PM advised to use taxpayer funds for gas

Taxpayer money could be put on the line to support gas projects as Australia recovers from the economic shocks of coronavirus.

The government’s National COVID-19 Commission chair Nev Power says his agency hasn’t recommended a “green recovery” despite discussing renewable energy projects with industry.

Instead, a report on manufacturing has recommended support for gas infrastructure and pipelines.

“Not necessarily subsidy but rather about facilitating the capacity of that infrastructure to ensure that it’s future-proof for increased demand,” Mr Power told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday.

He said the support could come in the form of a guaranteed offtake or upsizing of capacity, in order to ensure there’s the right infrastructure.

“Typically where these have been done previously government has recouped any investment or costs.”

Mr Power says a large part of gas costs on the east coast comes from transporting the fuel.

The manufacturing report is currently with government and has not been released.

Mr Power is a non-executive director of Strike Energy and has said he won’t attend board meetings or vote on strategic matters while in his government role, to prevent conflicts of interest.

He’s also a former chief of Fortescue Metals Group.

Greenpeace says the recommendations should be rejected.

“It’s no surprise that a commission stacked with gas executives is recommending policies that would waste public money on stranded gas projects,” the group said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation says the gas push should concern people who care about climate change and democracy.

Mr Power said renewable energy projects were looking for substantial support and discussions were more conceptual than specific.

He confirmed the committee wasn’t consulted on the 15 infrastructure projects singled out by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in his JobMaker plan.

The Senate inquiry also heard hundreds of thousands of dollars had been awarded to a former Liberal Party pollster to create a series of reports on coronavirus communications.

Australia’s top public servant also faced questioning on his department’s involvement with the aged care response, as the sector grapples with deadly outbreaks.

Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens said his department doesn’t have a direct role in the matter. 

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