclusion I can come to is that we now have to import all, ALL of our F44 aviation fuel, apparently it’s a special kerosene used by our ship based military helicopters. Cut off the supply from Singapore and our military cannot fly. Can you believe that?
The situation with having to import F44 helicopter fuel so that our military can keep flying is ludicrous. I have visions of the shipping route to Singapore being cut off and our version of Dad’s Army doing their drills with spades and pitchforks as rifles. A cyclone devastating Australia or one of our neighbours and being unable to help because our helicopters don’t have any fuel would make us the laughing stock of the world. What if we suddenly had to defend the shipping routes to Singapore and some of our helicopters had no fuel? That we cannot guarantee adequate fuel supplies to our ADF to keep this country safe is frankly unthinkable and makes us alarmingly vulnerable.
If that is how bad it is for the ADF what is the security of the supply route like for the rest of us? First we have to look at what successive governments have allowed to happen with our refining industry.
This is where we were in 2014 (Fig1 Australia’s low liquid fuel holdings’) and if anything the situation has got worse from a national security perspective. The figures are frightening when you look at them. Almost any disaster could stop Australia’s transport in it’s tracks. We then have this vexed question of whether we have taken the philosophy of the ‘market economy’ too far? We have seen time and time again Australian governments turn a blind eye to Australian manufacturing industry forced overseas by the cost of production in Australia being uncompetitive with other nations. Letting food processing go overseas has hurt agriculture and I have written about it until it hurts, the answer has always been this mantra of ‘the market economy’. Surely this stupid economic philosophy of the market economy does not apply to national security?
What we now have to ask ourselves is whether matters of national security, like having an oil refining industry capable of supplying some of our needs and also building up a strategic civilian and more importantly a military reserve that we can call upon in times of need maybe even to defend ourselves is more important than kow towing to the economic mandarins demanding a ‘market economy’. Look at what we have done with our oil refining industry. We have allowed oil refiners to leave the country and put Australia in a commercially and more importantly a militarily vulnerable position. The Japanese took the impregnable Singapore by doing the unexpected. An aggressor wouldn’t need the same military mind today to take Australia, all they would need to do is close the shipping lanes from Singapore. This country could be stopped in weeks.
This is how vulnerable we are today, I say we are today because I cannot find any change in government policy since these figures were published in 2014. Not even in the latest White Paper in 2016. Figure 2 is graphic and needs no explanation except that what oil we do produce in Australia is sent overseas, by sea, for refining. Then of course, it has to come back, by sea. As can be seen on Figure 4, our import dependency has increased markedly in just 15 years and in another 15, unless something dramatic happens Australia will be totally reliant on imported fuel. All of our refineries will have closed and our stock holding will be down to less than 20 days.
‘A review of the transport energy policies of over 75 countries globally reveals Australia is alone in its total reliance on “market forces’ to ensure secure access to transport fuel — critical to the functioning of society and the economy.
‘Australia is critically exposed to disruption in the supply of transport fuels Australia’s combined dependency on crude and fuel imports for transport has grown from around 60% in 2000 to over 90% today (2014 Ed. As good as ~ 100% in 2017) The Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics (BREE) reported in their July 2014 Australian Petroleum Statistics report that at end of month industry stocks were in the order of: 19 days of automotive gasoline; 17 days of turbine fuel; and 12 days of diesel oil (diesel oil includes automotive diesel oil and marine diesel fuel’. That is a direct quote from the link above ‘Benchmarking Australia’s Transport and Energy Policies.’ I have just had a look at the BREE report for 2017 and little has changed. We are still, virtually, in the same position as we were in in 2014.
Australia has an international obligation and it is out of step with every other comparable country in the world. Compare Australia’s oil and fuel stockholding with other countries from Asia and Europe and you must agree it is an embarrassing picture, does our government manage the country or what? Figure 1 compares Australia’s mandated industry fuel/oil stocks with those of Korea, Japan, France, Italy, Sweden and the UK. In the words of Air Vice Marshall Blackburn, “It is staggering to realise that Australia is not only deficient in terms of the IEC (International Energy Authority) stockholding obligation but that we hold no Government controlled or mandated stocks at all, in stark contrast to our global peers.”
There is no Plan B.
The frightening part of this story is that there is no Plan B. There is nobody in government who can say ahha but!
I believe that we all have the right as citizens of this country to demand that our governments do all they can to protect us from minor and major disruptions that may happen around the world. We are the only developed country in the world as far as I can determine, that does not have a contingency plan for fuel supplies should there be an interruption in the shipping routes. Look at Figure 1, tell me it is wrong.
If this weren’t Australia whose politicians seem to be able to occupy themselves with the trivial rather than the serious matters of this world, I would say we are living in some 1938/9 time warp. Britain in those days could not feed its people without imports. The Battle of the Atlantic kept Britain from starvation and cost over 300000 Allied lives. Australia today cannot feed itself without imports. We have enough grain and meat and fresh vegetables to feed some of us for some of the time. But have a look in the deep freeze displays in the supermarkets and see where the rest of our food, fruit, veg, fish and 80% of our pig meat comes from. It’s imported and the majority arrives by ship in containers. Since the end of World War II when this country was totally self sufficient in food and exported canned and processed food all over the world, the market economy has made us dependent on the rest of the world for much of our food and most of all our fuel and oil. We are an island nation and this map tells the story of how dependent we are on the sea trade routes remaining open. It was drawn up in 2014. The only thing that has changed is we are more dependent than we were then on imported fuel, oil and food. That means we are now totally dependent.